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Today we're talking retinaldehyde (or 'retinal'). What is it? Why am I obsessed with it? Why do I choose it over retinol or other retinoids? Let's get into it...
If you somehow don't know: Vitamin A derivatives (AKA retinoids) are the gold standard in anti-ageing skincare. They've been proven time and again to not only prevent the signs of ageing (like sunscreen does) but reverse existing damage and stimulate collagen production in the skin. They were originally created and are still used to treat acne so are amazing for scarring and uneven skin tone too. I'm actually going to insert a little infographic from a different blog post to explain how different forms of retinoid work:
Retinoic acid is available by prescription only (adapalene and tretinoin are popular forms) and can have side-effects for many people, but it's the end goal. With the other forms, you're relying on your skin to convert the topical ingredient up this ladder and into retinoic acid, and with each conversion, the ingredient gets weaker. For this reason, unless you're very sensitive and have never used a retinoid before, I'd tend not to bother with retinol esters. Even retinol for me was ok but, honestly, Vitamin A wasn't a non-negotiable in my routine until I tried retinal. My only caveats are that you need to start low and go slow, wear sunscreen every single day and patch test every new product you try.
Retinal is a bit tricker to formulate so can be a little more expensive than retinol, and these are all high-end products. I did see the more affordable brand Geek & Gorgeous do one, so let me know if you want me to review that and compare it to these (I want to try their Vitamin C too but - as it’s freshly-made - I’m holding off on ordering until I can use it right away). It's usually encapsulated due to the strength and instability of the ingredient and typically has a deep yellow colour to it, so don’t worry that it’s oxidised or turned: it's meant to look like that!
It is worth noting that most retinoid studies proving their efficacy have been done on retinoic acid and retinol, however this is my anecdotal experience of retinaldehyde.
- WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT RETINAL? -
For me personally, at 28: whilst tretinoin is something I want to use intermittently, as it give incredible results, it's a lot of dedication. You have to use it nightly so it doesn't expire, it's not cosmetically elegant, you can't have fun with your routine (you need to use a simple, active-free, fragrance-free cleanser before and moisturiser after, and that's it really) and it left my skin so incredibly dry and uncomfortable. Perhaps there's a time in my life when I'll feel the need to up the ante and will have the determination to push through that phase of using tretinoin, but I'm not there yet. Retinal gives me 80% as good of the results with non of the drying, peeling or irritation and can be used alongside my other favourite skincare ingredients. It's also given me faster and more obvious results than retinol, which I was always kind of 'meh' about.
- THE RETINAL FORMULAS I'VE TRIED -
The first retinal I ever tried and the product that made me realise how transformative Vitamin A can be for the skin is is the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3* | £45 (30ml) | full review. This comes in a really helpful 'ladder' system: 3 (a 0.03% concentration) is where you'd start if you've used a retinoid of some sort before and had no issues with it, if you're more on the sensitive side though, you can drop down to 1. As you use up each product, if your skin is happy with it, you can progress through to 6 and then to 10. There's also a 20 version that's available in Medik8 clinics only. This comes out as a peachy moisturising cream (with hyaluronic acid, glycerin and Vitamin E) so you don't have to use a moisturiser with it if you don't want to. These formulas are crystal encapsulated, for that slower, less-irritating release. I went straight in with the 3 and had no peeling or drying effect like I get with prescription products but it's far faster-acting than standard retinol. I couldn't believe the clarity of my skin and how even and smooth it looked. This is one of the more-affordable but still incredibly well-researched options on the market.
Let's move on to the product I tested out most recently: the Omorovicza Midnight Renewal Serum* | £140 (30ml). Omorovicza is a brand I reach for when I want I want to treat my skin and have an amazing sensorial experience, more so than a brand I look for when it comes to punchy actives. I was intrigued when they launched this retinal serum, though unfortunately they don't disclose the percentage. This is the most expensive product I'm going to discuss, which is honestly quite a feat! This comes in a light lotion texture and there are some added benefits, like microbiome ingredients to help maintain a healthy skin barrier, alongside cholesterol and ceramides (which make up your skin barrier), jojoba and sunflower oils to moisturise the skin, hyaluronic and polyglutamic acids and soothing oat. I do have to flag up that this contains parfum, as retinoids can be irritating, fragrance can be irritating so the combination might be problematic, particularly for sensitive skin. Look, this did work for my skin and it was gentle, but I did notice a pilling effect when I applied my moisturiser over the top of it, which wasn't ideal. Ultimately, this is the most expensive product on my list, it's efficacious but I have no idea how much retinal is in here or how I'd step up my results after finishing this bottle, it contains some irritating components and honestly, I just wouldn't recommend buying this over the other products in this post if you're looking for results.
The product I used for the bulk of this year was the Sachi Skin Ursolic Acid & Retinal Overnight Reform* | £70 (30ml). This isn't cheap, but it is still half the price of the Omorovicza and my experience with this product is why I couldn't in good faith recommend that formula. This combines retinal with bakuchiol (this is supposed to be a 'natural alternative' to retinol but more research is needed - there are early signs that it can boost the effectiveness of a retinoid, though), antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients. This is a gentle formula that gave me amazing results. It's formulated with 0.05% encapsulated retinal, so if we were comparing this to the Medik8, it would slot in between their 3 and their 6 formula, so I'd say if you've never used any kind of retinoid you'd have to build up to something this (with a retinol or the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1). It's slow-release but it's still powerful stuff! This makes it perfect for those who have been using retinol for a while but want to take things to the next level without risking irritation.
Finally, we have a product I'm trying to empty: the Allies of Skin Retinal + Peptides Overnight Mask | £105 (50ml) | full review. This is pricey, there's no getting around it! However, you are getting significantly more product in here so it's not quite as bad as it initially seems. This formula combines hydrating, skin-plumping peptides with 0.05% encapsulated retinaldehyde (I am not sure why they've removed the percentage from their website, but it's in an older blog post I wrote, so I'll have got it from there). It is going through a rebrand right now; I'm not sure if it's just the name or the formula itself, but I'll keep an eye on that., In terms of concentration it's something that's on-par with the Sachi Skin formula. I have nothing negative to say about this formula, really; it's moisturising and can be used on its own, if you so wish, it's given me pretty amazing results and delivered those to my skin really very quickly. The only snag is really the price-point.
Have you tried retinal? Do you use retinol or another form of retinoid?