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Now I've worked my way through the different levels, it felt like time to give a dedicated review to the Crystal Retinal series* by Medik8. If you don't know of my love for this product line: welcome, because I guess you're new around these parts! I'll walk you through retinoids, retinal and what makes these formulas great...
There's not much I recommend almost universally, but if you've passed your mid-20s: using a retinoid every night is probably the best thing you can do for your skin (after daily sunscreen use). I do also think there's a form of this ingredient and a delivery system out there for almost everyone. The reason I think this class of ingredient is so important and I recommend getting on it as soon as possible is because it's the only one that can not only prevent signs of ageing, but also has the power to reverse them. Retinoids boost up collagen production in the skin and they help with skin texture and tone, so are often used to treat acne. You need to be mindful about the form and strength of Vitamin A you go for, but in this post I'm focusing in on retinal.
For me, retinal is the best of both worlds. Retinoic acid is only available via prescription, and other forms of Vitamin A require your skin to convert the ingredient into it. Retinol esters are considered the gentlest form of Vitamin A and need to be converted into retinol, retinal and then retinoic acid. Retinol is one step closer and retinal is one step closer still, meaning it's the most direct retinoid available in a cosmetic formulation. I actually find that my skin doesn't love retinol; it's more likely to cause me irritation and peeling. I also don't see as dramatic results as I do with retinal and it takes a long time to feel like a product is doing something. Prescription-strength tretinoin gave me my best skin ever but was sooooo drying and my skin just felt tight and angry to the touch. Whilst that settled down a little after a while, it's still quite inflexible as I have to be really careful about what other products I use alongside it and keep things really simple, when I actually want the flexibility to throw in other ingredients alongside my retinoids sometimes without risking setting my face on fire! Retinal offers me a highly effective option, fast, visible results and it's really gentle on my skin (even though it's closer to retinoic acid so theoretically should be harsher on the skin, I actually find it less drying and irritating than retinol).
Now we know why retinal is great, let's talk about why this particular product line is great! There aren't actually a ton of retinal products on the market, but I still have a few USPs for Medik8 that add a lot of value for me. Firstly, this formula utilises encapsulation technology, which is basically like wrapping up the retinal in a coat of something your skin can more readily welcome in (that's my very scientific explanation, anyway!) It allows the ingredient to penetrate into the skin more effectively but also creates this slow-release effect that means the formula feels gentler on the skin than if you just hit it with the ingredient on its own. I also like that Medik8 put this in a moisturising, hydrating base of Vitamin E, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to really support the skin barrier. If you're oily: you could just use this on its own, but if you're drier like me: it also layers perfectly under moisturiser and you can use another serum under this if you want and it still won't pill.
However, my favourite thing about this product is really the 'ladder' system the brand uses. It's quite clever because it gives you an idea of the strength of the product (e.g. Crystal Retinal 1 = 0.01% retinal) whilst encouraging you to work through the levels, so you're not doing too much by going straight into the higher concentrations your skin might not yet be ready for! It gives you a sense of where you are and offers a way of upping the ante once you've finished a tube and your skin has been happy with it. I have noticed the other retinal products out there don't offer more than one concentration, so although you might love the product and empty a few bottles of it; there's not really anything to graduate to if you want to take your results to the next level. With this line: I will get 3/4s of the way through a tube and then start rotating in the next strength up once a week, gradually transitioning to using it every single night as I finish off the old tube.
There are currently 5 levels in the Crystal Retinal ladder (though 20 is only available through Medik8 clinics) and I actually started on the second rung, with the Crystal Retinal 3* | £47. This is a fine starting point if you've used retinol before and your skin was happy with it, though if you have temperamental skin or you've never really used a retinoid before, you'll probably want to err on the side of caution and kick things off with the Crystal Retinal 1* | £42 | which was specifically formulated for sensitive skin types. Then you just work from there: if your skin is happy and healthy after finishing a tube then you can bump up to the next level, or if you feel like your skin tolerance is as far as you want to take it: I think it's fine to stick with the same concentration for your repurchase. I'm now up to CR20 every night and through following through the ladder system, I've not experienced any real drying, irritation or purging as I've moved up through the ranks, which is why I really like how this line slowly eases you into things.
Hopefully this post gave you an idea of what I think is special about this line and why these are the retinoids I personally always go back to and why I always recommend Crystal Retinal to you. With some precautions; you can start on the ladder as a total retinoid newbie and it can take you up to as close to prescription retinoid results as you're going to get from a cosmetic product!
Have you tried Medik8 Crystal Retinal or any over retinal?
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