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Today I wanted to talk retinoid creams! Getting a form of Vitamin A in your routine is a must for anyone over 25 who isn't pregnant or breastfeeding (in my humble opinion). Retinoids treat acne, scarring and skin texture but are also really the only class of ingredients in our cosmetic arsenal that have been this well-studied in their ability to reduce fine lines and reverse signs of photoageing. There's a bit of a misconception that retinol / retinal moisturisers are somehow less effective than a serum, but that's not true at all! I would just perhaps suggest keeping the number of leave-on steps to a minimum before using a retinoid cream to allow the ingredient to penetrate effectively. Creams can buffer the ingredient so it feels gentler on the skin and help to combat the common early side-effects of dry and peeling skin. These sorts of products are also great if you just don't have a ton of time but want effective ingredients in your skincare routine! So, let's dive into my three formulas for three budgets...
The most affordable product I've found is the Beauty Pie Super Retinol (+ Vitamin C) Night Renewal Moisturiser* | £17 (for members). I know some people disagree with Beauty Pie being affordable, as it's a 'members club', but I've paid myself for the £5 / month membership for a couple of years now and still find it great value for money. And, honestly: this is the best product at a reasonable price-point I've found so far and I don't want to show a more accessible alternative if I don't think it's on the same level! This is a light but creamy and softening - almost lotion-like moisturiser - with nourishing shea butter and Vitamin E (which - along with ferulic acid - is also great for stabilising and boosting the effectiveness of Vitamin C). The Vitamin C derivative in here is Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate (oil-based), supported by Ascorbyl Palmitate (this derivative isn't super-effective on its own but can offer a boost) and a little bit of pure-form Ascorbic Acid (I can't speak to to stability of it or whether it's at the concentration we know to be effective, but these different forms of Vitamin C all support one another). Vitamin C is an antioxidant, so protects the skin from free radical damage and - although you'll be using this overnight - the benefits can still be reaped the next morning. Pure ascorbic acid can also boost up collagen production in the skin, so it stays full and bouncy for longer. Plus, Vitamin C can help fade dark spots and even out the skin's tone.
Then we have our 1% encapsulated retinol. My skin doesn't usually love this concentration of retinol; it can sometimes feel drying and cause flaking for me, however I think it could be the encapsulation, plus the other nourishing ingredients that help here. Encapsulation is basically like wrapping the retinol molecule up in a shell of stuff that helps it get into the skin more effectively but also allows the ingredient to be released slowly, so it's not as irritating to the skin. I found this formula really effective; it made my skin look smooth, plump and even without giving me the retinol nasties. At this price-point: I don't think there's anything else that's worked so well for my skin!
It's a low-concentration formula, but there's so much good stuff in here that it's perfect if you have sensitive skin but want to get some gentle retinoid benefits into your routine. The Paula's Choice Resist Anti-Aging Intensive Repair Moisturiser | £35 | is that perfect pick-and-mix one-step moisturiser for those of you without the time or inclination to do more than a couple of skincare steps of an evening. This is deeply nourishing and leaves my skin so soft, nourished, smooth and happy but it's not all thick or heavy to apply. In terms of ingredients, we obviously have a gentle, sensitive-skin-friendly 0.2% retinol (bolstered by the ester Retinyl Palmitate), but there's so much more in the mix! The base is formulated with skin-nourishers that help buffer some of the more active ingredients, such as ceramides (a component of your skin's natural barrier), glycerin for hydration and plenty of fatty, replenishing ingredients (like linoleic acid).
Looking at the other actives in here, there are some peptides, which can help to plump and smooth the skin (potentially even encouraging collagen production). We have niacinamide, which can help your skin to produce more of its own ceramides, regulate oil production and prevent discolouration spreading through the skin. This is assisted in tackling dark spots by the addition of licorice extract. There's a Vitamin C derivative here too in Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, stabilised with Vitamin E. Green tea also adds a plant extract antioxidant source. All-in-all, this has so much fantastic stuff to tackle signs of ageing and old sun damage, as well as helping to protect and replenish the skin.
Rounding things off is the kind of Rolls Royce in this category for me! It's slightly simpler as a formula, but combines retinol with retinal which my favourite form of retinoid for amazing results and minimal irritation. It's one step closer than retinol to the end goal: retinoic acid, so your skin doesn't have to work as hard and the effectiveness isn't diluted by having to convert it as many times. It's the recently-reformulated Strivectin Advanced Retinol Nightly Renewal Moisturiser* | £62. It comes in this deliciously rich and nourishing base of shea butter, plus contains Strivectin's own form of niacin to support the skin barrier, calming and hydrating Beta-glucan and soothing oat and rice extracts. There's willow bark extract in here too, which is a gentle precursor to salicylic acid, the pore-penetrating acid exfoliant that can really help with blemishes. Peptides will help support your well-ageing goals whilst resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant.
This is a gorgeously-nourishing cream that means business in terms of results! It works just as well as any of the more serum-like retinal products I use as standard in my own routine but it's just quicker and easier to reach for. Whilst it's a stronger retinoid, it doesn't contain quite so many other actives as a counter-balance, so it really depends on what you're looking for. If you need the full force of everything Vitamin A can do for your skin in a one-step PM product then this one's for you!
I really hope this was helpful and that if you had doubts on whether retinol creams actually work then I might have changed your mind! Have you tried any of these formulas?