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Retinal is my favourite retinoid and retinoids are my favourite active ingredients. Retinoids are the gold standard in proven well-ageing skincare, proven in numerous studies to not only prevent photo-ageing but also reverse the signs of ageing by boosting collagen production. Plus, they actually help fight acne, scarring and discolouration. Unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding (in which case retinoids aren’t suitable for you), I really recommend finding a formula that works for you. For me, that form is retinal, a more direct form of retinoid than retinol, so you’ll see faster, more impressive results, but they’re still a step down from the potential high level of irritation you can experience with a prescription-strength formula. Additionally, I actually find retinal less drying than its more-famous sibling. Retinal - until recently - was not that commonly-found on the market and my favourite formula is from Medik8. Although that line is excellent value for the formulas you’re getting, I appreciate they’re still out of budget for many. Luckily, there are now many more affordable retinal serums available, and I’m walking you through several of them today!

One of the first affordable retinal products to ever hit my radar was the Geek & Gorgeous A-Game 10 Retinal Serum | £17.95 | which is a 0.1% concentration (there’s also A-Game 5 which is £13.95 and 0.05%). This is a really simple formula; it comes out as a creamy lotion, in retinal’s signature yellow tone, and also contains soothing allantoin and hydrating panthenol. If your skin doesn’t like a lot of rich ingredients; there’s very little ‘added’ to this formula, and if you do, you can simply follow up this serum with your favourite moisturiser. This delivers on those retinal results I love so much without any irritation for my skin, though of course bear in mind with all these reviews that my skin is very used to retinoids (you should always follow my tips for starting retinoids). My skin was smoother and clearer using this formula without sacrificing hydration. For under £20; it’s simple but it works, and if you just want the ingredient in its simplest form with two strength options, you really can’t go wrong with this.

Pricier, but still cheaper than most retinal products at this concentration that came before it is the Peach & Lily Retinal For All Renewing Serum* | $55. This serum is a little more complex, but also contains that more-potent 0.1% concentration of retinal and has a creamy texture with a yellow colouring to the product. This formula pairs it alongside ectoin, a next-generation anti-inflammatory ingredient, which is a great addition to a retinoid to prevent potential irritation from this kind of stronger formulation. There are additional skin-soothing ingredients in here too like heart leaf extract and bisabolol, plus a hydration booster in hyaluronic acid, cloudberry seed oil and fatty alcohols help to moisturise and condition the skin, plus there are essential components of the skin barrier: ceramides and cholesterol. A healthy skin barrier combats dryness and sensitivity, so it’s important to keep it strong when using a potentially-irritating active like a retinoid. All in all, it’s a skin-friendly formula that’s perfect for those looking to take their retinoid game to the next level without risking upsetting their skin.

Next, we have another K-beauty take on retinal in the AHC Youth Focus Pro Retinal Emulsion* | £22. Ok, so this contains a % of retinal that will suit a lot of people (the information wasn’t available online but I contacted the brand via Instagram DM and they confirmed this as 0.05%) formulated with encapsulation for a slow release. It also contains soothing ingredients like centella asiatica and bisabolol, plus niacinamide to boost ceramide production in the skin and help tackle discolouration. This is where I’d recommend starting if you’re not already familiar with retinal and want to take it slow; it’s very gentle, I do still notice some visible results and it’s very easy to incorporate into your routine with its ultra-light but still hydrating texture.

The next product I have is pretty much where you want to go if you’ve used retinol regularly without issues and just want a bit more from it. The Naturium Retinaldehyde Cream Serum* | £32 | is formulated with 0.05% retinal along with a soy extract which is actually a signal-booster for retinoids, increasing the results you see without the need for the potential irritation caused by increasing the concentration of your retinoid. This is also glycerin-rich which packs hydration into the skin, but actually also helps give it this lighter, more water-based serum formula (making it less rich than many of the creamier formulas I’ve discussed today). We also have a moisturising oil and a peptide, which can hydrate the skin and potentially even boost collagen production (they’re also non-irritating, meaning peptides + retinoids are a dream team for well-ageing). This was completely non-irritating to my skin and even though I’ve used stronger formulas before, I still observed really great results with this product.

Finally, let’s talk about the newish Elf Youth-Boosting Advanced Night Retinoid Serum | £22.  This is a brilliant all-rounder at a great price-point formulated with granactive retinoid plus 0.06% retinal, plus antioxidants and hyaluronic acid. Granactive retinoid is a type of low-irritation retinoid ester, which is a bit of a beginner play on its own, but paired with the retinal, it provides an additional boost without risking a potential increase in irritation. This comes in a light, gel-like base which will suit any skin type and I think the formula is a great mid-tier option; complete newbies might have to work up to it a little but I didn’t experience any redness or dryness at all and I found this formula really worked for my skin - it felt smoother and looked clearer.

Have you tried retinal before?

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