Spotlight on: Retinol


In recent years, we have increasingly turned to online investigation to better understand the ingredients in our facial skincare products, with statistics showing February as the month where we do the most research. So, what is at the very top of that list of key ingredients that we want to google? Retinol, and the almost overwhelming number of questions we have about it. How to use it, when to start, is it suitable for everyone…The answers can seem elusive at times, with the Internet divided in its opinion and recommendations. Here I take a look at the reasons behind the intriguing love / hate relationship we have with this tempting ingredient.

What’s to love about Retinol?

A vitamin A derivative, retinol is used to address a wide range of skin concerns, hence its popularity. Often marketed as a powerhouse ingredient due to its fast-acting nature, it can provide almost immediate visible results.

Why is it a ‘NO-NO’ for some?

Just like with other ingredients, retinol can prove problematic due to its unstable molecular nature. Contact with light and air render it inactive (Yep, that means it can no longer do its job!), whilst exposure to high temperatures causes it to rapidly oxidise (not good!). At the end of 2016, the European Scientific Committee that monitors the safety of skincare ingredients on the market limited the use of retinol because of its potential toxicity due to this instability. A warning was issued stating that if used in the wrong concentrations or if it is not formulated in the correct way, retinol can cause skin irritation and adverse reactions.

However, in spite of this consumers still show an interest in retinol-based skincare products which in turn has fuelled the scientific community to continue its study into this ingredient. Indeed, many new scientific advancements have occurred in recent years which have allowed the beauty industry to increase retinol molecular stability, such as the development of Retinyl Palmitate, a form of esterified (oily) retinol combined with palmitic acid. This shows that when all is said and done, it seems that both formulators and consumers have the same mindset – We prefer to stay in our comfort zone and work with ingredients that we already have experience with.

So how does Retinol actually work?

In a nutshell, retinol improves skin thickness (thus reducing wrinkle depth), and at the same time skin tone and elasticity by increasing collagen production. However, retinol molecules are only active for a short period of time, making constant use a must if we want to see results (just like with many other products). Constant chopping and changing between different skincare products containing different ingredients can seemingly cause the effects of retinol ‘disappear’. I quite often hear people say that the use of retinol actually ages the skin more, but this is an optical illusion in my opinion. It’s easy to get used to the positive effects the use of retinol has on your skin but when you stop using it and those effects wear off, your skin’s original state can seem worse than before. That being said, I have yet to come across a study that researches the effects of stopping retinol treatment has on the skin.

If you’re inclined to avoid retinol altogether, there are several natural alternatives available such as Vigna Aconitifolia.  Hailing from India, the seeds of this plant possess properties very similar to retinol but without the molecular instability and skin tolerance problems. Common or garden rhubarb also has a compound that acts similar to retinol, as so do vegetable oils rich in beta-carotenes (precursors of vitamin A) such as carrot oil, buriti, rosehip and pomegranate.

However, let’s not forget that a gentle, well thought-out and constant routine can also bring the same benefits that retinol offers: Increased cell turnover and a reduction in fine lines and hyperpigmentation. In a Twelve Beauty routine designed to provide these benefits, the first step would undoubtably be a delicate yet effective cleanse using our Purifying Cleansing Beauty Cream, followed by misting your skin with our Ultra Revitalising Elixir to strengthen its natural protective barrier. Next, your target treatment of choice: Our Ideal Moisture Level Serum to hydrate and increase your skin’s elasticity, or our Ideal Brightening Corrective Serum to prevent and treat hyperpigmentation and improve skin tone. Another beauty ‘shortcut’ to a glowing complexion is feeding your skin key lipids and nutrients, something our Essential Bio-Technological Moisturiser was specifically formulated to do. If you’re like me and you want to go all out and speed up the process further still then our Intelligent Frontier Facial Oil is what you’ve been looking for.

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