If you have even the slightest interest in skincare, you’d probably have come across the term retinol – or more accurately, retinoids – which is the umbrella term encompassing this class of ingredients that are all derived from Vitamin A.
However, there are also more powerful versions that are usually only available through prescription such as tretinoin (aka pure retinoic acid). The latter is regularly hailed by dermatologists as the gold standard ingredient for ageing gracefully, having had thousands of studies done on its effectiveness since the ’80s, says board-certified dermatologist Ranella Hirsch in an interview with The Washington Post.
Among retinoids’ numerous benefits: they significantly boost cell turnover rate (which slows down everything else as one age), resulting in increased collagen production, decongestion of pores (it’s commonly used in acne products), smoothing out of fine lines, reduction in the appearance of sun damage and improvement of hyperpigmentation. You could say many other ingredients boast of similar effects – but few can match the exhaustively studied, proven track record of retinoids.
The main drawback is that retinoids can be irritating especially if you’re not used to them; peeling, dryness and sun sensitivity are commonly reported side effects (tip: apply a soothing moisturiser first, and wait a few minutes for it to dry down before applying the retinoid). Some skincare enthusiasts even call it the retinoid uglies, also known as the “retinisation” period when you’re initially acclimatising to the ingredient.
In recent years, newer generations of retinoids have been introduced to the market, such as retinaldehyde or The Ordinary’s popular granactive retinoid, which are all formulated to be less irritating so that you still receive the benefits of this class of ingredients.
Here, we’ve rounded up a range of products that are known to incorporate gentler formulations. Just remember to always apply a good sunscreen, all the more when using retinoids; it’s potent stuff.