Retinol and its Risks, Plus a Safe Alternative!

You may have found that over the years a common anti-aging/anti-acne ingredient that is popping up EVERYWHERE! Retinol. It may seem harmless, but before you start to use this ingredient I want you to understand some important things about it first. I will always advocate for making informed decisions. 

One of reasons for the appearance of aging is that we start losing collagen in our face from our mid 20’s, and continue to lose around 1-1.7% a year from then on.

There are many skincare companies that are proud of their inclusion of retinol in their products. But for us you will find it on our NEVER LIST.

Retinol is an ingredient that makes skin cells regenerate rapidly. It works by encouraging basal cells (in the lowest layer of the skin) to divide, and as a result you get more new epidermal cells that migrate up to the skin’s surface and eventually become the outer most surface of the skin. The result is younger looking skin free of wrinkles, age spots, and discoloration. The problem is, retinol does not discriminate on which types of cells it regenerates. If there are precancerous or cancerous skin cells, and retinol-containing products are applied, these cells will also grow rapidly, speeding up the growth of cancerous tumors. These effects increase when retinol-containing products are exposed to sunlight. This is why I will never understand when it is added to sunscreen.

Retinol has also been shown to thin the skin over time as it acts as a potent exfoliator where it prematurely removes skin cells. So, while it may make your skin look good right now, it’s actually creating damage for your skin in the future. When you consume Vitamin A in your diet, your body converts the vitamin to retinoids, a process which is important for overall skin health. When you apply retinol-containing products to the skin, it’s already been converted, so you’re losing the conversion benefits.

Side effects of retinol products include irritation, inflammation, dry skin, and redness. Inflammation has been linked to premature aging of the skin. It’s also been tied with an increase in birth defects, when used during pregnancy. I have a general rule that if I can’t use it during pregnancy, I don’t want to use it at all. When I would prescribe this medication for patients I would provide strict instructions to stay out of the sun if using it during the day due to the increased sensitivity and try to apply it only at night. If only I knew back then what I know now.

One thing I have heard from routine retinol users and have seen reports of is once you stop using retinol products, the problems you were using it to treat, come back and are often worsened. For this reason, retinol products are often referred to as “band aid” products, as they fix the problem in the short term, but once you rip the band aid off, the problems come back. With frequent retinol use the new skin cells that are formed do not function well because they have been rapidly produced, and therefore lack the necessary adhesion and lipid production to protect the skin properlyIt is also known that we have only so many skin cells so if we speed up that turn over and use all the cells up in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s we could really pay a price later.

“The main function of the top layer of the skin is to protect us, to keep away environmental factors. The more retinol you put on, the poorer the barrier function becomes.” “This is why a lot of people feel that their skin is very sensitive and experience peeling, flaking, and irritation.”4

I always like to play it safe and since there isn’t enough evidence that retinol is safe I will steer clear and there are so many other effective anti-aging remedies out there. Start with diet. Keep your skin well hydrated by drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables with higher levels of Vitamin A, consuming collagen, getting adequate Vitamin C in your diet and in products, reduce inflammation, and get more sleep. And, when it comes to skincare, choose safer ingredients. I’ve seen collagen being added to skincare products and from the research I’ve done this will have minimal benefit.

Since this blog post was started Beautycounter hadn’t yet launched our recent Countertime line, but since it’s launch I thought it was time to bring this post back to life and touch on the amazing star ingredient in that line, Bakuchiol.

Now, I know you’re likely saying, what in the heck? First, it’s pronounced Bah-koo-chee-all. It is derived from a plant native to India and Sri Lanka, and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, despite the fact that it’s just now becoming a mainstream skincare ingredient. What took us so long? Scientists have only recently discovered that it may be comparable to retinol without the harm. The two ingredients have very different molecular structures, “bakuchiol has antioxidant properties that make it similar to retinol,” explains cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski. “This is what prompted scientists to investigate how the two would compare,” he adds. 8

I’ll leave you with a chart comparing Retinol to Bakuchiol. And, if any of you want to look at our New Countertime line that has this powerhouse ingredient, here is the link. I can always send some samples your way if you want to try it out, just fill out my sample request form!


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