With multiple names and many forms, Retinol has become a blanket term in the Beauty Industry, implying that all forms are created equal. But unfortunately this is not the case and so it’s not surprising that “retinol” has become one of the hardest skincare ingredients to navigate.
Retinol comes in various guises. In general the term is used as an umbrella for:
Vitamin A: This is the first generation of Retinol in its purest form. This is medical grade Retinol and is available via prescription only. It’s very active, and must be used according to your doctor’s dermatologist’s protocol.
Retinoids: This refers to a large family of retinols which are categorized as second generation retinols. In higher concentrations, these are typically found in medical grade skincare that can be purchased in skin health clinics or via a skin health professional. Retinol and Retinoic Acid AKA Retin-A or Tretinoin are classed in this group. Retinoic Acid is the strongest (prescription-level) retinoid, and is actually naturally occurring in the body, making this the only retinol that is bio available. All other retinoids need to be converted by our skin cells once they hit our skin. Not all retinoids are prescription strength, though, and whilst this category tends to be a little more mellow than Vitamin A, they should be used according to professional guidance.
Retinol esters (such as retinyl palmitate) are third generation retinol and the weakest member of the retinol family. This form is found mostly in over-the-counter brands with ‘marketing jargon’ that brandish terms such as encapsulated, time release technology and intelligent delivery system. Think low and slow with this form of retinol. That doesn’t mean they don’t get results, it just that it takes much longer to achieve the similar results as the stronger forms of retinol.
Whatever strength you choose, it is advisable to introduce it to your skincare routine in a low percentage and build up the frequency of use slowly if you want to maximize your skin health and minimize skin irritation. Whether you are acne prone or ageing, there is a Retinol out there that is suitable for you but make sure you seek advice on which one to opt for!