Clearing Up the Term Confusion Around Retinol

Retinol is one of the most studied ingredients in skincare and also one of the most misunderstood – a large part of this is due to misconceptions and term confusion. If you have ever attempted your own research and left your reeling and more confused than ever, you are in good company. In a sea rife with confusion, we are hoping to instill some clarity to the discussion of Retinol.

For those who are new to learning about Retinol, let’s start with some of the fundamentals. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A and is the gold standard in inhibiting the breakdown of collagen, increasing collagen synthesis, increasing skin elasticity, helping to seriously address the signs of photo-aging in the skin and regulating sebum production. It is an ideal ingredient for people with aging skin and/or acne because it helps to work at the cellular level to clear the skin and reverse the physical signs of aging.

Retinoic Acid is the powerhouse ingredient of Retinol and Prescription Retinoid products. Retinoic acid works by binding to receptors in the outer membrane of our skin’s cells. Some products (like Prescription Retinoids) already start as Retinoic Acid while other products (like Retinol and Vitamin A Esters) are converted into Retinoic Acid. The longer the conversion chain from Retinol to Retinoic Acid, the less pure and less efficacious the product is.

Prescription Retinoids, Retinol, and Esters – What’s the difference? 

Prescription Retinoids, Retinol and Esters are all different derivatives of Vitamin A, but before we get into the nuances of Retinols and Esters, let’s discuss the key differences between Prescription Retinoids and Retinols. Prescription Retinoids are only offered by prescription and are much harsher on the skin since it is already converted into Retinoic Acid. Most Prescription Retinoid product formulations contain toxic additives, parabens and preservatives like BHT, aiding in the harshness and irritation often complained about when using these products. Some well-known examples of Prescription Retinoids are Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Adapalene, Isotretinoin, Tretinoin and Tazarotene.

Retinol is the purest derivative of Vitamin A, and unlike Prescription Retinoids, do not convert into Retinoic Acid until applied to the skin. What makes Retinol so great (especially the Encapsulated Retinol used in The Straight A) is that it has a very short, two step conversion process into Retinoic Acid – making it the most efficacious kind of Vitamin A derivative without the associated irritation of a Prescription Retinoid.

Retinol and Esters are very similar in that they both convert into Retinoic Acid once applied to the skin. The most important distinction is that esters – such as Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Linoleate, Retinyl Propionate and Retinyl Palmitate – have longer conversion chains into Retinoic Acid that significantly affect the efficacy, purity, and stability of the product. Retinyl Palmitate, specifically, has been a cause for concern as it has been linked in one study to the enhancement of tumor growth in mice when exposed to UV rays.

What Consumers Should Look For 

As we’ve already covered, Retinols are a complicated subject matter, which can make finding the right one for your routine a laborious and daunting process. One of the key things to note is that an effective product formulation should have a high enough concentration of Retinol to create change within the skin, but not so high the irritation is unmanageable. Take a look at where Retinol falls on the ingredient statement on the back panel of the product – this information is organized by concentration, from highest to lowest. We also strongly encourage, especially if your skin in sensitive, to look for a product that uses encapsulated Retinol.

Encapsulated Retinol is an incredible scientific advancement that takes advantage of nano-technology to slowly release the product onto the skin and thereby is less irritating. Encapsulated Retinol also preserves the Retinol for a longer and more stable shelf-life. Consumers should also avoid toxic preservatives, such as BHT, which is commonly used in Retinol products. Additionally, consumers should add a broad-spectrum SPF to their daily routine, as Retinols and Prescription Retinoids have exfoliating properties – therefore this product should only be used at night. And, of course, pregnant, nursing or those actively trying to conceive should also avoid the use of Prescription Retinoids and Retinols.

“Phyto-Retinols” & Carrier Oils 

“Phyto-retinols”, or so-called “Botanical retinols”, are interesting ingredients as they are very effective in encouraging cell turnover, revitalizing the skin and reducing fine lines and wrinkles, but have zero structural chemical resemblances to retinol itself. Moth Bean Extract and Bakuchiol are popular examples of “phyto-retinols” and can be found in The Straight A Treatment, but it should be noted that since these products are not related to Retinol they do not convert into Retinoic Acid. Because of this, they are an excellent in augmenting the effects of Retinol, but Retinol continues to prove itself as the gold standard in revitalizing skin.

Vitamin A carrier oils, such as Rosehip Seed Oil, often get lumped into the Retinol/Prescription Retinoid category because they have naturally occurring Vitamin A. Vitamin A carrier oils are an excellent additive to formulations but cannot be compared to Retinol and Prescription Retinoid products in terms of efficacy when used alone. Only Vitamin A derivatives that convert into Retinoic Acid, like Retinols and Prescription Retinoids, can impact the skin on a profound level.

The Straight A Treatment 

We were very deliberate and thoughtful in our approach when we created The Straight A Advanced Gentle Retinol Treatment. We used the highest standard, encapsulated slow release Retinol (free of BHT) as the muscle of our formulation. We also meticulously crafted the formulation to work powerfully – yet gently – with Bakuchiol and Moth Bean Extract, and Vitamin A carrier oils – Raspberry Seed and Rose Hip Oil – to encourage cell renewal, boost collagen production, and revitalize the skin. Shelf stable Vitamin C and Vitamin E aid in transforming wrinkles, discoloration, and brightening while Supercritical Chia Seed Oil deeply nourishes the skin so there is minimal to no irritation. In addition to all this we added a Sirtuin Complex that helps to support Sirtuin proteins responsible for regulating key biological pathways in our cells. This added complex enhances cellular function and communication promoting longer cell life and less damage.

We like to think this impressive concentrated Retinol (Vitamin A) formulation earns an “A” for efficacy – and that is why we call it THE STRAIGHT A Treatment.