What is retinal?

Retinol on steroids, explained

BEAUTYcrew Content Producer / September 30 2021

By now you’ve no doubt heard of retinol, and you might have even gained some knowledge about it’s natural counterpart bakuchiol, but did you know there’s another vitamin A heavy hitter?

It’s called retinal: it’s basically like retinol on steroids, and it's going to give your skin the same kind of super strength power up that Popeye gets from a can of spinach. 

Don’t believe us? We spoke to Founder of Cosmology and Dermal Therapist Gabrielle Singh about the impressive anti-ager, which she believes everyone should be using in their skin care routines. This is the lowdown on retinal…

Image credit: Cosmology

Image credit: Cosmology

What is retinal?

Similar to retinol, retinal is a derivative of vitamin A and is also known as ‘Retinaldehyde’. “[It] repairs connective tissue in the skin, boosts collagen for anti-aging benefits and increases elasticity,” explains Singh. 

“[It] also balances sebaceous (oil) production,” says the Cosmology founder. “So it helps to minimise the skin's pores and to prevent them from getting clogged and inflamed.”

How does it differ from retinol?

According to Singh, while both are potent, retinal results boast a speed that puts the ingredient in the same league as The Flash: “Retinal has been clinically proven to work up to 12 times faster than retinol.”

How, you ask? “Retinal has a much higher exfoliation rate than retinol, which contributes to radiant skin by promoting cell turnover, improving your skin tone and texture,” says Singh.

“[It also] helps unclog pores and thickens skin to slow down the formation of wrinkles.”

Who would benefit most from introducing retinal into their routine?

In Singh’s professional opinion as a dermal therapist, she thinks everyone should be utilising this supersonic version of vitamin A in their routines. She considers it “ an essential ingredient to help maintain the health and integrity within our skin's structure.”

And while Singh certainly promotes the use of SPF as the best way to prevent premature ageing and UV damage, once this has already occurred in the skin, she finds vitamin A derivatives to be the best for promoting the skin’s natural regeneration process. In her own words: “The single most effective component in a skin care regimen for reversal of sun damage is the use of retinoids.”

Are there any ingredients you should avoid when using retinal? 

Just like retinol, when it comes to using retinal, it’s best to start low and slow by introducing the ingredient into your nighttime routine once or twice a week: “For someone who has never used retinal before I would suggest mixing it with your moisturiser first to ease it on to your skin,” suggests Singh.

“Retinal is a lot more powerful than retinol, so when introducing a retinal product into your skin care regimen, do it carefully,” she advises.

Signh also recommends using it “at night and leaving your other active serums for morning,” and to “avoid using too many actives, as this can create sensitivity.”

Are there any ingredients that play well/optimise retinal?

As with other high strength derivatives of vitamin A, retinal can be drying on skin. So Singh encourages the use of hydrators such as hyaluronic acid alongside the potent ingredient to see best results. “It is hydrating and soothing and won’t get in the way of retinal doing what it's designed to do,” she explains.

When it comes to products that feature the ingredient, Singh rates retinal serums over other formulations. Here are a few we recommend:

Cosmology Active A Serum ($137 at Cosmology Skincare); Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 ($87 at Adore Beauty); and Osmosis Skincare Calm Gentle Retinal Serum ($150 at Adore Beauty).

Cosmology Active A Serum

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3

Osmosis Skincare Calm Gentle Retinal Serum

Want the benefits of vitamin C without the risk of irritation? You might want to read up on tranexamic acid.

Main image credit: @gal_gadot

Briar is a Content Producer at BEAUTYcrew. She is a self-professed skin care obsessive, always on the hunt for the perfect mascara, and can't go past a plumping lipgloss.

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