What is retinal?

Retinol on steroids, explained

BEAUTYcrew Beauty Editor / May 28 2024

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…

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.

2024's top 3 retinal products to shop in Australia

1. Go-To Very Amazing Retinal, $85, Go-To Skincare
2. Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3, $99, Adore Beauty
3. Murad Retinal Resculpt Overnight Treatment, $170, Adore Beauty

Go-To Very Amazing Retinal ($85 from Go-To Skincare)

Go-To's first ever retinal serum was formulated with a results-driven mentality. The Aussie brand has blended together retinal, niacinamide, peptides, centella, orobanche extract and mushroom extract to effectively minimise the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation.

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 ($99 from Adore Beauty)

Medik8 has created a range of user-friendly retinal serums, which can be used at every stage of your retinal journey. Crystal Retinal 3 is the natural next step after the sensitive skin friendly Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 ($89 from Adore Beauty). The introduction to retinal aims to resurface the skin, minimising the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin texture and tone in the process.

Murad Retinal Resculpt Overnight Treatment ($170 from Adore Beauty)

This powerful overnight treatment utilises encapsulated retinal to not only smooth fine lines and wrinkles, but it also targets sagging skin and a loss of elasticity alongside a slew of supporting ingredients (kangaroo paw flower, olive leaf extracts, oat lipids and alpha glucan), improving firmness and helping to 'resculpt' sagging skin, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, and hydrating and soothing the complexion.

Main image credit: @taylor_hill

Looking for a layering partner for your retinal? Try an anti-aging serum.

Briar Clark got her start in the media industry in 2017, as an intern for Marie Claire and InStyle. Since then, her keen interest in fashion and beauty has landed her gigs as a Digital Content Producer and Beauty Editor with titles like Girlfriend, Refinery29, BEAUTYcrew and beautyheaven. She loves the way seemingly innocuous topics like skin care and style have the ability to put a smile on people’s faces or make them think about themselves a little differently. A big believer in self love and experimentation, Briar has made a point of becoming the Australian beauty industry’s unofficial guinea pig for unusual treatments and daring hair trends. When she’s not testing out the latest beauty launches, Briar is big on broadening her horizons, mostly in the form of food but she’s also partial to travelling to new destinations both near and far (and of course, allocating an extra bag to bring their best beauty offerings home with her).

Related tags