Retinols have become one of the most well known & widely prescribed products on the market and commonplace in most beauty routines. We’re told that they work to renew our cells, revealing fresh & youthful skin underneath. Whether we have acne, fine lines or dark spots, we’re told that retinol is the cure all. However, what we are not told is the ugly truth about its harmful effects. The truth is, not only can some retinols cause severe & adverse side effects, they can also be host to a variety of dangerous chemicals.
SO WHAT IS A RETINOL?
First discovered in the 70’s to treat acne, retinols have become the topical standard fix for many dermal cosmetic issues. Retinol is a form of vitamin A used on the skin and belongs to a group of vitamin A derivatives, known as retinoids (4). They work by causing rapid skin cell shedding, thus allowing younger cells to come to the surface, giving the appearance of fewer wrinkles & a softer, more clear complexion. Sounds all fair and good until you dig a little deeper into details of what makes up a retinol.
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES?
Because of this rapid skin cell turnover, some of the negative side effects and reactions that retinol can cause include severe irritation, leaving it red and inflamed (1), and drying of the skin, leading to itchiness & scaly patches, as well as intense peeling. Another risk involved in using a retinol product is sun damage (i.e. wrinkles, hyperpigmentation & age spots). Ironically...all the things retinol works to combat. Because retinol causes skin sensitivity to UV rays, it’s recommended to either stay out of the sun completely, or to follow with a liberal SPF application the next morning.
TOXINS HIDING IN CONVENTIONAL AND PRESCRIPTION RETINOL PRODUCTS
When it comes to prescription retinols, one of the main problems in particular is the preservation process. Like with many prescriptions, the active ingredient becomes part of a chemical cocktail that causes more harm than good. Harm to both your skin externally as well as your body internally, based on the fact that what we use on our skin topically gets absorbed directly into the body… which, again, is why clean beauty products are so very important.
Parabens: Parabens are a group of artificial chemicals that have been used to preserve personal care & beauty products since the 1920s (2). They have been linked to both cancer and endocrine disruption. The reason these chemicals are so dangerous is because they mimic estrogen in the body which ultimately triggers a chain reaction, leading to increased cell division in breast tissue and the formation of tumors.
The risk of disrupting your hormones and potentially harming both your fertility and your reproductive organs does not outweigh the benefits of ANY retinol product. It is also important to note that retinols are not safe to use during pregnancy as they are considered a Category C, meaning they can cause birth defects and potential miscarriages. Please make sure to consult your health care professional if you are an expecting mama to be.
Isopropyl Alcohol: At one point using isopropyl alcohol was an actual home-remedy for a variety of vanity concerns. Its major appeal comes from its ability to reduce oil and greasiness on the skin, so for those who tend to have more of an oily complexion, it appears to be a great solution. Isopropyl Alcohol is present in retinols to increase product absorption rates. However, you’re wise to steer clear of this ingredient as alcohol depletes the skin’s natural barrier, not only causing rapid aging, but drastically disrupting the skin’s natural pH balance. Overexposure can also cause headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, and in severe cases, coma.
BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene): An extremely controversial lab-made chemical used as a preservative in cosmetics and skin care. This ingredient has a lot of contradictory information and its purpose is to maintain the performance of the product & its properties such as smell and color. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed it as a possible human carcinogen. It also has a high potential for Bioaccumulation for its potential toxicity to aquatic species. Many studies on animals link it to cancer, liver problems, and blood coagulation.
A SAFER WAY TO USE RETINOL
While everyone’s skin type is unique and can handle various levels of stronger, more active ingredients, we always recommend looking at skin care through the lens of caution. It’s our beautiful face afterall, so let’s treat it with all of the delicate attention and luxurious care that it deserves.
Try These Natural Alternatives Instead. Below is our curated list of natural retinol alternatives to help you achieve results safely:
This is our go-to recommendation for someone wanting those retinol results. It’s a much gentler alternative and dare we say, works to renew the skin MUCH better. Kypris Moonlight Catalyst is the perfect nighttime serum for revitalizing and refining the skin while you’re partaking in your beauty slumber. This serum has all the anti-aging and correcting benefits of a traditional retinol. It’s wonderful at treating acne & clearing congested skin. Fermented pumpkin enzymes produce the same exfoliation assets as retinol, but this serum is also formulated with many other skin nurturing ingredients such as Hawaiin sea algae, sea buckthorn fruit, and rosehip seed oil so there’s little to no irritation. The Bioidentical Epidermal Growth Factors act just like the growth factors found naturally in youthful skin. They work by communicating directly with the skin’s structure to rejuvenate the complexion & restore it back to it’s plump & youthful state (5).
So the highlight ingredient of this product is Bakuchi (pronounced ba-koo-chee), which deserves an entire blog dedicated to it’s magic, as there is much to say on this holy grail ingredient. To keep it short & sweet, Bukachi is derived from the seeds & leaves of the babchi plant. Ancient cultures have been using this ingredient for decades thanks to it’s potent benefits, especially for its antibacterial & anti-inflammatory properties. Some of its most amazing qualities include tightening & shrinking pores, reducing the appearance of wrinkles & fine lines, as well as plumping the skin and increasing firmness. It also does the opposite of harsh retinol by actually making the skin less sensitive to the sun & protecting it from sun damage. A study done by The British Journal of Dermatology revealed that those who used bakuchiol saw improvements in wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity and overall photodamage (6). In the Ranavat creme, this ingredient is definitely the star of the show, speeding up skin cell regeneration, hydrating & soothing the skin, all while reducing any redness & irritation. This product is especially healing to those suffering from blemish prone skin due in part to its antimicrobial properties.
This time, in oil form, bakuchiol makes an appearance alongside a host of other beautiful, nourishing ingredients such as orchid extract, squalane and rosehip seed oil (another retinol alternative). Orchid extract works as an anti-aging powerhouse as it’s loaded with anthocyanin, an amazing antioxidant that helps to protect the skin from environmental stressors such as radiation and pollution. Squalane, which we go into depth over on the blog here, is a deeply hydrating ingredient that plumps the skin, allowing it to retain moisture & replace natural lipid loss which is especially helpful to those with skin conditions such as dehydration & dry skin. Keeping the skin supple & hydrated is also extremely effective at keeping acne & blemishes at bay. Finally, the rosehip seed oil is another superstar ingredient as it's a form of bioavailable topical retinoic acid. Use this product for the ultimate brightening, hydrating & youth inducing treatment.
Another product containing rosehip seed oil, an anti-aging powerhouse oil which is extracted from the seeds of wild rose… must be amazing, right? This divine oil is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which happen to be a natural source of trans-retinoic acid, the main bioactive component responsible for its regenerative properties, according to a study done by the Journal of American Oil Chemists’ Society. Rosehip seed oil is proven to help reduce acne scars & boost the skin’s elasticity, in turn firming the skin.
This product is a beautiful replacement for your prescription or over the counter retinol. It’s a delicate, nourishing oil that is loaded with the highest quality, specially sourced organic & non GMO ingredients such as previously mentioned rosehip oil, bulgarian rose damascena (which is wildcrafted), calcium, oryza sativa, helichrysum (known as immortale) and vitamin C. This ingredient list alone speaks for itself. FIlled to the brim with the most nutrient dense antioxidants, vitamins and minerals you can rest assured that this earthy delicacy will treat your skin better than any retinol on the market. Hydrating, calming, proactive and regenerating, this oil is the ultimate youth serum, leaving your skin with the most luminous glow.Sources