Retinol: The Goldilocks of Retinoids

Life has a way of teaching us lessons that we don’t think that we need to learn.  In challenging my bias against Retinol in skincare, I uncovered such a lesson.  Swapping out my tretinoin, I discovered some distinct advantages of Retinol over it’s prescription-strength counterparts.  For me, Retinol is the Goldilocks of Retinoids – just right.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Retinoids

Retinoids are a family of compounds related to Vitamin A.   Prized for the capability of improving the appearance of wrinkles, they serving as an antioxidant, encouraging cellular turnover, boosting elastin, and more.    Varying in efficacy and function, the most widely available OTC retinoids in skincare include:

  • Retinol, nearly 10 times less potent than prescription-required retinoic acid, it more easily tolerated with milder side effects.
  • Retinyl Palmitate (Retinyl Ester), at 10% the cost and 1/5 the potency of Retinol, it is even less likely to irritate sensitive skin, with fewer skin benefits.

Regardless of the price, brand, or potency, I had concluded that OTC retinoids were utterly ineffective.  Next stop, the Dermatologist for a retinoid prescription.


Prescription Retinoids, Please?

My search for retinoid nirvana encompassed prescriptions for both name-brand and generic Tretinoins, also known as Retonoic Acid. Using the latter for the past decade, the changes were undeniable – smoother texture, plumper skin, smaller-looking pores, and an uncanny radiance.  Judging from the results, prescription-required retinoids were clearly the way to go – with a single, annoying complaint.

Years after the initial 6-week “retinization” phase – irritation, peeling, and redness -- my skin would revert. Typically once a month, I experienced peeling without any prior indication and to varying degrees. Not dry patches, but peeling more akin to a severe sunburn.  No moisturizer could mitigate the sloughing, lasting for 2-3 days.  It remained my retinoid of choice, but I hated the unpredictability of my skin.  It seemed a small price to pay for better skin. 


Retinol vs Tretinoin Experiment

Explaining my bias to a client, she asked “Yes, but have you tested Retinol recently?”  Fair enough, perhaps it deserves a second look.  Confident in the outcome, I substituted the 0.1% generic Tretinoin for 1% Retinol formulation, applied every other night.   Employing my heavy-mag mirror, I awaited vindication to appear by way of larger pores, thinning of the skin, crepeyness, or wrinkles.  By month two, the possibility that I had underestimated Retinol was beginning to sink in.  After six months of Retinol, my skin looks and feels better -- no severe peeling, no irritation, diminished ruddiness, and no reversion – none. I have never been more pleased to be have proved wrong.  How can this be possible?

There are a numerous reasons for my underwhelming results with previous OTC retinoids.  It is entirely possible that the lackluster performance was due to insufficient potencies, degradation beyond the reasonable shelf-life, or ineffective formulation.  Even if you have tried tretinoin, Retinol can be an effective skincare choice.*  In fact, I actually prefer it.  


Is Stronger, Better?

Not for me, as it happens, the irritation outweighed the benefits of tretinoin.  If you have not yet found your retinoid nirvana, consider a Retinol skincare product.  Look for a product that offers:

  • Minimum Potency -- no less than .01%
  • Realistic expiration dates no greater than 12 months to ensure freshness
  • Adequate packaging -- air-tight, opaque tube or bottle – to prevent degradation

Heat speeds the degradation of Retinol, so find a cool, dark place to store your investment.  So amazed with the performance of the vegan-Retinol, about-face essentials will be introducing two new skincare products within the next month.  Stay tuned!  

* If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant or are breastfeeding, please avoid all retinoids, until you have discussed it with your Physician.



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