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7 Retinol Face Serum Alternatives For Sensitive Skin—Dermatologist Approved

May 28, 2023
Retinol Face Serum - Naturally occurring sources of retinol

How does a retinol face serum compare with alternatives? If you have sensitive skin, you may want to consider these retinol alternatives.

Retinol is traditionally regarded as the holy grail of OTC cosmeceuticals. As a derivative of vitamin A, retinol works by stimulating collagen production and targeting skin receptors known as nuclei acid receptors. It’s also associated with the coveted retinoid glow which refers to a lifted, plumped and tightened skin appearance. However, one major downside is that certain skin types do not tolerate it well, i.e. sensitive skin, skin of color. Those living in sunny climates also experience much higher rates of photosensitivity.

In this edition of skincare encyclopedia, we discuss 7 categories of retinol face serum alternatives that are suited for sensitive skin types.

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    1. Naturally occurring sources of retinol

    The best retinol face serum is found in nature’s actives

    The brassica oleracea genus includes crucifierous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. These are natural sources of Vitamin A found in food. Applied on skin, the body possesses the ability to convert it via a two step process to reach its active retinoic acid stage. 

    Retinol—>retinal—>retinoic acid

    The reason why naturally occurring sources are well tolerated and non-sensitising is because as a whole plant extract, it contains a myriad of other compounds that mitigate skin irritation. For instance, polyphenols with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and barrier repair effects. In addition, these protect the skin from UV damage, which further reduces the skin-sensitising potential of retinol. 

    Retinol Face Serum Alternatives
    The Elixir-V serum contains brassica extract which is a rich source of natural vitamin A.
    Dermatologist Approved Retinol Alternatives

    2. Retinyl Palmitate

    Retinol face serum for acne treatment (without skin purging side effects)

    Retinyl palmitate undergoes 3 steps of conversion before it becomes retinoic acid, which means it is the least potent of all OTC retinoids. This is my top pick for sensitive skin, especially when it comes to active inflamed acne. Retinoids are helpful in the treatment of comedonal acne but is often blamed as the culprit for acne purging—it induces a pro-inflammatory response. Retinyl palmitate is the best retinol face serum active for acne prone individuals. Here’s why: 

    • Exfoliates skin cells to reduce pore clogging and comedone formation
    • Additional antioxidant effects confer UV protection (minimal photosensitivity)
    • Reduces acne scarring by stimulating collagen production and wound healing 

    The Blemish Spot Cream contains retinylpalmitate which has a triple effect on acne spots

    • Gentle skin exfoliation
      • No irritation risk 
    • Scar prevention
      • UV-induced hyperpigmentation
      • Stimulates collagen production 
    • Rapid healing
      • Reduces inflammation

    Examples of key peptides that can be found in face serums:

    • Acetylhexapeptide 
    • Oligopeptides
    Retinol Alternatives for Sensitive Skin

    3. Acetyl Hexapeptide

    Acetyl hexapeptide is also known as topical botox— it works directly on the nerve junctions. Specifically, it blocks the release of acetylcholine. This means it reduces the muscle contractions involved in our facial expressions. It also has a remarkable safety profile, as it does not penetrate beyond the uppermost layers of skin. However, acetyl hexapeptide containing creams have been shown to improve wrinkles by up to 48% within 4 weeks of twice daily treatment. 

    4. Oligopeptides

    The case for peptide serums: anti wrinkle effects 

    One major limitation of retinol use is around the eyes and lips. These are what dermatologists refer to as mucosal areas which means the skin is thinner and also more prone to irritation. This is why many who use retinol containing eye creams develop sensitivity with time.

    Peptides are considered well rounded actives which mimic what is naturally found in skin. It’s also known as nature’s very own anti-wrinkle ingredient—for good reasons too. The best part about peptide serums is that they act holistically. Apart from anti-wrinkle effects, peptides are retinol alternatives that also help stabilise the skin microbiome. This is because they function as anti-microbial peptides (AMPs) which are small, naturally occurring molecules on skin that kill harmful germs that cause skin infections. 

    Retinol Face Serum Alternatives with Case Study Elixir-V Serum

    5. Bakuchiol 

    Vegan retinol that’s suited for sensitive skin 

    Bakuchiol is derived from the seeds and leaves of psoralea corylifolia. It’s also described as a functional analog of retinol—which means it activates the same nucleic acid receptors as synthetic retinol. This has been validated in studies which show similar gene expression profiles. Remarkably, the side effects associated with traditional retinols are also absent, as it is with other plant sources of retinol. The whole plant extracts include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that mitigate signs of skin irritation such as redness, stinging and flaking.

    4 Pillars of Creation Behind Best Selling Serum

    6. Adenosine 

    Remember adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the molecule you learnt about school? Adenosine is the amino acid present in ATP itself. When it comes to skincare, adenosine was first observed for its ability to penetrate the human stratum corneum. Later scientists realised that it was also an effective anti wrinkle ingredient in skincare. Specifically, it was tested in clinical studies which showed that it significantly improved frown lines between the brows and also crows feet.

    DERM’S PRO TIP: When describing wrinkles on the face, the correct terms would be 

    • Between the brows : corrugators
    • Forehead: glabellar 
    • Around the eyes: crows feet
    • Around the mouth: nasolabial 
    Plant Based Skincare

    7. Sea buckthorn oil 

    A blend of fatty acids, micronutrients and vitamins with skin regenerative properties that targets all signs of photoaging 

    This is a lesser known active that deserves its spot on our list of retinol face serum alternatives. The secret to this anti-aging skincare active is in the balanced composition of fatty acids that mimic the natural lipid ratio of the skin barrier. Specifically, the ratio of linoleic to oleic acids that make up the ideal composition for barrier repair. Sea buckthorn oil has a high linoleic to oleic acid ratio and is particularly rich in unsaturated fatty acids such as omega 6 and omega 7. 

    The second key feature that makes it an excellent retinol face serum alternative is its proanthocyanidin content. These are highly bioactive compounds which target the key source of aging—free radical damage. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that are formed by environmental stress such as UV radiation and pollution. They are well established in the photoaging process as molecules which actively reduce skin integrity leading to collagen loss, wrinkle formation and skin discolouration. Proanthocyanidins effectively scavenge free radicals, improving skin resilience. 

    Sea Buckthorn Oil Face Oil Serum
    The Miracle Face Oil contains 100% pure extract of sea buckthorn oil distilled according to gold standard EURO ISO22716 cosmeceutical manufacturing requirements to ensure purity, lab-tested for efficacy.
    Barrier Repair Hydration Serum

    SKIN EXPERT FAQ

    What is the best alternative for retinol face serum?

    @booksbydr.twl Retinol is traditionally regarded as the holy grail of OTC cosmeceuticals. As a derivative of vitamin A, it works by stimulating collagen production and targeting skin receptors known as nucleic acid receptors. It’s also associated with the coveted retinoid glow which refers to a lifted, plumped and tightened skin appearance. However, one major downside is that certain skin types do not tolerate it well, i.e. sensitive skin, skin of color. Those living in sunny climates also experience much higher rates of photosensitivity. In this edition of skincare encyclopedia, we discuss 7 categories of retinol alternatives that are suited for sensitive skin types. 🏷What is the best alternative for retinol Is there a natural alternative to retinol Are retinol alternatives as good as retinol Which is safer than retinol? Do retinol alternatives work Natural retinol home made #beautytips #sgbeauty #tiktokshopsingapore #selfcare #tiktokshopsg #sgtoktok #sgdoctor #dermatologist #tiktoksg🇸🇬 #skincareroutine #skincaretips #skincare101 #skincareproduct ♬ original sound – Beauty Books By Dr.TWL

    If you have suffered retinol allergies before, you may find yourself searching for alternatives. Here’s my list of retinol alternatives:

    • Bakuchiol
    • Peptides
      • Oligopeptides 
      • Acetyl hexpeptide

    Also consider actives with retinol-like effects on skin aging such as

    • Sea buckthorn oil
    • Adenosine (amino acid)

    Is there a natural alternative to retinol face serum?

    Plants can be a source of natural retinol. For instance, the cruciferous vegetables are sources of natural retinol which do not irritate skin because these are whole plant extracts which also have anti-inflammatory effects unlike synthetic derivatives.

    @drteowanlin How does a retinol face serum compare with alternatives? If you have sensitive skin, you may want to consider these retinol alternatives. Retinol is traditionally regarded as the holy grail of OTC cosmeceuticals. As a derivative of vitamin A, retinol works by stimulating collagen production and targeting skin receptors known as nuclei acid receptors. It’s also associated with the coveted retinoid glow which refers to a lifted, plumped and tightened skin appearance. However, one major downside is that certain skin types do not tolerate it well, i.e. sensitive skin, skin of color. Those living in sunny climates also experience much higher rates of photosensitivity. In this edition of skincare encyclopedia, we discuss 7 categories of retinol face serum alternatives that are suited for sensitive skin types. My list 👇 1. Naturally occurring sources of retinol 2. Retinyl Palmitate 3. Acetyl Hexapeptide 4. Oligopeptides 5. Bakuchiol 6. Adenosine 7. Sea buckthorn oil Have you tried any of these before? Which is your fav? Let me know in comments below! #skincareroutine #skincareactives #skincareactives101 #skincareingredients #skincareingredient #singaporedoctor #dermatologist #singaporedoctors #skincare #dermatologist #tiktoksg🇸🇬 #skincareroutine #skincaretips #skincare101 #skincareproduct #dermdoctor #learningsfun #learnontiktok #retinolskincare #retinolserum ♬ original sound – Dr.TWL Dermatologist

    Are retinol face serum alternatives as good as retinol?

    The truth is retinol is only as effective as…how well you tolerate it. It simply isn’t true that as long as the dose is low, as long as you skin cycle—that you won’t get side effects. What you can do instead to to switch out of retinol to other alternatives. Retinaldehyde for example is well tolerated even by those with sensitive skin because it requires a 3 step conversion process, which is gentler on skin.

    Which is safer than retinol? 

    Peptides are recommended especially for those with sensitive skin and or a known history of retinol sensitivity/allergy. For areas such as around the eyes or the mouth area, the skin is thinner and may be more vulnerable to irritation. Look for eye creams that contain natural sources of retinol such as brassica or retinol alternatives such as peptides.

    Retinol Face Serum Alternatives Ingredient Pairing

    Do retinol face serum alternatives work?

    Yes. Studies have shown that oligopeptides have equivalent effects as retinol does, sans skin irritation risks. 

    Is natural retinol home made?

    No. Natural retinol refers to plant-based or botanical sources of retinol. Examples are bakuchiol, rose hip seed oil, carrot seed oil and sea buckthorn oil. Proper distillation processes are essential to ensure purity of the product and efficacy. 

    Herbal Formula with Botanical Synergy

    What does retinol face serum do for the face?

    Retinols belong to the family of retinoids which stimulate cell renewal and collagen production. Retinol face serums are over-the-counter cosmeceuticals, distinct from prescription retinoids. The key differences are that retinols are less potent than retinoids and require a longer period of use before results are seen. 

    Is it good to use retinol face serum everyday?

    It depends on how well you tolerate it. If you are using a retinol face serym product for the first time, it is advisable to start at a lower frequency i.e. 2-3 times a week or as directed by the manufacturer. Different formulations of retinol also confer different tolerability levels, so it is best to do a patch test before you apply to the entire face. For example, under the jawline, left on overnight is good practice. Check for signs of irritation such as redness, flaking, stinging or burning. 

    Remember to only use retinols at night because of its sunsensitising potential. Application of sunscreen and sun avoidance is also advisable. 

    Which retinol is good for beginners?

    The dose of retinol affects how effective it is but the benefits are also limited by its tolerability. 

    The lowest doses of retinol begin at 0.01-0.03%. It is good practice to start at the lowest doses if you have never used retinols before. Moderate-strength retinol ranges from 0.03% to 0.3% which gives faster and more dramatic results. The highest doses range from 0.3-1% which should be reserved only for those who have tolerated lower doses. 

    What are the side effects of retinol face serum?

    Most commonly, local skin irritation such as redness, burning, stinging and flaking. Some individuals have true retinol allergy which results in a more exaggerated response. Care must be taken not to apply retinol formulations close to the eye area unless specifically formulated for that region. 

    Should I use retinol or retinoids?

    If you already use retinol, prescription retinoids may be an option for highest efficacy. However, bear in mind that sensitisation can still occur. This is why at the pharmacy, our formulations are all retinol-free. Instead, we focus on non-sensitising retinol alternatives such as bakuchiol, sea buckthorn oil and oligopeptides

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