When it comes to skin care, there’s no denying that one ingredient reigns supreme: retinol. The tried-and-true anti-aging active remains the fan favorite among dermatologists, no matter how many other buzzy ingredients come and go. And for good reason: Retinoids have a long history of proven results, including improving fine lines, texture, tone, and breakouts, says New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.
The only problem? It’s an intense ingredient. All that efficacy comes along with the potential for some annoying side effects, namely flaking, redness, and dryness. Not to mention that it’s also deactivated by the sun, meaning it must be reserved for nighttime use, and that it’s not safe to use during pregnancy. Obviously, this leaves a lot of people looking for retinol alternatives.
Happily, there are now more options than ever, effective actives that support collagen production and cell turnover, without the irritating side effects, says Dr. Engelman. Get ready to meet ret-alts, the latest batch of skin care ingredients poised to potentially de-throne the reigning king. Here, what you need to know about three the new retinol alternatives being praised for their skin benefits.
Perhaps the buzziest ret-alt of the bunch, bakuchiol is derived from a Southeast Asian plant and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. So, why are you just hearing about it now? Scientists only recently compared the two head-to-head, spurred by the fact that bakuchiol has similar antioxidant properties to retinol. The results? Shockingly similar effects when it came to improving the look of wrinkles and spots — and with bakuchiol having almost no irritating side effects. Plus, its antibacterial properties are beneficial for treating acneic skin, adds Dr. Engelman.
Is it just us or does this sound like a spell from Harry Potter? It’s actually a flower that contains phytanic acid, an important active that’s been shown to act like retinol by triggering collagen production, notes Dr. Engelman. (As a reminder, collagen is the protein responsible for firm, youthful skin, and more collagen equals fewer wrinkles.) It may also stimulate the production of elastin, and helps to fight free radicals, too, which is always a good thing.
While retinol may be known for its irritating side effects, niacinamide is just the opposite. A form of vitamin B3, it earns top marks for calming redness and inflammation (making it a great pick if you have easily-irritated or acne-prone skin) and combating hyperpigmentation, too. Unlike the other retinol alternatives on this list, it’s not comparable to retinol in terms of collagen stimulation or exfoliating specifically, but it does help strengthen the skin barrier, says Dr. Engelman.
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