Retinol: Bringing your A game.


Retinol! Let’s do this!

At the beginning of 2016, I wrote an article listing what I believe to be the ten most important things you can do for your skin this yearNaturally, the use of Retinol topped the list as it should. But how do you shop for a Retinol product? Which one is going to be right for you?


But first, why retinol?

Perhaps a better question would be, why not retinol? There’s no real reason why you shouldn’t consider retinol in your beauty routine unless you have sensitivity issues. (I’ll come back to that in a moment). For the rest of us, regardless of age, retinol offers something the skin needs to function correctly and that an additional daily dose of topically applied vitamin A. An essential nutrient for skin health.

You don’t need to wait for the problems of ageing skin such as lines, wrinkles and hyper-pigmentation to occur. Start using retinol now. It will preserve your skin today, but equally, it will reverse damage in the skin, and let’s face it, the moment you step outside in the sun as a child you’ve begun to disrupt and damage your skin. As time goes by you’ll be glad you invested in retinol.


Which one is going to be best for you?

Most cosmetic and cosmeceutical brands have some form of vitamin A in their offering of products. But not all are equal in quality, stability, efficacy and the will affect the results you are likely to get. A poorly formulated retinol product with a barely-there-hint-of-retinol is a waste of time, or worse will leave you with irritation. Not what you want and with so many brands promising the benefits of retinol it can get a little confusing. A bit of prior knowledge before you buy will help, right?


What to look for.

Retinol is a light-sensitive ingredient. Due care should be taken.

My selection criteria when choosing a good retinol product?

What type of vitamin A used in the product? 

Is it retinol, retinyl palmitate, palmitic acid or retinaldehyde, amongst others.  (but these are the most commonly used). For a more detailed explanation you may like to check my article: Vitamin A for your skin – Activate your youth enzymes.  

Is the product stable? 

How is it produced, is it encapsulated? What have other measures been taken in the manufacturing process to ensure stability?

The packaging?

Is there minimal exposure to light and air?

What is the strength or percentage of retinol in the product?  

Strong enough to make a difference or just enough to make the bottom of the ingredient list?

Does the company offer transparency in their information?  

Most good brands will give enough information on their company website to provide you with the confidence to choose the right product for you.

What advice is being offered or recommended? 

You should also consider a consultation with a brand representative either via the company advice line or through a trusted skin care professional.


The side effects of retinol or, what’s normal, what’s not.

So I mentioned earlier, a poorly formulated retinol product can cause irritation. But this is where it gets a little confusing as most retinoid or retinol products will cause mild irritation initially.

So how do you know what’s normal? Usually, upon commencement of a retinol product, it’s best to start slowly so as not to overwhelm the skin with more vitamin A than your skin can handle. If your skin irritation persists and you develop itchiness or a rash, then the formulation is probably not right for you. 

Your best option is, always look for quality cosmeceutical or medical grade brands and start with an entry-level strength or, if you have chosen a stronger formulation, then introduce it slowly, sparingly, for just a couple of days of the week until your skin becomes tolerant.

How long this takes for your skin to adjust is an individual thing and will depend on YOU and the health and condition of YOUR skin, which is why it’s always a good idea to have a ‘skin care professional’ on speed dial to monitor your results and answer any questions you have. 



How long before you see results?

The very first time I used a retinol product I noticed a change in my skin overnight. Literally! It was subtle, but my skin looked clearer, smoother and well, just better. To say others noticed? Maybe not. But I did and that’s what counts. But again we’re all unique and our response times will differ.

Your skin condition, your history of sun damage, the strength of the product, the quality and efficacy of the formulation will all come in to play.

If you’ve found the right retinol product, the one that meets the above criteria as well as any of your own, then you will get results and the results will continue on for as long as you use retinol. So keep using it.


Remember, you are restoring your skin, allowing it to function in a healthy, youthful way and preventing future damage. Keep using it. 


If it’s not on, it’s just not on!

Or put another way, when is the best time to apply your retinol product?

I often hear that retinol shouldn’t be used during the day as it will cause sun sensitivity. That’s not entirely true. Your skin needs adequate stores of vitamin A to protect itself from the sun, the only caveat is to always protect your skin from the sun with an SPF30+

Many will suggest retinol is used at night to minimise the loss of retinol caused by daylight. This is true. 

So I guess the answer is, use it at a time that suits you or as recommended by your chosen brand. What’s important is, you use it regularly and always in conjunction with a sunscreen. 

What do I do? I like to use a low dose retinyl palmitate formulation during the day and full strength retinol or retinaldehyde formula at night. I follow it with a good moisturiser and a well-formulated sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50.


5 of the best I know of and why I like them.


Alpha H Intense Night Repair Serum


Alpha H | Liquid Gold Intensive Night Repair Serum

I love Alpha H for so many reasons. It’s a true cosmeceutical brand, it’s Australian, the founder Michelle Doherty is passionate about skin care and it works very well. They’re big on glycolic Acid and their Liquid Gold delights millions around the world. As the name implies this particular serum is an intensive treatment, so if you like the look of Alpha H you may like to start with some of their lower strength products before you work up to this one.

The packaging is good from a stability point of view, except for one minor irritation, the gold on the top of the pump rubs off, which after a while looks a bit, well, not so nice. But, if that doesn’t bother any of your OCD tendencies, then this product is a winner. I’ve been using it religiously over the last 3 months and I do like the results. A 50Ml tube retails at $99AUD


Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment


Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment

If necessity is the mother of invention, then Paula Begoun is one dedicated mother. A career born behind a cosmetic counter and frustration with her own skin led to a beauty empire.

Paula has numerous books to her credit such as ‘Don’t go to the cosmetic counter without me’ and The Beauty Bible. 

Despite there being in excess of 25,000 products on the market today, Paula has found her niche’, which is delivering only the ingredients supported by evidence in a no-nonsense way. 

This particular product will give you a powerhouse of retinol.

What I like about this product, as well as the strength, is the great lengths Paula and her team have undertaken to bring you a stable retinol product. Not only has Paula ensured the contents remain stable for as long as possible in an airtight container, but her production and filling methods ensure stability every step of the way. 

This product is for you if you’re ready for a strong, powerful product. If not, start with some of Paula’s other retinol products with less punch. 30Ml pump retails for $77AUD


Environ AVST 1

Environ | AVST 1

It took me a long time before I tried this product but once I did I was pretty impressed. Environ take their vitamin A very seriously.

You’ll be hard pushed to buy it over the internet as the company want to make sure you’ve had a thorough skin consultation before they get you started. No matter where you are in your experience with retinol, it’s likely they’ll start you with their lowest strength.

I started with AVST1 and even though it’s a low dose formula, I noticed the results very quickly and couldn’t wait to get to the next level in strength. Des Fernandez is the brainchild behind this brand and can be credited with being the first cosmetic company to bring consumers like you and me a cosmetic preparation containing retinol.

Prior to Environ coming on the market, the only available vitamin A was via a prescription from your dermatologist. So you could say, pioneers. 

They also deliver their vitamin A in light and air controlled packaging. If this is your first foray, then Environ will not disappoint. Please see stockists listed on the Environ website for retail prices. 


Ultraceuticals Ultra A Skin Perfecting Serum


Ultraceuticals | Ultra A Skin Perfecting Serum

What can I say; this is a brilliant product. Dr Geoffrey Heber is very passionate about delivering scientifically supported products that will bring you results.

What I really like about this range of retinol is the packaging and the sophisticated formula. They changed this a while back to ensure stability and they’ve also improved the formulation with encapsulated retinol to provide longevity right to the last pump of serum.

Ultraceuticals have also created 3 strengths so again, if you’re a retinol virgin, then you can start slowly and work your way up to the full retinol love affair. Doubtful you’ll have any regrets. 30Ml Pump retails for $104AUD



Dermaquest A2 Serum

Dermaquest  | A2 Serum

Okay, so I am yet to try this one. But I’m including it because this is a brand to trust. I’ve tried other products in the range and if their anything to go by this will deliver. Dermaquest has also dealt with any stability issues by giving you the type of packaging all sophisticated formulations containing retinol should be in.

The other detail I like about this product is the inclusion of Glycolic acid to assist in the absorption into the deeper layers of the skin and Sodium Hyaluronate to plump up the skin at the same time.

Another product you won’t be able to buy online as Dermaquest want you to head to a skin care professional for a personal recommendation. Fair enough. If you’re interested head to their website where you’ll find their stockists and retail price.



Finally, there are many great retinol products on the market, more than I can list here, for now, I’ve chosen the above 5 as they met the specific criteria I set for myself and for the purpose of this article. If you have a retinol product you’d like me to review, drop me an email


You’ve tried skin care with vitamin A, but it just doesn’t seem to agree with you?


Ella Bache Creme Intex

Ella Bache | Creme Intex

Some of us have underlying issues that make using retinol even at a low strength formula like Retinyl Palmitate somewhat troublesome. There can be many reasons for this, maybe your lipid barrier is compromised or you’ve had too many years of harsh products and an even harsher environmental stress or you’re just a bit sensitive.

Well, it’s possible to use something containing vitamin A that provides you with a more healing and soothing effect.

You may like to try Ella Bache Creme Intex. Derived from Fish Oil, you’ll get the restorative benefits of vitamin A, but without the intensity of retinol that converts to retinoic acid to restore the DNA of skin cells, activate youth enzymes and rejuvenate the skin, but even so, you’ll be very happy with how this product soothes sensitivity in the skin by harnessing the benefits of vitamin A derived from fish products. A 60Ml jar retails for $74AUD



And now you?

Do you have a retinol product you absolutely love? Or not quite ready to dip your toe in the water? Leave a comment or a question, I’d love to hear from you. Or, if you liked this article why not share it on your favourite social media. I’d be very pleased if you did.

See you next time.

The Beauty Issue