Retinoids are skincare (vitamin) A list celebrities. After SPF, it is most likely the first recommendation which will pass your dermatologist’s lips (well this dermatologist anyway).

Why all the hype? Well, retinoids treat just about everything from pigmentation and acne to wrinkles and skin DNA damage. They are antioxidants which also increase cell turnover (to understand this better, check out this post) and stimulate your skin to make new collagen. Like the most popular girl in a high school blockbuster, they are cheerleaders who “talk” to skin cells and encourage healthier, younger cells to make their way to the surface of the skin. But in the same way that Hollywood pin-ups can either be iconic (think Audrey Hepburn) or a flash in the pan (where has Alicia Silverstone disappeared to?), not all vitamin A’s are created equal.

Let’s start by clarifying: Retinol. And. Prescription. Retinoids. Are. Not. The. Same. Thing.

Over-the-counter or cosmetic Retinol products have to first be converted by the skin into active retinoic acid. The more steps there are in this conversion process, the less potent the product is going to be. Plus the conversion process isn’t instantaneous but can take a long time. How much retinol is actually converted into retinoic acid is also dependent on many things, including the amount of retinol in the product to begin with, and if it’s degraded (basically how old your product is or how long it’s been opened). And, interestingly, some people convert retinol into retinoic acid more quickly than others.

Because of all of these factors, retinol is a slow worker.

On the other hand, prescription retinoids containing tretinoin like Retin-A or Retacnyl and retinoids containing adapalene like Differin are active and ready to go with much higher concentrations of retinoic acid.

This means faster and better results.

It also means more side effects.

Types of retinoids

Remember that retinoids are A-list divas – they are not for everyone and can be a little irritating. They can cause redness, flaking and sensitivity and for those with rosacea or sensitive skin, these side effects can be unbearable. Retinoids are also a pregnancy no-no.

Here are some tips on how to survive the retinoid initiation period:

  1. Think of it as if you’ve decided to start running. You wouldn’t start with a marathon, right? Nope, you would choose the right shoes and do a lot of prep. In the same way, choosing the right retinoid is critical. Tretinoin is fab for more mature, resilient skins while adapalene is a better choice for sensitive skin. A gel formulation is going to be more irritating than a cream one. For ultra-sensitive skins, try a gentler retinoid alternative such as Granactive retinoid found in root 4’s SupernovA serum and Eye Crème Solution.
  2. Let the training begin. In the same way that you wouldn’t start your running programme with an injury, you can’t start using retinoids if your skin barrier is compromised. Make sure that you are using a great barrier-loving moisturizer with ceramides and free fatty acids before introducing a retinoid.
  3. Go low and slow. A pea sized amount for the face starting twice a week is my general rule. If you have a sensitive skin then make a retinoid ‘sandwich’: apply a layer of moisturizer, then your retinoid and then another layer of moisturizer over it for added barrier protection. Increase use to alternate nights after two weeks and then see whether your skin can tolerate using it every night.
  4. Know when to take a break. A little flaking is expected. But if you look like you have a bad case of no-amount-of-concealer-can-hide-this face dandruff and you have to bite your tongue to stop yourself from screaming when applying anything to your face, it’s time to back off. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize, until your barrier has recovered and then reintroduce even more slowly.
  5. Use only at night. Not only are retinoids broken down by sunlight but a concerning study showed the faster development of skin cancer in hairless mice exposed to UV after applying a retinol. It is thought that retinols can form oxygen free radicals which damage DNA when exposed to sunlight.
  6. Don’t stop at your face. Your neck, décolletage and hands will benefit from retinoids too. In these areas, pay even more attention to applying loads of moisturizer.
  7. Choose your supporting cast carefully. Choose other products which play nicely with retinoids. In the beginning initiation phase, stay away from harsh cleansers and your alpha hydroxy acids until your skin has acclimatized. Also stop retinoids five days before and after any in-house treatments such as laser or peels. Double up on your moisturisers, antioxidants and SPF.

There is a reason why retinoids have a glorified position on nightstands all over the world. But remember that they are divas and you need to treat them with caution. Keep following the retinoid golden rules, use them frequently and watch as your skin becomes healthier, more resilient, brighter and less lined. Six months down the line, you may be forgiven for presenting your retinoid with a Golden Globe Award.

Invigorate + Remodel

Our SupernovA Oil is supercharged Vitamin A in an unprecedented power-triad of 6% Granactive Retinoid combined with naturally occurring trans-retinoic acid from rosehip oil and bakuchiol, a plant- based retinol alternative. These A-list healthy ageing superstars have been cocooned in an antioxidant, soothing blend of botanical oils to nourish the skin, calm down inflammation and counteract dryness.

Whereas retinol and retinal require conversion to their active form in the skin, Granactive retinoids bind directly to retinoid receptors. This means that they work faster and better to boost collagen production, lighten pigmentation and treat acne. Retinoids can be divas but our SupernovA oil’s supporting cast lulls them (and your skin) into tranquil and glowing surrender.

Potent anti-inflammatories such as punicic acid derived from pomegranates and chamazulene from Blue Tansy team with all-star multivitamins and essential fatty acids from rosehip and almond seeds.


This skincare celeb is going to wow your nightstand.

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