I didn’t start using a retinoid product until I was around 27 years old. When I started there were many misconceptions about the ingredient. There also weren’t many gentle formulations like we have now. You had to either settle for a product with a very small percentage or go hard with 1%. And also, coming out from the world of “green beauty”, I was taught that retinol was an ingredient to avoid. Yeah, having acne I regret that one, and also silicones.
Since then, I’ve matured, I’ve learned and I’ve managed to go through over 20 different retinoid products. But only a handful have made it to a blog post. The variation and accessibility we have now are wonderful, and most serums on the market I’d say are really good. It would be quite redundant to mention every single product I’ve tried. Instead, I will talk about three retinoid products that I think do deserve a mention. As two of them, I hold very high on my list of memorable favorites.
When to start using a retinoid product?
The general consensus is to start off with a lower-strength retinoid product as you approach your late twenties and build up from that. That is if you don’t have any skin issues like acne. What a retinoid does is speed up the skin’s renewal process which gets slower with age. Therefore, using a retinoid product before the slowdown can cause issues as your cells will be renewing at a rapid pace.
Young people with acne can try to test out OTC retinoid products but might want to seek professional help to get a prescripted one.
How often should I use an OTC retinoid product?
Everyone differs here in tolerance and it depends on the strength of the product. Every brand will tell you to start off slow, ease it into your routine and build up your tolerance for every night’s use. But I’ve personally never used a retinoid product every night unless it’s been at low strength in my night cream or if the type of retinoid is just that gentle. During the past six years that I’ve been an avid retinoid user, I’ve always used it a maximum of three nights/week spaced out with one to two nights in between.
From what I’ve read there isn’t really a necessity to use a retinoid product every single night as the effects of it on the skin last up to 72 hours even after you’ve washed your face in the morning. Basically, it’s still working and doing its thing. But I also do think that, as you get older, you might develop a bigger tolerance and feel like the effects aren’t as lasting.
It also depends on the rest of your routine. If you want to use things like acids and peels, you might want to space things out. As to not over-exfoliating your skin and damage your skin barrier. Know one thing, and that is that you do not need to suffer through dry and flaky skin!
There’s no right or wrong in how often you should have a retinoid in your routine. Always introduce it slowly and keep in mind these three things:
- What’s your skin’s individual tolerance? (regardless of age)
- What strength is the retinoid product you want to use?
- What other actives do you have and want to keep in your routine?
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni
I had a 10ml tube of A-Passioni that came in a Drunk Elephant set that I got a couple of Christmases ago. When this came out the reviews were mixed. In the sense that, either you could tolerate it or it sabotaged your skin. Because of this, it took me a few months to work up the courage to use it. But also, I was still dabbling with percentages around 0.5% or less. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon one influencer that showed the difference in her skin from using it only once a week for a whole year. I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s just from using it once a week?!” So that’s what I did.
I tried stretching it to using it twice a week after a couple of months but, with acids in the routine, it was a hard balance between good skin and compromised skin. Nonetheless, the once-a-week usage was surely enough to see positive improvements! Not to say, using it this rarely, the 10ml lasted me a lot longer (about 6 months!) than expected. I would usually use the sandwich method, where I’d either mix it with my ceramide cream or apply it on top.
Although this is one of the best retinoid serums I’ve tried (and I’ve tried many) I still find it out of branding for Drunk Elephant to have come out with such a strong retinol. My assumption of the brand has always been that they focus on sensitive skin but, with this launch, this threw me off a bit. I mean, instead of pure retinol, they could’ve at least gone with 1% encapsulated retinol like many other brands, making it much less irritating and more user-friendly.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (if used with caution)
With that said, if you’re looking for an OTC retinoid with a lot of punch that almost acts like a prescripted retinoid, try the Drunk Elephant A-Passioni! There will be a learning curve and a slow adapt, but it will be worth it. I will say though that this isn’t a product to reach in your twenties. Honestly, skip this one and go for a more gentle starter-retinol product. Drunk Elephant A-Gloei Maretinol Oil with 0.5% would be a better start. And if you are like me, who only uses a retinoid 1-2 a week, the 10ml will last you a long long time.
Sunday Riley A+
I got a sample of the Sunday Riley A+ retinol serum in one of the yearly advent calendars. When this came out there was some confusion with the branding about how much retinol is in it. If I remember correctly, Sunday Riley marketed this as 6.5%(!) retinol, when the max percentage of retinol allowed is 1%. Or perhaps it wasn’t Sunday Riley at fault, but influencers not reading the complete description, I guess? Either way, it’s pretty clear on their website now what they mean with 6.5%. This entails a 5% retinoid ester blend (like HPR), 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol, and 0.5% blue-green algae that has retinol-like qualities for a natural, retinoid-alternative.
The term “encapsulated retinol” can be a bit confusing too. From what I’ve read, it entails a time-released delivery of retinol throughout the night. But it isn’t 1% retinol that is being dumped on the skin. It’s actually more like around 0.3% pure retinol. That’s why brands like Peter Thomas Roth and No7 can write things like “1.5% encapsulated retinol”, as it doesn’t refer to the actual amount of pure retinol. Either way, it makes the delivery of retinol less irritating and your skin will be getting a little throughout the night. The reason non-encapsulated retinol products can cause side effects is that it delivers all at once instead of a little at a time.
I can’t completely compare and choose between the Sunday Riley A+ to Drunk Elephant’s A-Passioni. They both are really good and on my “Top 3”-list of best retinoids! I’d love to have either one in my routine. Still, I’m more inclined to recommend A+ as it’s encapsulated retinol, making it much more gentle. With that said, it does pack some punch with the other added retinoid esters. I had no issues using it 2-3 times a week from the get-go with a once-a-week acid night. It’s also quite hydrating for being a retinoid product. It gives the skin this lovely “peeled-egg” feeling. Every time I’d use this I’d wake up with a glowing and even complexion and I never needed to sandwich this with my creams. It just works! Because of this, it gets an A+!
Allies of Skin Retinal & Peptides Repair Night Cream
I quite recently finished a full-size of the Allies of Skin Retinal night cream. This product is formulated with 0.05% encapsulated retinal. However, they seem to not write the percentage anymore on their site, therefore I’m a bit unsure.
My first impression of this was a little “meh”. I do find Allies of Skin to always exaggerate their hydration claims. Just like their hyaluronic acid serum, the retinal cream is said to provide “superior hydration overnight”. But both my boyfriend and I would usually apply a night cream on top. Perhaps if we lived in a more humid part of the world, it wouldn’t feel needed.
We both used this 2-3 nights per week. But compared to other retinoid products we used before, this one felt lacking in results. It was almost as if we were wasting our time. There wasn’t this immediate feeling of “wow, my skin looks nice” in the mornings that you’d usually get and expect. Neither did fine lines and wrinkles appear softened or prevented. I had some experience with retinaldehyde before with Avéne and felt a greater difference with their products.
It wasn’t until I started using this cream daily (because I just wanted to finish it up) that I started to feel and see those retinoid results. I won’t say that everyone will be able to tolerate using it nightly… But as the name suggests, it’s formulated to be gentle enough to be used as your nighttime moisturizer. Still, I wouldn’t say that the results are comparable to that of the other two retinoid serums.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (If used to the upper limit of one’s tolerance)
Although this started to impress me the last month of use, I’m not quick to run and repurchase. I find the AoS retinal cream to be a great and – perhaps – a more gentle alternative for people who want a 2-in-1 night cream. I currently started using the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 (0.06% retinaldehyde) and despite there only supposed to be a 0.01% difference, the Crystal Retinal 6 packs a lot more punch similar to the other two. Therefore, I would say that the Allies of Skin retinal cream is great for anyone looking for a night cream spiked with some vitamin A. But also, could possibly be a great retinoid product for sensitive skin to use a couple of nights a week.