Retinal, Retinol, Retinyl and Retinoic acid all sound the same but are the same thing ?
The simple answer is No!
All 4 are part of the Retinoid family, which is a Vitamin A derivative, but each of them differ in efficacy, strength and side effects.
The weakest of them is Retinyl which usually is found in the form of Retinyl Palmitate in most cosmetic products. It is an ester of Retinol, thus making it less irritative and is commonly found in Retinoid eye creams as the skin around the eye is the most sensitive. However, while Retinyl is least irritative it is the least effective as compared to its other 3 counter parts. To understand why we need to dive into a bit of chemistry.
Retinyl palmitate is right at the start of the chemical reaction and requires your skin to convert it THREE times before it reaches the ingredient that does most of the work - Retinoic acid. The need for multiple steps of conversion, significantly reduces the effectiveness of Retinyl Palmitate.
Retinoic Acid, on the other hand, is the gold standard for Retinoids and is the most widely studied Retinoid. It is the OG that gave Retinoid its famous anti-aging and collagen boosting name. Due to its potency, Retinoic Acid is a prescription-only drug, that requires you to see a doctor.
Being the strongest Retinoid, Retinoic Acid also has the most side effects. It is common to experience skin redness, peeling or a burning sensation. These side effects are a major hindrance to consistent usage. Hence users are unable to reap the benefits from Retinoic Acid as the product intended.
This led to a slew of studies to find the best alternative to Retinoic Acid.
Retinol, which is 20% more potent that Retinyl Palmitate, was identified as one possible Retinoic Acid substitute. It is also the most commonly found Retinoid in skincare products. While the side effects are much more tolerable than Retinoic Acid, its effectiveness is TWENTY times less.
Is there any product that is as effective as Retinoic Acid but has much less side effects?
YES ! - your solution is Retinal.
Retinal, also known as Retinaldehyde, is just one step before Retinoic Acid and is the most effective option, without needing to see a Dermatologist. Retinal is also least irritating when compared to Retinol and Retinoic Acid.
Koreans even did a study where they applied Retinol half the face and Retinal on the other half and compared both halves with photographs and concluded that the half with Retinal was significantly more effective in boosting hydration, getting rid of wrinkles and increasing elasticity of the skin. (1)
Another study compared 0.05% of Retinoic Acid and 0.05% Retinal and showed both to be equally effective at reducing fine line and wrinkles and improving skin texture. (2) However, Retinoic Acid had significantly more side effects.
Retinal sounds too good to be true - why then is it not in every skincare product ?
Retinal is notoriously difficult to stabilise making it costly for manufacturers. The shelf life is also much shorter than a typical Retinol/Retinyl containing product.
When looking for a good Retinal product - we realised the limited options had fragrance or alcohol or other potential irritative ingredients. So we decided to create our own Retinal Serum that was clean, simple and effective while being bang for your buck.
Learn more about our amazing Retinal Neon Serum - curated specially to fight fine lines/pigmentation/tighten pores/boost collagen and reduce inflammation.
(1) Jemin Kim, Jihee Kim et al. The efficacy and safety of multilamellar vesicle containing retinaldehyde: A double-blinded, randomized, split-face controlled study. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021.Sep;20(9):2874-2879. Epub 2021 Feb 18.
(2) Creidi P, Vienne MP et al. Profilometric evaluation of photodamage after topical retinaldehyde and retinoic acid treatment. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998 Dec; 39(6):960-5.