Retinol: Safe or Scary?
Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Let's talk about an ingredient that I know A LOT of women use... RETINOL. Is this a safe or scary ingredient?
What are Retinoids? Introduced to the marketplace in 1971, retinoids, the umbrella turn for retinol ingredients, are vitamin A derivatives used in skin care products that have been hailed as the "cure-all" for many skin problems. There are over-the-counter retinols (retinol, retinaldehyde, retinal, and many more) and prescription-strength (tretinoin aka all-trans retinoic acid or Retin-A (brand name), adapalene, tazarotene, trifarotene). What are the benefits? Retinoids are responsible for increasing cellular turnover in skin and help to stimulate collagen production. This leads to younger-looking and clearer skin. What products are they used in? As you may have guessed from the benefits above, retinoids are very popular in anti-aging products, but they can be found in a lot of different skincare products, such as moisturizers and sunscreen.
Is it safe? You can find arguments on both side of the fence for this one, but do I personally use it? No.
For one, they are to be avoided during pregnancy (especially oral retinoids), and when that disclaimer is paired with an ingredient, I have to raise an eyebrow and learn more. Vitamin A and retinol may damage DNA and speed up the growth of skin tumors when used topically (after all, they are designed to increase cellular turnover!). Retin-A, the prescription-strength version of retinol, comes with an FDA-mandated warning to avoid sunlight because Vitamin A may trigger the growth of cancerous tumors when exposed to the sun. I was shocked to find, however, that 16% of beach and support sunscreens have Vitamin A in them (!!) and 14% of all moisturizers with SPF and 10% of SPF lip products contain retinol!!! I had a serious WTF moment when I discovered this. Don't take my word for it. Take a look at the rating from the Environmental Working Group: (full link here)
For further research:
"Nearly a decade after EWG sounded the alarm about retinyl palmitate, the FDA still hasn’t completed follow-up studies that will allow the agency to take a position on the safety of vitamin A and related chemicals in cosmetics and sunscreens. Most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products." - The Problem with Vitamin A What to use instead? Beautycounter's anti-aging line, Countertime, is a game-changer in the anti-aging space... and it's launching July 9, 2019! Stay tuned for more details :) In addition, if you ARE using a skin treatment with any form of vitamin A, please make sure you are consulting with your dermatologist, applying night creams (to provide extra protection), and avoiding the sun (sticking to shade) when using these powerful ingredients.