6 Retinol Alternatives for Younger-Looking Skin

6 Retinol Alternatives for Younger-Looking Skin featured image
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This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

When retinol is a little too much for your skin (i.e. redness, sensitivity, etc.), look to one of these “phyto-retinol” alternatives for similar line-smoothing benefits without the irritation.

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BAKUCHIOL: An extract derived from the leaves and seeds of the Babchi plant, which is native to India.

“A 2019 study comparing 0.5-percent retinol cream and 0.5-percent bakuchiol cream found there was no statistical difference between the two in terms of improving wrinkles and hyperpigmentation,” says Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “They both boost collagen production and address signs of photoaging.”

Baton Rouge, LA dermatologist Ann Zedlitz, MD says bakuchiol is also a skin-protecting antioxidant. “It can be mixed with other actives, too, including retinol, so scan the full list of ingredients on the label before using a product if you have sensitive skin.”

One to try: ISDIN Isdinceutics Melatonik Night Serum ($165)

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RAMBUTAN: A tropical tree in Southeast Asia with edible, hairy fruits in the family of lychee.

“The extract has shown to have anti-wrinkle effects in vivo,” explains cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline. “There have also been clinical studies performed by the supplier (BASF) where the compound has shown to target molecules of the dermal extracellular matrix (ECM), elastin, dermis and collagen. This leads to an increase in skin elasticity and a reduction in wrinkles.”

The peel, pulp and seeds of the fruit are loaded with antioxidants; it’s a natural source of vitamin C, too.

One to try: Alpyn Beauty Wild Nettle & Niacinamide Firming Serum ($58)

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CARROT SEED OIL: The oil produced by distilling seeds of the carrot plant, which is high in oleic acid.

“Carrot seed oil is a good source of beta-carotene, which can convert to vitamin A, so it can work similarly to retinol,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “It’s also rich in antioxidants, all skin types can benefit from it, and it can penetrate the skin really well.”

Although the chemical structure of carrot seed oil (and the other phyto-retinols mentioned here) bears zero resemblance to retinol, the ingredient can be used in a similar fashion to minimize signs of aging and revitalize the skin for a more youthful look.

One to try: Nuria Beauty Defend Skin Restoring Serum ($32)

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BIDENS PILOSA: An herbaceous plant, also known as Black Jack, which is part of the daisy family.

Dr. Schlessinger says Bidens pilosa contains phytanic acid, which works on skin in the same way retinol does by helping to increase collagen and elastin while minimizing hyperpigmentation.

“In human fibroblasts, Bidens pilosa is shown to bind to retinol receptors better than retinol,” Koestline explains. “Studies also show it can significantly reduce the expression of the MMP-1 protein—the same as retinoic acid and better than retinol— which is largely responsible for collagen degradation.”

One to try: REN Clean Skincare Bio-Retinoid Youth Serum ($76)

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ROSEHIP SEED OIL: An emollient oil extracted from the seeds and rosehip fruit of the wild rose bush.

“Rosehip oil is a vitamin A carrier oil that is rich in betacarotene and also contains a small amount of retinoic acid,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “Therefore, it can be helpful in encouraging new cellular turnover to improve lines and wrinkles, collagen production and hyperpigmentation.”

Koestline adds that it’s also full of antioxidants, making it a potent skin rejuvenator. “It contains vitamins C and E, as well as fatty acids that improve skin texture and tone,” she says. “You can also add a drop to moisturizer and mix the two in your hand before applying.”

One to try: The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil ($11)

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MOTH BEAN EXTRACT: An oil from the droughtresistant moth bean plant found in India.

“Moth bean extract offers stimulation of cell renewal, collagen synthesis and antioxidant properties,” says King. Its phenolic compounds, including caffeic acid (also found in coffee and tea) and ferulic acid, offer an extra boost of defense against UV damage and pro-aging free radicals.

Moth bean is a highly stable ingredient and considered more gentle than retinol (many products containing it can be used twice a day). It’s a great option for those with mature skin.

One to try: Graydon Skincare Supermoon Serum ($87)

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