Retinal vs Retinol
28 Mar 2018
You might be mistaken for thinking retinal is just retinol by another name, but its profound molecular differences will transcend everything you thought you knew about achieving youthful skin. 11x faster than retinol, this extraordinary molecule elevates the skin's nightly repair cycle to boost collagen production and infuse the complexion with luminosity.
Vitamin A has long been hailed as the gold-standard of anti-ageing. This powerful molecule resurfaces skin, enhances collagen production, reduces blemishes, fades fine lines and wrinkles and brightens the complexion.
Of course, vitamin A comes in many different forms. There’s the tried-and-tested – retinol and retinoic acid – then there’s the next generation molecules such as retinaldehyde (retinal) and retinyl retinoate.
When it comes to over-the-counter skincare, it always comes down to retinol vs retinal. These two molecules seem to reign supreme, but the difference between them is not always that clear. That’s why we’ve compiled easy-to-follow guide to help you the right vitamin A for you.
Retinal vs retinol face mapping
For the most part, retinal and retinol are used across the entire face, neck and décolletage to combat signs of ageing.
Spot-treating certain areas of the face with vitamin A is an unusual practice. Most skin experts recommend applying retinol/retinal to the entire face even if your main concern is in a specific area. Because vitamin A helps to prevent signs of ageing as well as correcting them, it can effectively treat one area while preventing ageing in others.
The one exception is the eyes. The skin around the eyes is extremely delicate. As such, it is particularly prone to sensitivity. But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the anti-ageing benefits of retinol and retinal around the delicate eye area. Just be sure to use an eye-specific product that has been specially formulated to care for the skin around the eyes.
Retinol vs retinal based on skin type
Choosing the right vitamin A comes down to your skin type and the concerns you’re trying to address. Although retinal and retinol work in similar ways, they have a few profound differences that make them suitable for different skin conditions.
For starters, retinal works up to 11 times faster than retinol. This makes it ideal for mature skin types that want to see a significant improvement in fines lines and wrinkles as quickly as possible.
Of course, not everyone needs such an extreme skin rejuvenation, so younger skin may fare better with retinol. Especially when it comes to preventing signs of ageing.
Remarkably, retinal is the only retinoid that exhibits direct antibacterial properties. This makes it perfect for those prone to blemishes. With continued use, it diminishes the bacteria responsible for breakouts to leave skin looking clear, radiant and youthful.
Retinol vs retinal effectiveness
Both retinol and retinal speed up cellular regeneration and collagen production to plump the skin while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They also help to inhibit the production of excess melanin to promote a brighter and more even-toned complexion.
Their main difference is the speed in which they yield results. Retinal has been clinically proven to work up to 11 times faster than retinol.
In addition, retinal has a much higher exfoliation rate than retinol, which contributes to even-toned, radiant skin.
Retinol vs retinal side effects
Both retinal and retinol can cause mild irritation when they’re first introduced to the skin, but these effects are temporary, and they usually occur when vitamin A has been introduced too quickly or in too high a quantity.
Technically speaking, retinol is usually gentler than retinal, but new developments in encapsulation techniques have allowed formulators to create retinal products that are just as kind to the skin as retinol.
Introducing vitamin A into your routine gradually is the best way to avoid irritation. Start with a low percentage. Use it twice a week for the first 2 weeks, every other night for a further 2 weeks and then every night. Once your skin has built-up a tolerance to the ingredient, you can then move on to higher strength products.
Retinal vs retinol, the science
To understand the differences of retinal vs retinol, it helps to understand the vitamin A cycle.
When vitamin A is not being used by the body, it is stored within the skin cells as retinyl esters. Once the body is ready to metabolise vitamin A, these esters are converted to retinol, and then to retinaldehyde before ultimately becoming retinoic acid.
Retinoic acid is the active form of vitamin A, the form that is actually utilised by the skin. That’s why all variations of vitamin A, including retinol and retinal, must be converted to retinoic acid before they can take effect.
This means that when retinal and retinol are applied to the skin, they join the vitamin A cycle at their respective stages. retinol must be converted to retinal and then to retinoic acid, whereas retinal only requires one conversion to retinoic acid. Crucially, this last step is extremely rapid compared to the previous conversions which is why retinal is able to provide such rapid results.
Retinal vs retinol through the years
The importance of vitamin A has been acknowledged for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, liver (a rich source of vitamin A) was used as a routine treatment for those who were visually impaired. But it wasn’t until the early 1960s that dermatologists started to take note of its topical effects. Researchers discovered that retinol could alleviate dry, itchy skin conditions such as dermatitis, and this discovery sparked years of extensive studies and clinical trials.
By 1969, retinol became recognised as an effective acne treatment. Its ability to speed up the skin’s natural exfoliation process, was able to stop pores from becoming blocked and consequently breakouts from forming.
Just 5 years later, dermatologists noticed that acne patients who had been prescribed retinol were receiving anti-ageing benefits as well as clear skin. This is when retinol transitioned from an acne treatment to the gold-standard of anti-ageing.
Retinal has been around just as long as retinol, but it has not been studied to the same extent. This is in large part because it is extremely difficult to stabilise, so until recently it could not be safely formulated in a skincare product. But now, thanks to new developments in the beauty industry, this is no longer the case. Studies shows that retinal has all the benefits of retinal with the added benefit of accelerated action and direct antibacterial activity.