Which Vitamin A Derivative Is Right For You?

Vitamin A may well be the gold-standard age-defying ingredient in skincare, but its benefits go much further than simply helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

In fact, each vitamin A derivative has its own unique benefits that are suited to specific skin types and concerns, and some have additional qualities that you might not expect. Therefore, it is important to make sure that you are well-informed before you purchase any products containing vitamin A, to ensure it’s right for your skin type and skin goals.

What does vitamin A do for the skin?

Vitamin A is a powerful age-defying ingredient that helps to accelerate skin cell turnover while supporting collagen production.

In doing so, it helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve the skin’s radiance and texture, and reduce the look of discolouration, age spots and enlarged pores. It can also help to combat blemish-causing bacteria due to its antibacterial properties, helping to promote a clearer complexion overall.

The types of vitamin A used in skincare products are otherwise known as ‘retinoids’. At Medik8, we use 3 main types of retinoids; retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinyl retinoate.

Types of retinoids

In order to be effective on the skin, vitamin A must travel through the ‘vitamin A pathway’ to reach its biologically active form of ‘retinoic acid’. Each retinoid represents a different stage of this journey, which determines its strength, how it works and its effectiveness on the skin.

Retinaldehyde or retinal

Retinal (retinaldehyde) is our everyone vitamin A. When compared to retinol, retinal is further along the vitamin A pathway and is just one conversion step away from becoming retinoid acid. This means that it acts faster than retinol on the skin; making it the most potent form of vitamin A that you can buy without a prescription. Retinal helps to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, boost skin cell renewal and improve radiance and texture for visibly brighter, firmer and smoother-looking skin.

However, retinal is difficult to stabilise and degrades quickly. Therefore, it is rare to find retinal products available that deliver truly noticeable age-defying results. That’s where our breakthrough and unique patented stabilisation system comes in. The age-defying qualities of retinal are undeniable. It is proven to work 11x faster than retinol* - therefore visible results can be seen sooner.

Retinal is also the only retinoid with direct antibacterial properties, which makes it an ideal choice for blemish-prone skin types. With continued use, it can help to target blemish-causing bacteria, leaving the complexion visibly clear, clarified and decongested. Because it’s such a powerful ingredient, retinal may cause some irritation to skin that hasn’t already built up a tolerance to retinoids. However, our unique retinal encapsulation system and time-release technology within our Crystal Retinal range not only ensures that retinal power is preserved, but also that it is gradually released onto the skin throughout the night to minimise irritation. This applies across all of our 5 progressive strengths - from 0.01% - 0.2% retinaldehyde.

How to use retinal:

- Begin with a low concentration then gradually build-up your tolerance.

- Use your chosen strength twice a week for the first 2 weeks, then every other night for the next 2 weeks, then every night.

- Always apply it in the evening and, if your skin is particularly sensitive, you can follow with a moisturiser to help minimise the risk of irritation.

- Remember: when using any vitamin A product, always use sunscreen the next morning.


Retinol can be described as the classic vitamin A, as it is the most well-known form of vitamin A and can be found in a variety of skincare products. As with all other forms of vitamin A, it helps to stimulate skin cell renewal to visibly improve the skin’s tone, texture and radiance for a more youthful-looking appearance. When applied to the skin, retinol first converts to retinal and then to retinoic acid. It is at this stage the ingredients become ‘active’ on the skin and visible results begin to occur.

Why might I use retinal instead of retinol?

At Medik8, we recommend everyone to use retinal as it is a more potent form of vitamin A than retinol and provides faster visible results. The main reason that someone might choose a retinol product instead, is if they prefer the texture. For example, we have a range of retinol serums that have an oil-based liquid texture.

How to use retinol:

- If you don’t already use vitamin A, begin with a product containing a low concentration to protect your skin against any potential irritation.

- Gradually increase the usage until your skin becomes tolerant. Use it twice a week for the first 2 weeks, then every other night for the next 2 weeks, then every night.

- Always apply it in the evening and, if your skin is particularly sensitive, follow with a moisturiser to help minimise the potential for irritation.

- Remember: when using any vitamin A product, always use sunscreen the next morning. Firstly, this is because your skin may be more sensitised to the sun, and secondly to maintain your age-defying results by preventing UV damage.

Retinyl retinoate

Retinyl retinoate is an advanced retinoid (exclusive to Medik8) that offers powerful age-defying results while remaining gentle even on the most sensitive skins. Proven to be 8 times more powerful than retinol,** unlike other forms of vitamin A it can be used during the day as it is photostable, meaning that it doesn’t break down when exposed to sunlight. Therefore, you can confidently use it both morning and night.

r-Retinoate Day & Night

r-Retinoate Day & Night

Is a luxurious, creamy multi-step serum that combines vitamin A with tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, a stabilised and gentle form of vitamin C to visibly enhance the skin’s luminosity as well as provide essential antioxidant protection.

r-Retinoate Intense

r-Retinoate Intense

Is an exceptional nighttime moisturiser that combines 5 of Medik8’s most advanced age-defying technologies for the fastest, most effective and all-round youth-renewing results in one masterpiece formula. Delivering your nighttime serum and cream in one, it removes the need for multiple steps in your evening skincare routine.

How to use retinyl retinoate:

Retinyl retinoate is very unique in that it is photostable, which means that it doesn’t degrade when exposed to sunlight like traditional forms of vitamin A. Unlike other retinoids, it can therefore be used both day and night!

Daniel Isaacs, Director of Research at Medik8 says, “Retinyl retinoate is one of the only forms of vitamin A which is active in sunlight; able to be used in both the morning and the evening. That means you can get vitamin A benefits at both ends of the day.”

Remember, it is very important that you always use sunscreen when using any vitamin A product. When using r-Retinoate Day & Night, apply Advanced Day Ultimate Protect afterwards.


Bakuchiol is a plant-based vitamin A alternative ideal for those who can’t use retinol - for example when pregnant or breastfeeding. A study published by the British Journal of Dermatology,*** demonstrated that bakuchiol has similar age-defying properties to retinol, but without any of the side effects.

Some skin types are extremely sensitive or even intolerant to vitamin A, and pregnant or breastfeeding women are generally advised against using it completely. That’s why bakuchiol is a great plant-based alternative for still achieving vitamin A-like results.

This gentle, plant-derived ingredient suits all skin types, although the visible effects may take longer to appear on the skin. Therefore, if you aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, you may prefer to use a different type of retinoid to achieve faster visible results.

How to use bakuchiol:

After cleansing in the morning and evening, massage 6 drops of Bakuchiol Peptides across the face, neck and décolletage.

Use alongside a nourishing moisturiser. Always follow with sunscreen the next morning.

Note: Due to ethical considerations, Bakuchiol Peptides has not been tested on pregnant women, but there is nothing in the formula which is known to be an issue during pregnancy (e.g. vitamin A or any high levels of exfoliating acids). If you are at all concerned, always consult your doctor before use.

Which vitamin A derivative is best?

As mentioned above, we recommend that everyone use retinal as it is a more potent form of vitamin A , meaning that you achieve visible youth-renewing, age-defying results fast. However, If you prefer an oil-based, liquid texture, then you might want to choose a retinol product instead.

Medik8’s favourite type of vitamin A: Retinaldehyde

The benefits of retinaldehyde are vast and varied. It’s the most potent form of vitamin A that you can buy without a prescription, making it our favourite type of retinoid for fast, proven age-defying results.

Any potential for irritation can be minimised by starting at a lower strength and gradually phasing in use - as per the detailed application guidance.

Our unique retinal encapsulation system within our breakthrough Crystal Retinal range not only ensures that retinal power is preserved for maximum and ongoing results, but also that it is gradually released into the skin throughout the night to minimise the risk of irritation.

Our bestselling Crystal Retinal range includes:

Crystal Retinal

Crystal Retinal

Available in 5 progressive strengths (0.01%-0.2% retinaldehyde), this next-generation vitamin A allows you to work your way up for ongoing visible age-defying results without irritation.

Crystal Retinal Ceramide Eye

Crystal Retinal Ceramide Eye

Expertly optimised for the eye area and available in 3 strengths for progressive results (0.03%-0.1%), this all-in-one, ceramide-infused nighttime eye cream helps to visibly lift and brighten the eye area for a more youthful appearance.

What to look for in a product containing retinoids

- Products that are packaged in air-tight containers and are in opaque, amber coloured packaging

- Contain additional complementary ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or ceramides

- Are available in a choice of strengths so that you can choose the one that’s most suited to your skin’s tolerance

4 tips for using vitamin A in your skincare routine

Tip 1

Keep your routine simple. Retinoids are powerful ingredients, so only use other recommended products alongside them that won’t interfere with their effectiveness.

Tip 2

After cleansing in the evening, apply a pea-sized amount of your chosen vitamin A product onto the skin. If you’re experiencing any irritation, follow with a nourishing moisturiser to help soothe and calm the skin.

Tip 3

Gradually phase the product into your routine. Start by using it twice a week for the first 2 weeks, then every other night for the next 2 weeks, then every night.

Tip 4

Remember to always use sunscreen every morning after vitamin A use, as retinoids can increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. Not only this, but the sun itself is one of the main culprits for visible signs of ageing - so preserve your youth-boosting vitamin A results with sufficient sun protection.

Retinoid skincare routine

Step 1: Begin with a gentle cleanser

Thoroughly remove any dirt, make-up, impurities and dead skin cells with an effective cleanser that won’t irritate your skin. Medik8’s range of cleansers leave the skin feeling smooth and radiant, in preparation for the next steps of your skincare routine.

Step 2: Use your preferred toner

Our toners have been expertly formulated to help aid in the absorption of other products in your skincare routine. Working in harmony alongside vitamin A, we recommend Press & Glow or Press & Clear (for blemish-prone skin) as Crystal Retinal’s perfect partner for a visibly glowing, smoother and more youthful-looking complexion.

Step 3: Apply your retinoid product

You only need to apply a thin layer of your chosen retinoid product for it to be effective.

Crystal Retinal

The serum that reinvented vitamin A skincare. Formulated with our patented retinal stabilisation technology that ensures optimum potency for visible age-defying results, while remaining gentle on the most sensitive skins. Available in a choice of 5 strengths (0.01% - 0.2% retinaldehyde), this groundbreaking vitamin A serum allows you to gradually work your way up for progressive visible results and no irritation.

Medik8 Crystal Retinal Ceramide Eye

Comes in three progressive strengths to suit your skin’s individual needs, and is clinically proven to improve signs of ageing around the eyes. Apply a small amount around the eye area in the evening, avoiding the eyelids. Follow with Advanced Day Eye Protect the next day to maintain your visible results.

Intelligent Retinol Smoothing Night Cream

Contains 0.2% retinol and is perfect for new users who want to target the first visible signs of ageing. Evenly apply a small amount across the face, neck and décolletage.

Medik8 Intelligent Retinol serum

Available in three strengths, allowing you to choose the concentration that is most suited to your skin’s needs. Simply massage four drops across your face, neck and décolletage.

Medik8 r-Retinoate Day & Night Eye Cream

Features patented, encapsulated retinyl retinoate that’s exclusive to Medik8. Apply a small amount to the lower and outer edges of the eye both morning and evening, being careful to avoid the eyelids.

Step 4: Use a nourishing moisturiser

As mentioned, retinoids may cause irritation and dryness for some skins, so applying a moisturiser that contains deeply hydrating ingredients (such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid) after your vitamin A product can help to keep your skin feeling nourished and comforted.

Step 5: Always apply sunscreen in the morning after using vitamin A at night

Retinoids can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so this is an important step to follow - regardless of the type of vitamin A you’re using. Medik8 sunscreens combine high performance, all-encompassing protection against UVA and UVB rays with nourishing and youth-boosting actives - giving you the best of both worlds.

*G. Siegenthaler et al., Retinol and retinal metabolism, Biochemical Journal, 1990, 268, pp 371-378
**H. Kim et al., Synthesis and in vitro biological activity of retinyl retinoate, a novel hybrid retinoid derivative, Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, 2008, 15;16(12), pp 6387-93
***Bioorg Med Chem., 2008, 15;16(12), pp 6387-93