Retinol skincare is all the rage now. For some people, however, all Retinol pros can come with some serious cons. Retinoids are notorious for their irksome potential side effects, including redness, dryness, and general irritation—not to mention they can't be used by those who are pregnant or breastfeeding due to the potential for birth defects.
These primarily plant-based alternatives are a great way to avoid Retinol side effects and still get they benefits.
Perhaps the most well-known and well-studied alternative, with results that are most similar to retinol. It comes from the leaves and seeds of the babchi plant and, while it isn't a vitamin A derivative, functions similarly by working on the same pathways as retinol when it comes to stimulating the production of collagen and elastin. It's also very antioxidant-rich and has anti-inflammatory effects.
The major advantage bakuchiol has over retinol? It's more suitable for sensitive skin types. In fact, in a head-to-head study comparing the two, both ingredients were shown to improve wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, and skin firmness—but the bakuchiol was better tolerated. Plus, since it's not a vitamin A derivative, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding can use it.
Rosehip oil contains small amounts of retinoic acid. Retinol must be converted into retinoic acid in the skin before it has any effect. To that point, it's excellent for regenerating the skin, increasing collagen production, and restoring radiance to dull complexions. And while there's no research comparing it to retinol, because it is rich in the fatty acids that are essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier, rosehip oil can also help improve visible signs of aging by preventing moisture loss.
There's a fair amount of information floating around on the Internet comparing rambutan, a tropical fruit, to retinol. Though there is no good scientific data to support claims of it improving collagen or elastin production. Still, rambutan can have solid anti-aging effects on the skin due to its high antioxidant content. Rambutan has an array of antioxidants that can decrease skin aging by neutralizing free radicals, protecting the skin against oxidative damage and decreasing inflammation and the destruction of collagen and elastic tissue.
Carrot Seed Oil
Derived from the seeds of wild carrots, carrot seed oil is rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that research shows can help with cellular regeneration. Additionally, it's also rich in antioxidants (vitamins C and E, as well as vitamin A, which can be converted into retinol in the skin) A recent study did find it to be effective for skin rejuvenation.
Sea Buckthorn Oil
The pulp of sea buckthorn berries is a nutritional concentrate rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. More specifically, sea buckthorn oil is often used in skincare, largely for, again, its high concentration of antioxidants, including carotenes, vitamins E and C, and flavonoids. It's also rich in essential fatty acids, making it an exceptionally nourishing ingredient. And while the exact mechanism of action is unclear, there have been a few studies showing that sea buckthorn oil promotes collagen production and is helpful in wound healing.
Azelaic acid occurs naturally in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye and is also created on our skin naturally by a yeast—Malassezia furfur—which is part of our normal skin flora. While there's no research comparing it directly to retinol, there's a lot of overlap between the benefits of the two ingredients. For example, azelaic acid is also a choice acne-fighting ingredient: "It kills the bacteria that infect pores, decreases inflammation and redness, and exfoliates and decreases the production of keratin, a natural substance that can lead to clogged pores. On top of that, it's been shown to reduce pigment cells, which is why it's used for the treatment of melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, she adds.
This is slightly different than the other ingredients on this list, as it's not a plant-derived ingredient but rather a form of vitamin B-3. Niacinamide offers many of the same benefits as retinol, namely reducing inflammation, increasing collagen production, treating acne, and decreasing unwanted or excess hyperpigmentation
Where the two differ is when it comes to hydration: Whereas retinol is drying, niacinamide helps maintain hydration in the skin, notes Amouyal. For that reason it's a good choice for all skin types and is sometimes even combined with retinol in certain formulations, he adds. "In my clinical experience, I believe niacinamide does a lot of what retinol does, and I recommend it for very sensitive-skinned patients. Though she does add that its results are not as impressive as those you get from retinol.