Retinol is an incredible skincare ingredient for cell turnover, wrinkle reduction, and hyperpigmentation. But for those with sensitive skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, retinol can cause even more dryness, flakiness, and irritation.
Luckily, there are natural, gentle alternatives to retinol. Ingredients like sunflower seed oil and niacinamide can provide the same benefits as retinol—without the stressed-out skin reaction. Read on to discover our top retinol alternatives for sensitive skin.
What is retinol and how does it work?
Retinol is a type of retinoid made from vitamin A. It’s most popular for being a powerful anti-aging ingredient.
The thing that makes retinol so effective is that it penetrates under the surface of the skin straight to the dermis—AKA the middle layer of your skin. This is where free radicals can get stuck, stopping the natural production of collagen and elastin. Retinol neutralizes those free radicals to help reduce the look of fine lines, wrinkles, and enlarged pores.
While retinol is working on that middle layer, it’s also exfoliating the top layer of your skin to make it smoother and more refined. Retinol can also be used to help treat acne and reduce the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmentation.
Can you use retinol if you have sensitive skin?
For many people, skincare with retinol has little to no side effects. But for those of us with sensitive skin, retinol can often cause dryness, redness, and peeling. It’s especially irritating for inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and rosacea.
There are a few ways to potentially avoid retinol irritation:
- It’s always recommended to start slow with retinol. Apply it every other night or every third night before bed to see how your skin reacts.
- Since retinol can cause sun sensitivity, always apply at night or avoid sun exposure if you apply during the day.
- The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that waiting 30 minutes after washing your face to apply retinol can help reduce irritation.
When in doubt, always talk to your doctor or dermatologist before using a new retinol product.
Are there gentle or natural alternatives to retinol?
One thing we’ve learned over five years of crafting sensitive skincare? There’s almost always a gentle alternative for any ingredient. Retinol is no exception.
Here are a few of our favourite retinol alternatives and the other benefits they provide for sensitive skin.
Sunflower Seed Oil
Your favourite yellow flower is so much more than a pretty face. Sunflower oil has been used in skincare for hundreds of years, loved for its hydrating and antioxidizing benefits. It can soothe irritation and redness while shielding your skin from external triggers.
What makes it a good retinol alternative? Sunflower seed oil can also minimize signs of aging. Its protecting properties, plus its ability to retain moisture, help to smooth fine lines and wrinkles without irritating the skin.
Find sunflower seed oil in the Restorative Facial Oil.
African Mahogany Tree Bark Extract
This lesser-known extract is everything you want in an anti-aging ingredient. African Mahogany tree bark improves skin elasticity, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and smooths the look of pores. It also boosts collagen production.
African Mahogany tree bark isso effective that it’s scientifically proven to make your skin look and feel more youthful in just 28 days. And since it’s an all-natural extract, it’s safe and gentle on sensitive skin.
Find African Mahogany tree bark extract in the Soothing Lotion.
A wonderful form of vitamin B3, niacinamide is a key ingredient for glowing, healthy skin. It helps hydrate and build essential proteins, such as keratin. Like the other ingredients on this list, niacinamide is excellent at protecting your skin barrier, reducing redness and hyperpigmentation, and minimizing the look of pores and fine lines.
It also helps grow something called a lipid barrier—AKA a shield of skin cells that retains moisture. This is especially helpful for those of us who suffer from conditions that cause extreme dryness, like eczema.
Find niacinamide in the All-Calm Facial Mist.
Everyone’s favourite toast-topper is also a fantastic (and safe) alternative to retinol. Avocado oil has powerful antioxidizing and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an ideal candidate to soothe sensitive skin.
Avocado oil contains natural linoleic acid, which is packed full of skin benefits. It’s especially great at boosting cell growth and cell turnover—an essential part of the anti-aging process. Avocado oil has also been proven to protect the skin from sun exposure and other damage.
Find avocado oil in the Protective Cream.
This one is a staple for sensitive skincare. Calendula is one of the most soothing plants out there, perfect for calming stressed-out skin and reducing itchiness. It can also limit transepidermal water loss (also known as TEWL— read more about it here) to quench dry skin.
Just like retinol, calendula is a natural antioxidant. That means it has those same free-radical-fighting abilities to protect your skin from stressors and stimulate collagen production.
Find calendula extract in the Soothing Lotion.
Palmarosa has long been a skincare favourite. It has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, which means it’s bursting with benefits for sensitive skin. Palmarosa oil also hydrates the skin while stimulating the regeneration of cells below the surface.
Find palmarosa oil in theRestorative Facial Oil.
Rule of thumb: always patch-test.
While every ingredient listed in this blog is proven to be gentle and effective, every skin type is unique. It’s important to always patch-test a new ingredient or product before using it.
When our founder, Elaine, was crafting the Iremia sensitive skincare line, she made sure to patch-test every iteration on her own skin to see how her rosacea and eczema would react. This meticulous trial-and-error is what led to a product line specifically designed to target and soothe sensitive skin conditions while making your skin look younger and healthier.Take into consideration your specific skin concerns as well. For example, plant oils can sometimes have a negative impact on acne-prone skin. When in doubt, talk to your doctor or dermatologist and contact our team anytime with questions about Iremia products. We’re here to help and we love to talk about all things skincare (if you hadn’t noticed).