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Rethinking Retinoids

By: Noureddine Mriouah
Posted: July 30, 2012, from the August 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
skin care client using professional retinoid-based cream

In a market that is flooded with so-called miracle products, it has become increasingly difficult for skin care professionals and their clients to separate the scientific wheat from the marketing chaff. However, despite the product fads and buzzwords, one ingredient family remains the gold standard in anti-aging, and with good reason. Retinoids are some of the most efficacious ingredients, proven to stimulate fibroblasts, promoting collagen and elastin production to significantly reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Backed by decades of clinical research, retinol and its derivatives remain the closest thing skin care products have to a fountain of youth.

However, there is a catch. So powerful and reactive is this wonder ingredient that it is often its own worst enemy, degrading rapidly in light and oxygen, and causing irritation in large doses. Fortunately, as researchers continue to unravel the mechanisms of how retinoids work, they are able to offer product developers inventive new solutions to many of their inherent challenges. By rethinking retinoids, science comes ever closer to creating a true skin care miracle.

Retinol and the body

The human organism is made of multiple interconnected organs, each communicating with each other through messengers and direct connections, such as vascularization. This complex and fragile system needs protection from harmful environmental aggressors, such as UV radiation, toxic substances and oxidation. As the body’s first line of defense against external threats, the skin assumes this protective role. Unfortunately, being a very active organ, it is also the first to suffer from these aggressions, as is seen in the formation of wrinkles, loss of elasticity and even—in extreme instances—skin cancer.

There are various components within the skin’s layers responsible for modulating and regulating these processes. Among them, retinol and its derivatives are essential in the destruction of free radicals and maintaining the skin’s healthy look.


Retinol (vitamin A), and its natural and synthetic derivatives, are collectively known as retinoids. Retinaldehyde—also known as retinal, retinoic acid and retinyl esters—is part of the retinoid family.