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By now, you’ve probably heard about retinol’s many benefits for many skin problems: It’s been clinically proven to boost cell turnover, which means it’s one of the most effective over-the-counter ingredients for fading dark spots, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and treating acne.
However, due to its effectiveness, retinol can be harsh on the skin and lead to dryness, irritation, and peeling (even if you use a strong prescription retinoid). If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or simply looking for a gentle alternative that offers similar results, there are plenty of options to consider. “Retinol alternatives are great at providing people with topical anti-aging options that may be less irritating and more bearable, as well as being safe during pregnancy and breast-feeding,” dermatologist Hadley King, MD, tells PopSugar.
There are a number of alternative ingredients to watch out for: “Bakuchiol, peptides, growth factors, antioxidants, niacinamide, and alpha hydroxy acids are some of the non-retinoid topical ingredients that also have anti-aging properties,” says Dr. King. So what do each of these ingredients do, you might ask? Read ahead to find out.
Best Retinol Alternative Ingredients
As Dr. King mentions, peptides make a great alternative to retinol. Versions such as copper peptides, palmitoyl 7 tetrapeptides, and hexapeptides increase skin elasticity and firmness, stimulate cell renewal, and reduce wrinkle, respectively, making them extremely versatile when it comes to anti-aging.
Dr. King says bakuchiol has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. “Bakuchiol is one of the few alternatives to retinol for which studies support pseudoretinol’s anti-aging and skin-lightening effect,” she says. “One study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that it can reduce signs of sun damage such as retinol, while another paper in the International Journal of Aesthetic Sciences reported improvement in lines, wrinkles, skin elasticity and pigmentation. Activation of genes that regulate collagen and elastin production — the same ones that Retinol activates it—but it doesn’t seem to irritate and redden the skin the way retinol often does, so it appears to be a gentler option.”
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3, which is an essential nutrient for your body. When used topically, it has a range of benefits. “[Niacinamide] It has been shown to protect against UV damage that can cause skin cancer, calm redness and inflammation, [and] It helps reduce itching and maintain moisture in the skin,” Geeta Yadav, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Science Dermatology, previously told POPSUGAR. Elaine Marmore, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare, noted in the same story. : “Niacinamide increases the natural lipids on the skin and reduces water loss, thus reducing pore size. It can also improve skin texture,” making it an effective alternative to retinol.
AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acids, are other great options; Examples include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid. It helps exfoliate the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin for an even, smooth and glowing complexion.
Dr. King says growth factors are another alternative to retinol that can “increase collagen and elastin, thicken skin, and improve color and texture.” “There are some plant-engineered options that are well-tested and proven to be effective. Some of the plant-based options use a human-like human growth factor that’s manufactured in bioengineered barley seeds, and studies have shown that they are effective in increasing skin thickness.”
Now that you know what ingredients to look for, what are the best retinol alternatives on the market? Dr. King breaks down her favorites, as well as why she had the cut beforehand.