If you are reading here, we are pretty sure the words retinoids and retinol ring a bell, but if not, you are seriously missing out, please click here immediately to catch up. The TL;DR version is that retinoids are the royal family of skincare with tretinoin being the queen, the only FDA-approved ingredient to treat the signs of photoaging. Retinol is like a grandkid, it has to be converted (through two steps) in the skin to become retinoic acid. The conversion means retinol is both less effective and less harsh on the skin.
So where does our current molecule, Retinal, aka Retinaldehyde fit into the family (btw, here is a nice visual family tree about who is who)? Remember that retinol needed two conversion steps to become retinoic acid? Yes, you are right, Retinal is the intermediate step between retinoic acid and retinol, meaning it needs only one conversion step to become active in the skin. If we go with our royal family analogy, Retinal is Prince Charles, directly next in line to the throne.
Once retinal is converted, it becomes retinoic acid and does the same things we detailed in our tretinoin description. In a nutshell, it is everything you expect from an anti-aging superstar such as decreased wrinkles, smoother, firmer and more elastic skin.
This sounds good, but how does Retinal compare to retinoic acid? Good question! We found a study (a pretty good one with 125 patients) that compared 0.05% retinal with 0.05% retinoic acid (and vehicle). They concluded that "at week 18, a significant reduction of the wrinkle and roughness features was observed with both retinaldehyde and retinoic acid." and the difference between the two was not statistically significant. (Interestingly, in both groups, the results were less significant at week 44, so it might be a good idea to have a retinoid break from time to time?) Also, our guy, Retinal was much better tolerated than retinoic acid known for its harshness.
The good tolerability of retinal was also confirmed by another study that compared retinol (ROL), retinal (RAL) and retinoic acid (RA). They found that "the natural retinoids ROL and RAL do have a good tolerance profile, in contrast with the irritating potential of RA", meaning retinal is an awesome alternative if you have irritation and flaking issues with prescription products, such as Retin-A.
Last, but not least, we want to mention a pretty big (but subjectively evaluated), Avene (the French pharmacy brand famous for its Retinal products) sponsored study that examined the tolerability and efficacy of a 0.1 Retinal + 6% glycolic acid product in the treatment of acne. The product was added next to the standard anti-acne regimen of 1,709 patients for 90 days and the study concluded that the formula was both very well tolerated as well as effective next to other standard anti-acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics.
Overall, if you are into retinoids, Retinal is a really awesome and pretty well-proven member of the family that is absolutely worth trying.
Show me some proof
- Creidi, Pierre, et al. "Profilometric evaluation of photodamage after topical retinaldehyde and retinoic acid treatment." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 39.6 (1998): 960-965.
- Fluhr, J. W., et al. "Tolerance profile of retinol, retinaldehyde and retinoic acid under maximized and long-term clinical conditions." Dermatology 199.Suppl. 1 (1999): 57-60.
- Mukherjee, Siddharth, et al. "Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety." Clinical interventions in aging 1.4 (2006): 327.
- Dréno, B., et al. "Topical retinaldehyde with glycolic acid: study of tolerance and acceptability in association with anti-acne treatments in 1,709 patients." Dermatology 210.Suppl. 1 (2005): 22-29.