Follow us on our new Insta page »
Dr. Different Vitamin A Cream

Vitamin A Cream

Retinal
Uploaded by: mmadchef808 on

Dr. Different Vitamin A Cream
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying. 

One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time. 

What-it-does: emollient

An odorless and colorless emollient ester (cetyl alcohol + ethylhexanoic acid) that gives a velvety and silky feel to the skin. It has great spreadability and a non-oily feel. It's a popular ingredient in makeup removers.

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

Squalane - goodie
What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

It seems to us that squalane is in fashion and there is a reason for it. Chemically speaking, it is a saturated  (no double bonds) hydrocarbon (a molecule consisting only of carbon and hydrogen), meaning that it's a nice and stable oily liquid with a long shelf life. 

It occurs naturally in certain fish and plant oils (e.g. olive), and in the sebum (the oily stuff our skin produces) of the human skin. As f.c. puts it in his awesome blog post, squalane's main things are "emolliency, surface occlusion, and TEWL prevention all with extreme cosmetic elegance". In other words, it's a superb moisturizer that makes your skin nice and smooth, without being heavy or greasy.

Another advantage of squalane is that it is pretty much compatible with all skin types and skin conditions. It is excellent for acne-prone skin and safe to use even if you have fungi-related skin issues, like seborrhea or fungal acne.

The unsaturated (with double bonds) and hence less stable version of Squalane is Squalene, you can read about it here >> 

Also-called: Safflower Seed Oil | What-it-does: antioxidant, emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0-2

The oil coming from the seeds of the yellow flowered safflower plant. Similar to other plant oils, it's loaded with nourishing and moisturizing fatty acids: it's a high linoleic acid oil (70%) and has only smaller amounts of oleic acid (11%) (this might be great for acne-prone skin). It also contains antioxidant vitamin E (44mg/100g alpha-tocopherol).

Also-called: Shea Butter;Butyrospermum Parkii Butter | What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling

Unless you live under a rock you must have heard about shea butter. It's probably the most hyped up natural butter in skincare today. It comes from the seeds of African Shea or Karite Trees and used as a magic moisturizer and emollient.

But it's not only a simple emollient, it regenerates and soothes the skin, protects it from external factors (such as UV rays or wind) and is also rich in antioxidants (among others vitamin A, E, F, quercetin and epigallocatechin gallate). If you are looking for rich emollient benefits + more, shea is hard to beat. 

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Cholesterol - goodie
What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's one of the important lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. About 25% of the goopy stuff between our skin cells consists of cholesterol. Together with ceramides and fatty acids, they play a vital role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated. 

Apart from being an important skin-identical ingredient, it's also an emollient and stabilizer

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: solvent

A really multi-functional helper ingredient that can do several things in a skincare product: it can bring a soft and pleasant feel to the formula, it can act as a humectant and emollient, it can be a solvent for some other ingredients (for example it can help to stabilize perfumes in watery products) and it can also help to disperse pigments more evenly in makeup products. And that is still not all: it can also boost the antimicrobial activity of preservatives

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here.  The TL; DR version of HA is that it's a huge polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) found in the skin that acts as a sponge helping the skin to hold onto water, being plump and elastic. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.

As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit  "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution". 

In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).

What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable, easier to formulate and cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists. 

If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way more about the topic at hyaluronic acid (including penetration-questions, differences between high and low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize other ingredients. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A natural high-molecular weight amino acid polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that is claimed to have awesome, better than IT-moisturizer HA, skin hydrating properties. It is a film-forming polymer that improves both the moisture binding and retention properties of the skin.

Ceramide 3 - goodie
Also-called: Ceramide NP | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient

One of the many types of ceramides that can be found naturally in the upper layer of the skin. Ceramides make up about 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated. It works even better when combined with its pal, Ceramide 1.

We wrote way more about ceramides at ceramide 1, so click here to know more.

What-it-does: emollient, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 2-3

A common multi-tasker fatty acid. It makes your skin feel nice and smooth (emollient), gives body to cream type products and helps to stabilize water and oil mixes (aka emulsions).

Retinal - superstar
Also-called: Form of Retinoids, Retinaldehyde | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

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 well-proven member of the family that is absolutely worth trying. 

Also-called: Omega-9 fatty acid | What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

A common fatty acid that can be found in lots of plant oils. Its name, "oleic", means derived from olive oil, a plant oil rich in oleic acid, but avocado, macadamia and marula oils, just to name a few, are also oleic rich.

Its chemical structure is monounsaturated, meaning it has one double bond (cis-9) that makes it less kinky than polyunsaturated fatty acids with multiple double bonds. Less kinkiness means that oleic acid and OA-rich oils are a bit thicker and heavier than their LA-rich siblings.

Maybe this thickness is the reason that Oleic acid is considered comedogenic, and if you have acne-prone skin avoid OA-rich plant oils, and choose linoleic acid-rich versions instead.

The thickness of OA also means that OA-rich oils are considered more nourishing and moisturizing than their LA-rich counterparts, and are generally considered to be more suitable for dry, mature skin types. 

As for oleic acid in its free form (and by free we mean that it is not bound up in a triglyceride structure like it is in oils), it mostly serves as an emulsifier or emulsion stabilizer in small amounts in regular cosmetic products. It is also quite well researched and is used in the pharmaceutical industry as a penetration enhancer

Tocopherol - goodie
Also-called: Vitamin E | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0-3 | Comedogenicity: 0-3
  • Primary fat-soluble antioxidant in our skin
  • Significant photoprotection against UVB rays
  • Vit C + Vit E work in synergy and provide great photoprotection
  • Has emollient properties
  • Easy to formulate, stable and relatively inexpensive
Read all the geeky details about Tocopherol here >>

Adenosine - goodie

Adenosine is an important little compound in our body that has a vital cell-signalling role. Research on smearing it on our face is also promising and shows so far a couple of things:

  • It can help with wound healing
  • It’s a good anti-inflammatory agent
  • It might even help with skin’s own collagen production and improve skin firmness and elasticity
  • It helps with barrier repair and protection
  • It might be even useful for the hair helping with hair thickness and hair growth

Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.

It is typically used in tiny amounts, around 0.1% or less.

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
An odorless and colorless emollient ester that gives a velvety and silky feel to the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An emollient and natural moisturizer that can be found also in the sebum (oily stuff our skin produces). It leaves a nice non-greasy, non-heavy feeling on the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0-2
Safflower Seed Oil - emollient plant oil with moisturizing fatty acids (linoleic: 70%, oleic: 11%) and antioxidant vitamin E (44mg/100g alpha-tocopherol). [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
Shea butter that's considered to be a magic moisturizer and emollient. It is also soothing and rich in antioxidants. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's one of the important lipids that can be found naturally in the outer layer of the skin. About 25% of the goopy stuff between our skin cells consists of cholesterol. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent
A multi-functional helper ingredient that acts as a humectant and emollient. It's also a solvent and can boost the effectiveness of preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
It's the chemically chopped up version of normal lecithin. Most often it's used to create liposomes and to coat and stabilize some other ingredient. 
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A natural high-molecular weight amino acid polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) that is claimed to have awesome, better than IT-moisturizer HA, skin hydrating properties. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient
Ceramides make up 50% of the goopy stuff that's between our skin cells and play a super important role in having a healthy skin barrier and keeping the skin hydrated.  [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 2-3
A common multi-tasker fatty acid that works as an emollient, thickener and emulsion stabilizer. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
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. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
A common fatty acid that can be found in lots of plant oils. Its name, "oleic", means derived from olive oil, a plant oil rich in oleic acid, but avocado, macadamia and marula oils, just to name a few, are also oleic rich. Its chemical structure is monounsaturated, meaning it has one double bond (cis-9) that makes it less kinky than polyunsaturated fatty acids with multi [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0-3, 0-3
Pure Vitamin E. Great antioxidant that gives significant photoprotection against UVB rays. Works in synergy with Vitamin C. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
An important compound in our body that has a vital cell-signalling role. It is wound healing, anti-inflammatory and can help with barrier repair. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | viscosity controlling
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes. [more]