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The Inkey List Retinol Serum

Retinol Serum

A superstar ingredient for a reason, retinol helps to promote skin renewal and enhance collagen production, leaving skin brighter, smoother and more youthful-looking. This slow-release formula minimises irritation and maximises [more] [more] results, leaving fine lines and wrinkles minimised and skin tone more even than ever. Contains 1% Retistar retinol, that comes out as 0.05% pure retinol. [less]
Uploaded by: elise_1 on 15/01/2019

Skim through

Ingredient name what-it-does irr., com. ID-Rating
Water (Aqua/Eau) solvent
Glycerin skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant 0, 0 superstar
Butylene Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, solvent 0, 1
Propanediol solvent, moisturizer/​humectant
Dicaprylyl Carbonate emollient
Dimethicone emollient 0, 1
Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer viscosity controlling
Caprylyl Glycol moisturizer/​humectant, emollient
Phospholipids skin-identical ingredient, emollient goodie
Caprylic/Capric Glycerides emollient, emulsifying
Squalane skin-identical ingredient, emollient 0, 1 goodie
Dimethyl Isosorbide solvent
Glycine Soja (Soybean) Extract
Carbomer viscosity controlling 0, 1
Sodium Ascorbate antioxidant
Tocopherol antioxidant 0-3, 0-3 goodie
Polysorbate 60 emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Tocopheryl Acetate antioxidant 0, 0
Glycolipids
Sodium Hydroxide buffering
Disodium EDTA chelating
Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate cell-communicating ingredient goodie
Retinol cell-communicating ingredient superstar
Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols emollient
Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate antimicrobial/​antibacterial, preservative
PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil emulsifying, surfactant/​cleansing
Hyaluronic Acid skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/​humectant goodie
Polysorbate 20 emulsifying 0, 0
Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 cell-communicating ingredient goodie
Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 cell-communicating ingredient goodie
Phenoxyethanol preservative

The Inkey List Retinol Serum
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. 

Expand to read more

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. 

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 >>

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Butylene glycol, or let’s just call it BG, is a multi-tasking colorless, syrupy liquid. It’s a great pick for creating a nice feeling product.  

BG’s main job is usually to be a solvent for the other ingredients. Other tasks include helping the product to absorb faster and deeper into the skin (penetration enhancer), making the product spread nicely over the skin (slip agent), and attracting water (humectant) into the skin.

Expand to read more

It’s an ingredient whose safety hasn’t been questioned so far by anyone (at least not that we know about). BG is approved by Ecocert and is also used enthusiastically in natural products. BTW, it’s also a food additive. 

Also-called: Zemea | What-it-does: solvent, moisturizer/humectant

Propanediol is a natural alternative for the often used and often bad-mouthed propylene glycol. It's produced sustainably from corn sugar and it's Ecocert approved. 

It's quite a multi-tasker: can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. 

What-it-does: emollient

A clear, colorless, almost odorless oil that spreads nicely and easily and gives a velvet dry skin feel. It is good friends with sunscreen agents and helps to solubilize them. Also, it makes sunscreens feel lighter and spread easier. 

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.

As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity. 

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As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types). 

Also-called: Sepinov EMT 10 | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising

This long-named, polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits) is a helper ingredient that's good at emulsifying and stabilizing oils into water-based formulas. It also acts as a thickening and gelling agent that creates nice, non-sticky and supple textures. It works over a very wide pH range (3-12) and can be used to thicken up low-ph formulas, such as exfoliants.

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

Phospholipids - goodie

A type of lipid that's the major (about 75%) component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient.

It has a water-loving head with two water-hating tails and this structure gives the molecule emulsifying properties. It is also often used to create liposomes, small spheres surrounded by phospholipid bi-layer designed to carry some active ingredient and help its absorption.

What-it-does: emollient, emulsifying

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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.

Expand to read more

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 >> 

What-it-does: solvent

A little helper ingredient that can boost the performance and enhance the delivery of active ingredients in a formula. It can penetrate deep layers of the skin helping actives to do the same.

It's especially useful to help active ingredients for self-tanning (DHA), anti-acne or skin-whitening to penetrate deeper and work better.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

A big molecule created from repeated subunits (a polymer of acrylic acid) that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula.  It usually has to be neutralized with a base (such as sodium hydroxide) for the thickening to occur and it creates viscous, clear gels that also feel nice and non-tacky on the skin. No wonder, it is a very popular and common ingredient.

What-it-does: antioxidant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

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 >>

A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version. 

According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E. 

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right. 

For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.  

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BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.

Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.

What-it-does: chelating

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.

Also-called: Granactive Retinoid, HPR, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR) is the newest member of the "royal family of skincare" (see who is who on this cool retinoids family tree), the retinoid family. The queen of the family is the FDA-approved anti-aging superstar, retinoic acid, aka tretinoin and HPR seems to be a gentle but influential sister princess to the queen.

It's a so-called retinoic acid ester, meaning that it's directly related to retinoic acid. If you've already read our description about retinol or retinyl palmitate, you know that the active ingredient our skin cells can interpret is retinoic acid. Other forms of retinoids have to be converted by our metabolic machinery to do something. That's not the case with HPR.  It binds directly to the retinoid receptors of the skin cells to work its skincare magic. 

Expand to read more

The big promise of HPR is that it's similarly active as retinoic acid (no conversion needed, remember) but without the irritation. According to the manufacturer's tests, 24 hours of an occlusive patch with 0.5% HPR resulted in significantly lower irritation than 0.5% retinol.  Also, there was a "dramatic reduction of lines and wrinkles" after applying 0.2% HPR around the eyes twice a day for 14 days.

These results sound sooo promising that we don't blame you if you wanna run out right now and get an HPR formula to slather on your face.  But, before you do, you have to know that the info we have about HPR at the moment is mainly from the manufacturer, whose tests may or may not be accurate or properly designed (such as controlled, double-blind and conducted on an appropriate number of people). 

As HPR is pretty new there isn't that much independent research we could find yet. We found two Italian studies both examining the efficacy of HPR combined with other things (retinol in both cases, and papain in one of them) for the treatment of acne. Both studies found the formulas effective but they contained other things too, so it's hard to judge how well HPR did.

Regarding anti-aging, there is a pretty recent, Estee Lauder sponsored study that compared the in-vitro (not on real human beings but on skin models) collagen-boosting effectiveness of Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, tretinoin, good old retinol and retinyl palmitate (RP). The results are pretty encouraging showing that  "HPR had greater levels of gene transcription than retinol and RP (RP) at the same concentrations ... however, HPR did not achieve gene transcription levels of ATRA (tretinoin)."  But, a much higher dose might be tolerated from HPR and the highest dose of HPR out-performed tretinoin. Pretty encouraging, though we are very much waiting for a study to confirm all this on real human beings.  

Bottom line: We are really happy to see some innovation happening with retinoids, and we think Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate is a super promising rising star, but it’s not fully proven yet. If you are someone who likes to experiment and try out the newest things, grab your running shoes and try some HPR containing serum now (see product list below :)). If you like the tried and true, however, stick to retinol and tretinoin for now and re-examine the question in a couple of years when (hopefully) more research will be available. 

Are you into Retinoids? Read our shiny description about other members of the retinoid family: 

Retinol - superstar
Also-called: Vitamin A, Form of Retinoids | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient
  • Retinol (pure Vitamin A) is probably the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC
  • It has to be converted in the skin to retinoic acid to work its magic
  • Once converted, it has the same effect as all-trans-retinoic acid, aka tretinoin
  • A generally accepted ballpark number is that retinol is 10-to-20 times less potent than retinoic acid
  • It makes skin less wrinkled, smoother, firmer and tighter
  • It might also be helpful for acne prone skin as it normalizes keratinization and makes the pores produce less sebum
  • Possible side effects and irritation are also much less than with retinoic acid
  • Do not use whilst pregnant
Read all the geeky details about Retinol here >>

Also-called: Soybean Sterols | What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Fermented Radish Root | What-it-does: antimicrobial/antibacterial, preservative

It's an alternative, natural preservative that comes from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, a lactic acid bacteria that has been used to make traditional Korean dish, kimchi. During the fermentation process, a peptide is secreted from the bacteria that has significant antimicrobial properties

It is one of the more promising natural preservatives that can be used even alone (recommended at 2-4%), but it's not as effective as more common alternatives, like parabens or phenoxyethanol

A mildly viscous, amber-colored liquid with fatty odor, made from Castor Oil and polyethylene glycol (PEG).

If it were a person, we’d say, it’s agile, diligent & multifunctional. It’s mostly used as an emulsifier and surfactant but most often it is used to solubilize fragrances into water-based formulas.

  • It’s naturally in our skin and behaves there like a sponge
  • It can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water
  • It is a big molecule from repeated subunits (polymer) so different molecular weight versions exist (unfortunately there is no way to determine MW from INCI list only)
  • High-molecular-weight-HA (>500 kDa) is an excellent surface hydrator, skin protectant and can act as an osmotic pump helping water-soluble actives to penetrate deeper into the skin
  • Low-molecular-weight-HA (< 500 kDa) can hydrate the skin somewhat deeper though it is still a big molecule and works mainly in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin)
  • Low-molecular-weight-HA might also help the skin to repair itself by increasing its self-defense (~ 200kDa used in the study)
  • Ultra-low-molecular-weight-HA (<50kDa) is a controversial ingredient and might work as a pro-inflammatory signal molecule
Read all the geeky details about Hyaluronic Acid here >>

What-it-does: emulsifying | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 

Also-called: Part of Matrixyl 3000, Pal-GQPR, Previously Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3 | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

A four amino acid peptide with the amino sequence of glycine-glutamine-proline-arginine. It is attached to palmitic acid (a fatty acid)  to increase oil solubility and skin penetration. 

It works by reducing the production of the signal moleculeinteleukin-6 (IL-6) which promotes inflammation in the skin and less inflammation means slower degradation of important things (like collagen) that results in younger looking skin for a longer time. 

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It works in synergy with its pal, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 in the famous Matrixyl 3000 complex. You can read some more about the famous duo here.

Also-called: Part of Matrixyl 3000, Pal-GHK, Formerly also Palmitoyl Oligopeptide | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

A really famous peptide that is part of Matrixyl 3000, the most sold peptide complex in the word. Before we go and find out what the big deal with Matrixyl 3000 is, let's just focus on Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 itself for a bit.

It's a small three amino acid (they are the building blocks of all proteins) peptide with the amino sequence of glycine-histidine-lysine, or GHK. GHK is attached to palmitic acid (a fatty acid) to increase oil solubility and skin penetration. 

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The GHK part is the important one as it's a type I collagen fragment. When collagen naturally breaks down in the skin, the resulting peptide fragments signal to the skin that it should get to work and create some nice, new collagen. Adding in collagen fragment peptides, like GHK, might trick the skin into thinking that collagen has broken down and it's time to create some more.

Therefore, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 is believed to be able to stimulate collagen production in the skin, and more collagen means fewer wrinkles and younger looking skin. 

In Matrixyl 3000, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 is coupled with Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7  and the duo works in synergy to reduce wrinkles and give younger looking skin. According to the manufacturer's in-vivo (made on real people) test, applying 3% Matrixyl 3000 twice a day for 2 months resulted in all of the following things:

  • 39.4% reduction in surface occupied by deep wrinkles
  • 32.9% reduction in main wrinkle density
  • 19.9% reduction in main wrinkle average depth
  • 16% improvement in roughness
  • 16.2% in lifting effect
  • 5.5% improvement in elasticity
  • 15.5% improvement in skin tone

Manufacturer results, of course, always have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but if you like peptides, the Matryxil 3000 duo is one of the best-proven and most well-known ones and it's something that is worth trying.

What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

Expand to read more

Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

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 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 moisturizer/humectant | solvent
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A natural corn sugar derived glycol. It can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A clear, colorless, almost odorless oil that spreads nicely and easily and gives a velvet dry skin feel. It is good friends with sunscreen agents and helps to solubilize them.
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A helper ingredient that's good at stabilizing water-based formulas and also serves as a thickener. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | emollient
A type of lipid that's the major component of all cell membranes. As for skincare, it works as an emollient and skin-identical ingredient. It's also often used to create liposomes. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient | emulsifying
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 solvent
A helper ingredient that can boost the performance and enhance the delivery of active ingredients. It can penetrate deep layers of the skin helping actives to do the same. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
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 emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together, aka emulsifier.
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Compared to the pure form it's more stable, has longer shelf life, but it's also more poorly absorbed by the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does chelating
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]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
The newest member of the retinoid family. Its big promise is that it's similarly active as retinoic acid but without the irritation. For now, it's a very promising but not properly proven active both for anti-aging and acne treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Vitamin A - the most proven anti-aging ingredient available OTC that can smooth wrinkles and make skin firmer. It might also be useful for acne-prone skin as it normalizes keratinization. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | preservative
It's an alternative, natural preservative that comes from radishes fermented with Leuconostoc kimchii, a lactic acid bacteria that has been used to make traditional Korean dish, kimchi. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying | surfactant/cleansing
A mildly viscous, amber-colored liquid that works as an emulsifier and surfactant. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
A famous natural moisturizing factor that can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water. Works as an excellent surface hydrator in skincare. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's a common little helper ingredient that helps water and oil to mix together. Also, it can help to increase the solubility of some other ingredients in the formula. 
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
The pal of Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 in Matrixyl 3000. A four amino acid peptide that works by reducing the production of the signal molecule, inteleukin-6 (IL-6) that promotes inflammation in the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
A three amino acid peptide that is part of famous peptide duo, Matrixyl 3000. It's a type I collagen fragment that might be able to trick the skin to think that collagen broke down and it's time to create some new one. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]