Holy crap, there are so many retinoids. It’s technically just one measly vitamin (A!) but cosmetic chemists have riffed on it so much that now we’ve got a whole category of sliiiightly different ingredients. There are prescription ones, ones that perform like prescription ones, naturally-derived ones, gentle ones... Off the top of our heads we can count a baker’s dozen. And maybe you’re thinking: Should chemists stop making retinoids? Or even: Why aren’t the chemists stopping making retinoids?! Chemists modify and re-modify retinoids because the more they make, the more likely you’ll hit a sweet spot that gets the job (reducing breakouts, dark spots, and wrinkles) done without side effects. In other words, chemists play retinoid Scrabble for your benefit. Say thanks and grab your reading glasses!
Below, three new retinoids to get on your radar. Maybe one of them will be your “just right.”
The new Rx: Trifarotene
A big slow clap for the FDA, which just approved its first new retinoid in 20 years. Trifarotene differs from other prescription retinoids (like tretinoin and tazarotene) because of its laser focus. Traditionally, retinoids worked like a master key. Special vitamin A receptors, which everyone’s skin is naturally equipped with, switch “on” when you apply vitamin A topically. Turns out, retinoids don’t actually need to work on all vitamin A receptors! By targeting just a fraction of them, trifarotene actually gets the same job done without excess dryness and irritation. You can also use less of it and make more of an impact—the first prescription trifarotene cream on the market only contains .005-percent. Since the retinoid is present at such a low concentration, dermatologists feel just fine recommending it for use on large swaths of skin like the chest and back. Talk to one if you think you might benefit.
The new derm doppleganger: Retinaldehyde
Truth be told, this is not a new retinoid. However, your options are new! Even just a few years ago you might have only found retinaldehyde (or retinal for short) in a handful of medical-grade products, but now even drugstore brands are digging their forks into the pie. What makes retinal so great is its close relation to the prescription stuff, chemically speaking. (If you need a refresher on the retinoid conversion chain, pop over here for a minute. We’ll wait.) Since retinal is only one conversion step from retinoic acid, it’s super powerful. No, seriously: .5-percent retinal seems to perform identically to the highest strength retinoid on the US market, .1-percent prescription tretinoin. Of course, because it’s one conversion step from retinoic acid, it’s also slightly gentler and better tolerated. You’ll rarely find it in products at a concentration greater than .1-percent, which is best if you’re trying to fade hyperpigmentation and sun damage. That being said, .05-percent is enough to leave sensitive skin with significant acne and wrinkle-fighting results.
The new sensitive staple: Retinyl Sunflowerate
Like pimp my ride for skincare, trick out a retinol molecule with extra padding and you’ve got a retinyl ester. For example, retinyl palmitate, the most common retinyl ester, is retinol plus a fatty chain derived from palm oil. Modifying retinol in this way adds a slow-release element (skin has to break off the addition before getting to the retinol, which takes a minute). And it also makes the retinol slightly less drying. Retinyl esters are pretty mix-and-matchable in the lab, so there are a bunch: along with retinyl palmitate there’s retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate, retinyl linoleate... The newest one is retinyl sunflowerate. As its very cute name betrays, retinyl sunflowerate combines retinol with fatty acids from sunflowers. The sunflower fats make the new molecule more stable over time, and also makes getting into vitamin A an easy option for those with sensitive skin.
Photo via ITG