Retinol is known as a skincare superstar thanks to its ability to stimulate cell turnover and collagen production—delivering firmer, smoother, more even skin—but its powers don’t come without their risks. The intensity of the ingredient can often be combined with irritation, making it unsuitable for sensitive skin types.
Fortunately, the skin care world has found new ways to deliver similar results—without the risks—with retinol alternatives.
“Retinol alternatives are ingredients that can produce similar results to retinol, but usually by different mechanisms,” she explains. Carmen Castilla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “Retinol alternatives tend to be less irritating and work well for sensitive skin.”
Recently, formulas using these “retinol-jumpers” have been popping up all over the place, which was great news for me and my retinol-sensitive skin. Anyone who earned a permanent spot in my routine? Caudalie’s Resveratrol Lift Instant Firming Retinol Alternative Serum ($84).
What are “retinol alternatives”?
In general, retinol alternatives are any ingredients that offer comparability to retinoids.
“Retinoids, or vitamin A derivatives, are extremely powerful at minimizing fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen and elastin production, reducing hyperpigmentation, and treating inflammatory acne,” she says. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at the Shafer Clinic in New York City.
While the ingredient is proven to be effective, it is not for everyone. Dr. Engelman notes that for those who experience negative side effects of retinol—such as redness, irritation, and dryness—”It’s best to purchase natural retinol alternatives that avoid irritation while still negating the benefits.”
These ingredients are usually milder, thus making them safe for sensitive skin. Plus, they’re safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding (which traditional retinol isn’t).
Popular Retinol Alternatives
- Bakuchiol: One of the more well-known retinol alternatives, Dr. Castilla says this ingredient works by many of the same mechanisms as retinol. “Studies have shown that it activates many of the same pathways as retinol, but overall tends to be less irritating,” he notes.
- Resveratrol: Derived from grapes, resveratrol has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-aging effects on the skin. Dr. Castilla says it also has antioxidant properties that protect against free radical damage and prevent signs of skin aging, and (like retinol) stimulates the cell cycle. (More on that in a second).
- Azelaic acid: “Azelaic acid can block pigment production and is often used to treat melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—which are the brown patches left behind after a rash, inflammation of the skin, [or acne]”, says Dr. Castilla. It also acts as an exfoliant to unclog pores and stimulate cell renewal.
- Niacinamide: A derivative of vitamin B3, niacinamide works as an antioxidant to prevent free radical damage that leads to visible signs of skin aging. It also helps prevent pigment transfer to the skin, improving the appearance of discoloration. “It can help calm inflammation and redness, which is helpful for acne and rosacea patients,” says Dr. Castilla.
Overall, depending on the product, Dr. Engelman says that with continued use, “you can see results with retinol alternatives for about four to six weeks and beyond. For most over-the-counter retinoids, it can take a few weeks to see visible results, and for full results, it will take about 12 weeks.
How Caudalie Resveratrol Lift Instant Firming Retinol alternative serum works
Now that you know a little more about retinol alternatives, you can appreciate just how effective the Caudalie serum really is.
“This serum from Caudalie is a super multi-tasker that plumps, hydrates, firms and reduces the appearance of wrinkles,” explains Dr. Engelman.
The star of the show here is resveratrol. “It’s a powerful antioxidant from grape stems that tightens the skin and minimizes wrinkles,” says Dr. Engelman, noting that Caudalie pioneered the use of antioxidants in skin care. “This natural, hero ingredient actively lifts and tightens skin by increasing elastin production, collagen synthesis and natural hyaluronic acid production.”
The serum itself is extremely light, absorbs quickly and tightens the skin without irritation. Intended for application in the morning and evening, after cleansing and toning and before moisturizing. Because it may take a little longer to see results than with a stronger form of vitamin A (retinol), with consistent use, expect to see results in about 4-6 weeks depending on your skin type, says Dr. Engelmann.
What Happened When I Tried Caudalie’s Instant Firming Resveratrol Lift Alternative Retinol Serum
I tried Caudalie’s Resveratrol Lift Instant Firming Retinol Alternative Serum for a few weeks—using it am and pm as directed on the bottle until it ran out.
Although I already started out with pretty healthy and firm skin, I felt that the serum complemented all the other products in my routine. My skin looked radiant and smooth to the last drop, which I got through in a month (rare as a beauty writer with dozens of products to try). And, as promised, there was no irritation at all.
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