JUL 07, 2021
If you’ve ever considered using anti-aging skin care products, you have likely come across retinol — the commonly-held gold standard for building collagen and improving skin texture. But if you’ve taken the plunge and used a retinoid before, you might have also noticed other, less desirable effects, including redness, skin irritation, sensitivity, and skin fragility. Turns out, there’s a scientific explanation for these symptoms - one that can be helpful to understand when you’re deciding whether to use retinol products and how to use them safely.
01 What is retinol?
As a natural biological molecule, retinol and its derivatives are essential to healthy development of the nervous system and cardiovascular system. It is also one of the main precursor molecules to the formation of rhodopsin, which is critical for proper vision. More recently, one of the molecular configurations of retinoic acid has also been associated with gene regulation. Therefore, naturally occurring retinoids are biologically significant molecules in our bodies.
Given the fact that skin is the largest organ in the body, there are some important functions that retinoids play in maintaining epidermal integrity as well and over the years, this idea has made its way to the forefront of dermatology research.
02 What do Retinoids Do?
More recently, however, retinoids have made a bigger name for themselves in the anti-aging sphere due to their ability to boost collagen production, increase blood flow, and encourage faster skin cell turnover.
OneFact The scientists at OneSkin grow 3D human skin models in the lab (every week!) to test the efficacy of products/molecules using gene expression analysis and microscopic imaging. So if you were wondering, “How does retinol work on skin?”, scientists have studied the short-term effects of retinol on aging skin. Most notably, retinol can reduce the appearance of wrinkles by causing skin cells to renew faster and produce more collagen. This is due to the selective presence of retinoic acid receptors and retinoid X receptors in the epidermal layer. When retinoids bind, it kickstarts a transduction pathway that results in the increase of collagen precursors.
This effect is further made possible by retinoids' ability to promote cells in deeper skin layers to divide more frequently, allowing new cells to replace older cells at the surface, which in turn restores radiance and a youthful appearance. This accelerated process of skin cell turnover can be very effective at temporarily improving skin appearance, which is why it has gained such a cult following over the years. So what’s the catch?
03 Harsh Side Effects of Retinol
04 Retinol as a Threat to Skin Barrier Function
06 The “Retinol Uglies”: In Numbers
Alternatively, OneSkin’s proprietary peptide, OS-01, was able to significantly increase the activity of genes associated with hyaluronic acid and collagen production at similar levels to retinol, while reducing the activity of the same genes associated with inflammation and aging that retinol increased. This renders OS-01 a safe alternative to retinol with similar benefits and fewer drawbacks.
Figure 1. Genetic expression analysis of various aging and inflammatory markers, collagen production, and hyaluronic acid production following treatment with OS-01 topical supplement vs. retinol.
Further intrigued by retinol’s impact on skin, the scientists at OneSkin decided to put retinol and OS-01 under the microscope - literally. By using a microscopic visual analysis tool, called histology, to view skin that was exposed to retinol versus OS-01, our R&D team was able to shed light on the impact that these molecules can have on each layer of the skin at the cellular level. Their observations were consistent with those found in the genetic expression analysis. The skin that was treated with retinol experienced a “peeling effect”, further weakening its top layer. Additionally, the cellular structure and organization were compromised with exposure to retinol, indicating that the skin’s barrier function had also been compromised. Conversely, OS-01 induced the formation of a much thicker epidermal layer (dark purple), with a more defined general structure and cellular organization, indicating that skin became thicker and more resilient with improved barrier function when treated with OS-01.
Figure 2. Ex vivo skin analysis following treatment with OS-01 topical supplement vs. retinol.
OneSkin’s research demonstrates that although retinol is commonly thought to be the gold standard anti-aging ingredient for its ability to boost collagen and hyaluronic acid production, you may want to consider ditching retinol for an alternative or at least use it sparingly, as retinol can ironically accelerate aging and inflammation in the skin.
- Retinol was long thought to be the gold standard of skin care, but new studies have demonstrated that it could be damaging long-term skin health.
- Due to its potential for long-term damage, it may be time to find a retinol alternative that will help support skin longevity! At OneSkin, we are committed to promoting healthy skin aging without any short- or long-term damage.
- If you do use retinoid products in your skincare routine, make sure to stay vigilant about skin protection and counterbalance the potential side effects with products that promote cellular damage repair and hydration. Also, make sure to consult your dermatologist if you experience extreme redness, peeling and sensitivity.