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The darling of dermatologists, retinol has long been considered one of the very best anti-aging ingredients. But a number of concerns–from toxicity during pregnancy to painful side effects–have made some experts question its accolades. Now, the EU’s consumer protection agency is voicing their own apprehensions. By the end of this year, the EU intends to limit retinol concentration to just 0.3% in face products and 0.05% in body products. (1) Here in the United States, many popular over-the-counter products contain retinol percentages up to 1%. So does this mean you should be more cautious with your retinol consumption? Let’s dig into the science to understand the EU’s decision – and what you can use instead to give your skin anti-aging benefits without the downsides.
The darling of dermatologists, retinol has long been considered one of the very best anti-aging ingredients. But a number of concerns–from toxicity during pregnancy to painful side effects–have made some experts question its accolades. Now, the EU’s consumer protection agency is voicing their own apprehensions. By the end of this year, the EU intends to limit retinol concentration to just 0.3% in face products and 0.05% in body products. (1) Here in the United States, many popular over-the-counter products contain retinol percentages up to 1%. So does this mean you should be more cautious with your retinol consumption? Let’s dig into the science to understand the EU’s decision – and what you can use instead to give your skin anti-aging benefits without the downsides.
01

What is retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A – the most well-known member of a family of ingredients called retinoids. Retinoids come in a variety of forms including retinol, retinal, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, tretinoin, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl acetate. When applied topically, retinoids encourage our skin cells to produce more collagen, which slowly thickens our epidermal layer. (2) Retinoids also compel cells in deeper skin layers to divide more frequently, allowing new cells to replace older cells at the surface. This accelerated skin cell turnover reduces the appearance of wrinkles, smooths out uneven skin texture and visibly brightens skin tone.
01

What is retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A – the most well-known member of a family of ingredients called retinoids. Retinoids come in a variety of forms including retinol, retinal, retinaldehyde, retinoic acid, tretinoin, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl acetate. When applied topically, retinoids encourage our skin cells to produce more collagen, which slowly thickens our epidermal layer. (2) Retinoids also compel cells in deeper skin layers to divide more frequently, allowing new cells to replace older cells at the surface. This accelerated skin cell turnover reduces the appearance of wrinkles, smooths out uneven skin texture and visibly brightens skin tone.
02

Why is the EU limiting the concentration of retinol?

For years, the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has raised concerns about retinol. Their main worry is that regular retinol usage could contribute to high levels of vitamin A in the bloodstream. While we need vitamin A to survive, too much vitamin A has been linked to a number of health concerns, including birth defects and liver dysfunction. The SCCS’s conclusion is that, without a restriction on cosmetic products, total exposure from personal care products, nutritional supplements and diet could exceed the upper limits recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
02

Why is the EU limiting the concentration of retinol?

For years, the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has raised concerns about retinol. Their main worry is that regular retinol usage could contribute to high levels of vitamin A in the bloodstream. While we need vitamin A to survive, too much vitamin A has been linked to a number of health concerns, including birth defects and liver dysfunction. The SCCS’s conclusion is that, without a restriction on cosmetic products, total exposure from personal care products, nutritional supplements and diet could exceed the upper limits recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
03

Why are the EU’s restrictions different for body and face products?

The more skin surface area that’s treated with retinol, the higher the dose of vitamin A that the body receives. Because body products are used on larger areas of skin, they may contribute to higher levels of vitamin A in the bloodstream. By limiting the retinol concentration in body products to just 0.05%, the EU hopes to prevent higher concentrations of vitamin A from accumulating in the body.
03

Why are the EU’s restrictions different for body and face products?

The more skin surface area that’s treated with retinol, the higher the dose of vitamin A that the body receives. Because body products are used on larger areas of skin, they may contribute to higher levels of vitamin A in the bloodstream. By limiting the retinol concentration in body products to just 0.05%, the EU hopes to prevent higher concentrations of vitamin A from accumulating in the body.
04

Which countries will be affected by the restrictions?

In addition to all member countries of the EU, the restrictions will impact countries that belong to the European Economic Area European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and North Macedonia.
04

Which countries will be affected by the restrictions?

In addition to all member countries of the EU, the restrictions will impact countries that belong to the European Economic Area European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and North Macedonia.
05

Does this mean retinol is dangerous?

The EU’s decision does not necessarily indicate that retinol products are unsafe. In fact, you’re much more likely to get unsafe doses of vitamin A from food and supplements. However, because the SCCS’s purview does not include food and nutritional products, their ability to take action on their concerns only includes personal care products. The SCCS admits that their decision is meant to protect a very small percentage of the European population – just 5%-- who may be at risk of overexposure to vitamin A. That means the majority of people do not need to worry about retinol toxicity. (1) However, there may be other compelling reasons to ditch retinol from your routine. This notoriously sensitizing ingredient comes with a long rap sheet of potential side effects including skin peeling, redness, itchiness, and flaking. Plus, according to lab tests conducted by our scientific team, retinol might not actually be that good for your skin on the molecular level.
05

Does this mean retinol is dangerous?

The EU’s decision does not necessarily indicate that retinol products are unsafe. In fact, you’re much more likely to get unsafe doses of vitamin A from food and supplements. However, because the SCCS’s purview does not include food and nutritional products, their ability to take action on their concerns only includes personal care products. The SCCS admits that their decision is meant to protect a very small percentage of the European population – just 5%-- who may be at risk of overexposure to vitamin A. That means the majority of people do not need to worry about retinol toxicity. (1) However, there may be other compelling reasons to ditch retinol from your routine. This notoriously sensitizing ingredient comes with a long rap sheet of potential side effects including skin peeling, redness, itchiness, and flaking. Plus, according to lab tests conducted by our scientific team, retinol might not actually be that good for your skin on the molecular level.
06

What does the molecular data on retinol show?

Our scientists here at OneSkin conducted an expression analysis to observe how retinol impacts biomarkers associated with skin aging, cellular proliferation, and collagen production. The results show that retinol may not be the anti-aging silver bullet we once thought it was. Our tests showed that although retinol significantly increases a key biomarker associated with collagen production (COL1A1), it also created a tenfold increase in a biomarker linked to aging (CDKN2A). So while retinol does effectively boost collagen production, it comes at a cost: increased aging activity. (3)
06

What does the molecular data on retinol show?

Our scientists here at OneSkin conducted an expression analysis to observe how retinol impacts biomarkers associated with skin aging, cellular proliferation, and collagen production. The results show that retinol may not be the anti-aging silver bullet we once thought it was. Our tests showed that although retinol significantly increases a key biomarker associated with collagen production (COL1A1), it also created a tenfold increase in a biomarker linked to aging (CDKN2A). So while retinol does effectively boost collagen production, it comes at a cost: increased aging activity. (3)
Shown in ex vivo human skin samples (35, 55, and 79 yr) topically treated with the OS-01 FACE formula and 1% retinol, then analyzed according to mRNA expression of key aging and skin health related biomarkers (CDKN2A aging, COL1A1 collagen production, and MKi67 proliferation). *p<0.05; **p<0.01 (Zonari, A, et al, npj Aging, 2023 Supplementary Information)
Shown in ex vivo human skin samples (35, 55, and 79 yr) topically treated with the OS-01 FACE formula and 1% retinol, then analyzed according to mRNA expression of key aging and skin health related biomarkers (CDKN2A aging, COL1A1 collagen production, and MKi67 proliferation). *p<0.05; **p<0.01 (Zonari, A, et al, npj Aging, 2023 Supplementary Information)
07

What can I use instead?

When compared to retinol at the molecular level, our flagship product, OS-01 FACE, provides similar benefits with none of the drawbacks. Like retinol, OS-01 FACE significantly increases a key biomarker associated with collagen production (COL1A1). However, OS-01 FACE doesn’t impact that same biomarker associated with aging that retinol increases (CDKN2A). Plus, OS-01 FACE significantly increases a key biomarker associated with cell proliferation, MKi67, while retinol does not, indicating that OS-01 FACE could be more effective at promoting cell proliferation in the skin. (3) This comparison shows that OS-01 FACE works to boost collagen and cell proliferation without the aging downsides associated with retinol.
07

What can I use instead?

When compared to retinol at the molecular level, our flagship product, OS-01 FACE, provides similar benefits with none of the drawbacks. Like retinol, OS-01 FACE significantly increases a key biomarker associated with collagen production (COL1A1). However, OS-01 FACE doesn’t impact that same biomarker associated with aging that retinol increases (CDKN2A). Plus, OS-01 FACE significantly increases a key biomarker associated with cell proliferation, MKi67, while retinol does not, indicating that OS-01 FACE could be more effective at promoting cell proliferation in the skin. (3) This comparison shows that OS-01 FACE works to boost collagen and cell proliferation without the aging downsides associated with retinol.
Key Takeaways:
  • By the end of this year, the EU will restrict retinol concentration in topical products due to concerns that higher concentrations could lead to vitamin A toxicity.
  • Restrictions will be more stringent for body products because a larger treatment area means a higher chance of too much vitamin A entering the bloodstream.
  • This restriction doesn’t necessarily mean retinol is unsafe. In fact, the decision reflects a concern that, according to the EU’s consumer protection agency, impacts only a very small percentage of the European population.
  • However, there may be other reasons to limit your retinol usage: in lab studies, it has been shown to increase aging biomarkers.
  • OneSkin’s flagship product, OS-01 FACE, offers similar molecular benefits as retinol without increasing aging biomarkers.
Key Takeaways:
  • By the end of this year, the EU will restrict retinol concentration in topical products due to concerns that higher concentrations could lead to vitamin A toxicity.
  • Restrictions will be more stringent for body products because a larger treatment area means a higher chance of too much vitamin A entering the bloodstream.
  • This restriction doesn’t necessarily mean retinol is unsafe. In fact, the decision reflects a concern that, according to the EU’s consumer protection agency, impacts only a very small percentage of the European population.
  • However, there may be other reasons to limit your retinol usage: in lab studies, it has been shown to increase aging biomarkers.
  • OneSkin’s flagship product, OS-01 FACE, offers similar molecular benefits as retinol without increasing aging biomarkers.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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