Are retinoids good for anti-aging?

Retinol, retinoids… we’re sure you’ve heard those words before and wonder: what is it? Is it suitable for my skin? Is it a good active or does it have side effects? We’re about to answer all of your doubts but first a little disclaimer. 

In this article, we will recommend other natural alternatives to retinoids as we believe they are the best option to not compromise our health while using cosmetics. Nonetheless, information is power, so you’ll still get the full picture of this acid, its functions and why we recommend other vegan natural options. In that way, you’re able to choose your cosmetic products with all that info in mind.  All our info has been extracted from scientific articles and from the knowledge of our product team. 

Oh, also, you’ll read “ anti-ageing “ a lot. We're all in with the concept of well-ageing, but for the sake of understanding, we will also refer to the benefits of retinol as “anti-ageing” ones. 

Let’s get into it

Does your skin absorb cosmetic chemicals?

At Freshly we see cosmetics as a tool to balance skin function, providing the nutrients the skin needs to feel and look better. The skin is the largest organ in the body and the second-fastest replicating cells after bone marrow cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, etc.) The skin is exposed to many external aggressions and therefore requires a renewal process of around 28 days. Why is this relevant? Because skin renewing itself at this rate serves as an indicator of our inner health. Everything in our body is in homeostasis ( any self-regulating process by which an organism tends to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions that are best for its survival) and it has been scientifically proven that all the cells in our body are in constant search of balance. When this balance is disturbed by our lifestyle habits, that is when we start getting sick and the skin can be a great indicator to detect underlying problems in our body.

Our skin has a great capacity for absorption, which means that everything that we apply to it most likely penetrates into our bodies, the so-called percutaneous absorption. The truth is that not all actives penetrate the same on our skin. Some can be absorbed in 50% and others just 0,5% but we still have to bear in mind that everything that we add or apply to our bodies has an impact on it, so if we’re doing cosmetics, we better do them right. 

What are retinoids?

They are a class of vitamins that derive from vitamin A. In cosmetics, it is used as retinyl palmitate or Retynil Acetate. Its key benefits are linked to reducing inflammation, unclogging pores, decreasing the appearance of wrinkles, and regulating the growth of cells on the skin’s surface among others. 

• Anti-wrinkle: The most visible effect of ageing. It is often found in gel or serum form.

• Firming: Retinoic acid (the active form of retinol in the skin) regulates keratogenesis and this is necessary to keep the skin smooth, fresh and moist.
• Pigmentation: Vitamin A plays a big role in maintaining skin even and healthy as it promotes the development of pigment in the skin.
• Acne-prone skin: It regulates sebum secretion preventing the cells from growing too fast, one of the causes of acne.
• Scar healing: Vitamin A helps our skin to heal faster, as it regulates the metabolism of cell regeneration.

Percutaneous absorption of Retinol: The scientific evidence show that retinol has a relevant percutaneous absorption. Studies have found an absorption of 6% after 24h and 13% after 72h. Furthermore, it is also important to note that 23% of the topical retinol applied remains in the skin after 24h and this concentration is reduced to 18% after 72h. This means that cutaneous application of retinol can lead to systemic absorption. We will see below why both the amount that reaches the body and the amount that remains in the skin after 24h are important.


Retinoid is an ingredient that has lots of topical benefits, yet their cosmetical use is not exempt from contradictions and proven risks on our skin and body. Here are a few:

• Produces skin reactions such as irritation, burning and/or local erythema: Although not all people have reactions to the topical use of retinoids, many adverse effects have been reported in multiple people, especially when you start using products containing retinoids. 

Retinol efectos secundarios

• Not suitable during pregnancy and a potential teratogen: One of the main adverse effects associated with retinoid is its teratogenic effect. All retinoids are considered teratogenic. The teratogen is an agent capable of causing a birth defect during pregnancy. Embryos appear to be most susceptible to this teratogenic effect during the first trimester of pregnancy, particularly in the fourth week, when neural crest cells are most vulnerable. Percutaneous absorption of retinoids is still being studied to determine whether its topical use is teratogenic. 

Retinol efectos secundarios

"Teratogenicity (Potential ability to produce malformations or birth defects)."

• Topical Retinoids can potentially be carcinogenically linked to their use in contact with sunlight: Retinoids is not photosensitising as previously thought, this means that when in contact with sunlight it is unstable and produces reactive oxygen species that attack the DNA of cells and increase the likelihood of cancer. It is very important to avoid the use of any retinoids derivatives during the daytime.

Retinol efectos secundarios

Retinol efectos secundarios

Retinol efectos secundarios

As you can see, although retinoids have multiple benefits, there are also many issues linked to the ingredient, and for us, this is more important than any external change that the skin may have. But hey, we’ve got good news, there is a natural alternative that is not synthetic and doesn’t have a negative effect on our organism yet has the same benefits as retinoids. Plus, its nutritional value is higher as it incorporates vitamins and minerals into its composition. 

We’re talking about Bakuchiol, a natural alternative that has all the good benefits of retinoid, without its side effects. Great right?

What is bakuchiol

Great question, bakuchiol is a natural ingredient obtained from the babachi plant. Fun fact: it activates the same receptors as retinoids, but without being harmful. 

Now the fun part: Bakuchiol benefits. This ingredient has a range of anti-ageing benefits for our skin:

 • Smoothes fine lines and wrinkles
 • Helps restore the skin’s firmness and elasticity
 • Refines skin texture and evens out the skin tone 
 • It also works wonders on sensitive skin
 • Can be used during your AM routine as well, as it is compatible with the sun rays, although you should always wear sunscreen over it.

Retinol efectos secundarios

These images show Bakuchiol (blue) acting very similarly to retinoids, which means that it mimics their effects. 

Therefore, the benefits of topical use of bakuchiol are the same as those of retinol, being suitable during pregnancy, with no adverse skin reactions and no risk of sun exposure. Here is a comparative table of the evaluation of bakuchiol vs retinol. More scientific studies are still needed to reach the level of scientific study that retinol has had in recent decades, but the studies carried out so far place Bakuchiol as an excellent alternative to Retinol.

Retinol efectos secundarios

 Bakuchiol benefits vs. Retinol

We hope you understood all the technicalities that we explained in the post. We tried to make it easy-to-understand but still scientific for those who have a background in skincare products. Nevertheless, we believe that information is power, so whenever you read about retinoids or bakuchiol, your background will already be richer, so you'll be able to connect the dots between articles and in the end, you'll become an expert!

We'd like to point out that none of Freshly's products contains retinol, but we do have our Phoenix Aura Well-Ageing Serum which contains bakuchiol and is loved by all + 30 skins. If you haven't tried it, it's time to discover the power of the plant-based alternative to retinol!

What other content would you like us to publish? We are all ears. 

Topical retinoids in acne – an evidence-based overview

Cytotoxicity and mutagenicity of retinol with ultraviolet A irradiation in mouse lymphoma cells

Photodecomposition of Vitamin A and Photobiological Implications for the Skin

Vitamin A: History, Current Uses, and Controversies

We at Freshly Cosmetics create natural cosmetics (all of our formulas contain over 99% natural, sustainable and vegan ingredients) based on scientific knowledge and studies. We aim to make people aware of the effect cosmetics have on their skin. We are scientists with a strong desire to change things and help people take better care of themselves, consciously.
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