5 Best Retinol Alternatives For Those Their Skin Couldn’t Tolerate Retinol

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Retinol is a gangster anti-aging skincare ingredient that comes to your rescue if you’re battling with premature aging signs such as wrinkles, fine lines, saggy skin and age spots. Its skin renewal attribute promotes a smoother, firmer and more evenly-toned skin.


It’s among the most researched, tested and trusted retinoids in skincare. But due to its cell turnover and regeneration potentials, it can sensitize the skin, consequently irritating sensitive skin.

In a situation where an individual can’t tolerate retinol, it becomes a pity because retinol is a real gem to some people. In fact, some individuals can’t do without it.

So, if you’re among these category of people who can’t tolerate retinol, thus seeking for retinol alternatives which mimics retinol’s effect, without being harsh on the skin, then luck is on your side today, because we’ve outlined the best retinol alternatives, which delivers same retinol’s benefits to your skin, but without its downside.

But before we hit the “Go” button, let’s know why some individual’s skins are intolerant to retinol?

Why Are Some Individual’s Skin Intolerant To Retinol?

Skin Sensitivity.

Some people with sensitive skin may find retinol intolerable due to retinol’s cell turnover and regeneration capability which may sensitize the skin as a result, causing inflammatory-irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin.

In skincare, we have differences in skin type, and as a result of that, make results vary with skincare ingredients. People with sensitive skin suffer the most because their skin most times reacts negatively to potent skincare ingredients (especially on high concentration/percentage), which makes them very much cautious of what they put on their skin, because any slightest provocation, can lead to ugly inflammatory-irritation.

So therefore, people with sensitive skin may not find retinol tolerable, unless they go for a much lower concentration (recommended 0.2 or 0.5%) or an encapsulated retinol.

If you’re wondering what encapsulated retinol is, it is a skincare technology that allows retinol or any active ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin layer before being activated, thus preventing irritation associated with retinol or any said ingredient. Encapsulated retinol works similarly to regular retinol, the delivery system just makes it different.

But if you’ve tried all these options, and yet still find retinol intolerable to your skin, then you’re recommended to switch to the below mentioned retinol alternatives.

Retinol alternative

1. Bakuchiol.

Bakuchiol is an all-natural, vegan skincare ingredient. It’s an antioxidant, it visibly reduces skin discolorations from environmental exposure, has an intense soothing effect on the skin and also reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Which makes it a retinol alternative.

Although bakuchiol isn’t as potent as retinol, but, daily usage (morning and night) will make you reap the same retinol-like benefits, but without its side effects.

This study had participants put on either 0.5% bakuchiol twice per day or 0.5% retinol once per day, over a 12-week period, and found no statistically significant difference between their results. This goes a long way to prove that 0.5% bakuchiol proved the same efficacy as 0.5% retinol.  Thus making bakuchiol a close substitute to retinol. You can explore our list of best bakuchiol-contained skincare products.

2. Niacinamide.

Niacinamide is also known as nicotinamide, vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid. It’s a water soluble-vitamin and doesn’t dissolve in oil, that’s why you’ll only see niacinamide in oil-free (water-based) moisturizers and serums.

Niacinamide is a star skincare Ingredient that can address multiple skincare concerns. That’s why it’s called a multifunctional or multipurpose skincare Ingredient. Its potential is vast, as it helps boost the production of collagen in the skin, while it also increases the production of elastin and skin proteins. Which in effect is similar to retinol’s benefits to the skin. Which also puts niacinamide as a retinol alternative skincare ingredient.

It also regulates excessive oil production, reduces redness (blotchiness), shrinks large visible-pores and gets rid of nasty looking blemishes which in turn improves overall skin tone, texture and barrier function. You can explore our best list of niacinamide serums.

Personally, I’ve used some quite good numbers of niacinamide serums from reputable brands such as, The Ordinary 10% niacinamide serumThe Inkey List 10% niacinamide serum and the Good Molecules 10% niacinamide serum too. And I had a good experience with them all. My skin pores were minimized, excess oiliness was reduced (I have an oily skin), overall skin texture and complexion was greatly improved. I wholeheartedly recommend any of these niacinamide serums if you want to give niacinamide a shot.

Also bear in mind that a 10% concentration of niacinamide is considered a high concentration and may still irritate people with sensitive skin. Therefore, if you’re on a sensitive skin side, going for a lower concentration (recommended: 5%) should be the best approach to take. Recommended: InstaNatural niacinamide 5% Face Serum.

3. Rosehip Oil.

Rosehip oil (also known as rosehip seed oil) is derived from rosa canina rose bush, which is grown mostly in Chile. It’s referred to as a “dry oil” because it is absorbed into the skin quickly. When extracted using the cold pressing method, this lightweight oil contains vitamin A (retinol), E and C. This ensures that the vitamin A, E and C contained in rosehip are being preserved. Which is more reason why you should shop only cold pressed rosehip oils.

The vitamin A contained in rosehip oil makes it an option if you’re seeking for a retinol alternative. Although it won’t be as potent as retinol is to the skin, but it sure delivers the same retinol’s anti-aging benefits, without the side effects. As it stimulates collagen production, regenerates and heals the skin, brightens the skin (all thanks to vitamin C), hydrates the skin, improves the appearance of surgical scars, helps treat acne and calm and reduces inflammation.

Aside from containing vitamin A, E and C, rosehip oil also contains essential fatty acids such as: oleic acid, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, gamma linolenic acid which helps to reduce irritation.

Do you have oily skin? Concerned if rosehip oil will clog your pores? Not to worry, rosehip oil is light-weight, therefore, won’t cause heaviness or leave a greasy feeling, as a result won’t clog up pores and should only be applied in small amounts (2 – 3 drops on the face & neck once or twice daily). Check out our list of best rosehip oils.

I love the rosehip oil from The Ordinary’s brand — The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Oil –, Not only did it intensely hydrate my skin, but also made my skin glow, as it brightened up my skin, while it slightly faded old acne scars on my cheek (turned them from black to brown) with an improved skin texture. As my skin was way more firmer, smoother and supple than it used to be. You can read my full review here.

4. Vitamin C.

Aside from vitamin C’s antioxidant defense and skin brightening benefits, it also extends its potential to delivering anti-aging benefits to the skin, by stimulating collagen production in the skin, thus promoting a firmer, plump and smoother skin, which improves overall skin texture. This makes vitamin C an ingredient you should consider if you’re seeking for a retinol alternative.

Although while using vitamin C, you should exercise caution because L-ascorbic acid (which is the purest form of vitamin C) may induce inflammatory-irritation when used on a high concentration due to its acidic nature. Thus making it unsuitable for people with sensitive skin.

As a sensitive skin individual, you are better off using lower concentration of L-ascorbic acid-based skincare products (recommended: 10%) or go for vitamin C derivatives suchlike, Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, which are mild on the skin, and also delivers same vitamin C skin benefits but without the side effects.

Personally, I experienced irritation after using a 20% concentration of L-ascorbic acid vitamin C serum, although at first, I had great results, but after some time, I started experiencing burning and itchy sensation which prompted me to cut down to a lower concentration, by using a 10% vitamin C serum — Timeless 10% vitamin C serum, and everything was perfect. I experienced skin brightening, firmer and smoother skin, without any skin discomfort or irritation.

Prior to that, I’ve also used a vitamin C derivative serum from The Ordinary brand, — The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%, and it was great too.

5. EGF.

I know when you saw EGF, you were like “what the heck is that“. Chill, I’ll put you through.

EGF stands for “epidermal growth factor”. It is used in medicine to speed up wound recovery, but guess what? It also has promising anti-aging benefits to the skin, which includes, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, improving hydration, and preventing pigmentation, which keeps it on the caliber of retinol alternatives.

EGF is a protein, it works by stimulating cell growth thus acting as a healing agent to restore damaged skin. It binds skin cells and rejuvenates them, as a result revitalizing them to repair and grow themselves into healthy cells. Basically this means EGF induces cells to heal themselves.

The Inkey brand has a decent product containing EGF alongside 15% vitamin C derivative – ascorbyl glucoside – The Inkey List 15% Vitamin C + EGF Serum. All together to improve skin’s luminosity,  deliver antioxidant and anti-aging benefits to the skin.

In Conclusion. 

If your skin couldn’t agree with retinol, irrespective of the percentage or concentration. Don’t be too hard on yourself, as there are other retinol alternative skincare ingredients to dwell upon to achieve retinol’s same skin benefits without the side effects.

All you have to do is, make a pick out of any of the aforementioned retinol alternatives suitable to your skin, ensure to do a patch test before commencing full product treatment. And don’t forget to always wear your sunscreen during the day to shield your skin from UV rays exposure. You can read how to properly apply your sunscreen.

UP NEXT: Seeking For The Best Vitamin C Alternatives? We’ve Got You Covered.
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