When it comes to minimizing wrinkles, preventing sun damage, healing scars, and eliminating acne, few products are as thorough as retinol. This miracle ingredient is a molecular preparation of vitamin A (either natural or synthetic) that is used in beauty products and anti-ageing serums. The enzymes in retinol increase the rate at which your cells turnover, which heals blemishes and sun damage as well as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It is available in both over the counter and prescription forms; “retinol” usually refers to the OTC version, while prescription-strength varieties are known as “retinoids.”
However, like many wonder products, retinol can come at a high price—many users experience skin irritation, dryness, sensitivity to sunlight, blistering, and redness due to the harsh concentration of enzymes in most retinol creams. Some also notice that after several years of use, retinol stops being effective, leaving their skin duller and looking more wrinkled than before. Retinol creams have even been linked to abnormal fetal development, and are not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
With all those potential side effects to consider, you may want to avoid retinol creams entirely. Luckily, there are other ways to fight wrinkles, acne, and other types of skin damage that are gentle and natural.
1. Rosehip seed oil
Rosehip seed oil is cold pressed and extracted from the hip (or fruit) of roses. It is a “dry” oil, which means that it is easily absorbed into the skin without leaving greasy residue. It is full of essential fatty acids to nourish the skin, and it does not need to be diluted before topical application. Apply it to problem areas, or use it all over as a lightweight moisturizer.
Several studies have shown that rosehip seed oil is highly effective at soothing skin irritation and damage (such as wrinkles, dryness, and sun damage). It is anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants, and applying it regularly can help to smooth scars, hyperpigmentation, and age spots. In addition to softening and reducing wrinkles, it can help prevent skin from developing further signs of ageing, and it is gentle enough for everyday use.
2. Green tea
Green tea is high in polyphenols, a particular type of antioxidant that helps minimize damage caused by sun exposure and free radicals, slowing the rate of skin aging and reducing wrinkle development. Medical studies have also shown that it is anti-inflammatory and can help to soothe acne, rosacea, and eczema.
To use green tea in place of a retinol cream, it’s best to apply it directly to the skin (rather than drinking it). Green tea extract can be mixed in with a facial oil or moisturizer, or used as a hydrating facial mist by brewing it as normal, chilling it in a spray bottle, and spritzing your skin periodically throughout the day. The bottle should be kept refrigerated between uses to keep the tea fresh.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant that the body uses to regenerate damaged skin cells, protect against sun damage, and slow the ageing process. Like retinol creams, it encourages faster cell turnover, and has long been used in dermatology to brighten skin and reduce the appearance of acne, age spots, and hyperpigmentation.
Studies published in 2002 and 2003 both showed that a topical application of vitamin C heals skin, significantly reducing the appearance of blemishes and wrinkles. You can purchase a vitamin C serum or make your own by combining 1tsp of vitamin C powder with 2tsp vegetable glycerine, and ¼ cup of filtered water. However, ascorbic acid does not have a long shelf life, so a homemade serum should be stored in the refrigerator in a dark bottle for no more than a month.
4. Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is extracted from the seed of the evening primrose plant. It is a dense source of fatty acids, which nourish skin and help heal skin cells damaged by wrinkles, acne, or other kinds of dermatitis. Evening primrose oil can be found as an ingredient in some skincare products, but most studies on repairing skin damage have used an evening primrose oil supplement.
A double-blind study published in 2005 showed that taking a soft gel capsule of evening primrose oil improved several markers of skin health and youthfulness in adults, including firmness, elasticity, fatigue, and roughness. However, evening primrose oil can be dangerous for those with heart conditions or who are pregnant, so be sure to consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Since retinol is a form of vitamin A, increasing the amount of natural vitamin A in your diet may have similar effects on your skin as using a retinol cream. It is a fat soluble vitamin, so you also need to eat a certain amount of healthy fat in order for your body to process it properly (e.g. fish, olive oil, nuts, and coconut oil).
Foods high in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, spinach, apricots, carrots, bell peppers, and fish. Be sure you eat these foods as part of a balanced diet, but don’t go overboard: an overabundance of vitamin A in your diet can cause jaundice, irritability, and sometimes hair loss. Talk with your doctor before making any substantial dietary changes, and come up with a plan that is healthiest for your body and lifestyle.