JUN 05, 2021
Touted by dermatologists as the gold standard for anti-aging, retinol is beloved for its ability to reduce fine lines, improve skin texture, and create brighter-looking skin. But for all its advantages, retinol also comes with some potentially serious downsides: redness, irritation, sensitivity and peeling. Also called skin retinization, these side effects could be enough to deter even the most committed users from sticking with a retinol routine. So is there any alternative out there? Let’s dig into the science behind retinol to understand more about its cons.
01 What is retinol?
Naturally occurring retinoids are critical to many of our body’s essential processes including the healthy development of the nervous system, cardiovascular system and proper vision. Most of us get plenty of retinol in our diets through meat and eggs or by eating veggies rich in yellow, orange and dark green plant pigments called carotenoids, which the body then converts into retinol in the liver.
As the body’s largest organ, skin also benefits from a diet with enough vitamin A. Studies have shown that retinoic acid helps manage the production of sebum and indirectly regulates the skin microbiome.1 This effect on oil production is one of the primary reasons why topical retinol was first introduced as a treatment for acne.
02 What Do Topical Retinoids Do?
03 Retinization & The Harsh Side Effects of Retinol
04 Retinol’s Impact on Barrier Function
By weakening the stratum corneum, retinol may compromise the skin’s barrier function, exposing the body to increased threats from external exposures. Part of this unwanted effect may actually be a result of retinoic acid’s impact on cellular turnover; rapidly-produced skin cells may generate quicker at the expense of adhesion and lipid properties essential to a healthy skin barrier.6
Ultimately, with a potentially compromised protective surface layer, the skin can lose moisture and become ultra-sensitive, which means your skin could stay reactive, dry, and flaky for much longer than just the initial adjustment period that dermatologists say is normal. So how do you know if retinol is doing more harm than good? Prolonged sensitivity, redness and dryness could serve as a key indicator for when to stop using retinol on your skin.
05 Heightened Sun Sensitivity
06 The “Retinol Uglies” In Numbers: Retinol vs OS-01 FACE
Figure 1. Expression of biomarkers associated with aging (CDKN2A), collagen production (COL1A1), and cell proliferation (MKi67) following treatment with nothing (No Treatment), OS-01 FACE, or 1% retinol on the dermis of ex vivo human skin samples (Zonari, et al).
Although retinol significantly increased a key biomarker associated with collagen production, COL1A1, it also created a tenfold activity increase in a biomarker linked to aging, CDKN2A. Alternatively, treatment with OS-01 FACE was able to significantly increase the collagen production biomarker, COL1A1, at similar levels to retinol, without affecting the same biomarker associated with aging, CDKN2A, that retinol increased. OS-01 FACE also significantly increased a key biomarker associated with cell proliferation, MKi67, while retinol did not, indicating that OS-01 FACE could be more effective at promoting cell proliferation in the skin (Zonari, et al).
Impact on skin morphology & structure
Figure 2. Histology images of ex vivo human skin samples from a 35 year old donor exposed to OS-01 FACE vs. 1% retinol (Zonari, et al).
Our observations were consistent with those found in the expression analysis. Skin that was treated with retinol experienced a peeling effect in the stratum corneum (top layer), which has potential to lead to a thinner and weaker skin barrier. Additionally, the skin that was exposed to retinol appeared to be compromised with less cellular structure and organization. Conversely, treatment with OS-01 FACE promoted a more cohesive stratum corneum, with a more defined general structure and enhanced cellular organization, indicating that the skin’s barrier was likely strengthened and cellular function was likely improved when treated with OS-01 FACE (Zonari, et al).
Impact of the OS-01 peptide on epidermal thickness
Figure 3. Epidermal thickness analysis of ex vivo human skin samples topically exposed to nothing (NT) or OS-01 FACE. Treatment with OS-01 FACE induced a significant increase in epidermal thickness of 23.15%, taken from the average of three measurements from each skin sample (35, 55, and 79 yr). *p<0.05 (Zonari, et al)
This data confirms that OS-01 FACE can help promote epidermal thickness, one of the main drivers of retinol’s anti-aging benefits.
Overall, our research shows that while retinol is commonly considered the gold standard anti-aging ingredient, it also has significant downsides, like the potential to compromise barrier function*, which could ultimately degrade long-term skin health. Alternatively, OS-01 FACE offers comparable benefits, including increase in a key collagen production biomarker and epidermal thickness*, without the observed drawbacks of retinol (Zonari, et al).
*Shown in lab studies on ex vivo human skin samples (Zonari, et al)
07 How to use OS-01 FACE with Retinol
You can incorporate OS-01 FACE with retinol in one of two ways:
- Alternate OS-01 FACE and retinol: Alternating allows your skin to reap the benefits of both products without either of them interfering with the absorption of the other. Since retinol should only be applied at night, you can alternate the two by using OS-01 FACE in the mornings.
- Combine OS-01 FACE and retinol: When combining retinol with OS-01 FACE in the same skin care routine, it’s up to you to decide which skin care product to apply first. Just keep in mind that the OS-01 peptide will achieve maximum penetration if it’s applied as the first step after cleansing. Sensitive to retinol? Skip it! OS-01 FACE is an excellent alternative and could be better for preserving your barrier function and long-term skin health.
- Retinol is considered the gold standard in anti-aging, but it can be difficult to tolerate, as it commonly causes sensitizing side effects, especially for those with sensitive skin
- Studies show that one of the cons of retinol is that it could potentially damage skin’s barrier function if used excessively or in too high of concentration
- OS-01 FACE could help counterbalance the side effects of retinol, presenting many of the same benefits with none of the drawbacks.
- If you use a retinoid, it's crucial to pair it with the daily use of sunscreen. Also, make sure to consult your dermatologist if you experience extreme redness, peeling and sensitivity.