This article looks at the best natural retinol serums for acne prone skin and what ingredients you need to look out for, and avoid when adding a topical retinol serum to your natural acne treatment plan.
The best natural retinol serums for acne prone skin
To find out why retinoids are an effective topical treatment for acne, read: “Retinols & vitamin A for acne: ‘Retin A’ the natural way”
Natural, gentler retinols are much better for your skin long term
You may have read in my previous post the reason why I never recommend getting a prescription retinoid/tretinoin cream, but DO recommend using a gentle, natural serum containing gentler retinoids. Gentler retinoids, such as retinol and retinaldehyde, are a much safer and effective way of treating your acne naturally. While these gentler retinoids aren’t a permanent fix for acne, they can help clear your pores and improve the texture and tone of your skin while you work on your insides and nourishing your body to repair itself!
What do I need to look for in a natural retinol serum for acne?
Retinoids are often seen as a controversial ingredient in the green beauty community because the Environmental Working Group once suggested that retinol palmitate in certain sunscreens may enhance existing tumour growth. This was, naturally, taken completely out of context by all the scaremongers in the clean scene and soon enough, ALL forms of retinoids used in ALL types of products were cancer-causing toxins that needed to be avoided at all costs.
This is just not true!
There are over 40 years of clinical studies that showcase the benefits of retinol and retinoic acid in skin care. In fact, most dermatologists and science-driven skin care experts will probably tell you that retinoids are the single best ingredients you can use on your skin.
I was lucky enough to chat to internationally recognised skin care formulator and beauty expert Marie Veronique about the use of retinoids as part of a healthy skin care regime. Marie-Veronique is so passionate about educating the green scene and banishing the negative stigma against retinol. Retinoids shouldn’t be feared, they should be embraced as a highly effective topical solution as part of a natural, science-baked acne treatment plan! Marie-Veronique has kindly shared some of her top tips to helping you choose the best over-the-counter retinoid serum to treat acne and scarring.
A blend of antioxidants: Vitamin A is good but combining vitamins A with C is much better and combining vitamin A with C & E is the BEST (since you get the C,E feedback loop when you use C and E together). Plus, vitamin E is also used as an antioxidant to stabilise retinol, since both are fat solubles.
Science proves retinol works best combined with vitamin C
A 2009 study showed 0.2% retinol improved inflammatory acne lesions by 49.50% in 8 weeks, but a mix of 5% SAP and 0.2% retinol improved inflammatory acne lesions by 63.10% after 8 weeks of application. This study shows that although retinol is an effective acne treatment on its own, it’s made really great with the addition of topical antioxidant vitamin C.
Avoid these three ‘retinoids’: Retinyl acetate, retinyl propionate and retinyl palmitate as the body cannot convert enough of it to retinoic acid to be used as an effective acne treatment or anti-ageing treatment.
Look for encapsulated retinoids: This protects against degradation.
Watch out for pore-clogging ingredients: Some non-natural brands will include lots of silicones, PEGs and alcohols which aren’t great for your skin and some brands that try to embrace the more natural approach use waxes and pore clogging oils in their formulas – fine for an anti-ageing retinol product, but a big no-no for acne sufferers. Always refer back to my list of pore clogging ingredients in skin care when you are looking for new product.
Go big or go home: Look for retinol products that contain an effective amount of retinol or retinaldehyde.
Ideally more than 0.5%, as only about 10% of retinol will get converted to retinoic acid. So in a 0.5% retinol serum, roughly 0.05% could be converted into retinoic acid. During my conversation with Marie-Veronique, she cleared up some really interesting questions I had about the strength and stability of retinol in natural skin care. This is was Marie-Veronique said:
“We at Marie Veronique have gone the extra step of adding stabilized vitamin C to our Treatment Retinol Serum because vitamin C and retinol have synergistic effects when it comes to promoting collagen production. The problem is that vitamin C works at a low pH, while retinol works best at a higher pH. Our solution was to add a higher percentage of retinol than you find in most serums to offset the degradation that is going to occur when it is in a relatively low pH medium.
Retinol eventually converts to retinoic acid at a conversion rate of about 10-15%, so the most retinoic acid you can expect from our Treatment Retinol Serum is 0.7%, but taking into account the degradation rates you are looking at roughly half that active amount (0.35%). However, even with that level of retinol you will still receive benefits similar to prescription products.”
How will retinol serums affect my ultra sensitive skin?
If you’re concerned about the intensity of topical retinoids, I recommend starting slow and less frequently. Start by applying your natural retinoid serum every 3 days then slowly increase the application over the course of 2 weeks until you’re applying it every night.
How long till I see the results of topical retinol serums?
While many people see an improvement in 1-2 weeks of using topical vitamin A serums, it actually takes up to 12 weeks for retinoic acid to create noticeable changes in the skin when it comes to acne breakouts and scarring, so do give it a few months to see the maximum benefits.
The best natural retinol serums for acne prone skin
Below are my favourite natural alternatives to Retin-A/Tretinoin for acne prone skin. They’re all from trusted natural brands and use gentle, effective vitamin A derivatives: retinol and retinaldehyde.
Type of vitamin A: Retinol
Albeit a little more pricey than the others, this is by far the most impressive and effective retinol serum I’ve tried and as you can see from Marie-Veronique comments throughout this post, they really know their stuff when it comes to formulating effective natural products. When it comes to topical retinoids, paying that little bit extra really will make a huge difference. This serum ticks every single box including the all important addition of vitamin C and E to maximise the powerful effects, micro-encapsulated retinol to prevent degradation in a based of green/white tea and a high retinol content! I could go on and on about the outstanding ingredients in this product, literally every ingredient works in harmony with acne prone skin. Marie Veronique seriously knows her stuff when it comes to a science-backed, natural approach to skin care and this Treatment Retinol Serum really does stand out from the rest!
Type of vitamin A: Retinaldehyde
The main benefit of this serum is the fact that it contains a patented form of retinadehyde, the closest precursor to retinoic acid. It contains a vitamin E to boost the powerful effects of retinadehyde, uses encapsulated retinadehyde and uses a high strength, patented form of retinaldehyde! This is a lovely product that feels and smells so nice – it’s more of a balm texture so is really nourishing on the skin at night!
My Chelle use a patented Retinaldehyde (Iconic A), of which they are the exclusive manufacturer. They formulate the Remarkable Retinal Serum with the maximum dose allowed for OTC retinoids – 0.05%. Prescription Tretinoin or Retin-A (Retinoic Acid) usually comes in three strengths: 0.025%, 0.05% and 0.1% so this product offers a really effective dose of topical vitamin A but without any of the irritation you get from prescription meds!
Type of vitamin A: HPR/Hydroxypinnacolone Retinoate
This is a revolutionary new form of vitamin A which is said to be bioavailable in its current state without the need of any conversions.
This product also contains Ceramides and Sodium Hyaluronate for maximum hydration and Coffee Berry extract which is an excellent antioxidant. However, there is one big BUT…it does contain Coconut oil which, for some people, is a big no-no – so bear that in mind before purchasing this one!
Type of vitamin A: Retinol (and Retinaldehyde)
Although not as potent as the Marie Veronique Treatment Retinol Serum or Remarkable Retinal Serum, this product does contain some really great ingredients including Montmorillonite clay which detoxifies the skin, Totarol™ – a botanically-derived antibacterial said to be like Tea Tree on crack! Important vitamin B3 fights inflammation and assists in the growth and repair of skin tissues and willow bark extract which is a natural source of salicylic acid. From what I can gather, the US market of MyChelle have rebranded this product recently and renamed it Clear Skin Pore Refiner – it’s packaged differently but seems pretty much the same on the inside, except for the addition of retinaldehyde! Great news for our skin!
Read more about the scientifically proven benefits of topical vitamin B3 for acne here
Enjoy the skin benefits from nature’s retinols
Natural retinol’s, found in organic unrefined oils such as Rosehip and Carrot Seed are another way you can renew, replenish, and hydrate your skin and reverse sun damage and fade pigmentation scarring while protecting your skin from premature ageing. I always massage a few drops of Rosehip oil into my skin after I’ve applied my retinol serum in the evening.
What are your thoughts on topical retinoids for acne? Have you discovered any natural retinoid serums for acne that have changed your life!? Let me know in the comments below!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin