Derived from vitamin A, dermatologists and skin experts champion the all-rounder for minimising fine lines and wrinkles, fading hyperpigmentation, unclogging pores and increasing collagen levels, making skin clear, plump and smooth. But it's not without it's downsides. Redness, sensitivity and flaking are a handful of side effects of using retinol-based skincare products, so it's no wonder beauty brands are on the lookout for gentle retinol alternatives.
What is phytoretinol in skincare?
Phytoretinol is the umbrella term for plant-based, herbal versions of retinol, said Dr Ana Mansouri, skincare expert and aesthetic doctor at Kat & Co.
Plant-based retinols are not that new, but the difference lies in which plant it comes from. You might have heard of bakuchiol (derived from the babchi plant) or rosehip seed oil, which skincare lovers rate for clearing up skin. Both deliver similar results to retinol, all without the irritation. Lately, though, newer phytoretinols have been extracted from the Picão Preto plant, which is typically found across South America, added Dr Mansouri. "Although it is not derived from vitamin A like retinol, it has shown to have similar benefits with minimal discomfort," said Dr Ana. "These newcomers to the anti-ageing scene have provided a great, gentle yet effective alternative for those with sensitive skin," added Dr Ana, who mentioned that they are especially useful for people who struggle with the expected reactions from retinol, such as dryness, redness, and flaking.
What are the benefits of phytoretinol in skincare?
Dr Ana said phytoretinol lends itself nicely to sensitive or reactive skin types, which would otherwise struggle with retinol. According to dermatologist Dr Joyce Park, the ingredient works across the board. "For young people, incorporating phytoretinol into your skincare routine can help prevent the development of fine lines, improve skin texture and boost radiance. For more mature skin, adding phytoretinol to your routine will also help prevent new fine lines from forming and help to reduce the appearance of some existing lines, improve dullness and really help with the overall texture of your skin."
Dr Ana also touts phytoretinol's anti-inflammatory effects, such as bringing down swelling and redness, while Dr Park said it's a great retinol alternative to use in cold weather, which typically makes dry skin and flaking worse. It's also a beneficial ingredient for those with breakouts, said Dr Ana. "Phytoretinol is inherently non-comedogenic (unlikely to clog pores) so can be used for acne-prone skin." However, Dr Ana suggests looking out for other ingredients in the product ingredient list which may have a pore-clogging effect on their own. Popular ones include vitamin E, oils and shea butter.
How do you use phytoretinol in skincare?
Lately, beauty brands have formulated serums, moisturisers and eye creams with the wonder ingredient. Just like retinol, exactly when you use a product containing phytoretinol makes a big difference to your skin.
"You will get the most of phytoretinol as an alternative to retinol in the evening time," said Dr Ana. "As it is a very gentle, ingredient most people will be able to tolerate this every night," she added, whereas skin experts usually recommend using retinol every other night, as it's incredibly potent. "Where it should go in your routine depends on the texture and thickness of the product itself," added Dr Ana. "You can apply it on bare, dry skin after cleansing and toning if it comes in a thinner serum base," Dr Ana said, and then follow with moisturiser. For heavier creams, she would recommend applying it as the last step of your routine.
As phytoretinol is very gentle, Dr Ana said it is unlikely to irritate your skin when combined with popular skincare ingredients like exfoliating AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic and lactic acid) or BHAs (beta hydroxy acids, for example, salicylic acid). "There is no specific need to separate the use of these," she said.
What are the best phytoretinol skincare products?
While phytoretinol promises big things, it's still a little under-the-radar. But some smart skincare brands are jumping on board. Biossance's Squalane +Phyto-Retinol Serum, £61, is a cult favourite as it combines plant-based retinol with moisturising squalane and hydrating hyaluronic acid for skin that glows.
bareMinerals recently launched an entire phytoretinol skincare collection derived from the Picão Preto plant. It includes the AGELESS Phyto-Retinol Face Cream, £52, Phyto-Retinol Eye Cream, £40, and Dr Park's go-to: Phyto-Retinol Night Concentrate, £52, which boasts 10% phytoretinol. "This is a good first step in your evening skincare routine," said Dr Park. "I like it because it's potent, lightweight, fast absorbing and it is really easy to layer with other skincare products." Use the product as a serum and follow with your favourite moisturiser for extra hydration. Also try Medik8 Bakuchiol Peptides, £45, a firm favourite among skincare experts right now.
Are there any side effects of using phytoretinol?
According to Dr Ana, no specific side effects to phytoretinol's use on the skin have been highlighted so far, but she suggests proceeding with caution as per any new "skingredient". "As with any skincare product, always use as directed by the instructions on the label and monitor for any signs of adverse reactions," said Dr Ana. "If you notice any side effects such as redness or irritation, stop using the product and contact a skin doctor as necessary."
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