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Image of a table fan representing summer prep and alternatives to retinol

Summer prep – alternatives to retinol

Written by
Lucy Foster

Despite its undisputed position as one of the foremost weapons against aging skin, retinol doesn’t suit everyone. It’s powerful stuff, so first of all you shouldn’t use it if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Secondly, it can cause redness, flaking and irritation on some skin even after you’ve tested out differing strengths and applied it days apart.

And then there’s the sun – because retinol stimulates cell renewal exposing thinner, finer skin, it does make it far more sensitive to the sun’s rays. And with summer coming up and hotter days ahead, it makes sense to explore alternatives to the wonder ingredient to see if there’s something out there more appropriate.

Find a clinic or practitioner near you and enjoy a risk-free booking process thanks to free in-clinic consultations and the option to pay in-clinic. Also, you can now split the cost of your treatment into four equal, interest-free instalments using Tabby.

Why is it sensible to change my retinol routine?

Retinol causes an increase of cell turnover, which, on one hand brings fresh, youthful cells to the surface, but on the other can expose these cells before they’re ready – hence the irritation. These new cells also don’t handle sunlight too well either (precisely why we’re advised to apply retinol before bed), so you need to be wearing broad spectrum SPF every day to prevent UV damage and boost the retinol’s efficiency. Many dermatologists advise their clients to ditch the retinol entirely before spending an extended time in the sun – not great for our region – so if you’re intending on being out in the sun this summer, it might be wise to seek an alternative.

What else is out there?

Thankfully, there are plenty of other ingredients and treatments out there that have similar collagen-enhancing properties without being quite so sunlight adverse. From phyto-retinols (plant-based retinols such as bakuchiol and picão preto) to proven treatments such as chemical peels, there are other ways to get your collagen turnover hit.


Bakuchiol is getting a lot of press right now as it is the main contender for retinol’s crown. Made from the seeds of the Babchi plant (and used traditionally in Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practices), this ingredient promises to stimulate collagen production, even out skin tone, reduce inflammation and help prevent fine lines and wrinkles. Furthermore, it’s been shown to suppress melanin production so it can help ease up pigmentation issues. Unlike retinol, though, it doesn’t become inactive through exposure to the sun and doesn’t irritate even sensitive skin.

Rose seed/Rosehip oil

Both these natural oils are packed full of vitamin A (and vitamin C and E) so while they may not work as quickly or dramatically as retinol, they do promise to encourage cell turnover, tone down hyperpigmentation and smooth out fine lines. And there won’t be a flaky, irritated patch in sight.


Profhilo is an injectable moisturiser made up of hyaluronic acid and while it is injected into the skin like dermal fillers, it is quite different. It doesn’t add volume; its purpose is to improve health and strength by a slow release of hyaluronic acid just under the skin, stimulating production of collagen and elastin. And once injected, it disperses evenly throughout the area smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles across the face. Two separate sessions are advised and the effects last for about four to six months.

Browse clinics offering Profhilo.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels are used to remove dead skin cells and encourage new skin growth and collagen production underneath alongside more evenly distributed melanin. They can be altered to a specific skin depth – light peels just remove the upper layer of skin (epidermis) and can help towards fine lines, uneven skin tone and dryness. The effects last for a few weeks. Medium peels also remove the top layer of the dermis and can assist with deep wrinkles and acne scars. Deep peels go, well, even deeper and require recovery time although they shouldn’t have to be repeated.


The idea behind microneedling is quite simple: it causes small, superficial wounds via the application of tiny, sterilised needles in the skin to trick the body to produce collagen to help with the healing process. It’s less expensive than laser therapy and can be a better solution for people with darker skin tones as it doesn’t affect pigmentation. You might need four to six sessions to see the effects.

Browse clinics offering microneedling.

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