Best Retinol alternatives for sensitive skin

Retinol is probably one of those skin care ingredients you a bit weary of due to the nasty side effects stories!.

Today we will unpack why and if we actually need it and whether there are any natural alternatives. So let’s see what the fuss is all about when it comes to retinol.

What is retinol?

A chemical version of Vitamin A to put it simply and without it you will age faster and witness some other skin malfunctions. When applying retinol topically your bodies enzymes go to work in converting it into retinal and then finally retinoic acid.

Needless to say this is a long term exercise and no quick fix which involves chemical intervention at the start of it all. So when it comes to a clean approach to skin then using this chemical will be questionable especially the side effects. However, have no fear because real skin angel is on the hunt for natural retinol alternatives!

The key take away here is that retinol is there to help your skin through its Vitamin A properties. The main benefits of using it will be to:

  • Fight acne
  • Reduce oil
  • Smooth fine lines and wrinkles
  • Lighten dark spots

So you thinking what could possibly go wrong when using retinol if it does all these amazing things?

Retinol mishaps

The bad rap is mainly due to incorrect use and let’s face it, not everyone’s experience will be good, especially if your skin is highly sensitive. I have read stories that nightmares are made of and they all could have been avoided. But truth be told most of us want a product to work instantly which is delusional.

Also, along with products comes instructions and dermatological visits so self-help cannot be the default. The common mistakes made are :

  • Using it during the day before going out into the sun :
    • So here you need to know that retinol makes your skin sensitive to sunlight and even if you going to be out in the shade sunblock SPF 30 is a MUST. Best to apply retinol or any vitamin A at night before you sleep but still use that SPF regardless!
  • Using too much:
    • Pea size is key, and keep to your normal routine bringing in the retinol after cleansing and before moisturizing. And remember to ease into it and not overdo the whole process. The retinol has extra drying properties and this could cause major skin problems like eczema and dermatitis if you apply too much.
  • Using it everyday:
    • Slowly introduce your skin for this vitamin A infusion by applying it twice a week and be prepared to do this over one month before gradually increasing.

Digesting the retinol do’s and don’ts can be overwhelming. So for the sake of clean skin care I researched natures’ way to get you that vitamin A boost!

Natural alternatives & does it work?

Nature to the rescue and I have found a few plant based substitutes that will do the job without any of the burning redness, flakiness and extreme dryness.

The best substitute would be to find ingredients that are rich in beta-carotene as these actually naturally convert to usable retinoids. These are also known as carotenoids and are gentler on skin. Further to this you can eat these and smooth them onto skin .

Some examples of these healing alternatives include:

Beta – Carotene or Carotenoids

  • Carrot seed oil
  • Rosehip oil
  • Mango butter
  • Seaweed extract
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Chicory root

Look for products with these ingredients it gives all the results without the chemicals.

Non carotenoid alternatives

  • Lycopene
  • Moringa


This is an amazing antioxidant and can be found in abundance in delicious tomatoes. The riper they are the better for you and the nutrient not only fights of free radicals but reduces inflammation, stress and those nasty aging lines. So adding a few extra ripe tomatoes to your daily meals will not only benefit your skin but overall health too.

Also you can source serums and other skin care products containing lycopene for topical use. This will improve the texture and tone of skin. It also reduces skin’s pore sizes and because of anti-inflammatory powers it keeps the redness and irritation at bay. This is ideal for sensitive and aging skin so definitely a nutrient not to be overlooked!


If you want to get that same effect as retinoid using a natural alternative look no further than moringa. Known for having more vitamins than most fruit and veg this super plant could be all your skin needs. The vitamin A intake here surpasses consuming carrots all day:-)

Read more here on why moringa is food for the skin.

More tips

  • You should know what your skin can and cannot handle. With that being said highly sensitive folks should consider natural options before turning to science.
  • Natural remedies could also not have such a great effect at first so introduce gradually over time.
  • Try not to exfoliate your skin too much if you do go the retinol route. You will be setting yourself up for pain.
  • Check your diet and see which foods you can add that will give you that much-needed vitamin A boost.
  • Always protect your skin from the sun and keep moisturizing no matter what.

The take away

Retinol is mainly used to treat those nasty signs of aging, particularly the dark spots, the roughness and wrinkles. It does work for some but for sensitive skin prone to irritation this solution is not without discomfort. The whole process can become drawn out and filled with anxiety. To top it off, using it incorrectly has given retinol an undeserved bad rap.

Treat your sensitive skin with extra love and care through gentler alternatives to retinol. The best way is to do a combined strategy through diet and topical skin products that will nourish with that needed vitamin A boost. Embrace the world of carotenoids and other nutrients like lycopene found in ripe tomatoes.

There is no quick fix when it comes to skin care and it is the holistic solutions that will always endure.

I hope that I have given you some good natural alternatives to retinoids for your sensitive skin. Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Love your skin naturally.

6 replies on “Best Retinol alternatives for sensitive skin”


As you get older, your skin begins to thin and produce less oil. This can lead to a number of unwanted signs of aging, such as wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. While there are many products on the market that promise to help reduce these signs of aging, many of them contain retinol.

  When your skin is sensitive, using a product that contains retinol can cause irritation and redness. 

It was great to read your article about natural alteratives.

Thank you

All the best,


Hi Julia

Thanks for your comments , yes I know the impact many of commercial products has on skin and sensitive skin especially. Nature has something for everyone:)

This is a very helpful post on retinol and alternatives that can be used. I do not like using chemicals on my skin, so have often veered away from using retinol, but I do understand the benefits of using retinol. I would far prefer though to use the natural alternatives. 

So if retinol is a chemical form of Vitamin A, why not just use Vit. A instead of retinol? Or is retinol cheaper to produce than using Vit. A? Thank you. 

Retinol goes through a process of turning into agents in your skin that help absorb calcium, vitamin C , and helps with collagen production and retention. That is why we need similar natural alternatives that do the same job as it helps the skin. But you can use vitamin A however you need more back up for skin care in form of retinoids.

To be honest retinol is one of these ingredients that I constantly hear about but never knew exactly what it was. I don’t know about others but if I would ever use products that contain it I would most certainly consult an expert first. Otherwise as you mention there are a lot of natural products that can substitute it and can be safer if you don’t know what you are doing.

Yes , its always best to research and to know your skin’s limitations. But I find that nature always knows how to take care of us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *