Retinaldehyde Skincare:
What is It?
How to Use it & Benefits

Retinaldehyde is a powerful form of vitamin A which boasts advanced anti-ageing properties – and it’s taking the skincare industry by storm. 

We’re here to provide an in-depth look at its skincare capabilities and the science behind its visible benefits.

What is retinaldehyde?

Because it’s relatively new to the market, many people have questions about retinaldehyde (more commonly known as retinal). Put simply, retinal is a form of vitamin A which belongs to the retinoid family.

Retinoids are compounds commonly used in skincare to help minimise visible signs of ageing on the skin. However, retinal has been proven to act up to 11 times faster than the more commonly-used retinoid, ‘retinol’* - which is why it’s so revolutionary.

The ability to stabilise retinal has been a more recent skincare discovery, which is why it's rarely found in skincare formulas in more potent strengths. However, here at Medik8, we’re Experts in Vitamin A and the proud pioneers of a patented retinal stabilisation system that’s reinvented the vitamin A category.

*G. Siegenthaler et al., Retinol and retinal metabolism, Biochemical Journal, 1990, 268, pp 371-378

Is retinal the same as retinaldehyde?

Yes, retinal is the shorter and easier-to-pronounce name for retinaldehyde.

What do retinoids do?

Retinoids work to support skin cell regeneration and help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This can visibly improve the skin’s radiance and texture, while also helping to diminish the appearance of discolouration and enlarged pores. This ultimately results in a visibly brighter, healthier, more youthful-looking complexion.

How is retinal different from retinol?

The molecular variations between retinal and retinol make them unique and, as such, they perform differently. When comparing retinal vs retinol, there are several significant differences:

Retinal acts faster - Retinol is two steps away from retinoic acid (the biologically active form of vitamin A) on the vitamin A pathway, whereas retinal is just one step away – which means it acts faster and delivers more powerful visible results.

Only retinal has antibacterial properties - which can help to combat blemish-causing bacteria.

Who can use retinaldehyde?

Anyone can use retinal, provided you start with a concentration that’s low enough for your skin. This is especially important if you aren’t already using a retinoid, such as retinol.

Retinal is particularly recommended for mature skins with visible signs of ageing such as wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and uneven texture.

It’s also very popular with those with blemish-prone skin or visible congestion due to its unique antibacterial properties (which can help to tackle blemish-causing bacteria).

The science behind retinaldehyde and how it works on the skin

Retinal works to support healthy skin cell regeneration, promoting visibly brighter, firmer and smoother-looking skin. In doing so, it also helps to boost the skin’s elasticity which combats the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

These benefits become visible as retinal converts up the vitamin A pathway into retinoic acid. This is why retinaldehyde is generally more effective than other retinoids, as it’s only one conversion step away from retinoic acid (the biologically active form of vitamin A).

Watch our video about the science behind retinaldehyde to find out more about its remarkable properties and skin benefits.

Why is retinaldehyde so effective?

Retinaldehyde is a form of vitamin A which travels through a series of changes in the human body known as the ‘vitamin A pathway’. It becomes ‘active’ and begins to have a visible impact on the skin when it reaches the retinoic acid stage.

5 Key benefits of retinal within skincare

Whether you want to improve your skin’s clarity, enhance visible radiance or diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, this multifunctional age-defying ingredient delivers on every level.

1. Retinal helps to support skin cell regeneration

Retinaldehyde helps to support healthy skin cell regeneration which promotes plumper and firmer-looking skin where the appearance of fine lines is visibly reduced. Retinal can significantly improve the complexion’s overall appearance, resulting in a visibly smoother, more radiant and even-toned complexion.

2. Retinal can help to prevent blemishes

Retinal boasts antibacterial (or antimicrobial) properties, which means it can help to combat visible congestion as well as blemish-causing bacteria. In helping to balance sebum production and support skin cell renewal, it works to promote a clearer-looking complexion where the appearance of imperfections is reduced.

3. Retinal reduces visible signs of ageing

Retinaldehyde works to support healthy skin cell renewal, therefore increasing skin elasticity while visibly resurfacing the complexion to promote more youthful-looking skin overall.

4. Retinal has antioxidant properties

Retinal also possesses antioxidant properties which help to stop free radicals (environmental aggressors) from damaging healthy skin cells and accelerating the ageing process.

5. Retinal helps reduce hyperpigmentation

Retinal helps to visibly unify the skin tone by inhibiting the activity of tyrosinase - the enzyme responsible for the production of melanin which creates visible pigmentation and dark spots.

Potential side effects of retinal use

If your skin is new to retinal, you may experience some mild irritation, redness or dryness - especially if you use too much or apply it too frequently.

At Medik8, we have effectively reduced the potential for irritation, infusing our unique Time Release and stabilisation technologies into all of our vitamin A products for slow retinal release and, therefore, minimal irritation. We also recommend introducing the skin to retinal gradually, starting with a low concentration. With our groundbreaking Crystal Retinal serum, you can ladder up your visible results with our unique ladder of 5 progressive strengths (starting at 0.01% for those with particularly sensitive skin).

What should I look for in a good retinal product?

A good retinal product will usually contain 0.01–0.2% retinal, and come in a choice of strengths - so you can build up your skin’s tolerance slowly.

Well-optimised retinal formulas will also often contain hydrating ingredients to help mitigate any potential drying or irritating effects. The more stable the retinal molecule, the more effective it will be on the skin. Crystal Retinal offers a superior level of retinal stability that can only be found at Medik8. An industry-leading breakthrough, the Crystal Retinal range features our game-changing crystal encapsulation technology as well as our patented carrot seed oil complex. This dual-layered stability system comes together with our innovative airless packaging to protect the potency of the retinal molecule for powerful and long-lasting effectiveness.

Skin care ingredients to pair with retinaldehyde

At Medik8, we believe that every skincare routine should begin with 3 fundamental formulas; vitamin C plus sunscreen by day, vitamin A by night. We call this the CSA Philosophy. Incredibly simple and grounded in science, our pioneering skincare solution champions vitamin C in the morning (for all-day protection against the ageing effects of environmental stressors) followed by one of our next-generation sunscreens (to ensure all-encompassing protection against UV damage and premature ageing). In the evening, one of our expertly stabilised retinal formulas (suitable for all skin types and needs) will work to visibly rejuvenate the skin while you sleep for optimal youth-boosting results. Our market-leading Crystal Retinal serums are proven to work 11 times faster than traditional retinol* in delivering profound age-defying benefits.

*G. Siegenthaler et al., Retinol and retinal metabolism, Biochemical Journal, 1990, 268, pp 371-378

How to incorporate retinal in your skincare: 6 tips from our expert

Tip one: Avoid using any other skincare products that contain vitamin A at the same time.

Tip two: For new users of retinal, gradually phase-in application to enable your skin to build up a tolerance and avoid any reactions. Use twice a week for the first two weeks, every other night for the following two weeks, then every night.

Tip three: Begin with products containing a lower percentage of retinal. Once your skin becomes used to this strength, you can move up to a higher concentration.

Tip four: Only use retinal in the evening. Retinal is photosensitive, meaning that it is less effective when exposed to UV rays and can cause irritation. However, an exception this rule is our r-Retinoate Day & Night Serum. This formula is photostable and doesn’t break down in sunlight like other traditional forms of vitamin A. It can therefore be used both morning and night for effective visible results.

Tip five: Retinal can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is important that you use sunscreen the following morning to protect against the damaging effects of UV rays.

Tip six: Layer retinal with Advanced Night Restore, our deeply nourishing night cream that’s expertly formulated to work alongside vitamin A to help minimise dryness and lock in the visible benefits of our retinal formulas.

Medik8 skin care products with retinal

Our groundbreaking Crystal Retinal serum is formulated with our unique patented stabilisation technology to ensure optimal potency for maximum age-defying results, all while remaining gentle on the most sensitive skins. Available in a choice of 5 clinical strengths (0.01% - 0.2% retinaldehyde), this next-generation vitamin A allows you to work your way up for progressive results without irritation.

Crystal Retinal is clinically proven to provide remarkable age-defying results in just one tube.* Think visibly brighter, firmer and smoother-looking skin.

*Proven via independent clinical study on Crystal Retinal 6. Tested on 33 participants over 12 weeks.

Crystal Retinal Ceramide Eye

The latest addition to the Crystal Retinal franchise, Crystal Retinal Ceramide Eye is expertly optimised to deliver all of the renowned benefits of retinal while remaining ultra gentle on the delicate eye area. Available in a choice of 3 strengths, it ensures progressive visible results that promote a more youthful-looking eye area.


Should you start with retinol or retinal?

This depends on your skin type and what you would like to achieve, and ultimately comes down to personal choice. 

Can I use retinal every night?

As long as you build your use up gradually, and start with a lower strength product to begin with, you should be able to use retinal every night. 

For new users of retinal, we recommend gradually phasing in application to enable your skin to build up a tolerance and avoid any reactions. Use twice a week for the first two weeks, every other night for the following two weeks, then every night.

What is the difference between hyaluronic acid and retinal?

Hyaluronic acid helps to boost and retain the skin’s moisture levels, while retinal delivers powerful benefits to directly tackle visible signs of ageing such as wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. This is why hyaluronic acid is often best suited to moisturising and visibly plumping dry skin, while retinal works more effectively for targeting specific ageing concerns. The two ingredients can work well together to boost respective benefits, provided the correct formulations are used.

Can retinal damage your skin?

People using retinal for the first time may experience some irritation if they use a concentration that’s too high, or they apply it too regularly. It’s always advisable to build up your retinal use gradually so your skin gets used to it. Retinal can make your skin more prone to sun damage, so always apply an appropriate sunscreen before going out during the day after using vitamin A the night before.

What is the most effective concentration of retinal?

The most effective concentration will vary depending on your skin type and the tolerance you build up. The maximum concentration the skin can handle is different for everyone, so it’s important to find the best balance for your particular complexion. 

At Medik8, we offer retinaldehyde in five progressive strengths, ranging from 0.01% to 0.2% - so you can gradually increase the concentration and your visible results over time.