Avène Retrinal Cream Is More Intense Than Retinol—But Gentler

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If you’ve got dry or sensitive skin but want to get in on the near-magic skin-care ingredient everyone’s talking about (we’re talking about you, retinol), listen up—what I’m about to share with you has been a low-key miracle for my (essentially oil-free) face. My all time favorite French pharmacy brand, Avène, concocted the peptide-rich retinol formulation of my dry skin’s dreams: RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream ($70).


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After a couple weeks of continuous use, my skin is radiant—brighter and more even toned, smooth and plump, and the early little signs of fine lines have virtually disappeared. I feel renewed! To boot, it was powerfully effective when I needed some hormonal acne help, as it targeted pimples without drying out my already parched skin.

A quick run-down on my desert island, must-have skin-care product, and why you’re going to be hitting “add to cart” in approximately 45 seconds.

Star ingredients:

  • Retinaldehyde (suped up retinol)
  • Pre-tocopheryl (protective, powerful antioxidant)
  • Relastide (Avène’s proprietary pro-elastin peptide ingredient)
  • Avène thermal spring water (soothes and softens)

What it does:

  • Smooths: reduces “deep wrinkles and furrows”
  • Firms: plums skin for a healthy feel and appearance
  • Brightens: gives a luminous glow
  • Soothes: helps with skin cell turnover while also providing a soothing quality
  • Protects: antioxidants help to defend skin from free radicals and prevent damage

A refresher on retinol: It belongs to a family known as retinoids, which are derivatives of vitamin A that “most people in their twenties and above can benefit from [when] including it in their daily skin-care routine,” Dendy Engelman, MD, board certified dermatologist based in New York City shared in a previous interview. Retinol helps to speed up cell turnover, which can help with everything from acne to brightness to wrinkles. Wrinkles are also targeted by retinol’s capacity to improve collagen production. Retinaldeyhde—the active retinoid in Avène’s RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream—is stronger than retinol, but it’s still gentle enough to be available over the counter (sans prescription).

Sounds great, right? But it’s not always so simple for those with sensitive and/or dry skin. This is because “Retinoids can cause dryness and irritation,” says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD. “Retinization is the adjustment period during which the skin adapts to the use of topical retinoids,” she says, referring to one of the stronger prescription strength retinoids, tretinoin. “During this time the skin may become irritated, resulting in dryness, peeling, scaling, redness or a burning or stinging sensation.”

And while that period is pretty miserable, “These symptoms generally subside by the fourth week of use,” says Dr. King. “Sensitive skin and skin prone to conditions like rosacea and eczema may be particularly affected by these symptoms and topical retinoids are not always tolerated.”

That’s where retinaldehyde comes in. “Retinyl palmitate, retinol, and retinaldehyde [all] have to undergo a conversion process in order to turn into retinoic acid before the skin can use them,” explains Dr. King. “For those who can tolerate a strong OTC option, retinaldehyde is a good choice.”

RetrinAL’s gentle-but-powerful retinaldehyde is amped up with the antioxidants and is even more soothing, thanks to the peptides and thermal spring water. Dr. King reviewed the formulation as well, and shared some highlights and tells us that “the triglycerides and other emollients support the skin barrier, that the evening primrose oil,”which contains gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), reduces skin inflammation,” and that she also approves of the brand’s thermal spring water, since it’s “been shown to soothe and calm the skin, and it’s formulated to minimize risk of allergic reactions.”

TL;DR: This derm-approved cream can give you the retinoid effects you crave without the side effects you fear, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. Prepare for some glow-y, rejuvenated radiance.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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