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The Retinol Issue

by Kanvas Beauty January 10, 2024 8 min read

The Retinol Issue

The Best Retinol Serums in Australia

The Top 10 Retinol Serums for Every Skin Type

When it comes to aging skin, acne or just overall rejuvenation, retinol can work like a charm. Here we discuss what retinol does to your skin, whether or not it is good to use retinol everyday, and what are the disadvantages of retinol. Plus, we go through the best retinol serums you can get your mitts on! Let's get into it.


What is retinol for skin

Retinol is a form of Vitamin A. Because it's also an antioxidant, it helps protect skin from free radical damage. It also increases skin cell turnover. You typically only need a tiny amount in topical skincare to see results (even as little as 0.1% suffices).


Retinol benefits

The best part about this nifty skincare ingredient is that it is backed up by decades of research AND is clinically proven to work. It's not a fad! It works like this: our skin cells turnover naturally, all throughout our lives. Old cells die, and new cells are produced. As we age, the speed of our skin cell turnover begins to slow down. This can result in duller skin, fine lines, less hydration, and more hyperpigmentation. Enter retinol: by speeding it up again, it reveals fresh cells underneath and helps stimulate collagen production too. Fine lines are reduced, and the reduced presence of dead skin cells on the surface means:

1. Less blocked pores (i.e. less acne) thanks to less cell buildup and inflammation;

2. Better hydration (as skincare is better absorbed); and

3. Less hyperpigmentation (as old, discolored cells are replaced).


Retinol disadvantages

Honestly, like any other skincare ingredient, the key disadvantage of retinol is that it may not suit you, OR it may take time for your skin to get used to it. When most of us first try retinol (particularly if our skin barrier is compromised), it can result in dryness, flaky skin, redness or flushing, and general irritation. It usually means we need to pare it back, use a lower concentration, or dilute the formula by adding it to a cream or facial oil. Not everyone will have the patience for it, and that's okay. But stick to it, and the results will be their own reward!


New to retinol? Read this

Retinol can be a notoriously difficult ingredient for skin to get used to, because it is an active ingredient that changes the way your skin operates by speeding things up. There can be a 'settling' phase. If you're new to retinol, you don't really need to read a complete guide on the skin care: just remember these three words: take. it. slow.

1. Introduce it to your skincare routine gradually, by using a low concentration (0.1%). and applying it once a week. If, after a while, your skin isn't getting dry, red or irritated, amp it up to twice per week, and then 3 times a week (which really, is enough to see results).

2. Don't use it with acids, benzoyl peroxide, or any other actives if you have sensitive skin. If you don't have sensitive skin, you can try it with niacinamide, vitamin C, bakuchiol or arbutin. We personally like to use only one active ingredient per routine, just to maintain a healthy skin barrier.

3. And lastly, always use a good SPF during the day, as retinol can make skin more vulnerable to UV rays.


Okay - let's get into it!



There is a reason A313 is always sold out on Kanvas Beauty. A French Beauty icon, this Vaseline-like pommade only uses a vitamin A concentration of 0.12% - but manages to produce incredible results (hence it's mass following). It's great for acne, particularly when used as a spot treatment, and erases fine lines like a dream. It can also help skin feel more hydrated, thanks to its thick texture. Read our tips on how to use A313 on our blog, or check out our YouTube vid.

Pros:Works on acne, fine lines, hyperpigmentation etc. Simple and gentle formula. Nourishing feel.

Cons:Some people love that thick pommade-like texture, others hate it. It makes it hard to layer skincare or apply makeup / other products on top.

Buy A313 here.

2. BEST VEGAN RETINOL: Radically Rejuvenating Retinoid Night Complex Serum from Acure

Acure's Radically Rejuvenating Retinoid Night Complex Serum is what you need to try if you're looking for a vegan product, or simply if skin struggles with the side effects of retinol. This formula contains the gentler HPR retinoid, a vegan complex that is not as irritating as standard retinol while still offering the same anti-aging / anti-acne benefits. Plus, there are no added fragrances, colorants, or harsh ingredients.

Pros: Gentle, fragrance-free, no essential oils, vegan, moisturizing ingredients. 

Cons: May be too light-on for more experienced retinol users.

Purchase the Radically Rejuvenating Retinoid Night Complex Serum from Acure here.


3. BEST RETINOL FOR AGED SKIN: Vitamin A Ampoule from SVR Laboratories

The Vitamin A  Ampoule from SVR Laboratories contains a 0.3% concentration of two types of retinol (pure vitamin A and encapsulated retinol). Encapsulating the retinol slows its release into the skin, making it easier to tolerate. This means it can be gentle enough for sensitive skin - but still strong enough to retexturize enlarged pores and erase fine lines in just 7 days! In addition, it contains vitamin C derivative, vitamin E, polyphenols and peptides - making this retinol serum a true anti-ageing powerhouse. 

Pros: Beautiful texture (like a milky emulsion), absorbs quickly, clinically proven to work, ideal ingredients for aging skin.

Cons: Small amount of added fragrance, not the best serum for acne as formula ingredients focus on anti-aging.

Purchase the Vitamin A Ampoule from SVR Laboratories here.


4. BEST RETINOL FOR ACNE: A313 or Some By Mi's Retinol Intense Activating Serum

It's a tie! If you've been wondering whether retinol is good for acne, these two products should answer the question. A313 is excellent at preventing acne, and many of you have used it as a follow-up retinol cream after a course of tretinoin and other prescription anti-acne medication. If you're not a fan of the texture or are looking for something you can layer, try Some By Mi's Retinol Intense Activating Serum. Why is this serum so awesome? Well, it uses a 0.1% concentration of vitamin A and moreover, also has retinal (another form of Vitamin A that can work up to 11x faster than retinol in terms of skin cell turnover), niacinamide, cica, tea-tree extract and madecassoside. It'll reduce acne, but also prevent future breakouts as well. The pros and cons of A313 are above, so let's focus on Retinol Intense.

Pros: Good retinol acne serum, can be layered, gentle concentration of retinol but powerful enough to see results. Also a decent anti-aging retinol serum, thanks to added peptides and adenosine. 

Cons: Small amount of added fragrance.

Buy A313 here and the Some By Mi Retinol Intense Activating Serum here.


5. BEST RETINOL CREAM: By Wishtrend's Vitamin A-mazing Bakuchiol Night Cream

If serums are just a tad too powerful, if you're looking to add retinol in a different place in your routine OR if you want a more moisturising formula, try a retinol cream instead! By Wishtrend's Vitamin A-mazing Bakuchiol Night Cream treats both anti-ageing and anti-acne concerns with maximum results and minimum irritation. It's sufficiently moisturizing to keep skin hydrated through the night, thanks to ingredients like macadamia seed oil, trehalose and hyaluronic acid. Because it's got a heavier concentration of bakuchiol than retinol, we didn't notice any purging or discomfort, making it ideal for retinol beginners.

Pros: Good for retinol beginners, moisturising, ideal for both anti-aging and anti-acne concerns, contains bakuchiol. Also works on acne scars.

Cons: None really, but it IS a cream - so not as potent as a serum for experienced retinol users.

Purchase the By Wishtrend's Vitamin A-mazing Bakuchiol Night Cream here.


6. BEST RETINOL EYE CREAM: Revive Ginseng & Retinal Eye Serum from Beauty of Joseon

Beauty of Joseon's Revive Ginseng & Retinal Eye Serum combines one of traditional Korean medicine's favourite anti-ageing ingredients (ginseng root) with a 2% concentration of vitamin A derivative. Retinal is very similar to retinol and will lead to the same results - however, retinal purports to do it quicker, with a much higher exfoliation rate than standard retinol. This serum is moisturizing, great on all skin types, and is more creamy in texture than a standard serum (hence, we prefer to call it an eye cream). It does its best work on fine lines. If you're looking for the best retinol eye cream for dark circles, we'd suggest ditching retinol all together and focusing on ingredients like vitamin C, tranexamic acid and gluthatione. 

Pros: Contains retinal, lovely texture, feels luxurious, moisturizing, clean formula, fragrance-free, suitable for sensitive skin as well.

Cons: None - the only thing we found is that it's so nice, you'll want to use it for your whole face! Here's hoping they come out with a bigger tube.

Buy the Revive Ginseng & Retinal Eye Serum from Beauty of Joseon here.



We love the COSRX Retinol 0.5% Oil for beginners because it's buildable. While 0.5% retinol isn't the smallest concentration, the oil dropper packaging means that you can just put a couple of drops in your favouite moisturizer if you have ultra sensitive skin, to build up your skin's tolerance. It also means you don't need to buy a stronger product if your skin takes to it quicker than expected - because 0.5% is more than sufficient to see great results. The clean formula is silky, moisturizing and feels lovely on application. Even better, it's already being described by users as a "Holy Grail" - because it works so well! 

Pros: Buildable, clean formula, fragrance-free, absorbs well, excellent results

Cons:¬†ÔĽŅAlthough it isn't greasy, its oil formula might not be for everyone.¬†

Buy The Retinol 0.5 Oil from COSRX here.



Free from drying alcohols, fragrances, essential oils and any potential skin irritants, The Retinol 0.1 Cream from COSRX is also infused with panthenol and allantoin for extra soothing benefits. Plus, the formula contains just a 0.1% concentration of retinol along with tocotrienol (aka 'Super Vitamin E') to moisturize. The texture is like a creamy serum, and is absorbed in a second. Plus it really works! We've noticed a more refined complexion and less texture in a relatively short amount of time. And for acne prone skin, COSRX has included lauric acid and vitamin C.

Pros: Clean formula, ideal for both acne and fine lines, moisturizing and soothing, easily absorbed.

Cons:¬†ÔĽŅThis one is¬†clearly for beginners and sensitive skin - experienced retinol users may find it too gentle.¬†¬†

Buy The Retinol 0.1 Cream from COSRX here.


9. BEST RETINOL FOR DRY SKIN: Vita A Bakuchiol Youth Serum from TIA'M

TIA'M is a hugely underrated Korean Beauty brand (their Vita B5 Toner is a holy grail staple in any dry or sensitive skin routine), and its Vita A Bakuchiol Youth Serum is another hidden gem! This retinol serum is targeted at dry, aged skin, but also works well on acne scars. It uses both retinyl palmitate (the same star in A313) and bakuchiol, as well as adenosine and hydrolyzed collagen. It melts quickly into the skin, leaving it more radiant and smoother with every use. And thank the skin gods, it isn't greasy or heavy in the slightest.

Pros: Moisturising, fast absorption, lightweight, not tacky or greasy, uses bakuchiol as well. 

Cons: Contains peanut oil (super moisturising but obviously takes it off the list for those with peanut allergies) and a small amount of essential oil.

Purchase the Vita A Bakuchiol Youth Serum from TIA'M here.


10. BEST RETINOL FOR ACNE SCARS: Hyper Retinol EX 1.0 Serum from ISNTREE

ISNTREE's Hyper Retinol EX 1.0 Serum boasts a uniquely composed formula: 0.1% retinol, 0.3% retinyl palmitate and 0.6% bakuchiol combine to make a solid 1% concentration of kickass anti-aging and resurfacing ingredients. Niacinamide helps brighten scarring, while anti-microbial Phytosphingosine and TECA work on preventing future breakouts and redness.

Pros: Plenty of star ingredients for anti-aging, hyperpigmented and acne-prone skin, fragrance-free, non-tacky serum, clean ingredients.

Cons: We only found that the dropper makes it hard to get the last bits of serum when the bottle is almost finished.

Buy the Hyper Retinol EX 1.0 Serum from ISNTREE here.


What's your favourite retinol product? Used any of the above retinol serums? Drop us your thoughts in the comments below!

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