Retinal at a glance

  • Powerful retinol derivative (also known as retinal) that is a direct precursor to retinoic acid
  • Well documented for reducing fine lines and wrinkles, as well as mitigating other signs of aging
  • Helps improve the look of blemish-prone skin
  • Requires one less conversion step in skin compared to pure retinol to become its active form
  • Tolerated equally well or in some cases even better compared to pure retinol

Retinal description

Retinal (also referred to as retinaldehyde) is a form of retinol that is a direct precursor to retinoic acid, which is what retinol breaks down once its absorbed by skin. This vitamin A derivative is well-documented with decades of research backing its skin care benefits, including the ability to visibly reduce fine lines and wrinkles, as well as mitigating other signs of aging, including hyperpigmentation. Studies show retinal can also help improve the appearance of blemish-prone skin by helping to offset underlying triggers. Those with excessively oily skin may also find retinal helps balance their sebum excretion on skin’s surface. This combination of benefits provides a unique advantage for retinal to tackle multiple stubborn skin concerns at once. While it was long ago theorized that retinal may be more likely to sensitize skin than pure retinol, newer research has shown it is tolerated equally well or in some cases even better, as it requires one less conversion step in skin to become its active form. Formulary innovations, including encapsulation of the ingredient, can further enhance skin’s tolerance of retinal, while also improving stability and performance. Similar to retinol, retinal does not need to be used in large concentrations to be effective. Concentrations as low as 0.05% have been proven to be effective for improving skin texture and in 0.1% concentration results for skin tone improvement have been documented, among other benefits. While retinal is considered a safe skin care ingredient overall, it should not be used during pregnancy due to its relation to prescription retinoids (always consult your physician).

Retinal references

  • Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, November 2021, pages 3,586-3,592
  • Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2021, pages 2,874-2,879
  • Cells, December 2020, pages 1-14
  • Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, January 2018, pages 471-475
  • Global Dermatology, January 2016, pages 232-236
  • Dermatology, September 2013, pages 231–237
  • Journal Der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft, December 2008, pages 1,023-1,031
  • Dermatology, 1999, pages 57-60
  • Dermatology, 1999, pages 29-31

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not rated

We have not yet rated this ingredient because we have not had a chance to review the research on it.