If there were a skincare ingredient hall of fame, retinol would undoubtedly be in it. But, as is the case with really any hall of fame inductee, it’d have its fair share of detractors. While its wrinkle-fighting, acne-busting, and texture-improving bona fides are well established, for some, the side effects—the peeling, the dryness, the irritation—aren’t worth the hassle.
While many folks have long been willing to accept these not-so-pleasant side effects in exchange for a glowing complexion, as technology has improved, so have retinol alternatives. Ingredients such as bakuchiol and rambutan are providing impressive results for those who can’t (or won’t) tolerate retinoids.
Tatcha is the latest brand to join the retinol alternative conversation with The Silk Serum ($98), which brings together powerful-but-gentle tech and the brand's signature silk finish for an elegant and effective formulation. We spoke with Rose Sparacio, vice president of product development at Tatcha, to learn more about the product.
Retinol is perhaps as well-known for its sometimes harsh side effects as it is for its superior skincare benefits. Indeed some groups, such as pregnant people, have to skip retinol altogether. As such, consumers have been increasingly intrigued by the prospect of retinol alternatives.
“Searches for retinol products have increased over recent years as skincare users become savvier and understand its many benefits,” says Sparacio. “But for many people, retinol comes with a lot of baggage. It’s not always clear when or how often to use it, and then there’s the irritation. It’s estimated that about 20 percent of the population cannot tolerate retinol-based products due to skin sensitivity.” And for this group of consumers, “these complications and side effects can outweigh retinol’s benefits.”
So the team at Tatcha set out to create a product that could meet the needs of consumers looking for the texture-improving, collagen-boosting benefits of retinol in a more sensitive skin-friendly formulation. “For years, our team searched for a plant-based alternative that could deliver many of the same benefits without the drawbacks so that skin transformation is always a positive experience,” says Sparacio.
The star of the Silk Serum is Hadasei-3, a “proprietary complex of twice-fermented rice, algae, and green tea,” and the Retinol Alternative Duo, which combines upcycled cranberry extract with sea fennel “to act on the same factors as retinol to support collagen-depleted skin,” Sparacio tells us. Algae, a rich source of metabolites, can help fight oxidative stress—and, by extension, skin aging—while green tea helps combat stressors like UV radiation and pollution.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Tatcha drop without the brand’s iconic silk, a nod to its Japanese heritage. “Silk is a moisture-binding ingredient that helps smooth and plump the appearance of fine lines,” Sparacio explains. “Additionally, silk protein’s amino acid composition makes the ingredient uniquely biocompatible with skin, and its regenerative, second-skin properties have made it popular in the medical field.”
The gentle formula means that “unlike retinol, The Silk Serum can be used daily starting on day one, and can be used morning and night since it doesn’t cause photo-sensitivity,” says Sparacio, who recommends using it on clean skin before locking in all the goodness with your favorite moisturizer.
Consider the Silk Serum the Keanu Reeves of anti-aging products: Gentle but hard-hitting. That Retinol Alternative Duo, for example? “Our scientists at the Tatcha Institute tested our Retinol Alternative Duo on human skin cells in vitro and found that it acts on the same biomarkers as retinol to significantly boost collagen and elastin production and improve cell turnover,” Sparacio tells us.
A clinical study with 41 participants found that, after using the Silk Serum, 100 percent of participants showed an immediate improvement in skin smoothness and, after two weeks, a reduction in skin redness and an improvement in texture. After four weeks, 85 percent of participants showed an improvement in lines and wrinkles, and 78 percent showed an improvement in firmness.
Tatcha’s The Silk Serum ($98) can be purchased from Tatcha or Sephora.
Berthon JY, Nachat-Kappes R, Bey M, Cadoret JP, Renimel I, Filaire E. Marine algae as attractive source to skin care. Free Radic Res. 2017;51(6):555-567.
OyetakinWhite P, Tribout H, Baron E. Protective mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in skin. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:560682.