If You Tend to Shy Away From Retinoids, This New Version Might Change Your Mind

Retinoids in any form can be tricky, especially if you have sensitive, reactive, or barrier-damaged skin. I had to learn the hard way that prescription-strength retinoids like tretinoin are not for me, and I'm still dealing with some of the skin damage it left behind. Recently while getting a facial, I started chatting with my esthetician about my skin struggles, and she mentioned that something called hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR) might be good for my particular skin type. Obviously, that sounded like a mouthful and wasn't a type of retinoid I'd heard of before.

I'm always excited to learn about newer ingredients, and my esthetician told me a little bit more about it. First, I guess you couldn't say that this is a totally new ingredient on the market that popped up a month ago. HPR has been around for a few years at least, but my esthetician explained that it is a new-generation retinoid that helps bypass the adjustment period common with other retinoids and is more easily tolerated by sensitive skin. If you tend to shy away from retinoids because you're sensitive or your skin is reactive, you'll definitely want to keep reading. I'm sharing more info on HPR straight from a derm along with her recommended favorites.

What is HPR, and how is it different than other retinoids?

If you're not familiar with this lesser-known retinoid, let me first explain what it is and how it's different than other retinoids. Board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, broke it down for us. "Hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR) is a type of retinoid that is considered an ester of retinoic acid," she explains. "This means that it tends to be more potent than traditional retinol without being as irritating as a prescription retinoid." 

This type of retinoid can be particularly helpful for those with sensitive skin or those who are new to using retinoids for this reason. Garshick adds, "It can be a great option for someone who is unable to tolerate a prescription retinoid. Since it doesn't require as many steps to be converted to retinoic acid, unlike traditional retinol, it may be more effective than retinol while still being less irritating than a prescription retinoid, which is what makes it a good option for those with sensitive skin." 

I'm excited to try this type of retinoid since I used tretinoin for years only to realize that it was way too strong for my sensitive skin and did my moisture barrier no favors. I'm still dealing with the damage, but I'm ready to incorporate a gentler retinoid like hydroxypinacolone retinoate. For Garshick's recs and a few more options with HPR, keep scrolling.

The Best HPR Products

"This serum uses a retinoid complex containing HPR and a retinol to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also contains CoQ10 to provide antioxidant benefits and Hawaiian white honey to hydrate the skin and minimize sensitivity." — Garshick

"Containing HPR and retinol, this serum works to improve both skin texture and tone while also improving the look of fine lines and wrinkles. It can be used nightly after cleansing and prior to moisturizing." — Garshick

"This moisturizing cream combines peptides, retinol, and HPR to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production. It also contains hyaluronic acid, bisabolol, and ceramides to help boost hydration, soothe the skin, and support the natural skin barrier." — Garshick

"Containing 0.3% pure HPR and soothing vitamin E, this retinoid serum helps to regulate skin cell turnover while boosting collagen production to improve fine lines and wrinkles. It comes in a tablet that gets dissolved with the addition of water." — Garshick

This retinoid serum with hydroxypinacolone retinoate comes as a recommendation from celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. She equates it to an at-home chemical peel for the skin. This level-one serum from the brand is great for beginners. 

In addition to HPR, this serum contains GABA, an amino acid that helps further reduce fine lines, improves skin elasticity, and repairs damaged skin.

Minimalist's retinoid complex is great for those with dry, dehydrated, or sensitive skin since it also contains 17 amino acids, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E to help soothe redness and irritation.

Featuring a granactive retinoid complex along with mineral-rich sea water, this serum helps reduce fine lines while evening out your skin tone.

More Sensitive Skin–Friendly Retinoids

Kiehl's offers a great gentle retinol serum for those who may be dealing with a bit of moisture-barrier damage. It's not usually recommended to use stronger retinoids while your barrier is healing, but if you're like me and have spent months healing your skin barrier, it isn't always realistic to completely stop using your actives for months or years at a time. This retinol serum contains peptides and barrier-protecting ceramides to help heal skin and increase its tolerance to retinol.

Celebrity esthetician Shani Darden's Retinol Reform is a fan-favorite serum because it's well tolerated by most skin types yet is still super effective on fine lines and acne.

This noncomedogenic, lightweight serum is hydrating but won't leave you feeling greasy. It features gradual-release retinol to help mitigate any irritation, making it a great option for sensitive skin types.

This creamy Versed retinol serum is formulated specifically for retinol beginners and those with sensitive skin. Bakuchiol in the formula also helps boost retinol's efficacy and is sensitive skin–friendly.