Experts Are Calling This Natural Retinol Alternative the ‘Next Big Thing’

The retinol-alternative space is getting a bit more crowded, but we’ll always make room for another skin-perfecting ingredient—especially one that promises virtually no irritation. There’s no doubt retinol is the ultimate in anti-aging ingredients, but its potential side effects—and the common direction to halt its use while pregnant and nursing—can make it an ingredient many tend to steer clear of.

Plant-based alternatives such as bakuchiol and resveratrol are known to deliver retinol-like benefits to the skin—think less visible fine lines and a natural uptick in collagen production—but now, sights are set on a new player: rambutan. As the key ingredient takes center stage in a host of new skin-care launches, we tapped the experts for the lowdown on the latest plant-based skin-perfector.

What is rambutan?

Rambutan is a fruit native to southeast Asia that resembles a lychee fruit once peeled, explains Indie Lee, founder of her eponymous skin-care brand. “It’s rich in fiber, high in vitamin C and copper,” she adds.

“Rambutan leaves contain a natural extract that behaves similarly to retinol, yet in a less irritating way,” adds Kendra Kolb Butler, founder of Alpyn Beauty. “Now we have another alternative in the fight against lines and wrinkles and my OBGYN actually approved it for use when I was both pregnant and breastfeeding,” she says. “We were already in love with the research and findings on bakuchiol, so my team naturally went on the hunt for the ‘next big thing.’”

How does rambutan benefit the skin?

“It’s got all of the benefits of a retinol without any of the drawbacks,” Lee explains. On that list: no irritation and no sun sensitivities, meaning you can use it morning and night (with sunscreen on top!). “Rambutan improves the appearance of elasticity, firmness, fine lines and wrinkles and supports healthy collagen levels and production,” Lee adds. “It is packed with antioxidants and has been shown to rejuvenate skin, improve elasticity and reduce crow’s feet,” Butler says.

Is rambutan safe for all skin types?

In short, experts agree all skin types can benefit from consistent use of a rambutan-boosted product. “It’s great for more mature skin, but also great for those who are blemish-prone. It really runs the gamut,” Lee notes. “It is definitely a beneficial ingredient to apply topically for all skin types,” Butler says.

How does rambutan compare to retinol?

New York dermatologist and skin-care brand founder Dennis Gross, MD notes that rambutan and bakuchiol have similar benefits such as stimulating collagen and elastin production, increasing cell turnover and reducing fine lines and wrinkles. While natural alternatives continue to lead the market, Dr. Gross says it’s important to note that these alternatives are not molecularly similar to retinol and actually connect to different receptors in skin. “Retinol has much more scientific research backing its benefits while both rambutan and bakuchiol are newer ingredients, but have shown promising results.”

Which products include rambutan?

Lee says she uses her newly launched Indie Lee Retinol Alternative Cream ($72) as her morning and night time moisturizer. It’s formulated with paracress extract to help iron out lines and wrinkles plus squalane for an uptick in moisture retention.

Dr. Gross says along with traditional retinol, his Advanced Retinol + Ferulic products feature rambutan tree leaves to keep skin calm. Each product—the lineup includes everything from a peel to a wrinkle cream—is created with retinol beginners in mind.

Vitamin C–boosted Alpyn Beauty Wild Nettle + Niacinamide Firming Serum ($58) packs a serious punch in the firming and hyperpigmentation-busting departments via a lightweight, sinks-right-in texture.

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