A Hydrating, Vitamin C-Packed Retinol Alternative? It's Not Too Good to Be True — Meet Rambutan

Dermatologists say this is the next big thing.

Rambutan Retinol Alternatives
Photo: Courtesy/InStyle

Retinol is a near-miracle ingredient that has a wide array of benefits including anti-aging, evening out both skin tone and texture, battling acne, and increasing the rate of cell turnover, which means revealing layers of new, bright skin. But there are some notorious downsides like redness, irritation, dryness, and flaking — the combination of which are referred to as "retinol burn."

As a less harsh alternative, bakuchiol has been gaining steam over the last few years but Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, celebrity cosmetic dermatologist and founder of PFRANKMD says that rambutan also deserves the spotlight.

Rambutan is a tropical tree found in Southeast Asia that is similar to lychee and its extract is used for skincare products, most commonly serums. According to Dr. Frank, "it is similar to retinol and bakuchiol in the sense that it causes cell turnover and stimulates collagen," but it does more too. Dr. Frank explains that even though bakuchiol is relatively more gentle than retinol, "it can still cause some irritation and isn't ideal for super sensitive or dry skin."

Think of rambutan skincare products as being in the same efficacy class as retinol, not only with less harshness, but also with added benefits. Rambutan is going to be gentle and hydrating but Dr. Frank points out that it's also rich in antioxidants including vitamin C and manganese. The former is a household skincare ingredient loved for its anti-aging, skin brightening, and hyperpigmentation reduction abilities. Manganese is a lesser-known powerful antioxidant that helps with collagen formation and wound healing.

In essence, rambutan is a skin-improving ingredient made up of other potent skincare ingredients. For best use Dr. Frank says, "as always, patch test first and start slowly, using only a couple of times per week at night." It is a relatively new ingredient so the skincare industry has not taken full advantage of rambutan. Dr. Frank says that he believes this will change in the next year as beauty brands capitalize on this gentle retinol alternative. Below are ahead-of-the-curve rambutan products for a hydrated, vitamin C-packed glow.

Shop Rambutan Skincare Products

Alpyn Wild Nettle & Niacinamide Firming Serum

rambuten natural retinol alternative

Shop now: $58; sephora.com

This highly-rated serum from Alpyn makes the use of two-star ingredients in addition to rambutan: niacinamide and nettle extract. Niacinamide is a type of vitamin B that targets pore size, skin texture, and wrinkles. Nettle extract is another vitamin C powerhouse that moisturizes while preventing excess oil production.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Overnight Texture Renewal Peel

rambuten natural retinol alternative

Shop now: $78; sephora.com

Dr. Dennis Gross is way ahead with an entire rambutan range of products including an eye serum, a texture renewal serum, and an overnight wrinkle treatment. If I had to pick one I'd go with the Overnight Texture Renewal Peel since Dr. Dennis Gross is known for its peeling products. This range, however, is formulated with retinol and rambutan. So while it's not a fit for those trying to avoid retinol altogether, it is great for people trying to add an extra boost of anti-aging and skin brightening.

Sun Bum Hydrating Eye Cream

rambuten natural retinol alternative

Shop now: $20; ulta.com

A combination of hydrating vitamin E, niacinamide, and rambutan make for an effective eye cream that checks off most boxes. Sun Bum's eye cream will nourish skin, brighten dark circles, and smooth texture.

Awake Beauty Power After Hour 2% Retinol Complex Sleep Oil

rambuten natural retinol alternative

Shop now: $39; ulta.com

Awake's Sleep Oil also does not substitute rambutan for retinol altogether, but rather combines them to make the most of your beauty sleep. Expect to see results including improved skin elasticity, a brighter complexion, calm, and ultra-hydrated skin.

Dermalogica Neck Fit Contour Serum

rambuten natural retinol alternative

Shop now: $82; dermalogica.com

Your neck is one of the few places where invasive injectables or fillers work, so if you're concerned about aging skin, the name of the game is really prevention. This product is retinol-free while still delivering those quickly visible and skin-changing results. Dermaologica's neck serum has a built-in applicator that is turned on before a massage-like application goes across the neck. The serum will immediately tighten and lift the skin.

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