What the UK’s new retinol restrictions mean for skincare enthusiasts

In recent developments within the UK skincare industry, retinol—long cherished for its anti-ageing properties—is facing new legislative restrictions. This move, aligning with EU regulations, limits retinol concentration in face products to 0.3% and in body products to 0.05%. The change aims to mitigate the risks of overuse, which can lead to skin irritation and even systemic toxicity. Since the news was released, I have received countless questions about what this means for retinol users, and whether the ingredient is going to be banned altogether, so read on for everything you need to know.

Why the change?

The decision to restrict retinol usage stems from a growing concern over the potential adverse effects associated with its potent nature. I have seen many cases of compromised and irritated skin barriers over the years, and one of the most common causes of this is overuse or misuse of active ingredients like retinoids.

In particular, increased instances of hypervitaminosis, resulting from excessive vitamin A levels, have prompted this regulatory shift. By capping the allowable concentration, the legislation intends to safeguard consumers from the harmful side effects of misuse without completely eliminating retinol from skincare routines.

How will this impact you?

For regular users, the most immediate impact will be on how you access higher concentrations of retinol. Products exceeding the stipulated limits are likely to require a prescription or may only be available through medical professionals. This regulatory change will require both consumers and manufacturers to adjust, leading to a temporary decrease in the availability of retinol products on the high street.

The good news is that stronger retinol formulations will still be available through a dermatologist, aesthetic doctor, prescribing nurse or via online services such as Get Harley.

Adjusting to the new norms

As the industry adapts, skincare brands would need to reformulate products to comply with the new standards but brands with a global presence are unlikely to reformulate just for the UK high street. This may also inspire clearer labelling and marketing, helping consumers better understand the contents and strength of retinol products. Meanwhile, medical and skincare professionals will likely play an increasingly vital role in guiding users through safe and effective retinol usage, tailoring treatments to individual skin needs.

While this regulatory change may seem disheartening for avid retinol users, it also brings an opportunity for enhanced education and safer skincare practices. By understanding and adhering to these new guidelines, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of retinol, albeit more responsibly.

And, most importantly, don’t panic about the restrictions, and definitely don’t stockpile your existing products as they have expiry dates. Whether or not you will need to see a practitioner for a prescription in the future, you will still be able to include retinol that works in your skincare routine.