Healthy Skin

Meet HPR: the next-gen retinoid delivering results without irritation

Can’t get on with retinol? It might be time to upgrade to HPR – the newer, gentler model delivering even better results. Editorial Director Ellie Smith shares what you need to know.

When picking a serum to do the heavy-lifting in our evening skincare routine, we can’t do much better than a retinoid. These are a family of ‘skingredients’ derived from vitamin A that include retinol, as well as retinol esters, retinal and all-trans retinoic acid (a punchy prescription treatment more commonly known as tretinoin).

“Retinoids are probably the most powerful tool we have to improve skin,” says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. “They influence things like cell turnover, the cellular pathways behind skin ageing, breakouts, pigmentation and redness. It’s quite extraordinary how much they do.”

But retinoids can be fussy. Since their first inception in the 1940s, dermatologists and beauty junkies alike have struggled to balance the remarkable benefits with the well-known skin-sensitising side effects. That’s not to mention the time it takes to introduce a retinoid serum into our skincare routines: a slow and steady approach over a period of weeks or months is necessary to allow plenty of time for skin to acclimatise. But even the most cautious of introductions can result in increased sensitivity, redness, stinging and skin peeling.

If only there were a way to enjoy the benefits of vitamin A without any irritation. Enter HPR.

What is HPR?

HPR (hydroxypinacolone retinoate to dermatologists) is the new retinoid on the block that promises to be more effective than retinol while also being gentler on skin.

“It’s the next generation of the retinol family that has the skin community very excited,” says Dr Sam. “That’s because it harnesses the excellent efficacy with a much-improved irritation profile compared to older, cosmetic-grade retinols.”

How does it work?

The health and appearance of our skin is influenced by our genes. These dictate how quickly we can produce skin-plumping collagen, how susceptible we are to sun damage and our speed of skin ageing, amongst other things. The good news is we’re not stuck with the genetic hand we’ve been dealt – particularly with a retinoid in our skincare arsenal.

How effective a retinoid is likely to be depends on how many steps are needed to convert it into the active form of vitamin A (all-trans retinoic acid) that our skin can make good use of. Prescription grade retinoids are already in the active form – hence why they’re so effective as well as tricky to tolerate. Retinol and retinal, on the other hand, must go through several stages of oxidation before they’re converted into the type of vitamin A that can interact with retinoid receptors on our skin cells.

This is what makes HPR different, says Dr Sam: “It doesn’t require a chemical reaction called enzymatic conversion to become active, like retinol or retinaldehyde. It’s ready to go.”

“This means HPR can bind directly to retinoid receptors inside skin cells to switch on or alter gene expressions,” she explains. “This leads to the production of new proteins, like collagen which improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

“HPR can also speed up cell turnover, make your skin more even-toned, unclog pores and improve blood supply to the skin,” she adds.

Is HPR better than retinol?

Retinol is the retinoid we’re most likely to find on skincare store shelves.  While it has proven anti-ageing benefits, it’s less effective than other types (such as retinal) and comes with a higher risk of irritation that keeps users stuck at lower, less effective concentrations.

By contrast, HPR is more effective and much less irritating making it more suitable for sensitive skins at higher doses.

“HPR is also very stable,” says Dr Sam. “This means it remains effective for the duration of your product’s shelf life.”

Retinol, by contrast, is less stable and can be degraded by light and air making it less and less effective over time. It’s possible to protect retinol by encapsulating it in sophisticated formulas, Dr Sam explains, but this can make serums more pricey.

Finally, because HPR is more stable it can be combined with other ingredients in multi-tasking serums, says Dr Sam: “Bakuchiol, for example, has a synergistic effect on issues like wrinkles and pigmentation in the skin which is why I’ve combined it with HPR in both Flawless Nightly Serum and Nightly Pro.”

Who is HPR for?

“HPR is beneficial for most people, in truth,” says Dr Sam. “Retinoids are a skincare fundamental in my approach with both my patients and my own skin and HPR is incredibly well-tolerated given the results it can deliver.”

If we’re looking for dramatic skin rejuvenation, prescription-grade retinoids remain the gold-standard. The same is true for the treatment of severe acne, says Dr Sam: “In [these] cases, I may need to step up to a prescription product, especially if there is scarring present.”

Be guided by your skin goals, she advises: “I tend to stick to using one retinoid at a time. When results plateau, think about increasing the potency if your skin goals have not been achieved.”

How to start using HPR

Though less irritating than other retinoids, it’s important to start low and slow with HPR if we’re new to this family of ingredients.

“Start off by applying [HPR] every 2-3 days at night and build up to daily use over a few weeks,” says Dr Sam. She also recommends stripping other actives (such as exfoliating acids) from our skincare routine and applying sunscreen daily.

What to look out for

When shopping for a HPR serum, look for ‘airless, opaque packaging […] to maintain the integrity of the active ingredients,” says Dr Sam.

When it comes to the strength of HPR serums, things get a little confusing. HPR is often used interchangeably with ‘Granactive Retinoid’ – the trade name for an ingredient that contains 10% HPR. This means that a product that contains 2% Granactive Retinol, it contains 0.2% HPR.

HPR has been shown to be effective at concentrations as low as 0.02% but Dr Sam recommends looking for a product that contains between 0.2-0.5% HPR (2-5% Granactive Retinoid) depending on our experience with retinoids.

The best HPR serums

Dr Sam Bunting Flawless Nightly 2% Retinoid Serum (£46)

A dermatologist-designed serum that tackles everything from congestion to breakouts, fine lines and pigmentation. This multi-tasking formula contains 0.2% HPR as well as niacinamide, azelaic acid and bakuchiol. A stronger 0.5% formula (£60) is available for retinoid pros.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane (£15.90)

0.5% HPR suspended in light squalene and jojoba oil. The pro? You won’t find a more affordable HPR than this. The con? The packaging isn’t air tight. Once opened, The Ordinary say it will last three months if refrigerated. A gentler 0.2% formula (£10.70) is also available.

e.l.f Cosmetics Youth Boosting Advanced Night Retinoid Serum (£22)

Not ready to commit to just one retinoid? This well-priced serum pairs 0.1% HPR with 0.06% retinal. It also contains antioxidants and hyaluronic acid for plump, smooth and radiant skin.

Skin Rocks Retinoid 1 (£65)

An entry level retinoid that leaves skin nourished (thanks to squalene and vitamin E) while the 0.2% HPR works its magic. It also delivers retinoid boosters such as bakuchiol and soybean extract for best results. A stronger formula (£75) is also available with 0.5% HPR alongside 0.05% retinal.

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