Why Rambutan Is The Retinol Alternative You’re About To See Everywhere

Rambutan is making its way into more skincare products, but is the superfruit-derived ingredient truly a retinol rival? Here’s everything you need to know.
Written by Elise Minton Tabin
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Why Rambutan Is The Retinol Alternative You’re About To See EverywhereAndrew Coop/Unsplash

Retinol is one of those rare superhero ingredients that sits high atop every dermatologist’s must-use skincare list. However, not every skin type can tolerate the vitamin A derivative. If retinol and its more substantial sister, retinoids, are too potent for your complexion, there are gentler alternatives. Bakuchiol and rosehip oil are two of the more common swaps that come to mind, but there is another age-defying botanical popping up on ingredient lists: rambutan.

The hairy, red, tropical superfruit grown in southeast Asia features a high antioxidant content, and its leaves contain an extract that behaves similarly to retinol, albeit in a more natural and less irritating way. Here’s what you need to know about rambutan in skincare.

The Benefits of Rambutan for Skin

Retinol and retinoids have a long-standing and well-documented history boosting cellular turnover and treating skin concerns ranging from large pores and acne to wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. With that said, patience is key when it comes to introducing vitamin A-derived ingredients into your skincare routine. The so-called retinization process usually includes irritation, flakiness, dryness, and redness. While the side effects usually decrease with time, some people find that their skin is too sensitive. In such cases, an alternative, like rambutan, may be the way to go.

Rambutan Skincare Benefits Infographic

Rambutan, which looks similar to a lychee, is an excellent retinol alternative for sensitive skin and anyone who experiences adverse reactions to retinol, says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board certified cosmetic dermatologist at Shafer Clinic in New York City. “Both retinol and rambutan stimulate collagen production and cell turnover, helping to minimize the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation while promoting a more youthful appearance,” she says. “But rambutan does it without irritating the skin because it is gentler.”

As such, she often recommends retinol for anyone looking for an acne treatment with anti-aging benefits and rambutan for those with aging concerns, only since it has shown improvement in fine lines and wrinkles but is not known to reduce breakouts. “Because rambutan is hydrating yet still delivers excellent anti-aging benefits, I recommend it for those with sensitive or dry skin,” Dr. Engelman shares. “It’s great for someone who wants to keep their skin looking youthful without risking the uncomfortable side effects of retinol.”

The shell-enclosed fruit has been around for years, but it has only recently started making its way into the skincare aisle. Kendra Kolb Butler, founder of Alpyn Beauty, says the active has compelling research. “It's a cutting-edge, effective ingredient that supports the natural production of collagen, increases skin elasticity, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles,” she shares, adding that Alpyn Beauty uses a sustainably harvested version from Vietnam in its products. Research also shows that it gives the skin radiance and hydration, minimizing the appearance of fine lines, including crow’s feet around the eyes.

With that said, it’s not exactly a one-to-one comparison between retinol and rambutan. Dr. Engelman notes that the strength and efficacy is not the same as retinol, but Kolb Butler says she doesn't look at rambutan versus retinol as a 'better or worse' game. “The effects are similar, plus it hydrates,” she says. And, unlike retinol and retinoids, which women who are pregnant and breastfeeding cannot use, rambutan is safe for everyone.

Beyond Bakuchiol

Lately, retinol has been up against a few natural rivals, like bakuchiol and rambutan, which work towards similar end goals without the common issues that come with retinol. “We were already excited about and loving the results of bakuchiol, so we went on the hunt for the ‘next best thing’ in plant-based ingredients that performs similar to retinol,” Kolb Butler explains. Hence, the research into rambutan was born. “Now, there is a second plant-based alternative to retinol in addition to bakuchiol,” she says.

One of the benefits of rambutan is how it can complement other ingredients. “We paired it with our Wild Stinging Nettle & Niacinamide Serum for instant tightening and firming,” Kolb Butler shares. She calls the combination of rambutan, skin barrier-boosting niacinamide, and antioxidant-rich nettle “the ultimate trifecta.”

The Collagen Factor

Stimulating collagen production is perhaps one of the rambutan's best-kept secrets. Just like other superfruits and superplants, rambutan is chock-full of antioxidants (like manganese and vitamin C) to help fight free radical damage and jumpstart the body's natural collagen production. The rind contains antioxidants, the pulp helps eliminate free radicals, and the leaf extracts stimulate collagen and elastin production.

How to Incorporate Rambutan into Your Skincare Routine

For now, rambutan is still pretty under the radar, but beauty brands are jumping on the bandwagon. Kolb Butler hopes other brands utilize the ingredient in the clean and natural skincare space moving forward because, as she says, “the research is extremely promising.” If you’re ready to welcome the superfruit into your skincare routine, here are a few products to consider:

THE TECH NECK FIX: Dermalogica Neck Fit Contour Serum


Treat lax skin, especially on the neck, with this rambutan-rich serum that also packs a powerful punch with tripeptides and rye seed extract. The result: smoother, firmer skin. No one will know what your secret is, but everyone will ask. $82, dermalogica.com

THE MODERN-DAY BEAUTY POTION: Awake Beauty Power After Hour 2% Retinol Complex Sleep Oil


Like a fruit salad for your skin, this oil-based skin refresher goes to work while you catch some shut-eye. A powerful yet soothing blend of retinol, rambutan, aronia berry, vitamin C, and jackfruit improves skin tone and texture. $39, ulta.com

THE EYE PERFECTOR: Sun Bum Hydrating Eye Cream


Retinol works wonders for the delicate skin around the eyes, but it’s often hard to tolerate. Enter: rambutan. This hydrating formula wakes up tired, puffy eyes and helps diminish dark circles to keep the eyes looking young and fresh — sans any irritation or redness. $20, ulta.com

THE GLOW GETTER: Alpyn Beauty Wild Stinging Nettle & Niacinamide Serum


Ideal for all skin types — especially oily and combination — this daily serum combines rambutan's hydrating and smoothing powers with the soothing effects of wild nettle and niacinamide to minimize pores and improve skin tone. The result: smoother, softer skin that boasts a youthful glow that rivals your favorite highlighter. $58, credobeauty.com

THE MEGA MOISTURIZER: Coast Sydney Botanicals Nephelium Hydrate 4


This gel-meets-serum moisturizer is like a drink of water for thirsty skin. Its main ingredient is nepheline extract from the rambutan peel. Use daily to fight against glycation-induced aging for plump, youthful skin. $50, coastsydneybotanicals.com

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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ELISE MINTON TABINis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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