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It wouldn't be a stretch to say that retinol and I have a tricky relationship, where one tests the other more than the other. (I'll let you guess.) But as someone who has somehow found herself navigating her late 20s, retinol (a form of vitamin A) is one of those catch-all ingredients I find myself being increasingly drawn toward. With regular use, this dermatologist-approved ingredient tackles a vast range of skin issues, including texture, tone, fine lines, acne, and hyperpigmentation. But because it's shrouded in a lot of scientific terms and myths, I've hesitated to make retinol or, rather, retinoids (more on that later) part of my daily routine. That is, until I discovered Glossier's brand-spanking-new Universal Pro-Retinol.
"We were craving a more straightforward experience [of retinol]," Chenaya Devine-Milbourne, senior director of product marketing and development at Glossier says in a global press Q&A. "One that didn't compromise on powerful, visible results, but held your hand a bit more — whether you're a first-time user or a retinoid expert looking for the ultimate forever formula." As someone who falls in the middle of that spectrum, I can guarantee you it's one of the most gentle retinol products I've ever used.
OK, now let's back it up a little bit and dig into the science that I personally find not the easiest to swallow. (There's a reason I didn't go into medicine. Sorry, mom and dad.) "Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives and come in three primary forms: retinol, retinal and retinoic acid," Camille Howard, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and entrepreneur, explains via the press Q&A. "They bind to receptors in our skin and facilitate multiple physiological cascades essential to building collagen and supporting the layers of the skin," including increasing cell turnover and producing natural hyaluronic acid. And that's not even all retinol can do. "From an acne standpoint, the increase in cell turnover helps unclog pores," Sheila Farhang, an Arizona-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics, previously explained to Allure. "This also helps decrease the appearance of brown or red post-acne spots — post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation — as well as help collagen synthesis for acne scarring." Have your ears perked up yet?
At its core, Universal Pro-Retinol is a lightweight cream formulated with 0.5% Retinyl Sunflowerate, a pro-retinol derivative composed of retinol and sunflower seed fatty acids, and stevia leaf extract — both of which have impressive texture- and fine-line-smoothing abilities. True to its name, Universal Pro-Retinol is gentle enough to use on all skin types, including sensitive folks. It's spiked with nourishing, plant-based humectants like glycerin and mondo grass root extract to deeply hydrate skin. Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, says that these soothing ingredients "mitigate the irritation and redness that may occur with initial retinoid use."
I don't know about you, but the copious amount of time I've spent indoors since March 2020 has really driven up the dullness of my skin, so I'm all for a resurfacing treatment that kicks uneven tone and texture to the curb. (As much as I think aging is something to be embraced, I would like to prevent fine lines from popping up for a while — if I have any choice in the matter.) Plus, with mask-wearing and heightened levels of anxiety and stress, I've had my fair share of breakout-induced dark spots and scars that, if left to their own devices, wouldn't disappear for months.
Well, Universal Pro-Retinol did the damn trick and my skin was noticeably more smooth, glowy, and overall more even after two weeks — and my makeup honestly glided on like silk. I'm especially excited to continue using and monitoring this treatment to see if it can tackle my most stubborn, sometimes-self-inflicted dark spots because the best skin-care results happen over time. (I have high hopes.) I go through my usual double-cleanse, toner, and essence routine before slathering on UPR and then sealing everything in with a layer of moisturizer. I gently work in the formula with my fingertips in circular motions until every last centimeter is covered — even around the eyes. Every night, it absorbs quickly and seamlessly into my skin, never leaving behind any residue.
Just wearing Universal Pro-Retinol, sunscreen, and nothing else (aside from a bit of mascara and lip tint.)
Let's take a moment to talk about sensitivity now. As with many potent skin-care treatments, mild reactions are pretty common — which is to say, patch test first and give your skin two to three weeks to adapt to and tolerate the new product. Gohara recommends a pea-sized amount to cover your entire face and to work your way up gradually from once or twice a week. (You can also use the "sandwich method" and apply moisturizer before and after to ease your way into retinoids.) I've had some experience using retinoids in the past — though not as consistently as I would like — and experienced zero irritation throughout my daily use of Universal Pro-Retinol. I can't emphasize how surprising this is. My skin has definitely looked a bit reddened and raw after using certain retinoid products that shall not be named.
Oh, and the last piece of very important information? "Since retinol brings your skin back to its normal balance, it can make your skin more easily prone to burning," Caroline Chang, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Rhode Island Dermatology Institute previously explained. "The way to combat this would be to wear sunscreen daily while using a retinol." While I wear sunscreen every day with or without retinol, I've been particularly diligent about reapplication ever since I started Universal Pro-Retinol. SkinCeuticals's Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 and ZitSticka's Megashade Breakout-Proof SPF Serum are two current favorites if you're looking for a new lightweight, nongreasy, and white-cast-free SPF.
Glossier Universal Pro-Retinol
SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30
Universal Pro-Retinol is as gentle as retinol creams get and my complexion is looking more even-toned than it has in months. Whether you're new to retinol or want to switch to a milder formula, you can buy a bottle for $35 at glossier.com starting today, August 31.