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If you really think about it, skincare is similar to dating. Hear me out. You can’t judge a product by its cute packaging; you have to get to know it over time before deciding if it’s the right fit. Did it work with your lifestyle, make sense financially, cause you irritation, or make you feel like the best version of yourself? These are all the questions I ask myself when deciding if a product should become a permanent fixture in my routine, especially a retinol product. 

When it comes to defense against fine lines, wrinkles, and texture and maintaining a healthy glow, there’s no skincare ingredient more lauded than retinol (which is an over-the-counter form of Retin-A). It’s used in topical skincare products to brighten, promote skin renewal, and boost collagen. On paper, you can say it truly does it all. So what’s the catch? There’s usually an adjustment period, meaning people have to slowly incorporate it into their routines. Otherwise, they might experience flakiness, dryness, and irritation, a cocktail of problems enough to scare off first-time users. But then there are brands like StriVectin that create products like the Advanced Retinol Nightly Renewal Moistuizer ($79) that give people what they want: all the things they love about retinol and nothing they don’t. 

I consider it a little tube of magic—the new era of retinol, if you will. It’s made with six standout ingredients, including retinol and retinal, both powerhouse wrinkle busters, and NIA-114™, StriVectin’s patented form of niacin that makes retinol more effective and helps limit irritation. These ingredients combine to make the formula gentle enough to use nightly from the start. (See more about the ingredients above.) That’s right. No trial period necessary, no irritation, just real results.

Since I know you’re probably thinking that it’s too good to be true, I reached out to four women—award-winning skin expert Dominique Baker, Who What Wear senior editor Kristen Nichols, Who What Wear Senior Director of Branded Content Natalie Cantell, and board-certified dermatologist Tiffany Libby—to test the product for a month and share their honest experience with us. Some have used retinol before; others haven’t. Did their skin act up? Improve? Or stay the same? Keep scrolling to find out for yourself. 

“I’ve been obsessed with skincare since high school. After some bad breakouts, I started retinol as part of a prescription treatment. Either the dose was too high, or I didn’t apply it properly, but I’ll never forget the red, dry, itchy patches of skin and extreme sun sensitivity that followed. This turned me off of retinol for a while. I made a point of chatting with every dermatologist, aesthetician, and skincare-obsessed friend for their insider advice, which is something I continue to do to this day. I always find myself experimenting with new products and treatments, but at the end of the day, I like to keep my daily skincare routine simple with just the things that my skin really needs. Now I’m starting to see fine wrinkles, sun damage, and some uneven texture show up, so my current skincare routine revolves around improving these concerns. It took a while for me to come around to retinol again, but now that I’ve found gentler formulas that work for my skin, it’s the one thing I tell all my friends they need to add to their routines stat.” — Nichols 

“Since I’ve had adverse reactions to strong retinol in the past, I’m always hesitant to try out a new formula. But when I tell you I can’t get enough of this moisturizer, I’m not exaggerating. I usually have to ease my way in to applying a new retinol product, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was gentle enough to use every night for a month, and there was no irritation at any point of the treatment. Plus, it has the extra component of being blended into a (really fantastic) moisturizer, so it makes my evening skincare routine even easier than it was before. I’ve already started to see some of my dark sun spots fade significantly, and the fine wrinkles near my eyes have noticeably softened. Some of my redness has also faded, which wasn’t something I was expecting to happen before trying it. My skin also looks plumper, firmer, and more hydrated.” — Nichols

“I have combination skin and tend to be on the drier side, so I like products that work to reinforce my skin’s moisture barrier. My skin also changed during my pregnancies, so I now occasionally develop acne lesions and am starting to notice pigmentation-like melasma patches on my cheeks. As a working mom of three now, I find myself sticking to a pretty succinct morning skincare routine that I can nail down in under two minutes. I have two nighttime routines, one short and sweet and the other longer and more self-care focused depending on my needs. But I truly believe that retinol and retinoids are one of the three pillars of an effective skincare routine, with the other two being sunscreen and antioxidants. I’ve tried various retinol and retinoid products before, and while infrequent, I have experienced sensitivities in the past in the form of dryness, flaking, and redness.” — Libby

“I was expecting the usual irritating side effects but was pleased to find that I had minimal to none and that the product was gentle enough for nightly use from the start. I have noticed a visible improvement in the texture of my skin and a reduction in the appearance of pore size. I have also noticed a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and an improvement in firmness and texture on my neck and the back of my hands. I’ve gained this all without having dry skin, flakiness, or redness. The best part is how many of my friends commented on how great my skin was looking and asked what procedure or new creams I started.” — Libby

“My top skincare concerns right now are keeping those well-earned laugh lines without looking tired or haggard. Black women experience sagging with age, so that is something I’m trying to stave off by being very consistent with sunscreen application. I also really work to minimize hyperpigmentation from acne and adore trying out new products and facial treatments, but I’m smart about it. I stay loyal to my favorite brands and read and learn about new ingredients. I started using retinol regularly about 10 years ago, but I’ll never forget my first experience—the irritation, peeling, flaking, and redness! What a mess. Eventually, I found formulations better suited for my skin type.” — Baker

“I’m always a little wary about trying out new retinol products, but the Advanced Retinol Nightly Renewal Moisturizer really makes my skin so soft, and I can use it every single night without worrying about irritation and discomfort. I had a pretty nasty pimple at the beginning of July that left some hyperpigmentation and a little redness around my nose, but the moisturizer has really helped reduce the look of the redness. Frankly, I was expecting that using a retinol daily would make the redness worse, but it was the complete opposite.” — Baker

“My skin is generally pretty good! My main concerns definitely stem from growing up in New Zealand and then spending a lot of years in Australia, where the sun is, as Cher Horowitz would say, way harsh. I feel like despite my best efforts, now that I’m in my mid-30s, those signs of sun damage are starting to show. My skin is pretty resilient, though, so I can try new products without worrying about how it will react.  I’m just now starting to get regular facials and settling into an age-appropriate routine to really find out what works for me. I’ve actually never used a retinol before. I know it’s something I probably should be using, but I’ve always heard you need to be careful with it, especially in the sun, and that you need to work your way up to being able to use it nightly. I’m a bit gung ho with things and tend to smother myself in skincare while I’m on the phone without really thinking about it—so even though I don’t usually experience issues with new products, the idea that I needed to proceed with caution as a beauty noob had me hesitating.” — Cantell

“Given that it’s summer and I’m out and about so much, I really did expect my skin to be more sensitive to the sun, but I’m happy to report that I didn’t experience this at all. One thing I noticed right away is that my skin still feels soft and hydrated in the morning. My fiancé tends to crank the air conditioning, especially at night, so it’s been really nice not to wake up with my usual dry skin! I also was so busy watching for a softening of lines and wrinkles I actually didn’t realize until I looked at my before and after snaps that some other results had snuck up on me. I get this slight redness around my T-zone, near my eyebrows, around the corners of my nose, and a little on my chin. This has noticeably toned down, as have the look of some of my more visible pores. The reduction in the appearance of redness is really nice. It’s one of those things that jump out at me in photos of myself every now and then and makes me feel like maybe I need to start wearing a foundation to even it out. A skincare solution is so much more satisfying.” — Cantell

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