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Today, after 3 months of testing, I'm ready to share my review of the Retinoid series which is the first launch from Skin Rocks, the skincare education project (and now product line) launched by the beauty community's very own Caroline Hirons...

If you haven't heard me bleat on about retinoids: you must be new here! They're the most important skincare step in my routine, bar sunscreen. Why are they so great? These derivatives of Vitamin A are the most well-studied actives in our skincare arsenal. They were originally developed to treat acne, and they're still incredibly effective for this; topical treatments such as adapalene are often prescribed, as is isotretinoin (the oral medication). I personally tend to go for a cosmetic retinoid, which requires your skin to convert it to retinoic acid, but they're a lot gentler on the skin, more cosmetically-elegant and obviously don't require a prescription. Retinoids are great for skin texture and uneven skin tone, but they were also found to have amazing well-ageing benefits. To this day, they're the only class of skincare ingredient that has decades of studies to back up its claims in this regard; it not only boosts up collagen (so your skin retains its bounce for longer) production but can treat existing fine lines and photoageing. Retinoids also increase skin cell turnover, so when I'm using one I personally find I don't need to exfoliate as regularly.

There's almost no one that couldn't benefit from using a retinoid, though I'd speak to a dermatologist if you're in your teens and want to use them for acne. If you're over 25, this is pretty much a skincare essential. The only caveat is that you shouldn't use retinoids whilst pregnant or breastfeeding (including cosmetic retinoids, to be on the safe side). Retinoids are known to be a little drying and irritating, and even cause breakouts for some people for the first few years as your skin adjusts. Whilst not everyone's skin loves retinoids on a good day, I think there's something on the market for most people to use at least once a week. I always recommend patch-testing the product before doing a full-face application and starting by using it once a week to allow your skin to get used to it. If your skin is still happy, you can increase the regularly, with the end goal being nightly application (though those with very sensitive skin might have to stop at 3-4 nights a week). I don't recommend mixing retinoids with other strong actives (especially not if you're new to retinoids) and simple, replenishing and nourishing products are best to use on retinoid nights.

I've given you a bit of background on the brand, and currently these products and their refills are the only ones in the line, which is an interesting but exciting place to start. I believe a Retinoid 3 was originally planned to launch alongside these two, but the formula just wasn't right so they launched without it and I'm sure Retinoid 3 will follow eventually. I have to say, I love the packaging design and the amount of information and helpful advice on the packaging and unit carton. I also like that the packaging is durable; I've used so many products that unfortunately - although billed as refillable - end up looking so tatty and and worn by one round that you wonder what the point was!

It's not exactly travel-friendly but the glass packaging is more easily recycled and feels expensive. My only other negative is probably that it's hard to tell when you're running low on this; the glass packaging is weighty and retinoids need opaque, airtight packaging due to their photosensitivity (the same reason we use them at nighttime). That meant it was an unexpected and unpleasant moment when I realised I was out of my Retinoid 2! But, otherwise, the packaging ticks the aesthetic, educational and functional boxes for me.

If you're new to retinoids or your skin is easily-upset: Retinoid 1* | £65 | is for you. It's formulated with 0.2%  hydroxypinacolone retinoate (AKA HPR, AKA Granactive Retinoid) which is a really good way of dipping your toe into retinoids because it's a retinoic acid ester, meaning it's generally considered to be punchier than retinol due to its increased bioavailability to the skin, though I personally find it far less irritating. That kind of makes it a win-win for me!

If you're like me and you love retinal (AKA retinaldehyde) or you have retinoid experience and want to up the ante, you'll want Retinoid 2* | £75. This ups the concentration of HPR to 0.5% and combines it with my beloved retinal at a 0.05% concentration. Why am I obsessed with retinal? As I've alluded to, most retinol products are just a little irritating and drying for me, but when I tried retinal, I found that not only was it kinder to my skin but it gave me better and faster results. Retinal only requires one conversion by your skin to be received as retinoic acid. 

Both formulas contain lots of buffering goodness to cushion sensitive or un-acclimatised skin against some of the side-effects of retinoid use plus some added beneficial extras, which is great. Glycerin is a great humectant, meaning it draws hydration into the skin, and another great basic in the mix is squalane: a skin-imitating plan oil that's really replenishing. We have nourishing shea butter and fatty ingredients like cetyl alcohol and Vitamin E (also an antioxidant, protecting the skin from free radical damage). Bisabolol is soothing and ginger extract can be anti-inflammatory. We also have bakuchiol, which is often touted as the 'natural retinol'; whilst I won't be swapping my retinoids for bakuchiol any time soon, it's great antioxidant, it's helpful in treating discolouration and may trick your skin into thinking its retinol, potentially boosting your benefits with no additional irritation. There's also some early evidence that bakuchiol and retinol are even more effective when combined, so it's definitely a welcome addition in my books.

Both of the iterations of this serum have a light, emulsion-like serum texture which is moisturising and slightly yellow in colour (the 2 being darker than the 10). If you're applying a water-based serum; use that first and then this, followed by your moisturiser. I personally found that these serums absorbed really easily into my skin and - most importantly - didn't pill as I applied further steps in my routine. 

Retinoid 1 is something that I - as a seasoned retinoid user - applied to my neck and chest, which are often prone to sensitivity due to the thinner skin in this area. I also use it when my skin is just feeling a little irritated (it never seems to react well to harsh winter weather) and it gives me that hit of skin-smoothing and clarifying benefits in the most gentle way possible. Retinoid 2, however, is really the one that's 'for me' and my skin didn't need any time to acclimatise to it; it was smooth sailing for me. I've emptied this bottle; it lasted me just under 3 months, using 1-2 pumps for my face, and I eventually managed to apply this on my neck too.

These formulas work, they're well-formulated with added ingredients that make sense and they're easy and enjoyable to use. I will absolutely replace my Retinoid 2, I will try Retinoid 3 when it's available, I recommend Retinoid 1 to anyone who is a little hesitant and I'm so excited to see where the brand goes next! The information and education provided with the well thought-out formulas are what a lot of people need in this often-confusing skincare world. You don't have to think about it, you don't need to use a bunch of other ingredients alongside these formulas; the guesswork has been massively reduced and this brand is easy to navigate and understand, even for the uninitiated. 

Have you tried Skin Rocks?

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Read more posts from this series here!


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