October 3, 2022

Battling acne is not an easy feat. But when you’re prone to dehydrated skin and eczema, it complicates things a little – so many acne-fighting products contain chemicals that dry out your skin. Retinol can be a product that balances fighting acne without being too drying, but it can be intimidating to pick the right brand.

Retinol is a type of retinoid, derived from vitamin A, and can be used for different skincare needs. It’s mostly found in anti-aging and acne-fighting products because it helps reduce blemishes and texture (such as wrinkles or blemishes).

But retinol can also do more damage than good, if it’s not used correctly.

Because retinol can be a drying ingredient, your skin needs to adjust to it. Starting with a lower concentration (such as 0.3 per cent or 0.5 per cent) and only using it a few times a week, then working your way up to a higher concentration one per cent to two per cent) is what is recommended by professionals.

A few months ago, I started my retinol journey. I was suffering from painful, hormonal breakouts in areas I never experienced before – my cheeks and chin.

Initially, I used the acne-fighting products I typically would use, but it made no difference.

I was cautious to experiment with multiple new products, because I also suffer from facial eczema. I didn’t want to use anything that would get rid of acne at the cost of replacing it with dry, cracked skin.

I called a dermatologist’s office to make an appointment for an assessment and retinol prescription, but was met with a roadblock; I would have to wait five months to see one.

My patience was already waning, and my acne was aching, so I researched what retinol products I could buy over the counter.

Unfortunately, many retinol products are not approved to be sold in Canada. Those that are, were either incredibly expensive or required a subscription. For example, ProActiv is available in Canada, but you can’t buy products separately; you need to subscribe for $24.95/month for an entire three-step skin routine.

Glossier’s Universal Pro-Retinol. Photographed by Merissa Busato.

Thankfully, I remembered Glossier, a makeup and skin care company I’ve bought from before, it had released a retinol cream called Universal Pro-Retinol. The concentration of retinol was only 0.5 per cent – a great percentage for a retinol newbie like me to start with.

I began using it on Dec. 21, 2021, and have used two pea-sized pumps two times a week at night, for a little over three months.

And so far, I’m liking the results.

It has prevented new breakouts and cleared out the existing breakouts. Any acne that has cleared has left little to no scars, thanks to the tone-evening properties. So, for its ability to handle acne and mostly avoid scarring, Universal Pro-Retinol earns its first star out of five.

My skin (no makeup) on Dec.19, 2021 (left) two days before starting Universal Pro-Retinol. My skin (with only mascara, eyeliner, lip balm, and concealer just under my eyes) on Feb. 1, 2022, (right) six weeks after using Universal Pro-Retinol. Photography by Merissa Busato.

On Glossier’s website, it claims Universal Pro-Retinol is made from Retinyl Sunflowerate – a hybrid of fatty acids from sunflower seeds, and pure retinol – to help avoid the irritation that can come from retinol.

Over the last three months, my skin has not felt any agitation from this retinol. The ability to clear the acne without drying it out any further has earned it its second star.

Not only was my skin happy to not be irritated, but my nostrils too. Acne-fighting products can sometimes have a chemical smell, but Universal Pro-Retinol has no scent at all. For that, it earns its third star.

The packaging for this product could use a little work. When pumping the product, it takes ages to come out. And, the pump can clog easily. I found what works best is to store the bottle upside down, and use a toothpick to poke a clearing in the nozzle. For the packaging being such a hassle, this retinol loses a star.

While it was a little on the pricier side at $42 for 35 ml, it was worth it, since I didn’t need to wait five months to get it. Glossier has no brick-and-mortar stores in Canada, but it did ship out the next day after purchase and arrived within a week. For its fairly easy accessibility, it gains a star back, resulting in a final rating of four out of five stars.

Considering this retinol managed to arrive quickly to clear up my acne, stink-free, without sacrificing hydrated skin, I would repurchase it again for my next breakout. Although, it would be nice to buy it without making sure I’m stocked up on toothpicks.

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