Review: Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5

Retinol!  In my late teens and early twenties, I had only heard of retinol through the pages of Allure magazine.  At the time I thought retinol was only for aging skin and wrinkle treatment so I didn’t pay much attention.  My main concern was acne prevention.

My skin has changed from oily and acne prone to more of a dry-normal combination type.  Sunscreen is now a high priority.  The texture of my skin has changed as well.  I still get the occasional breakout, but now it’s relegated to the mouth & chin areas.

In my quest for great skin, I bought a Clarisonic Mia in January of 2011 (review here), a bottle of Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid toner last fall (review here) and a Kate Somerville EradiKate acne treatment in January of 2012 (review here).

  • Clarisonic Mia –> Physical exfoliation, skin resurfacing, cleaning
  • Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid toner –>  Chemical exfoliation, skin resurfacing, cleaning, acne prevention
  • Kate Somerville EradiKate acne treatment –> acne treatment after-the-fact

I had seen a few reviews on YouTube about retinol in general and how it resurfaced the skin AND prevented acne.  So I was curious to try it.

Some Retinol info:


  • Retinol boosts the epidermal layer of the skin by promoting cell production, making the skin look rejuvenated and even-toned.


  • Over-the-counter retinol creams gradually restore the skin over time. However, prescription-grade retinoic acid visibly reduces the signs of sun damage to the skin.


  • The main concern associated with using retinol is the skin sensitivity that may result from its use. Retinol sensitivity can cause redness, dryness and flaking of the skin.

I looked for the highest rated retinol cream I could find and came upon the MakeupAlley review page for Skinceuticals Retinol with a 0.5% Retinol concentration.

The Skinceuticals brand is NOT cheap… a 30mL tube will set you back $49 at Skinmedix!  No thanks.  I didn’t even know if it would work for me yet!

I decided to go a cheaper route.  At the end of December I bought 5 travel tubes on Ebay for $25 with free shipping.  (I just checked the same Ebay seller, they upped the price to $33.75 unfortunately.)  If you decide to go the Ebay route like me, please do your research in order to get an authentic product… I’d hate for any of you to be disappointed.

I’m glad I bought travel tubes instead of the full product… as each application is only about a pea sized amount and I’m barely through a single tube!

(Skinceuticals also has a 1.0% concentration but I wanted to play it safe with a lower dose.  Just in case.)

From the Skinceuticals website:

  • Helps reduce appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, ages spots, blemishes, and blotchiness
  • Preserves optimal retinol stability and minimizes less erythema commonly associated with the use of retinol
  • Ensures maximum amount of retinol is delivered to the skin

    If you have never used retinol products before, begin by limiting use to twice a week, then gradually increase frequency to every other night, and finally once an evening as tolerated. Consult your skincare professional for a dosage schedule appropriate for your skin.

    Apply a pea-sized amount of Retinol .5 to thoroughly cleansed skin in the evening. Carefully avoid the eyes and the corner of the eyes. To ensure optimal results, wait at least 30 minutes before applying any corrective or moisturizing products the same evening as applying SkinCeuticals retinol.


    Do not use retinol products if you are pregnant or lactating. Do not use if taking prescription acne medication, or if undergoing a skin peeling regimen.

At first I applied a pea sized amount onto my clean skin at night, waited 30 minutes, then washed it off gently with water.  I did this once a week.  The cream is not drying on the skin.  I was a little concerned that 30 minutes with just this cream and NO moisturizer would make my skin shrivel up, but thankfully it didn’t dry it out.

Little did I know that I wasn’t supposed to use ANY chemical exfoliants with it!  If you see the directions above, I didn’t realize that glycolic acid and salicylic acid (=”skin peeling regimen”) would have an adverse effect with the Skinceuticals Retinol cream.

Big mistake.

One evening I accidentally used the Mario Badescu glycolic acid toner and I immediately regretted it.  I had red, flaky, irritated skin for at least two days.  Ouch!!! I’ve since hidden the bottle under the sink lest I forget!

Another (fortunately less painful) incident was when I unknowingly used Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant.  My skin didn’t react as strongly as with the toner, but I did feel a slight stinging sensation.  This is a gentle rice-based exfoliant that releases Papain, Salicylic Acid and Rice Enzymes after becoming in contact with water.  Keywords: Salicylic acid.  Whoops.

Now I know that if I’m using a retinol product, I can’t mix with other chemical exfoliants.  I really thought my skin was tough, but this cream has proved otherwise.  I read in Allure recently (and also on this article and this article online) that retinols should NOT be mixed with: “salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or vitamin C.”  Learn from my mistakes and do not mix!  Try to separate them as best you can in your skincare regimen.

I continued to apply the cream once a week.  One night, I left the cream on as I was sleeping.  I did have some visible flaking as a result.  Later on, I even tried to push it to 2x a week.  It was still too much flaking for me to be comfortable, so I’m scaling back once again to 1x a week, and washing it off after 30 minutes.

Retinol does make the skin sensitive to sunlight, and I did notice that my nose was getting a little more pink and irritated as a result.  So now I wear a hat in the mornings during Buddy’s morning walk to help shade my face.  And I’m now I’m trying to apply a lot more sunscreen underneath my makeup.

So what about the results?  After the peeling subsides, I can tell that my skin’s clarity has improved slightly.  I haven’t had a real acne breakout in a while and I’m less self conscious when going out sans-makeup.  I’m even more impressed with my acne results than the Mario Badescu Glycolic acid toner that I raved about in the past.  Last week I saw a clogged pore coming up to the surface and I dabbed a tiny bit of the retinol cream just on that spot.  It went away without incident a day later.  Perhaps if you’re too scared to try it on your full face, just use it on problem areas.

This is definitely not a miracle product, but I find that the hassle is worth it.  For now at least!  It seems as if the quest to attaining perfect skin will never end.

Where to buy it:, SkinMedix (travel samples), SkinMedix, Ebay.


  • Helps keep my skin clear
  • Increases clarity
  • Not drying upon application, even when waiting 30 minutes without any moisturizer
  • Renews skin texture
  • You don’t need much per application


  • Pricey!
  • Strict guidelines for application
  • Reactive with other skincare items due to pH:  chemical exfoliants, acids
  • Makes skin sensitive to the sun

Rating: 4 stars.  It’s a hassle, but clear skin is worth it.

♥ E&I