I have to admit, retinol almost seems too good to be true—an ingredient that is anti-aging, brightening, and treats acne. My own personal experience with retinol is limited to hearing others complain about how it left their skin red, raw, and flaky. I always thought, why bother with something that would make my dry skin even flakier than it already is? But then I bought a cosmetics text book that explained (in no uncertain terms) just how beneficial retinol is for the skin. I thought, flaky skin be damned I’m going to give retinol a try.

Product information:


From the Paula’s Choice website:

This intensive, high-percentage retinol treatment hydrates while it targets and improves the toughest skin concerns: stubborn wrinkles, uneven skin tone and loss of firmness.


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Water (Aqua), Dimethicone (silicone slip agent), Glycerin (skin-repairing ingredient), Butylene Glycol (slip agent/penetration enhancer), Isononyl Isononanoate (emollient), Castor Isostearate Succinate (skin-conditioning agent), Glyceryl Stearate (emulsifier), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate (thickener), Dimethicone Crosspolymer (silicone thickener/texture enhancer), PEG-33 (binding agent), Polysorbate 20 (emulsifier), Behenyl Alcohol (fatty alcohol thickener), PEG-100 Stearate (thickener), Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate (binding agent), Polymethylsilsesquioxane (silicone-based opacifying agent), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (vitamin C/antioxidant), Retinol (cell-communicating ingredient), Ceramide NG (skin-repairing ingredient) , Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (cell-communicating ingredients), Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12 (cell-communicating ingredients), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin-repairing ingredient), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (antioxidant plant extracts/anti-irritants), Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract (antioxidant plant extracts/anti-irritants), Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract (antioxidant plant extracts/anti-irritants), Arctium Lappa (Burdock) Root Extract (antioxidant plant extracts/anti-irritants), Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract (antioxidant plant extracts/anti-irritants), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Sterols (antioxidant/skin-conditioning agent), Lecithin (cell-communicating ingredient), Allantoin (anti-irritant), Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E/antioxidant), Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (antioxidant), Sorbitan Laurate (emulsifier), Acetyl Dipeptide-1 Cetyl Ester (anti-irritant), Disodium EDTA (stabilizer), Hydroxyethylcellulose (thickener), Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 (cell communicating ingredient), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Tribehenin (emollient), Caprylyl Glycol (skin conditioning agents), Ethylhexylglycerin (skin conditioning agents), Pentylene Glycol (slip agent), PEG-75 Shea Butter Glycerides (emollient), PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer (film-forming agent), PEG-10 Phytosterol (fatty acid-based thickener), PEG-8 Dimethicone (silicone-based skin-conditioning agent), PEG-14 (thickener), Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (slip agent), Arachidyl Glucoside (emulsifier), Arachidyl Alcohol (thickener), Sclerotium Gum (thickener), Carbomer (gel-based thickener), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Benzoic Acid (preservative).

 Ingredient Spotlight:


Retinol belongs to a family of chemicals derived from vitamin A called retinoids. They treat the signs of photoaging including wrinkes, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation. Retinol inhibits the enzymes responsible for the breakdown of skin collagen, therefore causing collagen regeneration. This also helps prevent signs of aging. It also thickens the epidermis, and improves skin texture, elasticity, and blood circulation.

Retinoids are also effective acne treatments. They promotes skin turnover and decreases the inflammation caused by the bacteria associated with acne. They also enhance the penetration of other anti-acne ingredients.

Side effects of retinol include skin irritation, redness, and flaking. However, starting a low dose and increasing use slowly can alleviate them.

Retinol is a very unstable compound, and loses its activity when exposed to light, air, heat, and water. It needs to be packaged properly to eliminate exposure to these elements—preferably in a tube with an airless pump.


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Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol comes in sleek purple and yellow packaging with an airless pump. The treatment serum itself is bright yellow and has a creamy texture. It smells vaguely chemical-y. I used one full pump of this product for eight weeks at night, alternating it with my Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Moisturizer. It sinks into the skin quickly and doesn’t leave any residue behind. My skin liked this product, and I never had any redness, flaking, or other adverse reaction.

Did I like this product? Yes! I like the fact that it’s packaged in an airtight bottle with a hygienic pump dispenser. I like the texture and how fast it sinks into the skin. However, I can’t say that I noticed any change in the fine lines I have on my forehead. They are very shallow and superficial, however, so I’m not sure if I just never noticed their improvement because they were so fine to begin with. Part of retinol’s benefit for the skin is preventative, so it’s likely that even though I wasn’t seeing any results on the surface the retinol was performing its magic underneath.

The Paula’s Choice website claims:

Combined with potent antioxidants, Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment is specially formulated to smooth and firm skin by helping to boost cell regeneration and stimulate collagen production. Its creamy lotion texture absorbs quickly and goes to work immediately to refine pore size, reduce deep wrinkles, fine lines, brown spots—it can even help breakouts, too! Licorice, oat extract and other anti-irritants help to minimize the irritation some people may get from products containing high amounts of retinol. You’ll be amazed at how much younger and radiant your skin will look and feel.

Wow, that’s a pretty impressive paragraph! Let’s make a list shall we?

Smooth and firm skin via cell regeneration and collagen production—yes!

Creamy texture that absorbs quickly—yes!

Reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines—yes!

Reduce the appearance of brown spots—yes!

Help clear breakouts—yes!



Retinol is a superstar ingredient. It functions to help treat and prevent signs of aging, reduce hyperpigmentation, and clears acne. I wish had known about retinol much sooner in my life—then maybe the fine lines I have on my forehead would have delayed their appearance for a while! If you are not able to get a prescription from your physician for a topical retinoid, this is an excellent alternate choice.


  • smoothes skin
  • reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • reduces hyperpigmentation
  • helps clear acne
  • may cause skin irritation, redness, and flaking
  • recommended to buy

Score: 5/5

Where to buy: Paula’s Choice



Baumann, L. (2014). Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic ingredients. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional.

Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary A – Z: Cosmetics Cop Expert Advice. (n.d.). Retrieved 28 February 2015, from http://www.paulaschoice.com/cosmetic-ingredient-dictionary/

Michalun, M. V., & Dinardo, J. C. (2015). Milady Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary (4th ed.). Clifton Park, NY, USA: Cengage Learning.

Winter, R. (2009). A consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients: complete information about the harmful and desirable ingredients found in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. United States: Three Rivers Press.