I have been saying for many years on this blog that you cannot use acids and retinoids together. I even consulted with Dr. Leslie Baumann who said “Retinoids should not be mixed with BHA (salicylic acid) or AHA (glycolic acid) because the BHA and AHA can inactivate the retinoid. Always use retinoids at night because the sun can also make the retinoid less effective.” Recently I was asked by a reader to review the Retinol Reform by Shani Darden, a popular serum used and beloved by some of Hollywood’s most beautiful faces. This formula combines lactic acid and retinol to be “a gentle, yet effective retinol option that helps reduce ﬁne lines, wrinkles, and discoloration, promotes collagen in the skin, and helps make skin look tighter and younger.”
Does it work? Let’s take a look.
Lactic Acid and Retinol
Using retinoids and an AHA or BHA typically diminishes the effectiveness of both ingredients. Retinol esterification (activation) occurs optimally at a pH of 5.5 or higher. AHAs generally work best at a pH of 4.5 or lower. Some brands (like SkinBetter’s AlphaRet) have managed to make this combination work through a proprietary formulation combining AHAs with ethyl lactyl retinoate, which is a retinol ester that is more concentrated than retinol. Those retinol esters can be ten times more concentrated than retinol, so even if AHAs put them in a pH range where they’re not converted to their active form optimally, you’re still getting a decent amount.
And there are other products like Retinol Reform by Shani Darden Skincare which are able to combine the two by using an alternate form of traditional retinol. Retinol Reform uses “retinol propionate” that has a lower pH. In one study involving 60 subjects over 48 weeks, very few saw noticeably improved skin when using a retinol propionate cream (Clinical and Experimental Dermatology). So the idea here is that you’re still getting the benefits of retinol without messing with the pH of your skin, making the lactic acid ineffective. You get the best of both worlds (in theory).
Retinol Reform by Shani Darden
Esthetician Shani Darden is a celebrity esthetician with a client list that looks like a guest list for the Met Gala. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Jessica Alba, Chrissy Teigen, Lea Michele, January Jones, and countless others all say they use (and love) Retinol Reform by Shani Darden Skincare. Actress D’Arcy Carden (The Good Place) told Into the Gloss that the Retinol Reform is “the best product I’ve ever used in skincare — when I started using it, I saw a difference in my skin within a week. I bought a bottle for my sister, I’m like, ‘Start now!’”
Carden herself told Byrdie that she “makes it her mission to stay up to date on the world’s most powerful active ingredients and technology.” So not only does it have glowing endorsements from some of the most beautiful faces in Hollywood, but it is also backed by the latest science and technology! However, even with all of that, I am less than thrilled by this product.
Retinol Propionate is Not Retinol
Just because the product carries the buzz-worthy “retinol” in its name, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle worker. Retinol propionate is a form of retinol, but it’s about 20 times less effective (Journal of Cosmetic Science). So, yes, it will help with small fine lines and wrinkles, but don’t expect it to turn you into a fresh-faced 25-year-old with continued use. So Retinol Reform doesn’t really have enough retinol to do anything to your skin. The initial glow that celebrities say that see is primarily due to the amount of lactic acid in the product.
While this product is sure to make your skin glow, it is due to the lactic acid. It’s called “Retinol Reform,” but you won’t get the benefits of traditional retinol as this formula uses a form of retinol called retinol propionate which is not nearly as effective. I don’t think it’s a bad product by any means, as lactic acid is still very effective and beneficial to use — just don’t go into this thinking you’re going to get the powerful anti-aging benefits of retinol. And I still don’t recommend using acids and retinol together!
Now, with that being said, if you do use this product be sure to introduce it slowly into your routine. It has the potential to be pretty irritating for those who haven’t used acid or retinol before!