Retinol and I have a love-hate relationship. I look for it everywhere—but I’m also incredibly picky about which ones are allowed to touch my face. So when I first came across the Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Moisturizer, I was admittedly unsure whether it would make the cut. (Spoiler: It definitely does.)
My hesitation stems from one too many experiences with formulations that didn’t work for my skin type. I always know within the first week if this is the case because I’ll wake up to skin that’s slightly red (the mild case) or peeling and flaking all over my pillowcase (not so mild). Even in its gentler iterations, I’ve found that retinol cream is a category not to be trifled with; you could get the coveted effects you’re after, or you could end up with an unwelcome reaction instead.
Dermatologists recommend the vitamin A derivative for everything from treating acne to stimulating collagen. It’s proven to speed up the turnover rate of your cells, which helps you achieve a noticeably smoother, more luminous complexion. And since it’s the far gentler version of prescription Retin-A (also known as tretinoin or retinoic acid), you’re far less likely to experience retinol burn or irritation. (Although, as I said, sometimes it still happens to me.)
While retinol is one of the few ingredients I fully believe in splurging on, Olay’s offering is one of the first drugstore versions I actually love. To put it in perspective, most of the products I’ve recommended in the past are triple the price point. That said, this formula is just as effective. To create an ultra-gentle retinoid complex that still delivers results, the brand combined retinol with retinyl propionate—the latter is a retinol ester that’s less strong but also less irritating. Olay also added in two of my favorite soothing and hydrating ingredients: niacinamide and peptides. The result is an overnight moisturizer that won a Beauty Award in our drugstore-skin-care category. (Says judge Yana Sheptovetskaya, the influencer and photographer behind Gel Cream: “My friend brought this to my attention. She had acne scarring on her back and was using it as a body cream—unconventional, but it helped her. It’s lightweight, not greasy, and fragrance-free.”)
I haven’t tried using this on my body, but it’s already working plenty of magic on my face—a true accomplishment given how chaotic my skin has been during quarantine. Like all retinols, this should always be applied at night and followed with plenty of sunscreen during the day to avoid oversensitizing your complexion. After I’ve patted on my evening essences and serums, I unscrew the purple pot and pick up a dollop of cream. It has a silky whipped texture that’s thick, yet airy. When it goes on, it absorbs much more quickly than I’m used to from hydrating formulas. And yet it seals everything in, making my face feel instantly plumper and smoother. The more retinol effect you want, the closer you should apply this to your skin—without other layers of product in between. On the small patches of my face where I’m trying to fade hyperpigmentation or acne marks, I’ll apply this without anything else underneath.
The “24” in “Retinol 24” indicates that it’s supposed to hydrate for 24 hours. I wouldn’t go that far, mostly because I wash my face twice every 24-hour cycle. But I do give Olay points for packing in enough hydration to banish dry patches by morning. As for the dreaded side effects, I’m happy to report that I’ve used this on a daily basis without the slightest trace of irritation. The brightening, evening effects of retinol take a little longer to kick in, but stick with it, and you should start noticing a difference after a couple weeks—without a single flake in sight.