In our series Trial Run, TZR editors and writers put the buzziest new beauty products to the test and share their honest reviews. This week, our beauty writer is testing the new Farmacy 1% Vitamin A Retinol Serum.
Retinol is a tricky skin care ingredient. One on hand, you want it to work. You want it to resurface your skin, fade hyperpigmentation, smooth texture, and target fine lines and wrinkles. On the other hand, you don’t want it to cause redness, dryness, or irritation, especially if your skin is already prone to those things in the first place (like me).
The stakes feel even higher when you’re dealing with a product that contains a high percentage of retinol, like Farmacy’s new Retinol Serum, which contains a whopping 1% retinol. That might not sound like much, but it will when you consider that many other retinol products clock in at half, or even just a quarter of that percentage. So, as you can imagine, I was quite intimidated by the thought of testing this product. Would it exacerbate my mild rosacea? Would it worsen my skin dehydration? Would it cause my skin to purge? There was only one way to find out
Here’s what I discovered after using the new serum for a month.
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- Price: $60
- Best for: Firming the skin and targeting fine lines and wrinkles.
- Your rating: 4.8/5
- Clean/Cruelty-Free? Yes.
- What we like: It contains stable, encapsulated retinol along with antioxidant-rich ingredients that soothe the skin and boost moisture.
- What we don’t like: It contains 1% retinol, which is a high percentage. This means it could be too strong for people with sensitive skin or who are new to using retinol.
Since my skin is prone to redness and dehydration, finding a retinol serum can be tough. I’m always looking to calm, soothe, and hydrate my skin, and most retinol products cause more irritation. Aside from skin sensitivity, I’m also dealing with fine lines, especially on my forehead and around my eyes. I was a constant beach-goer in high school and I currently live in Austin, Texas (where the sun is unavoidable), so it’s no wonder I’m also seeing visible signs of sun damage appear on my nose and cheeks. And maybe it’s because it’s summertime and I’m dealing with more sweat, oil, and sunscreen, but I’ve noticed small, raised bumps appear on my forehead and cheeks. While exfoliation is a key step in my routine to address all of this, I’m also counting on retinol to help resurface my skin and minimize texture, lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
The Science Behind Farmacy 1% Vitamin A Retinol Serum
At 1% concentration, this product is strong. It uses two forms of vitamin A — there’s retinaldehyde, which is a form of vitamin A that works quickly to target loss of firmness and fine lines, and there’s encapsulated retinol, which is a form of vitamin A that works gradually to offer wrinkle-fighting effects. The former can be more sensitizing but will also go to work faster and you can see results quicker.
Retinol is an ingredient that belongs to the retinoid family, and according to Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience and the founder of Dr. Loretta skin care, “Of all skin care ingredients to date, topical retinoids have the most studies proving their effectiveness in treating skin photo-aging,” she says. “Retinol has been extensively studied by dermatologists since the 1990s and it has been found to be highly effective but considerably less irritating and better tolerated than the prescription retinoid, Retin A (aka tretinoin).” The encapsulated retinol not only makes the product more shelf stable but also, “may produce less irritation and more benefits,” she adds.
Along with the retinal and retinol, there are also moisturizing and soothing ingredients to help the skin tolerate such a high percentage of vitamin A ingredients. These include ceramides, which help support the natural skin barrier and help boost moisture, upcycled Kalahari melon seed oil to provide antioxidant benefits, and upcycled raspberry seed oil to soothe the skin and boost moisture. Says Dr. Ciraldo, “Since retinol does produce some degree of exfoliation, it is important to look for retinol in a moisturizing base. If the base is not hydrating, the skin can get dry, red, and irritated with continued use.”
First Impression Of Farmacy 1% Vitamin A Retinol Serum
After only a couple of uses, I could tell that this product was strong. In fact, almost immediately after using it, I experienced more dryness and dehydration than I was used to. My skin felt tight and rough, and I started to see subtle flakiness appear. I also experienced some small-scale purging. Though I don’t normally experience very many breakouts, I quickly noticed raised bumps and breakouts appear in my t-zone.
This isn’t abnormal, especially when it comes to products that contain such a high percentage of vitamin A. There’s actually a name for it — retinization — and it refers to the period during which the skin might become red, irritated, dry, or flaky while adjusting to a retinoid. It usually only lasts a few weeks before the skin adapts and these symptoms go away.
For me, retinization lasted about two weeks. After that, I felt like my skin adjusted to my new routine (more on that below). The redness and irritation gradually disappeared, my skin felt more hydrated, and my texture issues and breakouts disappeared. And after another two weeks, the results were even better. My hyperpigmentation faded and my skin looked brighter and clearer overall.
How I Used Farmacy 1% Vitamin A Retinol Serum
While I’ve used retinol products before, I always broke the cardinal rule — that is, I’ve never been consistent. I would test one retinol serum through to the last drop, inevitably forget to replenish it (or move on to another serum I was tasked with reviewing), and let my skin go for weeks or months without any vitamin A. Just like with any other skin care product, consistency is key with retinol. It works slowly in the skin to visibly reduce and prevent signs of aging. At best, stopping and starting retinol won’t offer the desired results. At worst, it can cause even more unwanted effects, like dryness, redness, and irritation. So, yes, I had to slap my own wrist for that oversight.
With this product, I was determined to use it correctly and consistently. I started out using it two nights a week. On the other nights, I would use my other trusty nighttime serums that are chock full of hydrating ingredients and antioxidants in a bid to reduce dryness and irritation. Each morning, I applied a generous layer of sunscreen to prevent further sun damage.
I kept on with this routine for two weeks to make sure my skin had time to adjust. Then, I bumped up my retinol frequency to three nights per week. It’s been a little over a month and a half, and I’m still using it this way. This was a conscious decision. Since retinol works slowly within the skin, I wanted to make sure I was giving this product enough time to do its thing before I made a final decision about its efficacy.
After a month and a half of using this product, I can tell my skin has benefitted in a big way. The fine lines that used to span across my forehead appear less defined. The hyperpigmentation that splattered across the skin on my nose and cheeks has faded. And, generally speaking, my skin looks brighter and feels smoother. It may have taken a couple of gnarly weeks of retinization to get here, but I’m very happy with the results.
Is The Farmacy 1% Vitamin A Retinol Serum Worth It?
Yes, I think this product is worth using, but only if you’ve used retinol before and your skin can tolerate such a high percentage of retinoids. Otherwise, you could open yourself up to redness and irritation like me (basically, don’t make the same mistakes I did).
Luckily, it only took my skin a couple of weeks to adjust and the unwanted effects were manageable. Still, I wouldn’t recommend using it if you’ve never used retinoids before. If that’s the case, heed Ciraldo’s advice, and start out with a product that contains a lower percentage of retinol. Your skin will thank you. And for $60 it is a pricey product, but if you want noticeable results, it’s a great over-the-counter option.
While this product’s potency can be a negative for some people, it’s a benefit for others. The 1% concentration means that it will likely work quickly, providing visible results in skin tone and texture sooner than other retinol products might. That’s why I think this product could be incredibly beneficial for anyone who’s ready to target signs of aging and sun damage more aggressively than they have in the past.
Remember, though, retinol won’t provide any benefit without the addition of daily sunscreen. If you choose to try this serum, make sure you’re applying (and reapplying!) SPF every single day.
Ingredients Highlights: Encapsulated Retinol, Retinal, Kalahari Melon Seed Oil, Raspberry Seed Oil, Ceramides
Size: 30 ml/1 fl. oz
Suitable For: Aging and/or sun-damaged skin types.
BDG product reviews and recommendations are written and conducted by writers and editors with expertise in their fields. Testers often have specific experience with the situation or product at hand, and/or their review or recommendation is provided in consultation with experts. You can learn more about our standards here.