glossier universal pro retinol review lead
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Glossier — the internet-beloved brand known for its minimalist makeup, easy-to-use products and signature pastel pink packaging — recently launched its first retinol. I’m a huge fan of the brand’s Invisible Shield sunscreen (it’s totally weightless and actually smells good) and the irresistible Balm Dotcoms. And while I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Universal Pro-Retinol, I’d be lying if I said the launch didn’t come as a bit of a surprise.

Retinol is one of those skin care products that the derms swear by, but one that’s also seemingly complicated if you’re new to the product, expensive and can potentially increase your skin’s sensitivity (read more about using retinol here). I’ve used it during bouts of breakouts or when my skin is looking dull, but it’s never been a consistent part of my skin care for just that reason. While retinol absolutely does make skin look brighter, plumper and clearer, I personally experience stubborn patchiness and peeling. Eventually (once my skin clears up), I’ll ditch it for a more hydrating serum or oil.

So you could say I was more than curious to see if Glossier — a brand I associate more with natural-looking makeup products and simple skin care — could really create a retinol on par with the (way) pricier options from the biggest skin care brands. Fortunately, I was able to test it out for about a week, and let’s just say, Glossier’s Universal Pro-Retinol has already turned me into a nightly retinol devotee.

The rundown

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Glossier’s Universal Pro-Retinol is, according to the brand, designed to be used by just about everyone. If you’re wondering how that’s possible, look to the key ingredient in the Universal Pro-Retinol: retinyl sunflowerate, a retinol derivative made from pure retinol and sunflower seed fatty acids. It’s a new innovation in the skin care space, which distinguishes the Universal Pro-Retinol from other retinol creams and serums. Not only has this combo been shown to improve skin concerns like fine lines, blemishes, dark spots and overall texture, but it’s also been shown to be less irritating than other retinol creams.

Most retinol products will come in strengths of either 0.25%, 0.3%, 0.5% and 1%. Glossier’s Universal Pro-Retinol features 0.5% pro-retinol. It’s (as the brand explains) high enough of a percentage to reap the benefits while still being gentle enough for all skin types, even if you have drier or more sensitive skin.

Two other key ingredients in the product’s formulation are stevia extract and mondo grass root extract. Stevia extract, which comes from the leaves and stems of the stevia plant, is a naturally derived retinol alternative that supports the retinyl sunflowerate in smoothing your skin, particularly when it comes to fine lines. Mondo grass root extract works alongside other plant-based humectants (meaning something used to reduce the loss of moisture) to make the formula creamier, more hydrating and most importantly extremely gentle on skin. And in addition to all that, the Universal Pro-Retinol is vegan, cruelty-free and formulated without fragrance.

The lowdown

Glossier recommends using the Universal Pro-Retinol exclusively in your evening routine. After cleansing and patting your face dry, the brand instructs users to smooth a pea-sized amount of the product over their face and follow up with moisturizer.

The first thing I noticed about the cream (which isn’t totally unusual to retinol creams) is the slightly medicinal smell. While it is noticeable, it quickly fades and didn’t bother me at all as I went through my skin care routine. Immediately after applying the Universal Pro-Retinol, it was clear that this wasn’t your everyday retinol cream; it’s way thicker and creamier. The consistency is lotion-like and almost balmy, as opposed to a thinner or more watery texture I’ve previously come across. And after application, my skin looked like I had already moisturized; it was dewy, it felt hydrated and there was absolutely no burning.

glossier universal pro retinol review product 3

Since my skin is pretty well accustomed to lower-strength retinol, I started out (and have continued) using the Universal Pro-Retinol every other night. And I’m shocked to report that I haven’t experienced any burning, irritation or peeling whatsoever. And while I’m only about a week in (and definitely can’t speak to the long-term effects as of yet — we’ll update this post after using the product for a bit longer), I haven’t had any breakouts and my skin is looking dewy, healthy and plump. What more can you ask for?

I’ll absolutely be using this product for a couple more months to see how my skin improves over time. Glossier’s own clinical trial of the product found that 100% of participants saw a visible transformation in their skin after four weeks, though the product’s full benefits should be apparent after three months of use. I’m specifically looking forward to seeing whether my dark spots will fade and if my pores get any smaller — two things that users who took part in the trial identified as improvements to their skin.

A couple usage tips for those who may be new to retinol. Glossier recommends starting out by using the Universal Pro-Retinol one or two nights per week and gradually increasing frequency (you can eventually work your way up to nightly use). I say nightly use because you should only be using a retinol cream like this one in your evening skin care routine, when your skin’s repair mechanisms and cell turnover are at their peak. Plus, retinoids are known to increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you’ll want to stay out of it after applying this. But just as important, you’ll want to make sure you’re still wearing an SPF daily — Glossier’s Invisible Shield sunscreen is a perfect option.

Retinol is also known for not mixing well with several types of skin care products, from chemical exfoliants (like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids) to some toners, benzoyl peroxide and even vitamin C. So if you’re looking to incorporate a retinol cream like this one, you’ll want to streamline your routine to focus on cleansing and moisturization.

Bottom line

Universal Pro-Retinol

I totally agree with Glossier — this product would work for just about anyone looking for a retinol cream. While I can’t speak to the long-term efficacy at this point in testing, I’ve had exactly zero issues or complaints about the product so far. My entire experience so far has been nothing but positive, and I’m really looking forward to continuing to use this product for months to come.

While the Universal Pro-Retinol would work perfectly well on those with more oily, acne-prone skin (and perhaps those used to stronger retinol creams or other products), I would highly recommend this to those with dry skin, sensitive skin and those new to retinol or skin care in general. Because retinol shouldn’t be combined with a whole host of other products (and isn’t part of a multi-step routine in general), it’s a great way to get started on a weekly or nightly skin care routine with a fabulous ingredient that improves your skin in countless ways.

The biggest draw to me of the Universal Pro-Retinol is the texture and how the product feels on my skin. It’s undeniably nourishing and moisturizing, all while being effective. As someone with chronically dry skin, I look for moisture in just about every skin care product I own. And to find a retinol cream that’s easy (and enjoyable) to incorporate into my dry-skin nightly routine is a total game changer.

That’s not even taking the price into consideration. While the $35 price tag is on the higher end when it comes to Glossier’s entire product line, it doesn’t come close to the extraordinarily high price tag on other similar retinol cream options — many cost double and even triple the price of the Universal Pro-Retinol.

Thus, I’d absolutely recommend this product. Especially at the cost, it’s the perfect introduction to high-quality, gentle yet effective skin care. And I have a feeling I’m not the only one who’s going to call Glossier’s newest launch their favorite retinol cream.