Sunday, September 27, 2015

Serious Retinol: Review of Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment (with before and after photos)

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Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
When Paula's Choice initially came out with their Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment, I wasn't especially interested. I'd worked through two very generously-sized bottles of their retinol serum (reviewed here) without seeing any clear results at all. But then I read Lab Muffin's review of the new retinol treatment, and I decided to add a sample, in a 0.16 oz. pump bottle, to my next order. Cheap as I am, I was particularly interested in the value breakdown Lab Muffin provides, showing that this product is really competitively priced, at least in Australia. As I understand it, cosmetics are really fucking expensive in Australia, but her price analysis seems promising anyway. Unfortunately, I am not mathematically inclined, so I haven't calculated a similar comparison among U.S. products (but if you are, and you want to share, that would be really exciting). The price of the full-size bottle is $56, which is not exactly cheap, so it's nice to feel like I'm spending my money relatively wisely. Especially since it turns out that I really like this stuff, and I want to keep buying it. Though it's mainly marketed as anti-aging, I'd also recommend this stuff if you have problems with clogged pores and/or breakouts, like I do. (More on how to save some money on it at the end of the post.)

I do suggest trying the sample size if you think this might work for you, because I got 4-5 weeks of use out of it. Since you only use a "pea-sized" amount each time, and you have to gradually increase the frequency of use, the sample contains more than enough to decide if it's right for you. You can see the main claims Paula's Choice makes about this product's purpose on the bottle above, i.e. to improve skin's firmness, smooth wrinkles/lines, reduce dark spots, and refine pores.

Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
One pump of Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
During my initial testing period, I used the retinol treatment 2-4 times a week, as I adjusted to it and tried to determine what my skin could tolerate. I'm glad I read the Lab Muffin review first, because that meant I knew to expect peeling. And holy shit, the peeling. It's not painful, red peeling or anything, but I did lightly molt for the first few weeks I tested it. The peeling doesn't start immediately, at least for me - it would show up, reliably, 36-48 hours after I used the retinol. It can be controlled with lots of moisturizing, but unless your skin is super tough, do expect peeling. I recommend going slow when you start. Use only a small amount the first several times, or mix it half and half with moisturizer. That's what I did the second time around, after I got a full bottle and started the process over again, and the peeling was much less dramatic.

Another side effect that I noticed was that it seems to make my skin more sensitive to other products that I usually don't react to. Nothing major, but I sometimes notice a slight burning sensation when using my regular moisturizer or even things like liquid highlighters. Odd.

Anyway, results! I liked what was happening to my skin while I used this, but I wanted to be sure it was really the result of the retinol and not just a coincidence or something. I tend to be paranoid and to have a bad memory, which makes testing skincare products a pain in the ass. Luckily (?), the disruption of moving (twice), traveling, and housesitting in August interrupted my usual skin care routine and allowed me to sort things out. I packed up both this retinol treatment and the Paula's Choice 2% BHA liquid (also reviewed here) that I have been using for years, and I didn't have access to either of them for a couple of weeks. That, combined with stress, meant that my skin gave me a big old fuck you, and I ended up with a mess to straighten out.

I broke out really bad, I had seriously clogged pores, and my skin looked dull and just generally shitty. I started back in with just the BHA liquid for a week or two, and things improved noticeably. Definitely fewer blackhead and congestion. So, okay good, I haven't been wasting my money on that stuff all this time. Then I cracked open my new, big bottle of 1% retinol and an even greater improvement was noticeable immediately.

I don't really like using vague language like "brighter skin," or "radiant," or "luminous," or whatever, because I feel like a slippery ad man. What exactly do those adjectives really mean? They seem accurate, to some extent, for the results I get from this retinol treatment, but I'm going to try to be more specific. I think the main thing it does for my skin is keep my pores clearer than they would otherwise be, which in turn makes them appear smaller. Smaller pores make my skin, overall, look smoother, and that is the main thing that gives it a "radiant" appearance. For me, "refining pores" is the claim by Paula's Choice that I can really see when I use this.

I still get hormonal breakouts on my chin, but with this product they clear up more quickly and are less intense overall. When I stopped using it, those cystic zits came back with a vengeance and would not fuck off until I went back on the retinol. I'm not sure about overall firmness, but I don't (yet) have a lot of sag in my skin that I'm concerned about. I don't have many dark spots, but my freckles haven't really diminished, which is fine with me. I didn't think it was doing anything for lines until I looked at the following photos side by side. The first one is from May 2015, about 6 weeks before I started testing this retinol treatment, and the second is from the end of July, right as I was finishing up the sample. (I started to use it again toward the end of August.)

Before and after using Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment for a month
Before and after using Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment for a month
It's hard to replicate lighting conditions exactly when taking photos like this months apart, and so the lighting is a bit harsher (at a more oblique angle) in the before photo. But I examined several different before and after photos taken on these same dates, and the comparison here is accurate. I think it's clear that I haven't added a filter or anything to the after photo, and I'm not wearing makeup (or anything but moisturizer) in either one. You can see that I still have a bit of hormonal chin acne and any freckles I had are still there in the after photo. The overall texture of my skin, however, is smoother, and that smile line between my mouth and nose is still there, but maybe slightly diminished. These subtle improvements add up to my skin generally just looking better.

In my current regimen, I use the Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment every third day, because that allows me to combine it with BHA liquid for optimal exfoliation with minimal peeling. You are not supposed to use BHA or AHA exfoliants at the same time as this retinol. So my routine goes something like this:

Day 1: one pump of retinol treatment in the evening on my entire face, except the eye area, since you're supposed to keep it away from there. I use a separate moisturizer around my eyes. I may or may not add extra moisturizer to the retinol, but it already contains things like glycerin and emollients, so it's usually moisturizing enough on its own for my combination-oily skin.

Day 2: light moisturizer and/or hydrating serum in the morning and evening. I find that using something with hyaluronic acid works well to prevent peeling. The Paula's Choice Antioxidant Concentrate Serum (reviewed here) worked - though I ran out a week ago and have been adding Paula's Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster to my regular Moisture Gel since then (also reviewed here - yes, I seem to be a Paula's Choice fangirl, but you already knew that).

Day 3: BHA liquid in the morning or evening, whenever I remember.

Day 4: return to Day 1 (and I use the same moisturizer as Day 2 on Days 1 and 3 as well, as needed).

My skin is looking good with this routine. It's not perfect - I still get the occasional blackhead or pimple, and I still have human skin with pores. But I'm getting a lot of good things from the combination; besides the retinol, there's vitamin C and peptides in the treatment, and then there is the BHA and the antioxidants and everything else in the other products. I'm not hating my face at the moment. My skin is the best it has been in quite some time.

So. I'm recommending something that costs $55. Maybe you have health insurance that covers other retinoids, and that is a more affordable route to go for this kind of thing. I don't, and if you don't either (or you want to try something a bit gentler), here are some options for buying it. I usually get things directly from the Paula's Choice website, because they have frequent sales and free shipping deals. Right now they have 20% any one item and free shipping on $50+. Soon they will probably have a sale on all of their "Clinical" products or all of their retinol products or something, and it will probably be 15-20% off. If you don't already have a Paula's Choice account, you can also get $10 off your first $15+ order by using someone's invite link (here's mine).

Another option, if you've already used your $10-off, is to buy Paula's Choice stuff from the Nordstrom website. Here's the 1% retinol. This is a good way to go if there isn't an appealing sale on the Paula's Choice site, because Nordstrom always has free shipping and free returns. You can also collect your rewards points, if that's a thing you do. Nordstrom doesn't have the sample size, however, which you can only get here from Paula's Choice, and I really recommend trying that out first. Either way, you should also shop through Ebates and get at least 3% cash back from Nordstrom or 5% from Paula's Choice (here's my previous post about Ebates in case you're not familiar). I think that about covers it as far as saving money on this shit goes.

Have you used retinol? Does it work for you? I assumed it didn't do anything for me, but it looks like I needed a higher concentration than I had tried in the past in order to get results.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review and the awesome before and after shots! Your pores really do look a lot smaller and your skin is overall smoother, that's amazing! I've just cracked open my bottle of the retinol and used it today for the first time. I have tried prescription tretinoin in the past, but I felt that it didn't do a whole lot for my breakouts, but sure irritated my skin and made it red and peely. I'm hoping this product will be a lot gentler but will still deliver nice results, especially now that I don't have to deal with active breakouts nearly as much as I did before, when I used the Rx stuff.

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    1. I'm interested to hear about your results! I haven't had any real redness or irritation of that type, but I don't have very sensitive skin. But this stuff does have a lot of moisturizing and anti-irritant ingredients, so you might tolerate it better.

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  2. Thanks for the review! It looks like it worked wonders on you, wonder if it'll do the same for me? Do you think we should ease into retinol (like using lower concentration products) first, or can I jump straight into this? I've been using the moisturizer for retinol but I don't feel like it had much effect and there was certainly no peeling. Too bad I don't really have a way of sampling this. It IS rather expensive and more than what I generally would pay for skincare nowadays, but well if it works...

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    1. I have used so many things that did nothing, that I'm now surprised when I get actual results. I think you can jump right into using this if you want to. I wasn't using any retinol for a couple of months before. Just start out with a small amount and space it out. You kind of have to play around to see what your skin likes.

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  3. Sounds intriguing. I bought a sample of this treatment a couple of months ago, but didn't try it yet. Now I'm really motivated to dig it up after the move.

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    1. If you try it, let me know what you think!

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    2. I didn't forget :-)
      Overall, I liked it. It didn't do much for my acne, but acne wasn't my primary reason for using it. I was mainly hoping that retinol treatment would improve my skin texture. I did see some very subtle improvement. I did experience some redness, but no other side effects. So I might pick up a full size at some point (after I use up at least some of my massive skin care stash).

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    3. Thank you! I read your review on your blog too. What I've noticed now after using it even longer is that the texture of my skin is about the same as it was after a few weeks of use, but I haven't got any of the huge cystic pimples that used to linger for months sometimes. Not one! I do still get very small zits though pretty regularly. Slightly less than before, maybe.

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  4. I've had a near-identical exoerience with the 1%. My skin is similar to yours as well - I'm less pink and my pores are less gunk-filled.

    I'd never tried Retinol products before and I had to ease into this. I picked up the full size when they had the free blush palette and free mask with a $50 purchase promo.

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    1. I don't notice much change in redness. I'm still pretty red around my nose. I avoid that area with it a bit, though, because it already tends to be flaky. But yeah, surprisingly good. What do you think of the blush palette? I have that too, and I plan to review it soon.

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    2. My nose is still red - my cheeks are less so but I think the 2% BHA helps with that more than anything.

      I haven't tried the blush yet. I heard it was super pigmented which scares me. I did an inventory and realized I have a shameful amount of blush and tasked myself with "culling the herd" before I tried new things. Can't wait to see your review!

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  5. I'm a huge Paula's Choice fan girl too and own many of their products. I also bought the trial size PC retinol which, for now, has been shoved to the back of the shelf.

    I'm 41 and my skin is dry/combination. After using this I experienced some flaking around the sides of my nose and on my forehead.

    I tried using it one day on and one day off, adding PC moisture booster oil, using less retinol, combining it with moisturizer but, ultimately, I realised I'm too lazy to figure out how to make it work for me.

    I currently use the PC retinol serum every night and the Resist Intensive Repair Cream (with retinol) every other night. I figured I should leave it at that.

    Any signs of dryness or flaking stress me out.

    Everyone reacts so differently to the same product. I know, like you, many others will love the retinol booster.

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    1. Sorry, I somehow missed your comment, and now it's been a couple of months. I wouldn't have had the patience to continue with it if I hadn't been able to get the flakiness under control pretty easily, chances are I would have given up too. Maybe since I don't have any serious dryness that helps (my combination is mostly normal + oily). The retinol serum didn't do anything for me, but it's great that works for you! It's funny how skin, which presumably is made up of the same basic things in everyone, responds so differently to different products for different people.

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