I Quit OTC Retinol, and So Should You

I quit OTC retinol and so should you

Last year, I shared that I incorporated retinol into my skincare routine. If you’re a beauty enthusiast, chances are you’ve heard about the benefits of retinoids for your skin. Retinoids are a type of vitamin A derivative that can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots, and improve skin texture. However, not all retinoid products are created equal.

I have since quit OTC retinol products that you might buy from Sephora or the drugstore (…or, anywhere, really). If you use over-the-counter retinol products, you should quit them too – and I’ll dig into why below.

First, I covered it a bit in this post, but let’s revisit difference between retinol and retinoids:

The Difference Between Retinol and Retinoids

Retinol is a type of retinoid that is available OTC in skincare products. Retinoids, on the other hand, are available in both OTC and prescription-strength products. Prescription-strength retinoids, such as tretinoin and adapalene (which is available OTC now but was previously Rx-only), are more potent and effective than OTC retinol.

The Problem with OTC Retinol Products

One of the biggest problems with OTC retinol products is that they may not maintain their potency over their shelf life.

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Take That, Undergrad

Take that, Undergrad

Two weeks ago, I completed my undergrad STEM degree, summa cum laude. 🎉 I am appropriately proud, especially since I worked full-time and managed to graduate an entire semester earlier than I predicted in this post. Through a pandemic. Through a job change. Through the accumulation of 5 non-academia professional credentials.

“Omg what will you do next?”

Take a fucking nap. Take many naps, I hope, probably with my Manta mask.

No, seriously.

I am thankful. My mental health is better. I’m working hard to build a more sustainable–in every sense–life. I am tired. I am wiped out.

I’ve heard a lot of, “You should–” with well-intended but unsolicited input on what I should be doing right now. The only, and I do mean *only* thing I should be doing right now is resting.

Maybe clean up my back porch, gazebo, and yard so I can enjoy some time out there with something tasty in this.

Longer term, I am going to start a graduate program this fall. Ideally, I want to wait until November (they allow unusual start dates). This past week, I got news that I won another scholarship towards that, which is incredible. If I win another high-value scholarship that requires I enroll sooner in order to get the funding, I’ll start sooner.

I’m excited about it because it is a competency-based program that allows for self-pacing and acceleration. Basically, if you know a topic, you can take write its papers and/or take its exams immediately without busy work and mandatory discussion boards and bullshit. If you don’t, there’s material for you to learn it. Due to my experience, I can zip through a lot of the content quite quickly.

I have some content planned (drafts in progress), so look forward to some more here soon.

The Future of Beauty Skeptic

The Future of Beauty Skeptic

Years ago, when I enrolled in university while juggling full-time professional employment, I knew this blog’s priority would take a hit. Since then, a lot has happened. The world is different, my career is different, what is important to me is different. I am different.

So in the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on my time writing Beauty Skeptic, and on the future of Beauty Skeptic.

Beauty Skeptic is about a decade old. As my life changed, I made a few attempts to establish a new structure that fit and was sustainable. Upon reflection, they were half-hearted. This is telling because I’m a driven person, but didn’t apply my trademark determination to this project – repeatedly.

I should have reflected on and analyzed this sooner.

What Inspired this Project

…was being annoyed at how completely awful the marketing in the beauty industry is. It is often ridiculous and borderline predatory. I didn’t start using cosmetics in earnest until my early twenties, and was shocked at the bullshit that was completely normalized and too-easily accepted.

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I Started Using Retinol

I haven’t had anything against the vitamin A derivative, but it wasn’t until this year that I started using retinol. I didn’t have any hang-ups about products conventionally seen as, “anti-aging,” but I also didn’t see the point until this year.

But first, a brief but important aside:

No one NEEDS anti-aging products. No one NEEDS products at all, for that matter. I, however, am:

  • vain
  • at ease with that

That said, don’t just accept fake, “needs,” created for you by companies to get you to buy things. Do some critical introspection. Do you think you need to buy it because you’ve been heavily targeted by advertising? Do you think you need to buy it because of bullshit you see on Instagram?

What I Learned about Retinol

I always thought it was over-the-top when 20-year-olds would cite wrinkle concerns and douse themselves in retinol or retinoids. Especially, you know, when they weren’t taking sun safety seriously.

For ages, I thought retinol was primarily an anti-aging product. Though it is often used that way, it is just as much (if not more!) a tool to manage acne and other skin conditions – so young people do have uses for retinol or retinoids beyond anti-aging purposes.

For example, dermatologists commonly prescribe retinoids like Retin-A (tretinoin) which is a topical, Accutane (isotretinoin) which is an oral medication, to manage acne and psoriasis. There’s also Differin (adapalene), which is another form that I understand to formerly have been by-prescription-only. It is now available more accessibly over-the-counter.

Beyond that, there are hundreds of other retinol-based products out there.

Wait, Retinol or Retinoid?

That’s a good question. Both refer to a classification of vitamin A derivatives that are used in the way I’m describing for skincare.

Generally, if a doctor is prescribing it, it’s a retinoid (though Differin is also a retinoid). They are stronger and tend to take effect faster, but the trade-off is that the strength can cause sensitivity and irritation.

Retinol is not as strong, but people tend to tolerate it better without irritation – hence its broad availability over-the-counter. Generally, retinol products are formulated with other ingredients that help either soothe potential irritation or reduce steps (i.e., a moisturizer that has retinol in it to kill two birds with one stone).


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Jessica DeFino’s The Unpublishable

If you like my content, then you’ll almost certainly like Jessica DeFino’s Substack newsletter, The Unpublishable. Jessica is a freelance journalist focused on the beauty industry; her Substack has her reticle is fixed on the beauty industry in a critical fashion.

I’ve spent the last week binging her content in between work, school, and quality time with my husband. I’ve found it invigorating.

How I found Jessica DeFino’s The Unpublishable

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The Beauty Industry is Powered by FOMO

For a while now, I’ve complained about the beauty industry generally being exhausting with its oversaturated product launches. There’s been little innovation; the brands are largely trend-chasing rather than trend-setting.

The severity of the symptom is newer, but the root cause isn’t. Fundamentally, the consumerism that advances success of the beauty industry is powered by FOMO. It isn’t an internet or social media problem, either, though they certainly exacerbate it; think of, pre-widespread internet adoption – people were buying glossy magazines. Different format, but just another example of how the modern beauty industry is powered by FOMO (or, was).


Quick pause – in case you, like me, resent cutesy acronyms and would benefit from knowing WTF I’m talking about:

FOMO, or the, “fear of missing out,” is a psychological phenomenon whereby people have an irrational desire to partake in an experience to avoid the regret of not doing so.

So, in other words, brands that fuel the FOMO engine are the most successful. FOMO is the reason behind flash sales, waiting lists, and social media “unboxing” videos. Unfortunately, FOMO is also the reason why the beauty industry is in a constant state of “newness.”

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