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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Off Topic (Sort of): On Twitter

If you dislike Twitter, why are you still using it?

Something that fascinates me about the ongoing dumpster fire that is the unmitigated death spiral of Twitter is the users who still actively use it. I count friends among this group, so I’m not just firing shots in the dark at some abstract group.

In one breath, we see The Owner’s actions decried as absurd, destructive, hypocritical (they are). In the next? Posting as though its just Business as Usual.

Regardless of Ownership, Twitter Users Don’t Get a Say

What so many people inexplicably fail to understand is that Twitter is not, and never has been, a democracy. Despite whatever bullshit The Owner originally peddled about being a free speech absolutist, there’s overwhelming evidence that this is categorically bullshit. Being either in denial that the platform is largely fucked, or riding it out through the death rattles, just rewards the behavior you condemn.

You are the Product

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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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Lab Finds Benzene in More Dry Shampoo

Early last week, I wrote an informative and scathing piece on carcinogens in dry shampoo. The news on the matter was focused on brands under Unilever’s umbrella, but unfortunately independent analytical lab Valisure found benzene in more dry shampoo.

How Many?

Not in a few. 70% of the latest round of tests, featuring 150 batches from 30+ brands across multiple parent companies, came back with high levels of exposure. Here are just some of the affected brands:

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What I DON’T Spend Money On – 2022

Like most people, my spending has evolved over time across many areas, and beauty is no exception. My wants, needs, and what I find fun have obviously evolved – and I don’t want to store a ton of stuff that may expire, too!

Here’s the latest on what I don’t spend money on:

  • Trying 7238578157283 products
    My money has better things to do, and it is no longer fun for me the way it used to be!

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