I’m a Dermatologist, and This Powerful Skin-Care Serum Is Like Microdermabrasion in a Bottle

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Retinol and alpha hydroxy-acids have traditionally been the Taylor Swift and Kanye West of the skin-care world: They don't exactly play nice when they're together. Both ingredients are known for their intense skin resurfacing properties—retinol by way of cell turnover, AHAs as an exfoliant—and when combined, it can cause skin irritation that's as cringe-worthy as the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards (#TBT). To avoid any sort of "Look What You Made Me Do"-level drama, derms usually recommend separating the ingredients in your routine, either by alternating days or using one in the morning and one at night.

That said, the team at Skin Better Science, a line of expert and research-backed skin-care products, figured out how to get both gold-standard ingredients into one bottle with minimal irritation. The result? The brand's AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($120), or as we like to call it, "microdermabrasion in a bottle."

The super-science-y formula contains lactic acid, glycolic acid (which are both AHAs), and retinoids, which all promote exfoliation and cell turnover, plus squalane, niacinamide, ceramides, and fatty acids to moisturize the skin barrier and defend against irritation. "It delivers glycolic acid with a stabilized form of retinol to enhance exfoliation, cell turnover, and collagen production, which translates to a brighter complexion and improved skin texture," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Zeichner Dermatology. Thanks to this potent formula, fine lines—and other textural issues—don't stand much of a chance. In addition to its two hero ingredients, the cream also contains peptides, which improve tone and elasticity, and antioxidants to defend against the environmental and free radical damage. So, essentially, it's got everything.

"Usually, AHA plus retinol is like hot sauce on a habanero pepper, but SkinBetter found some magic to have all the spice without the heat," says board-certified dermatologist (and skin-care metaphor wizard) Mona Gohara, MD. In addition to getting the glass-skin boosting benefits of both ingredients at the same time, she explains that the AHA helps retinol penetrate more deeply, creating even more collagen production in your skin.

While the product is known for the mind-blowingly minimal irritation it causes (despite being made with such intense ingredients), Dr. Zeichner cautions against it for anyone with very sensitive skin or conditions like rosacea. However, he calls it a "great option" for anyone with normal, combination, or oily skin. For best results, he suggests apply a pea-sized amount to your entire face every other night or every two nights as you acclimate to the product, then build up to using as frequently as you would like—or as frequently as your (soon-to-be-glass) skin can tolerate.

AlphaRet Overnight Cream, $120

Photo: Skin Better Science

Read more about why dermatologists love retinol, here:

To get a full-on facial in a bottle, try one of these multitasking serums or the peel pads Lea Michele swears by to resurface her skin in 30 seconds flat. 

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