The Derm Behind ‘Skin Cycling’ Just Launched One of the Strongest Retinoids Money Can Buy, and It Won’t Irritate Your Complexion

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Exfoliant, retinoid, and recovery—these are the three ingredient types you need to create a skin-cycling routine. The method, which is meant to help you get the most out of your nighttime regimen by rotating through active ingredients and allowing time for your skin to recover in between, was created by board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. You can use any brand's products for the method, but the best options are the ones Dr. Bowe created herself with her line DWB Beauty. But up until now, she only sold a microbiome cream, Bowe Glowe ($95), and an exfoliating serum, Exfoliation Night ($79). As of today, she's completing the cycle with Retinal Night Advanced ($99).

Retinal is a type of retinoid, a class of vitamin-A derivatives that increase cell turnover, leading to decreased acne, increased skin firmness, and so much more. This serum is made with 0.1 percent retinal—emphasis on the "al" ending, which is different than the usual retinol you might see on the shelves. "It's the closest thing you can get to a prescription retinoid without actually getting a prescription, in terms of efficacy," says Dr. Bowe. The prescription-strength retinoid is retinoic acid. Also known as Tretinoin and Retin-A, retinoic acid just has to be applied and your cells use it immediately. But other retinoids rely on enzymes in the skin to convert them to retinoic acid. And the fewer conversion steps away you are from retinoic acid, the more powerful the retinoid is going to be.

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"Retinol needs to be converted first to retinal, which is also called retinaldehyde, which then gets converted to retinoic acid, which is the active form that's used by the skin," says Dr. Bowe. "Because retinal is only one conversion step away from retinoic acid, it's over 10 times more bioavailable than retinol. And it's thought to be more than 10 times more potent than retinol." So don't let the 0.1 percent label make you think this retinal is weak—it's stronger than any retinol out there.

But because Dr. Bowe is all about delivering amazing results without irritation, Retinal Night Advanced isn't 10 times more irritating than retinol. In fact, it's less irritating than many retinols out there thanks to built-in surge protectors. The first protector is a proprietary pentalipid matrix that mimics your skin's barrier with a blend of three ceramides, the amino acid phytosphingosine, and plant-based sterols to rehydrate and soothe skin while strengthening the moisture barrier. "You get all the benefits without the irritation," she says.

The second protector is "a proprietary dermal-delivery technology that actually drives the retinal into the deeper layers of the skin, the dermal layer," says Dr. Bowe. This way, "it's not sitting on the surface where it can just create irritation." Plus, this deeper layer is where the retinal needs to go in order to work its magic. "That's where our fibroblasts reside, which are the cells that actually create and synthesize collagen. So we want the retinoid to get down to the dermal layer, if we want to see a firming effect over time," she explains.

Finally, Dr. Bowe formulated Retinal Night Advanced so that the retinal stays active with time. "I have patients who will be using a retinol six nights a week and they're like, 'I'm not getting any irritation from it at all, my skin is tolerating it great,'" says Dr. Bowe. She says that's because the product they're using likely has very little active retinol in it, as the ingredient degrades with time if not properly stabilized.

"A very well-kept beauty industry secret is that most retinols and retinals on the market are highly, highly unstable," says Dr. Bowe. "Just because you see a certain percentage on the label does not mean that that ingredient has been stabilized. And that is something that we have mastered—that's why it took me so long to launch this product. Because retinal, like retinol, is an incredibly unstable ingredient. So we actually came up with a way to stabilize the retinal And we actually did testing to prove that it's maintaining its full potency, even two years out."

One way you can monitor this yourself is to keep an eye on the color of your Retinal Night Advanced. "Vitamin A in its most pure and potent form is bright yellow," says Dr. Bowe. "What a lot of brands will do is they'll add other ingredients that can camouflage the color, so it'll be a little more white or a little more peachy-mango so that the consumer won't notice that the color is changing over time. With our product, it's that bright, crazy yellow, and it will say that bright crazy yellow up until the very last pump."

What it's like using DWB Beauty Retinal Night Advanced

I've been a fan of Dr. Bowe and her products since she launched the AHA serum a few months ago, so I was ecstatic to try out this retinal. The blend of ceramides, phytosphingosine, and sterols gives it this super velvety, creamy texture that goes on so, so smooth. And she wasn't kidding about the color—it's jarring how yellow this serum is, and I love it. It does give my skin a bit of a yellowish tint when I apply it, but because you only use retinoids at night (they degrade in sunlight and make your skin more susceptible to UV damage) I don't mind it. My skin tends to tolerate retinoids quite well and this one was no exception—I didn't experience any of the stinging or burning that often comes along wih retinoids while getting to enjoy all the retinal benefits.

It slides into my skin-cycling routine with ease and I can't wait to see how my skin looks after using it for a couple of weeks. Grab Retinal Night Advanced on its own for $99, or get the entire DWB Beauty Skin Cycling Program for $199.

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