This $10 Retinol With Hundreds of 5-Star Reviews Is So Good, It Replaced My Prescription-Grade Retinoid

Photo: Getty Images/ Youngoldman
I remember having "the talk" with my mom at age 21. And when I say "the talk," I don't mean the one about the birds and the bees; I mean the one about retinol. A derivative of vitamin A, retinol has a rep for clearing up acne, slowing the effects of skin aging, and fighting pigmentation. As one of the most versatile products on the market, retinols are seldom cheap. Enter The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum, a fan-favorite formula that rings in at just $10.

When I first heard about The Inkey List Retinol, I was skeptical. Despite the product's glowing reviews on the r/SkincareAddiction Reddit thread,, and other internet beauty hubs, I doubted that a $10 over-the-counter alternative could outpace the tretinoin that cost me a pretty penny at my local pharmacy (FWIW: Tretinoin is a more potent form of retinol that is only available with a prescription). However! I consider any skin-care experiment a fun experiment, so I swapped my usual jack-of-all-trades cream for The Inkey List's offering.

The serum combines two types of retinol with squalane, a hydrating and soothing ingredient that derms often refer to as, "a Big Gulp of moisture." This pairing is an intelligent one: Since retinoids have a tendency to dry out the skin, the quenching squalene adds some much-needed moisture to the party.

For the sake of my own testing, I began layering the serum on my skin each night after the washing and toning steps of my routine. It has a slightly milky texture, which I'd liken to rubbing room temperature butter across your skin (in the very best way). The brand suggests using the product every third night and working your way up to using it every day, but since my skin is already accustomed to retinoids, I jumped right into a nightly routine. My once-oily complexion has become a little dry since I moved to the west coast, but within days, I noticed that the addition of the squalane in the formula started helping hydrate my skin. Beyond that, a patch of unwanted, recurring acne on my chin seemed to have taken its final bow. Fingers crossed.

All in all: I totally get why The Inkey List is the subject of internet buzz. Though it may not be as potent as my tretinoin, it's plenty effective while also being hydrating. Moving forward, I may just opt for The Inkey List's Retinol as the hydrating (and more affordable) alternative to the prescription-grade stuff. Will I spend the money I save on other beauty products? Definitely.

Considering adding a retinol to your routine? Check out the video below for everything you need to know before you do it. 

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