My Skin’s Always Been Too Sensitive for Retinol, But I Finally Found an Alternative That Smooths Wrinkles Without Irritation

Photo: Tatcha
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In a day and age when expert advice seems readily available around every corner of the Internet, you’d be hard-pressed to find an anti-aging breakdown that doesn’t include the use of a retinoid. But for many (including me), the side effects that come along with retinoids—redness, irritation, burning—make them all-but-impossible to tolerate. To that end, those of us who struggle with reactive and sensitive skin have been mostly left out of the conversation, left to make do with a system of serums, essences, and moisturizers that cater to sensitivity, but not always to fine lines and wrinkles. Thankfully, with the launch of its latest product—The Silk Serum Wrinkle-Smoothing Retinol Alternative ($98)—Tatcha has found a way to remedy that

The serum is being touted as giving retinol-like results without the retinol-like harshness. How? Staying true to the brand’s dedication to “working with skin, not against it,” Tatcha has packed its latest offering with more than a little plant-based power. While silk proteins smooth and plump and a proprietary complex (Hadasei-3) supports moisture, the real star is the duo of cranberry extract and sea fennel, which act on the same factors as traditional retinols to support collagen-depleted skin. Sound too good to be true? Science says it’s not.

Experts In This Article

“We know a lot about cranberry, it’s an anti-inflammatory. It’s something we have good science on already,” says board-certified dermatologist Joely Kaufman, MD. “Cranberries are rich in polyphenols, a huge antioxidant. They inhibit collagen glycation, which breaks down collagen. We know that; it’s based in science. So if you can find a way to keep it stable, it’s a great retinol alternative.”

In addition to catering to those of us with sensitive skin, the serum also has the added bonus of avoiding the traditional pitfalls of vitamin-A derivatives. Unlike retinoids, which need to be started slowly to build up tolerance, Tatcha’s serum can be used immediately twice a day without time constraints or skin cycling, and doesn’t increase photo-sensitivity.

What derms think

Retinoids may be beloved by dermatologists for their anti-aging results, but Dr. Kaufman does see a percentage of patients who simply cannot add them to their skincare routine because they irritate their skin. And though she notes that retinol can often be paired with calming and hydrating products to try and offset the side effects, “sometimes it’s just not worth the struggle,” she says.

While other entries into the retinol-alternative space have been hitting shelves (the most common being bakuchiol), this one stands out to Dr. Kaufman for it’s base in well-regarded, well-known skin-care science. “Sometimes something that’s very tolerant can be seen as too weak,” she says. “This is not that case.”

What we think

When it comes to sensitivity, I excel. Not only do I go red at the first pump of new formulas, but I’ve had to get out of bed to frantically wash my face on multiple occasions when night-time skin-care products had my face feeling fire (and not in a good way). So, it brings me great joy to attest that the Silk Serum lives up to its hype.

After a few days of use, I have zero redness or reaction. The milky serum feels fantastic on my skin and the scent (yes, I’m even sensitive to that) is a light botanical that gives the product a fresh feel. Though it’s only been a short testing period, I have seen an increase in hydration and, dare I say, a nice glow post-application. Final verdict: The Silk Serum has hands-down earned a place in my morning and night skincare routine, and I’m looking forward to seeing even more results (goodbye fine lines and wrinkles) down the line.

For more intel on why it may be worth adding a retinoid to your routine, check out the video below. 

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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