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Razor burn. Acne. Sun spots. Scars. Wrinkles.

Your skin has seen some stuff because you’ve seen some stuff. And for a long time, wearing those signs of life was an indicator of your masculinity. Guys are too manly, too busy, and too cool to care. And if that’s your vibe, by all means, lean all the way in. Embrace the face God gave ya and we’ll say no more about it.

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But if you want to, say, banish those blemishes for good or bid farewell to that itchy razor burn—the answer is (probably) in your girlfriend’s medicine cabinet. Allow us to introduce you to a little miracle ingredient known as retinol. It’s in her serums, night creams and moisturizers, and it’s the reason she looks at least five years younger than you and seems to glow from within, somehow. Whatever ails your skin, retinol products can be a catchall improvement potion.


What It Is

To put it simply, retinol is a chemical compound and a derivative of Vitamin A.

What It Does

Retinol is used in skincare products like serums and creams to provide multiple benefits:

  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles, making your skin look younger
  • Fades the appearance of hyperpigmentation, scarring, and sunspots, making your skin tone more even
  • Treats acne-prone skin, so you break out less

Retinol makes all this good stuff happen by encouraging “cell turnover” in your skin. Meaning? Dead skin sloughs off gradually and new skin comes to the surface. (It’s a form of exfoliation, but better for your skin than all those scratchy rubs and scrubs.) It stimulates the production of collagen, which plumps up skin to fill in those little lines and wrinkles, and when those new skin cells come up, they’re fresh and beautiful and tight—cue smaller pores, less acne and smooth skin that’s easier to shave.

What To Watch Out For

It takes about 30 days for your skin to adjust to a new product, so keep that in mind when you “secretly” change up your routine with your GF’s retinol. This stuff is powerful, and can cause some mild irritation in the form of redness and flaking. Truth be told, this can last for four to six months, but after that you will, as beauty and skincare expert Bobbie Thomas puts it, “look legitimately five to ten years younger than all your friends.”

The Products To Buy

Retinol comes in varied concentrations; some products are stronger than others. Most will indicate on the packaging just how much retinol it contains, anywhere from 0.3% to 2%. The higher the percentage, the stronger the effects, both positive and negative (see above). If it doesn’t say exactly how much retinol it contains on the label, look at the ingredient list on the back. Generally, the further down you find it listed, the less it contains.

Olehenriksen Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum

As we mentioned, retinol is powerful stuff. So a lot of skincare brands have created alternatives that contain something called AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) that are much more mild on the skin, while still delivering those anti-aging, skin-improving results. If you’re just dipping her toe into the retinol pool, this is a great starter product, because you can graduate to a more potent product when it’s finished.


SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5
Graphic: Shep McAllister

In the skincare world, SkinCeuticals is considered to be “worth the splurge,” because their products truly deliver results. This one contains 0.5% retinol, which means it’s a good intro product for all skin types. You (and your girl) can start by using it two or three times per week, and build up to every other night after a month or two as skin adjusts.


Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Take it from their product copy, this product is literally “potent” with a 1% retinol concentration. That means this is the big leagues—it will be effective on all skin types, but that irritation we mentioned before will be much more noticable. If you and your girl are committed to the “perfect skin club,” this one’s for you.


How To Use It

Whether you tell your girlfriend about your exciting new journey towards healthier, smoother, younger-looking skin is up to you. But let us leave you with a few helpful tips so you don’t mess up that beautiful mug along the way.

  • You only need a small pea-sized amount for your whole face. Pump or squeeze the product onto your fingertips, rub em together and then dab and rub into forehead, cheeks, chin, etc.
  • Apply a moisturizer afterwards to minimize redness and potential flaking. For optimal results from your retinol though, it’s good to let the product absorb for about 15 minutes first.
  • Wear sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF every single day, as skin sensitivity will be increased.