This Is the Retinol Celebrities Swear By

Shani Darden's Retinol Reform is the secret behind Hollywood's most flawless complexions.
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Shani Darden's Retinol Reform is the secret behind Hollywood's most flawless complexions.
The retinol celebrities swear by

I've been searching for a good retinol for a REALLY long time.

You'd think finding one would be easy, seeing as dermatologists are always praising the retinoid family as the gold standard in anti-aging (and anti-acne).

But as it turns out, the vast majority of retinol formulas out there contain ingredients I'd rather not put on my skin, including silicones, petrolatum and unstable oils. 

(The same goes for prescription-strength retinoids, which I also choose not to use because they're associated with even riskier side effects.)

Related: Is Retin-A Toxic? Why I Stopped Using Retin-A

All I wanted was a simple, gentle, effective retinol serum with minimal ingredients—and I should have known that Hollywood's most gorgeous women were already onto it.

Today, I want to introduce you to Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform, the product behind complexions such as Jessica Alba's, Chrissy Teigen's and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's. And now, mine—yes, I'm finally back on the retinoid wagon!

In this article, you will learn:

Plus, I'll share my results so far, after 2.5 months of using the product.

Who is Shani Darden?

I first heard about Shani Darden—or more specifically, her retinol—back in December, when I was casually scrolling through Instagram and stumbled upon this.

That's from this People article—"These Beauty Products Changed Our Lives in 2016"—and obviously, it got my attention. 

I had to know… who was Shani Darden? And what made her retinol "life-changing"?!

Shani Darden

Celebrity esthetician Shani Darden.

Here's what I found out. Shani is probably the most sought-after esthetician in Hollywood right now, with a long list of famous faces—including Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian, Emily Ratajkowski and Emmy Rossum—as clients.

She is known for her simple approach that gets results. Check out some of these testimonials!

  • "[Shani's] unfussy, straightforward and easy-to-maintain approach has drastically improved my skin." — Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
  • "I was very lucky to meet an amazing lady called Shani Darden who really changed my skin… My skin is just night and day." — Phoebe Tonkin
  • "My facialist in LA, Shani Darden, put me on this regimen that has transformed my skin." — Suki Waterhouse

What's her secret weapon? Retinol, of course.

"I personally think everyone should be on retinol if they can handle it. It can totally turn your skin around," Shani told The Cut last year.

Shani Darden's Retinol Reform

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform.

Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform is Shani's signature retinol.

Although she launched it back in 2013, it was mostly a celeb secret until last year, when Kim Kardashian called it out on Snapchat as her favourite retinol. (Shani: "I cried, I thought my life changed. I couldn't believe it. It was the biggest thing ever.")

It's safe to say that most of her clients are on it, including these beauties:

  • "I have sensitive skin, and it doesn't irritate it at all. It gets rid of blemishes and wrinkles. It's been a game changer in my skincare routine." — January Jones
  • "[I use it] every other day, or every three days." — Jessica Alba
  • "Every time I use it, I get compliments on my skin the next morning." — Chrissy Teigen

As if their complexions weren't incentive enough, I was also motivated to purchase it based on the unique formulation, unlike any other retinol serum I've seen.

Retinol Reform Benefits

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Retinol Reform is like no other retinol on the market.

Here's what I like about Retinol Reform:

It's not drying or irritating. "I created [it] to have a strong retinol with a moisturizing base so you don't get the dry, flaky skin that sometimes happens with others," says Shani. I can attest that this is true! It works very gradually with no tingling or irritation.

It prevents acne. The active ingredient, retinyl propionate, reduced acne lesions to zero in this 48-week study. ZERO! It may also help to reduce the appearance of large pores.

It evens skin tone. The retinol, lactic acid and niacinamide in this formula all target dark spots, pigmentation and post-inflammatory acne marks. It is also said to help smooth and soften skin texture.

It's anti-aging. Although there aren't any independent studies on it yet, the active (like other retinoids) may help reduce wrinkles and firm the skin.

It's silicone-free and oil-free. It has always frustrated me that brands like SkinCeuticals, Algenist and Peter Thomas Roth load their retinols with silicones. The natural space isn't much better, since Sunday Riley and Ren combine retinol with aging, oxidized oils. I really appreciate that both types of ingredients were left out of this formulation.

It's safer than Retin-A. The biggest reason I stopped using prescription Retin-A is because it can interfere with vitamin A synthesis. I think retinols like this one are a less risky, less aggressive way to get many of the same benefits.

Retinol Reform Ingredients

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Retinol Reform contains 5 percent each of retinol and lactic acid.

So according to the label, Retinol Reform contains an impressive 5 percent pure retinol AND 5 percent lactic acid.

Here's the full ingredients list on my package, which I bought in January:

Shani Darden Retinol Reform ingredients

The ingredients in Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform.

Deionized Water, Retinol (vitamin A propionate), Aloe Vera, Glycerth-26, Octyl Dimethyl, Polysorbate-80, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Niacinamide, Sodium Benzoate, Quaternium-15, Inositol, Lactic Acid

However, that is slightly different to what is now listed on Shani's website:

Retinol Rx, Lactic Acid, Deionized Water, Aloe Vera, Glycerth-26, Octyl Dimethyl, Polysorbate-80, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Niacinamide, Sodium Benzoate, Inositol, Quaternium-15

It looks like the order of the ingredients was just shuffled around, so there's a higher proportion of lactic acid and less water.

Do I wish the octyl dimethyl, polysorbate-80, propylene glycol, sodium benzoate and quaternium-15 weren't in here? Yes! Although the product is supposed to be well-tolerated by even sensitive skin, some of those ingredients might increase the risk of contact dermatitis, and the quaternium-15 does have a higher EWG rating

However, since they're in lower amounts, I'm going to compromise, for now—until something better comes along!—because I just haven't seen a product this simple, gentle or effective, with such a high concentration of the active ingredients.

How To Use Retinol Reform

Retinol skincare routine

Build up slowly when incorporating Retinol Reform into your skincare routine.

If you're keen to try Retinol Reform, or any other retinol, here's how to get started.

  • Always apply it to clean, dry, bare skin after you've washed your face at night. Never apply retinol in the morning.
  • Use one to two pumps to cover your face, neck and chest. 
  • You can apply a small amount underneath your eyes, but make sure not to get it too close, and avoid your lids and lashes. This area is so delicate that it may take some time to build up a tolerance, although Shani says that some complexions (including mine!) just can't handle Retinol Reform as an under-eye treatment.
  • Start by using it once a week. Each week, you can add another day until you are eventually using the product every night, or every other night. (I find every other night works best for me.)
  • Oily skin will be able to build up to daily use faster.
  • With dry or sensitive skin, it may take longer than eight weeks to build up a tolerance for more frequent applications. Go slowly!
  • If your skincare routine includes any scrubs or acids such as Lotion P50, I would cut back to only using them in the morning. Retinol Reform also contains lactic acid, and you don't want to overdo it.
  • If you find your skin needs more moisture, wait as long as you can—at least 15 minutes, to let the active ingredients absorb—before layering your serum, moisturizer or oil of choice on top. Applying them too soon will risk diluting the effectiveness.
  • Since retinoids can increase sun sensitivity, don't forget to apply a good sunscreen if you are getting any UV exposure.

Related: 9 of the Best Mineral Sunscreens For Your Face

  • Expect brighter-looking skin and an improvement in acne in as little as one week! Wrinkles and fine lines may start to soften in under a month. Spot-lightening benefits usually take longer to become apparent; up to a few months.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before using any retinol product. 

My Retinol Reform Results (So Far)

Shani Darden Retinol Reform texture

The gel-cream texture of Retinol Reform.

I started using Retinol Reform the first week of January.

About a month later, I was told by a group of strangers that they'd been staring at my skin from across the room and that I was "glowing."

Coincidence? I don't think so! I believe this product has helped with tone, breakout-prevention and radiance.

Since it works so gradually, I never got any signs of irritation—no redness, no dryness, no flakiness. The gel-cream texture feels hydrating, so I don't apply any other products on top, nor have I needed to change my current daytime routine of HydrExtreme serum and Indie Lee or Peter Thomas Roth squalane oil

Related: Why Squalane is One of the Best Face Oils

The only negative for me has been that I can't tolerate it around my eyes, as it makes the skin go a bit crepey there. I've experienced this with other retinoids, so it could be the retinol itself, or one of the other potentially sensitizing ingredients.

The bottom line? If you're keen to use a retinol, this is the one I'm recommending right now!

Where To Buy

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Shani Darden's Retinol Reform is one of the best retinols on the market right now.

Have you tried Retinol Reform? 
Or found any other great retinols I should know about?