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High-strength retinol serums are intimidating. My skin is both dry and sensitive, so when it comes to hitting it with retinol, I've been cautioned to take it slow and build up my tolerance.
Worried about what would happen if I used too much, too often — breakouts, irritation, redness, potentially — I was never consistent with retinol. Though recently, waking up with faintly-indented vertical lines across my forehead and creasing under and around my eyes, I thought, re-trying a gentle nighttime retinol might help increase cell turnover and collagen production so my skin looks a little glowier. Plus, dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto says, winter is a good time give it a try.
Serendipitously, early in my retinol search, I found out (via a press release) that one of my favourite face oils, Drunk Elephant's Virgin Marula Oil, would soon be available in a new formulation, with a low-grade, 0.5% retinol mixed right in. I didn't need to be sold. I filed a preorder and started testing it the night it arrived.
If you're familiar with Drunk Elephant, you know that the founder, Tiffany Masterson, gets creative with the product names. This new oil might be the most difficult to pronounce: A-Gloei Maretinol (I say it like: a-glow-e ma-retinol). Masterson breaks it down for me. The 'A' stands for vitamin A, to indicate retinol, which Drunk Elephant loyalists would also recognise from the label's existing retinol cream, A-Passioni, which is twice as strong, 1% retinol concentration. The 'Gloei' is a nod to the brand's proprietary Marula oil. "The 'Gloei' actually means 'Glow' in Afrikaans, which speaks to the Marula oil in the formula, which is sourced from Namibia," Masterson explains. "Then, 'Maretinol' is like naming a celebrity couple: Marula plus retinol gives you Maretinol."
The hybrid retinol-oil looks and feels almost identical to the Virgin Marula Oil, which makes sense because it makes up 95% of the formula. The difference is made up in the other 5%: half a percent concentration of bioavailable retinol, and the 4.5% concentration left over is made up of barrier-strengthening ceramides. Blindfolded, I probably couldn't tell Marula from A-Gloei — both feel like oil.
For general use, the guidance is flexible. I've been using it every night — not in the morning, because retinol can make you skin more sensitive to sun damage — like I would self-tan drops, mixing two or three drops in with a Glow Recipe Moisturizer I like, and slathering it all over my face before going to bed. That was Masterson's tip: Make a skincare "smoothie" and mix A-Gloei into whatever nighttime serum or moisturiser you're already using. That way, you can easily control your dosage and your oil will actually last longer.
Because A-Gloei is a low-grade retinol, buffered by a soothing carrier oil and ceramides, I could probably be more liberal with the drops, but I'm being overly cautious. Still, it's been almost a month of consistent nightly use — which, I've never done with retinol before — and I've noticed that my bare skin is smoother, brighter, and not the slightest bit aggravated, the way it sometimes gets after a harsh peel or direct contact with vitamin A; I haven't had a breakout, either. I think I may have found my gateway retinol.