I Tried Caroline Hirons’ First Skincare Product & I Believe The Hype

Photo Courtesy of Vanese Maddix.
From Phlur's Missing Person to Olaplex's Clarifying Shampoo, 2022 has brought us some of the very best beauty products out there. One recent launch that had the skincare girlies and beauty enthusiasts shook to their core (myself included) is Skin Rocks by Caroline Hirons.
A skincare expert, author, entrepreneur and founder of the Skin Rocks app (among many other things), Caroline has a wealth of skincare knowledge thanks to over 25 years of industry experience. Skincare obsessives know they can always rely on her ever-honest and insightful product reviews on YouTube and Instagram.
So when Caroline announced that she was to lift the lid on her first skincare brand, launching with Skin Rocks Retinoid 1 and 2 Vitamin A Face Serums (£65 and £75 respectively), people flocked to snap them up. When you have someone like Caroline, who has given her hot take on skincare products throughout the years, there's always a sense of excitement and curiosity. How do her products compare to those we know and love?

What is a retinoid and what are the skincare benefits?

You might assume that a new skincare brand would burst onto the scene with a cleanser or a moisturiser. But Skin Rocks has launched with retinoid serums. So what exactly is a retinoid? Loved by skin experts and dermatologists, a retinoid is derived from vitamin A. "It does a lot of heavy lifting for the skin in terms of stimulating collagen and elastin, evening out skin pigmentation and helping the skin cells to exfoliate efficiently among many other things," explains skincare expert, aesthetician and author Dija Ayodele. Regularly using retinoids can also help minimise fine lines and breakouts.
You may be wondering what makes a retinoid serum different from a retinol serum. Dr Ahmed El Muntasar, GP and aesthetician, explains that retinol comes under the retinoid family. There isn’t too much that sets the two apart but Dr Marine Vincent, founder of The French Pharmacy, explains that the difference is the efficacy. "Retinol is a milder form of retinoid." This is why some experts actually prefer a retinoid.

How do you use a retinoid?

Skin Rocks launched with not one retinoid serum but two. Retinoid 1 is what I’m currently using and it’s for people like me who are either beginners to retinoids in their skincare routine or prone to sensitivity. Retinoid 2 has the same great benefits as Retinoid 1 but is more suited to those who have congested or mature skin and to people used to using retinoids.
I'm a beauty journalist so I’m surprised by how long it's taken me to add a form of retinoid into my skincare routine. Some of the skincare benefits, like smoothing skin texture and lending a glow, are what I look for in most skincare products. I can be quite the sceptic when it comes to separating the product from the ingredients list, though, especially if it's TikTok-viral.

Is Skin Rocks Retinoid 1 any good?

First, a little about my skin type, which is normal to dry with the dryness appearing in full force during autumn and winter. For Retinoid 1, Skin Rocks recommends using a pea-sized amount twice a week initially, building up to three or four times a week if you can tolerate it.
As Dija explains: "It takes around eight to 12 weeks before you start to see the really good results from a retinoid." I've been using the serum, which is lightweight in texture, regularly for two weeks and while it's still early days, I’ve noticed quite a glow to my skin. I've got to put this down to the retinoid serum as it’s the only new product I’ve introduced into my skincare routine over the past few weeks. This dewy result is something I’ve seen others talk about online, too.
Photo Courtesy of Vanese Maddix.
I’ve also noticed quite a significant shift in my skin's dryness. On a recent few nights away from home, I was far too exhausted to do my usual skincare routine so opted to do just one cleanse with my trusty hydrating e.l.f. Holy Hydration! Daily Cleanser, £6, without following up with serum or moisturiser. Usually in this situation my skin would slowly begin to dry out but just the cleanser saw me through the night.
Retinoid isn’t the only showstopper ingredient in this product. It contains super moisturising glycerin, which is commonly found in cleansers, serums, moisturisers and masks thanks to its power to trap moisture in the skin. Squalane is also nestled within the ingredients. It's an emollient, which traps in moisture and works really well with active ingredients like retinoids. That's because it calms inflammation and supports the skin's barrier function. This is essential when using a retinoid in case you overdo it.
While it's so far, so good with my retinoid serum, who might not be the right candidate? Dija explains that this ingredient is generally beneficial for most skin types and those looking to target specific concerns. The exceptions are some people with sensitive skin, rosacea or dry skin conditions as retinoids can cause irritation if used incorrectly or too much. This can then lead to a damaged skin barrier, which presents as skin prone to dryness, irritation, soreness and breakouts.

Are there any downsides to using retinoids?

Dr Vincent explains that retinoid serums aren't suitable for pregnant people, people who are breastfeeding or those trying to conceive. "Even if studies haven't proven there is a risk of topical use, avoiding any retinoid application is best to be on the safe side," says Dr Vincent, "as vitamin A is forbidden during pregnancy because it has a teratogenic effect."
Dr Vincent further explains that someone with very sensitive skin or mild to severe rosacea must avoid the strongest formulations or strengths of retinoids. "Start very slowly to introduce them into your routine," she says. "If you have very dry skin, I'd suggest starting with a mild formulation." While introducing this retinoid into my routine, I've been using gentle products. I also love CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, £10, when I’m not using the e.l.f. version. I rate Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum, £48, and CeraVe Moisturising Lotion, £9.50, too.
Dija also suggests not overdoing it with other active ingredients when using retinoids, like exfoliating acids including AHAs such as glycolic and lactic acid. If you're booked in for any skin peels or other professional facial treatments, Dija recommends asking your practitioner whether it's worth stopping your retinoid a few days in advance so that your skin isn’t extra sensitised during the treatment. It’s also important to remember to use sunscreen during the day, says Dija, as retinoids make skin sensitive to sunlight. I use Fenty Skin Hydra Vizor Mini Invisible Moisturizer SPF 30, £34.
Retinoids 1 and 2 are quite pricy. If you're looking to spend less, you might like Skingredients Skin Protein Retinoid Serum, £49, which is refillable. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, £9, is an R29 favourite, as is The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane, £12.40, if you're after something with a nourishing base like the Skin Rocks retinoid.
My initial scepticism about potent active ingredients almost got the better of me but I’m happy to say I stuck with it and am starting to see the benefits, including improved smoothness and a new, radiant glow. I’ll continue to use my SPF during the day as usual, and I’m hoping I’m well on my way to trying Skin Rocks Retinoid 2 serum.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission.

More from Skin Care

R29 Original Series