When it comes to skincare, I am a creature of habit, tending to stay firmly in my comfort zone. This means that I've experimented with hardly any ingredients du jour, like retinol — the buzziest of beauty buzzwords and star ingredient in Murad's Youth Renewal Serum and my latest and greatest discovery.
Recent events have served as a nudge that maybe it's time I start branching out of my usual routine (hydrating hyaluronic acid and the odd salicylic acid treatment for my acne). I switched to a newer model of smartphone and noticed how prominent my pores and dark skin patches looked under the high-definition front camera. I had just spent the last few months traveling around Asia, where the tropical climate and near-100% humidity meant that my skin had been feeling greasier than usual; I also didn't reapply my sunscreen as often as I probably should have, since the heat made everything streak as soon as I put it on. This was probably why my skin tone looked more uneven than I remember.
Reading about retinol is interesting. On one hand, experts cite its ability to reduce acne, dark spots, and the appearance of large pores. But word on the street is divided. Some people swear by the ingredient, while others have suffered from irritation, peeling, and even breakouts due to intolerance.
Given this mixed feedback, Murad's bestselling retinol serum felt like the safest bet for a newbie like myself. Murad touts itself as "the No. 1 retinol brand in the US" and emphasizes that its retinol products are gentle enough for nightly use. According to the brand, 98% of users saw smoother skin after a two-week trial, while 85% felt their skin was visibly more radiant.
I tested the serum for three weeks to see for myself if all that is true and whether it was worth the $92 price tag. Spoiler alert: trusting the process is definitely key.
Murad is a skincare brand founded by a dermatologist and pharmacist, so the packaging has a somewhat scientific appearance. My serum resembled a test tube, but despite the clinical feel, I was surprised not to find the exact concentration of retinol labeled anywhere on the packaging (unlike competing products from Glossier or Drunk Elephant, for example). Even though the pump is relatively small, two squeezes gave me enough product to cover my whole face and the front part of my neck.
I was hesitant to put a lot of it on my skin on the first night, after reading about some people's bad reactions to the ingredient. Since my skin had never interacted with retinol, my fear was that it would feel too aggressive (like an acid peel) and that my face would itch uncontrollably.
I was a little spooked: my skin clearly knew I was doing something different and I couldn't tell if it liked it or not.
Fortunately, the light-orange serum felt relatively mild and had a faint citrus scent to it. I did get a slight tingly sensation, but it was quickly abated by applying a layer of Youth Renewal Night Cream, which is the brand's recommended next step in the routine. Using the cream gave me a sense that I was sealing in the moisture while letting the retinol work its magic. Murad also offers a retinol eye serum, which promises to brighten the lids and under-eye area with nightly use.
About five days after using the serum every night, three small breakouts appeared on my forehead and right temple. I was a little spooked: my skin clearly knew I was doing something different and I couldn't tell if it liked it or not. At the same time, my pores were starting to look less prominent after I woke up, which is the time of day when I typically notice them the most.
The brand notes that the serum is safe for nightly use but advises reducing the frequency if a sensitive reaction occurs. I decided to keep using the serum for another two weeks in order to properly assess the outcome but gave my skin some time out by switching to my regular night cream for one night. It worked, and my spots cleared after two days.
In hindsight, I'm super glad I trusted the process, as my skin grew completely accustomed to the retinol by week two. Dryness is a commonly reported pain point for some retinol users, but my skin felt supple and hydrated since the serum also contains hyaluronic acid, a hydrating agent that my skin is already very familiar with.
The serum made a difference with my hyperpigmentation, too. After using it for three weeks, my skin looked noticeably glowy and more even-toned, like I'd had a solid eight hours of sleep. (In reality, I had not been getting enough shuteye at all during this testing period.)
To put it in more vivid terms, my skin now basically looks like I'm wearing Instagram Stories' slightly blurry Paris filter IRL — I can see it both in my mirror reflection and in my more-advanced smartphone front camera. It's a change that other people have picked up on, too. When I posted a makeup-free, #nofilter selfie from the airport to my Stories, one friend DMed to let me know that my skin is looking amazing.
If you're looking for a skincare product that can help with hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone fast, this serum is a great option for you. At $92, it is definitely an investment, but the difference is prominent — and happens quickly enough — that the cost is justified.
For retinol beginners, the serum felt approachable and non-intrusive enough to adapt to an existing skincare routine. The rich retinol night cream is also a solid purchase for dry and colder months. I would highly recommend using them together if you want even better results.
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