By now, you're likely familiar with the skin-transforming powers of retinol. The star skincare ingredient is a dermatologist-favorite, beloved for its ability to resurface the skin's texture for a smooth, even complexion. And while retinol-infused products are a dime a dozen on the market, not every retinol formula is appropriate for all skin tones and types—especially for people of color.
"Melanin-rich skin has a higher risk of experiencing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (darkened areas on the skin after injury or irritation) when irritating products such as retinoids are used improperly," Ginille Brown, a registered cosmetic nurse practitioner, tells us.
Common Heir kept this top of mind when formulating their new Retinol Serum ($88), which officially launches today (Feb. 15). The gentle-yet-potent formula is designed specifically for melanin-rich and sensitive skin, and it took the brand over a year to develop. "We started conceptualizing this formula in early spring 2021 and really dug into development right away,” says co-founder Angela Ubias.
If you’re not familiar with Common Heir, allow us to fill you in. The brand set a new standard for sustainability when it launched the world's first vitamin C serum with completely plastic-free packaging in 2020. Common Heir's innovative hero product—the 10% Vitamin C Serum ($88)—was an immediate disrupter, and even won a Byrdie Eco Beauty Award in 2021. Now, the brand is back with their second-ever product, and it's just as innovative, luxurious, and inclusive as we expected.
Ahead, learn more about the inspiration behind the game-changing retinol serum, the formula, and how to use it.
When it comes to the inspiration behind the retinol serum, Ubias says that the driving factor was the high volume of requests that the brand received from their Common Heir community. Customers were looking for the same innovation and results from the initial vitamin C product, but in retinol form. “That has always been our goal and we knew retinol was the perfect compliment,” Ubias shares.
When debuting a second product on the heels of a highly successful initial launch, the brand needed to ensure that the signature Common Heir trademarks their customers had come to expect were all present. According to co-founder Cary Lin, however, the team felt up to the challenge. "We were confident that we would nail the right balance of efficacy, texture, and aesthetic in the retinol formula itself, which had taken so many iterations the first time around," she tells us.
And of course, the new product had to follow the brand's ethos with plastic-free packaging. Like the vitamin C serum, the retinol comes in the form of 60 vegan capsules that are completely biodegradable.
The Common Heir team spent countless hours creating a skin-friendly formula that promises to deliver a post-facial glow without the irritation. “We faced unforeseen challenges, especially because we continued our habit of asking [the lab] for things that no one had done before,” Lin tells us.
Designed for your nightly skincare regimen, the formula includes ingredients like astralagus, a root used in Chinese medicine to boost collagen production, plant-derived squalane, and algae oil to reduce wrinkles, moisturize skin, and support a healthy skin barrier.
Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene. It is a lipid that is naturally found in the skin and secreted by the sebaceous glands. It calms inflammation, supports the outer skin barrier, and works well with actives like retinol.
Of course, the star ingredient of the formula is retinol, and the brand went to great lengths to find the perfect amount that was safe for all skin types. “Creating a retinol serum with melanin in mind meant that we had to strike a balance between a gentle retinoid derivative, so we went with a squalane-suspended derivative retinyl lineolate at the right percentage,” Ubias details.
The duo was also very proactive in ensuring that the retinol was right for melanin-rich skin tones with inclusive clinical trials. “Clinical trials are usually done on fair to medium skin tones and are rarely conducted on participants with Fitzpatrick scale skin tones 4-6 (the deeper skin tones),” Ubias explains. “We partnered with an independent lab that was willing to dedicate time and effort to help us ensure that we enrolled a cohort that was representative of our actual community and included representation across those beautiful, more melanin-rich skin tones.”
Lin shares that participants of the clinical trials saw noteworthy results. “We conducted our clinicals for a full twelve weeks and also did a midpoint check-in at the six-week mark," she explains, noting that participants saw major changes in terms of skin texture improvements. "A whopping 96% of our participants said they would continue to use it—I’ve never heard anyone say that about a retinol product before!”
How To Use
According to Ubias and Lin, the product should be applied at night on clean, dry skin before moisturizing. “Less is more when using retinol—don’t layer with other actives or acids," says Ubias, adding that sunscreen is "your bestie" when using the product, and that you should also use a rich moisturizer as part of your new nightly routine.
The team recommends a two-week ramp-up period to begin, and says to start by using the retinol one to two times per week before gradually increasing to three or four times after the initial period. “Retinol takes time to work its magic,” Lin stresses. “Consistency is really important with retinol use to get the best benefits. This is why we designed our formula to have a silky, luxe, and addictive texture that’ll feel like a pampering moment—something to look forward to in your nighttime ritual.”
The new 0.2% Retinol Serum is available for purchase starting today at CommonHeir.com.