I have a lot of weaknesses—LeVain cookies, frozen margaritas, bingeing Netflix shows until they ask me “Are you still watching, Faith?”—but nothing gets me more excited than a brand-new skincare product. If you were to take a look in my medicine cabinet today and then another look next week, you’d probably find a completely different lineup. I can’t help myself—I’m constantly drawn to the new and buzzy, especially when it comes to products that are innovative and contain ingredients that are proven to work (I’m a skeptic when it comes to most marketing claims...it’s the jaded beauty editor in me). So when I had the opportunity to test StriVectin’s brand-new Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum—a serum that contains two of my favorite skincare ingredients because they’re actually backed by science—I jumped at the opportunity. I vowed to put all my other serums (and trust me, there are a ton) to the wayside and test StriVectin’s new serum for four weeks to see how it would affect my skin. Keep scrolling to find out my thoughts (spoiler alert: it works).
About My Skin
My skin and I have a complicated relationship. I’ve dealt with acne in the past as a teenager, then super-oily skin in my early 20s, then a constant smattering of dark spots and uneven skin texture. My skin has run the gamut of issues, clearly, but lately, my biggest annoyances are dullness, texture issues, and random bouts of breakouts (adult acne—it’s real, y’all). Since I get to test products for a living, I’ve found a few ingredients that I trust will always work for me. Vitamin C—oh, thou brightening powerhouse—is one of them, though it’s always a 50/50 bet: half of the time, a vitamin C serum will noticeably brighten my skin, while the other half of the time, it’ll break me out. I’ve also learned that super-high concentrations of vitamin C don’t always equate more brightening abilities (another marketing myth), so am very dubious of products that claim 20% vitamin C as a cure-all solution for all your skin issues. The second ingredient I trust is retinol. Retinol is sort of like the Beyonce of skincare—it’s universally loved and helps you through all your issues. When I use a retinol consistently, I see noticeable results—my skin feels softer and smoother, and overall looks brighter after just a week or so. I have a few retinol products I swear by, but usually have to wait a few days between each use—if I use them every day, I start noticing peeling and dryness. StriVectin’s Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Serum promises to harness the power of vitamin C and retinol to retexturize and brighten, and won’t irritate the skin, as demonstrated by clinical studies. These are grand claims, and I was eager to see if the product would deliver.
There are a lot of vitamin C serums on the market. There are a lot of retinol serums on the market. There are not, however, a lot of vitamin C and retinol serums on the market. Add in StriVectin’s patented NIA-114 molecule—an ingredient discovered during skin cancer research and in all of the brand’s products—and you’ve got a supercharged serum that might just replace the others in your medicine cabinet.
Here’s the thing: though vitamin C and retinol are powerhouses in their own rights, some derms actually say that anyone with sensitive skin should avoid using retinol serums and vitamin C serums simultaneously, because they can both irritate your skin and/or leave it dry and flaky. “Vitamin c is ascorbic acid, and the acid reduces the natural pH of the skin, causing irritation,” says dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach when I ask her about using vitamin C and retinol together. “The acid also takes off the outer layers of dead skin, making skin more sensitive.” She notes that retinol also takes off the outer layers of skin, making your skin more sensitive. So, normally, the two of them combined will lead to more sensitivity than Seth Cohen’s emotions in The O.C. But, she notes, there are ways to make each component less irritating. “The concentration of ascorbic acid and retinol and the vehicle that it’s mixed in makes it more or less potent,” she explains. “If the product is buffered to a more gentle pH, it is possible to not irritate. Also if it is mixed with ingredients that protect and hydrate the skin.”
StriVectin has always been a leader when it comes to science-backed skincare, and was able to create a product that combines both of these ingredients so they can work synergistically to brighten and tone, along with other skin-plumping and soothing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and camellia leaf extract. The way they do this is by selecting two forms of vitamin C—sodium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl glucoside—that are water soluble and therefore extremely stable (in other words, they won’t oxidize and turn a darker color like so many other vitamin C serums). They’re known to be less irritating to the skin. Combine this with the NIA-114 molecule—an optimized form of niacin (or vitamin B3) and clinically proven to strengthen the skin barrier and supercharge the performance of other ingredients—and you’ve got a serum that has all the brightening properties with none of the irritation.
The other annoying thing about most vitamin C serums I’ve tried is that they either feel super-sticky, or they almost have a water-like consistency that ends up pilling when I try to apply moisturizer or foundation on afterwards. StriVectin’s Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Serum has a light, viscous texture that sinks into your skin instantly and only takes a few seconds to be fully absorbed. I used it morning and night, and loved that I could layer on whatever I wanted afterwards without fear of pilling or stickiness. I found the scent to be pleasant—sort of like an aquatic, summery fragrance—but if you’re sensitive to smells, that’s definitely something to note.
As someone with a short attention span and whose job requires them to test new things often, it’s very rare that I use just one serum for four weeks straight. But I was determined to see if StriVectin’s Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Serum lived up to its claims. Would it brighten my skin tone noticeably? Would it smooth my skin texture? And would it do all of the above without irritating? Check, check, and check. I’m honestly so impressed with the results I got from using this serum. I started getting skin compliments left and right, and more noticeably, the random breakouts that would rear their ugly heads every few weeks started becoming way less frequent, until I stopped noticing them altogether. I wasn’t expecting for this serum to make my skin look like a smooth, glowing orb, but sure enough, my complexion looked (and felt) as smooth as a lightbulb (which is always my ultimate #skingoals). My skin texture was undeniably better, especially around my forehead area. My pores looked smaller (the ones around my nose always annoy me with their size) and overall, my skin just looked, well, more glowy (even though I usually roll my eyes at that word). Plus, I used this serum every morning and night for four weeks straight and didn’t experience any dryness, irritation, or flaking (note: it is recommended that you follow the serum with SPF every morning since retinol can cause sun sensitivity, which I already do—but definitely worth remembering if you’re not quite on the SPF bandwagon yet, which you should be!). Color me very, very impressed.
At $72 dollars, it’s not exactly an impulse buy, but if you’re looking for a serum that’s science-backed and will deliver the benefits of vitamin C and retinol without irritating, this is your best bet by far. Plus, because it’s got both ingredients, it’s basically two serums in one. I’m adding it to my full-time rotation, which is the highest compliment a product can get from a beauty editor (trust me, you don’t want to see my discard pile). I would recommend this supercharged serum to anyone looking for the antioxidant ability of vitamin C, anti-aging benefits of retinol, and the skin barrier-strengthening benefits of StriVectin’s patented NIA-114 molecule—irritation and redness not included.