Glossier's Universal Pro-Retinol Promises to Be One of the Gentlest Retinols on the Market

As POPSUGAR editors, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. If you buy a product we have recommended, we may receive affiliate commission, which in turn supports our work.

Glossier is growing up and thinking about the future. Up until now, the brand's skin-care offerings found themselves in two categories: your basic, everyday products (e.g. a cleanser that takes off makeup, a daily sunscreen, a priming moisturizer), and the products that help you get that Glossier glow (like its bestselling Solution and Future Dew). But with the launch of its Glossier Universal Pro-Retinol ($35), the brand is finally entering the realm of preventative skin care.

"When it comes to many skin frustrations, retinoids are that thing — a catch-all ingredient touted for improving nearly everything from texture and blemishes to fine lines and uneven tone," Chenaya Devine-Milbourn, Glossier's senior director of product marketing & development, said via press release. "But somehow, this most celebrated skin-care ingredient is also the most complicated, and we were craving a more straightforward experience. One that didn't compromise on powerful, visible results, but held your hand a bit more; for whether you're a first-time user or a retinoid expert looking for the ultimate forever formula." Ultimately, the brand set out to create a retinol-based product that anyone with any skin type could use, be it dry, oily, combination, acne-prone, or sensitive.

Before we get into Glossier's formula, a little skin-care refresher. Retinol belongs in a group called retinoids, which is the "umbrella term for the entire family of vitamin A derivatives," Amelie Seghers, consultant dermatologist at London's Cadogan Clinic, previously told POPSUGAR. Other retinoids include retinaldehyde and retinyl palmitate that are available over the counter, as well as retinoic acid, which you can only buy with a prescription. All of them work by telling your skin cells to behave younger and healthier, in turn fading dark spots, smoothing texture, softening lines, clearing spots, and tightening pores. While doing that, however, the ingredient can also causes redness, irritation, flaking, and/or peeling.

Unlike retinoic acid, which can immediately bind with receptors on our skin cells and tell them to get to work, over-the-counter retinoids must undergo a conversion process in the skin to turn into retinoic acid, so that the skin can make use of it, essentially making the ingredient less potent. It also means they are gentler on the skin. Glossier set out to try and make the gentlest retinol they could make, first by using retinyl sunflowerate, which is a retinol derivative composed of retinol and sunflower seed fatty acids, and two plant-based humectant ingredients — glycerin and mondo grass root extract (an extract from the ophiopogon japonicus root) — that help the skin both pull in moisture from its surroundings as well as hold on to that moisture. Also included in the formula is Stevia extract, which the brand claims helps smooth the skin and soften the appearance of fine lines, thus enhancing the retinol's effects.


Even though the Universal Pro-Retinol is supremely gentle, like any retinoid (or product with an active ingredient, really), you want to ease yourself into it. After doing a patch test, begin by using it one day a week, and if your skin seems OK, you can build up to two days a week, then eventually three, and potentially even more as long as your skin doesn't experience irritation or flaking.

I'm probably the perfect candidate for this product, as I find many retinoids too strong and irritating for my skin. I've tried prescription-strength tretinoin cream and nearly every over-the-counter option that has touted itself as "gentle." I've eventually had to stop using most of them, as my face would get very red, very splotchy, and often quite irritated. There have only been two OTC retinoids I can tolerate — Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform ($88) and a Neutrogena's Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night Moisturizer ($28) — but I'm happy to say that I can add Glossier's option to the list.

I've only had the Pro-Universal Retinol for a little over a week now, but I haven't experienced any redness or irritation when I apply it before my moisturizer. It's a bit too soon to talk about real results, as it takes using retinol regularly for several weeks to seeing any true changes in your skin, but I do like how smooth and glowy my skin feels in the morning after I've used it. In a couple months, I'll make sure to update this review with my progress.

It's important to note that because your skin becomes more sun sensitive when using retinoids, you must apply sunscreen the next morning and reapply it regularly throughout the day. We recommend keeping a sunscreen stick in your bag at all times, like Shiseido's Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+ ($29), as they make touch-ups much easier. Glossier has also taken this into consideration and created The Renew + Protect Duo that contains both the Universal Pro-Retinol and the Invisible Shield. The set retails for $50 (saving $10).