I Tried Drunk Elephant's New Retinol Oil for Beginners – and It's a Godsend for Sensitive Skin

 I Tried Drunk Elephant's New Retinol Oil for Beginners — and It's a Godsend for Sensitive Skin

Retinol has a bad rap for irritation, but this Drunk Elephant retinol for sensitive skin is a game-changer.
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For as long as I've been writing about beauty and wellness (read: 5 plus years ) I've heard everyone from dermatologists and facialists to celebrities sing the praises of retinol. When I finally tried incorporating a retinol product into my skin-care routine a few years ago, I stopped as soon as I started after experiencing redness, irritation, and peeling. For the record, these are all side effects that can result from using retinol for the first time, since retinol products (especially those on the stronger side) can cause irritation if you don't start with a low enough potency or use too much, too soon. To be clear, I also have sensitive skin, which doesn't make the process of building up a tolerance to retinol any easier.

That all changed when I tried Drunk Elephant A-Gloei Maretinol Oil (Buy it, $72, sephora.com) a gentle, low-dose retinol oil formulated for sensitive skin and retinol newbies like me. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Retinol And It's Skin-Care Benefits)

"Retinol is highly effective at increasing cell turnover and is incredibly good at targeting the signs of aging while also reducing inflammation and acne," says Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant. Derms and skin-scare experts love retinol because the ingredient is highly effective and can benefit almost everyone. "Retinols are a derivative of vitamin A that help [to] boost collagen production and aid in appropriate cell turnover," dermatologist Shereene Idriss, M.D previously told Shape. "This results in more even, smoother skin, and helps reduce the appearance of sunspots, fine lines, and wrinkles."

"The flip side is that it can be an intimidating ingredient for people who have never used it before," says Masterson. "It's easy to overdo it, so retinol gets a bad rap for being sensitizing, and if you go in with too much in the beginning it can cause peeling and redness."

Enter A-Gloei Maretinol Oil: Masterson says she wanted to create a "gateway retinol" by combining a lower dose of retinol and soothing marula oil together. "I essentially wanted to sneak retinol in the line at a lower level to make it ideal for anyone who is just getting used to retinol and wants to start building up their tolerance," she explains. Drunk Elephant's A-Gloei Maretinol Oil contains marula oil to essentially "buffer" the delivery of retinol and help reduce redness and irritation, in addition to ceramides, which help strengthen the skin barrier, reduce irritation, and help hydrate the skin making it a great retinol for sensitive skin.

"Marula oil is rich in antioxidants and omegas and helps replenish essential moisture and reduce the appearance of redness," says Masterson. "In addition to marula oil, A-Gloei also contains plant-derived ceramides that are identical to the wax-like moisturizing ceramides that occur naturally in the skin. Ceramides help fill in the spaces between skin cells, giving them elasticity, and play a critical role in strengthening the skin barrier by helping to maintain the moisture balance of the skin while protecting against water loss."

I'll be honest: The first retinol I tried was actually another of the brand's products — Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream (Buy It, $72, sephora.com). Even though I knew my skin would take time to adjust to the product, the peeling and flaky skin that resulted from just one use were enough to make me shy away from retinol forever…until I heard about this new beginner-friendly launch. FYI: A-Passioni contains 1% retinol, while A-Gloei has a lower 0.5% potency.

FTR, while Drunk Elephant's retinol for sensitive skin was designed as a stepping stone to work your way up to stronger retinol, you don't necessarily have to level up. In fact, "more is not always better," explains dermatologist Caren Campbell, M.D. "For some folks with more sensitive skin staying on [a low dose like] 0.025% is best forever." 

I decided to start by applying my A-Gloei Maretinol Oil at night, and I mixed it with my Drunk Elephant LaLa Retro Whipped Moisturizer with Ceramides (Buy it, $60, sephora.com) — my go-to winter night cream. I started with two drops of the retinol oil and used it every other night for the first week. (Masterson says a good rule of thumb for new retinol users is starting with once or twice a week, then every other night, and eventually, every night when your skin can handle it.) To my surprise, I woke up each day with glowy, moisturized skin. I braced myself for peeling or irritation…but it never happened. The next week I decided to use it on consecutive nights, and there was still no peeling, flaky skin, or angry redness. Needless to say, I felt #blessed that I finally found a retinol I can keep in my skin-care rotation. 

Drunk Elephant A-Gloei Maretinol Oil
Credit: Drunk Elephant

When it comes to using a retinol oil (versus a cream or serum), there are several benefits including potentially less irritation and more hydration. "Oils are a great vehicle to deliver retinol because they may help minimize associated skin irritation," dermatologist Josh Zeichner, M.D. previously told Shape. However, face oils or oil-based products may not work for all skin types, especially acne-prone skin, says Dr. Campbell. "I find oil-based formulations to be comedogenic (aka pore-clogging) and result in acne including blackheads in many patients," she says.

I've been testing the Drunk Elephant A-Gloei Maretinol Oil for the past several weeks since I was determined to make this — the final year of my 20s — the year I finally commit to a retinol product. And, after a few weeks of using this retinol for sensitive skin, I can truly say Drunk Elephant delivered.