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Reviewed: SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense, the Serum that Treats Acne and the First Signs of Aging

It's what I've been using lately instead of Retin-A.

It's no secret how I feel about Retin-A. If you've read my posts on why to use it, and how to use it, you know I think it's probably the best anti-ager around. At least, smarter and (for us Canadians) cheaper than blowing $100 or more on a rich, fancy-sounding wrinkle cream that won't be as powerful and may even clog your pores.

But Retin-A isn't perfect. For one, it makes you skin crazy sun-sensitive. (And that effect is cumulative—it doesn't matter what time of the day or night you apply it.) In the past, I've stupidly found myself on a beach without a replenishment of sunscreen, and my face turned red and stung like a bitch. Real smart, Michelle—like getting a sunburn is gonna help your quest to eradicate dark spots.

So this summer, I decided to back off from my Retin-A usage completely, since I was spending a lot of time here:

(Wah! I want to go back.) Anyway, it just wasn't worth it to sensitize my face that much to the sun, given that I was spending upwards of five, six hours a day outside and I would've always been worrying about whether I was burning.

Another development in my obsessive beauty researching are some new factoids I've been picking up about how Retin-A might not be as safe as we think it is. (Eeks! Bone disease?) That deserves a whole post in itself, so stay tuned. I think short-term use is fine, but long-term? I'm not sure.

So now, I would like to introduce you to my pinch-hitter:

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense, at, Amazon.comBliss, DermStore and Skin Care Rx

This is the latest brown-bottled serum to make its way into my medicine cabinet. (I'm kind of like a mad scientist with these things—usually I'll apply some layering combination of this, the Phloretin CF as my antioxidant and my trusty Consonant HydrExtreme for hydration.)

What it is is a blend of dioic acid, salicylic acid, LHA, glycolic acid and citric acid. Let's briefly review what each one does:

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

  • You already know about salicylic acid, which is an amazing BHA (beta-hydroxy acid) that refines pores and helps reduce acne.
  • And glycolic acid you're also familiar with; it's an AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) that removes dead skin-cell build-up and helps increase hydration.
  • Citric acid is another type of AHA, which encourages exfoliation and helps reduce the signs of aging.
  • Dioic acid (this contains a full 2%) is a naturally derived vegetable acid that helps reduce sebum production and acne bacteria, and helps prevents those post-inflammatory acne marks caused by inflammation and/or sun exposure.
  • Finally, LHA stands for lipo-hydroxy acid, and it exfoliates, decongests clogged pores, smooths the skin’s surface and reduces inflammation.

I know what you're thinking—that is a lot of acid! But I promise you, it's not harsh. I have more sensitive skin than most, and when I first started on this, just once a day in the evenings, it did make my skin a little flaky around the nose. Nothing major. My skin got used to the product within a week or so, and I've been using it twice a day now without any dryness issues at all.

I just took this pic of my bottle so you can see what it looks like inside. It's a dropper, and the formula is a completely clear, watery liquid. (Love that it's not a heavy, oily cream!) You only need four to five drops on clean, dry, bare skin—a little goes a long way. You can use it once or twice per day.

And there are some pretty good reasons why you would want to. One double-blind, eight-week clinical trial of males and females age 35+ found that it's as effective as 0.025% tretinoin (Retin-A) for aging and acne, and actually BETTER at improving skin tone, blotchiness and reducing the overall number of acne lesions.

Another study of males and females 18 to 40 years old found no statistically significant difference between it and prescription 1% clindamycin or 5% benzoyl peroxide.

Kind of impressive, right? (And I promise, this is #notanad.)

Now, I'm not struggling with acne aside from the odd premenstrual undergrounder that never even comes to a head before it calms down a couple days later—so I can't comment too much about all the acne benefits. Or maybe I can? I feel like my skin is better/clearer these days compared to a few months back on Retin-A, actually, so probably there's a correlation. Maybe it's because Retin-A STILL really dries me out, even after months of using it, whereas on this I feel like my skin barrier is more intact and I don't constantly have a layer of dead skin cells to slough off.

As for the anti-aging side, I don't know about lines but I'm pleased with my skin's tone and lack of dullness lately. Plus, I've been hearing from Dr. Neal Schultz (the DermTV guy) and Dr. Adrienne Denese, both New York dermatologists, about the benefits of glycolic acid as an anti-aging ingredient. We tend to think all it does is exfoliate, but that's not true. In fact, this is a direct quote from Schultz: "There isn't anything Retin-A does that glycolic doesn't."

I know this serum contains more than just glycolic—but based on my experience so far, I think he's on to something!

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