2% Retinol Complex Serum
Dr. Brandt's 2% Retinol Complex Serum has a misleading name. If you're thinking this serum contains 2% retinol, we'd understand why; however, instead this serum contains "retinol complex", meaning an unknown amount of retinol is combined with other ingredients (which ones aren't specified) rather than offering 2% retinol on its own. Tricky!
So, how much retinol does this contain? We're not certain, but based on its position on this serum's ingredient list, we strongly suspect the amount is below 1% (that's not bad as less than 1% concentrations can be helpful; it's just that the marketing spin is annoying). Just to be clear, the reason we believe this contains far less than 2% is because the preservative phenoxyethanol—which comes before retinol in the order of concentration—isn't approved for use above 1% (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, December 2016).
Although this has a lightweight, silky texture and is attractively packaged to keep the retinol stable during use, it's not a serum we can recommend, but not because of the retinol concentration issue (as we said lower amounts of retinol can work beautifully). Rather, this serum contains fragrant oils of lavender and grapefruit, both of which can irritate skin.
Alongside the lavender and grapefruit oils is limonene, another fragrance ingredient that's a known skin sensitizer (Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Volume 16, 2013). There are plenty of retinol products that are not only more straightforward about what they contain but also formulate without fragrant irritants and with a better mix of antioxidants than this one contains. You'll find them on our list of Best Retinol Products.
- Lightweight, silky texture.
- Packaged to keep its light- and air-sensitive ingredients stable during use.
- Misleading name as the formula probably doesn't contain 2% retinol.
- Lavender and grapefruit oils pose a strong risk of irritating skin.
- Contains fragrance ingredient limonene, a known sensitizer.
Why Fragrance Is a Problem for Skin: Daily use of products that contain a high amount of fragrance, whether the fragrant ingredients are synthetic or natural, causes a chronic sensitizing reaction on skin.
This reaction in turn leads to all kinds of problems, including disrupting skin's barrier, worsening dryness, increasing or triggering redness, depleting vital substances in skin's surface, and generally preventing skin from looking healthy, smooth, and hydrated. Fragrance free is always the best way to go for all skin types.
A surprising fact: Even though you can't always see or feel the negative effects of fragrant ingredients on skin, the damage will still be taking place, even if it's not evident on the surface. Research has demonstrated that you don't need to see or feel the effects of irritation for your skin to be suffering. Much like the effects from cumulative sun damage, the negative impact and the visible damage from fragrance may not become apparent for a long time.
References for this information:
Biochimica and Biophysica Acta, May 2012, pages 1410–1419
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Experimental Dermatology, October 2009, pages 821–832
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2008, pages 191–202
International Journal of Toxicology, Volume 27, 2008, Supplement, pages 1–43
Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 2008, pages 446–475
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003, pages 789–798
Dr. Brandt At-A-Glance
Strengths: Provides complete ingredient lists on the company website; a good daytime moisturizer with sunscreen.
Weaknesses: Expensive; overwhelming number of products that contain irritating ingredients with no established benefit for skin; no products to comprehensively address acne or oily skin; every Pores No Moreproduct is a disappointment; jar packaging; several products make claims on par with what cosmetic procedures (not skin care) can do.
The late Dr. Fredric Brandt (he passed away in April, 2015 at the age of 65) was a Miami- and New York Citybased dermatologist whose claim to fame rested on two main points. The first (and it is a very important credibility factor for consumers) included the many celebrity clients worked with, while the second was his assertion that he performed more Botox and collagen injections than any other dermatologist in the world. According to Allergan, the company that makes Botox, they no longer rank the physicians who purchase Botox from them; however, they did confirm that Dr. Brandt was definitely one of their biggest buyers. Yet regardless of how much Botox or collagen Dr. Brandt or any other physician uses, what in the world does that have to do with cosmetic formulations? If anything, you have to wonder why Brandt was using so much Botox and collagen if his products truly fight wrinkles, sagging, and on and on.
Beyond Brandt's cosmetic enhancement procedures, he is the author of Age-less: The Definitive Guide to Botox, Collagen, Lasers, Peels, and Other Solutions for Flawless Skin. His book and skin-care line are competing against the vastly more popular books and product line from fellow dermatologist Dr. N.V. Perricone. Although Perricone's skin-care line has some drawbacks, including irritating ingredients and the lack of supporting research for his neuropeptide products, the majority of his products, though overpriced, have more pros than cons. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Dr. Brandt, whose namesake skin-care line is on the disappointing side, especially given the product's price points.
Brandt's products are sold with the tag line that they are "prescription strength, prescription-free," and "are formulated under dermatologic control for maximum safety and efficiency and offer the highest performance without a prescription." Aside from how unbelievable that assertion is, what is not mentioned is the fact that none of the ingredients in Brandt's products are comparable to prescription formulations. And what is "dermatologic control" anyway, given that there are no such standards anywhere in the world? Moreover, what do dermatologists know about the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, much less cosmetics? The two arenas of expertise are completely unrelated.
Dr. Brandt positioned his products as clinically superior to what you would find in other cosmetics lines, an unproven assertion to say the least. Many of his products tout benefits that don't just stretch the truth, but snap it in twoand these fallacies were more disconcerting coming from an esteemed dermatologist. When products contain the problematic ingredients that are so pervasive in Brandt's line, such as irritating plant extracts, drying detergent cleansing agents, and far too many products with skin cell-damaging lavender oil, it becomes nothing more than a line that should be approached with extreme caution.
The line does have a few bright spots: many of Brandt's products do contain significant amounts of antioxidants, though that certainly doesn't make his line unique because many other product lines do that, too. (Here it's fair to say that while no specific amounts have been established for any antioxidant that will ensure their effectiveness, the general consensus among researchers is that more antioxidants are better than less, and less is still better than none at all.) Unless you were a devoted patient of Dr. Brandt and would be racked with guilt for not purchasing his products while visiting for an appointment, there is no reason to seek out this disappointing line.
For more information about Dr. Brandt's products, call (800) 234-1066 or visit www.drbrandtskincare.com.
About the Experts
The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.