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Ren

Clearcalm Non-Drying Acne Treatment Gel

0.50 fl. oz. for $ 20.00
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REN’s Clearcalm Non-Drying Acne Treatment Gel is touted as a “skin-loving acne solution” but it’s absolutely the opposite!

Housed in an opaque squeeze tube, this lightweight, amber-colored gel certainly feels soothing; it’s cooling and absorbs quickly to a non-sticky finish.

That’s… about where the positives end, though. REN promotes this product’s 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid as a treatment for acne, blackheads, and visible pores, and while this concentration can help some, it’s not as effective as greater concentrations (1% or 2% are preferred for more powerful acne fighting). A 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid can have a soothing effect on skin, but this product’s pH of 5.03 is above the range of 3-4 for optimal exfoliation.

Making matters worse is the sheer number of problematic ingredients in this formula. This is billed as “non-drying,” but denatured alcohol (which is most certainly drying) is the second ingredient here, meaning it will dry out skin (see More Info for details on why alcohol in skin care is such an issue). Adding insult to injury is the inclusion of fragrant and irritating sandalwood and thyme oils, plus the fragrance ingredient farnesol.

When all is said and done, this is a product that is more likely to cause problems for acne-prone skin, not one that can treat and alleviate breakouts as claimed (see More Details for how damaging irritation can be to skin as well). Give this one a hard pass, and select one of the far superior products on our list of best acne treatments instead.

Pros:
  • Lightweight texture absorbs quickly.
Cons:
  • Salicylic acid concentration of 0.5% is below what’s generally considered ideal to treat acne.
  • pH is above what is considered optimal for salicylic acid to exfoliate.
  • Contains a high amount of drying denatured alcohol.
  • Includes fragrant and irritating fragrant oils and fragrance ingredient farnesol.

More Info:

Alcohol-Based Skincare Products: Research makes it clear that alcohol, as a main ingredient in any skincare product, especially one you use frequently and repeatedly, is a problem.

When we express concern about the presence of alcohol in skincare or makeup products, we’re referring to denatured ethanol, which most often is listed as SD alcohol, alcohol denat., denatured alcohol, or (less often) isopropyl alcohol.

When you see these types of alcohol listed among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, without question the product will irritate and cause other problems for skin. There’s no way around it—these volatile alcohols are simply bad for all skin types.

The reason they’re included in products is because they provide a quick-drying finish, immediately degrease skin, and feel weightless, so it’s easy to see their appeal, especially for those with oily skin. If only those short-term benefits didn’t lead to negative long-term outcomes!

Using products that contain these alcohols will cause dryness, erosion of skin’s protective barrier, and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself. Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.

The irony of using alcohol-based products to control oily skin is that the damage from the alcohol can actually lead to an increase in breakouts and enlarged pores. As we said, the alcohol does have an immediate de-greasing effect on skin, but it causes irritation, which eventually will counteract the de-greasing effect and make your oily skin look even more shiny.

There are people who challenge us on the information we’ve presented about alcohol’s effects. They often base their argument on a study in the British Journal of Dermatology (July 2007, pages 74–81) that concluded “alcohol-based hand rubs cause less irritation than hand washing….” But, the only thing this study showed was that alcohol was not as irritating as an even more irritating hand wash, which contained sodium lauryl sulfate. So, the study is actually just telling you that one irritant, sodium lauryl sulfate, is worse than another irritant, alcohol.

Not all alcohols are bad. For example, there are fatty alcohols, which are absolutely non-irritating and can be beneficial for skin. Examples that you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl alcoholstearyl alcohol, and cetearyl alcohol, all of which are good ingredients for skin. It’s important to differentiate between these skin-friendly alcohols and the problematic alcohols.

References for this information:
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, November 2008, pages 1–16
Dermato-Endocrinology, January 2011, pages 41–49
Experimental Dermatology, June 2008, pages 542–551
Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 360–366
Alcohol Journal, April 2002, pages 179–190

Irritating Ingredients: We cannot stress this enough: Sensitizing, harsh, abrasive, and/or fragrant ingredients are bad for all skin types. Daily application of skincare products that contain these irritating ingredients is a major way we unwittingly do our skin a disservice!

Irritating ingredients are a problem because they can lead to visible problems, such as redness, rough skin, dull skin, dryness, increased oil production, and clogged pores, and they contribute to making signs of aging worse.

Switching to non-irritating, gentle skincare products can make all the difference in the world. Non-irritating products are those packed with beneficial ingredients that also replenish and soothe skin, without any volatile ingredients, such as those present in fragrance ingredients, whether natural or synthetic.

A surprising fact: Research has demonstrated that you do not need to see or feel the effects of irritants on your skin for your skin to be suffering, and visible damage may not become apparent for a long time. Don’t get lulled into thinking that if you don’t see or feel signs of irritation, everything is OK.

Generally, it’s best to eliminate, or minimize as much as possible, your exposure to ingredients that are known to irritate skin. There are many completely non-irritating products that contain effective ingredients, so there’s no reason to put your skin at risk with products that include ingredients research has shown can be a problem.

References for this information:
Journal of Dermatological Sciences, January 2015, pages 28–36
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, August 2014, pages 379–385
Clinical Dermatology, May-June 2012, pages 257–262
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, June 2008, pages 124–135
Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 2008, pages 446–475
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003, pages 789–798

Jar Packaging: No
Tested on animals: No

The skin-loving acne solution. This clean, non-comedogenic acne treatment with 0.5% salicylic acid is a fast-acting, non-drying solution to bothersome blemishes, blackheads, dark spots, and visible pores.

Aqua (Water), Alcohol Denat., Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Pinus Pinaster Bark Extract, Salicylic Acid, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Salix Nigra (Willow) Bark Extract, Xylitylglucoside, Anhydroxylitol, Sodium Benzoate, Xylitol, Propanediol, Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Wood Oil, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Glucose, Citric Acid, Glyceryl Caprylate, Polyglyceryl-6 Oleate, Thymus Vulgaris Leaf Oil, Chlorella Vulgaris Extract, Sodium Surfactin, Lactic Acid, Sodium Lactate, Farnesol.

Ren At-A-Glance

Strengths: Good toner; some worthwhile moisturizers and masks (but not the anti-acne formula); a bounty of products for dry to very dry skin; some products contain especially high amounts of known antioxidants.

Weaknesses: Expensive; repetitive formulas that aren't nearly as natural as they're made out to be; several products contain irritants with no established benefit for skin; very irritating products for those with acne;no skin-lightening options; unappealing products for oily skin.

Hailing from the United Kingdom, the Ren line was developed by two businessmen who are, according to company information, "evangelical" about skin care. The story goes that Robert Calcraft and Anthony Buck were former consultants who began researching the skin-care market after Buck's wife began having adverse reactions to every skin-care product she used while pregnant. Apparently neither man believed that there was a line out there that offered consumers high-tech products that were "totally clean" and "completely effective," and so, voil, a new skin-care line was born.

We wish we could write that these men were really onto something for all women, not just Buck's wife, but that's simply not the case. First of all, their assessment of the cosmetics industry is bizarre, because in truth there are indeed many cosmetic lines offering "clean" and "effective" products ("clean," by Ren's definition, are products that don't contain problematic ingredients). Second, which lines did Ren's founders check out to determine that there was a missing link? An even better question is: What criteria were they using, because almost all of their products are either poorly formulated or contain irritating ingredients?

Calcraft and Buck apparently worked with a cosmetic pharmacologist; although that sounds impressive, a cosmetic pharmacologist works with drugs designed to improve mental ability in healthy individuals, not with skin-care formulations. All of this back story is nothing more than proof that the people behind this line really didn't do their homework, and the consumer who buys these products will be the poorer (both skin health- and money-wise) because of it.

It still shocks us when we review a line that's laden with products claiming to improve wrinkles and other signs of aging skin, and yet there's limited options for sun protection. Few researchers question how critical daily sun protection is to preserving the health and appearance of skin. Many of Ren's products contain antioxidants, and several have high amounts of green tea oil. But all the green tea in Japan isn't capable of protecting skin from environmental damage, which of course includes sunlight.

More so than many other lines that eschew certain ingredients for their alleged (and, sometimes, proven) negative effects when present in skin-care products, Ren loves to point out everything they don't use. This is a line for those who love to see the word "No" followed by a long list of chemical-sounding names that can seem scary to the uninformed. A consumer may have no idea what a polyquaternium is, but because of lines like Ren, the message is clear that it's not desirable. Ren doesn't provide any documentation supporting their ban on certain ingredients, which is typical of lines whose marketing angle relies on perpetuating the myth that synthetic ingredients are evil and that natural is the only truly safe way to go.

It would be great if Ren's "do not use" list benefited consumers, but it doesn't. Frustratingly, many of the ingredients Ren opts to use instead of synthetics are proven irritants for skin. Bergamot, peppermint, tangerine, and arnica are indeed natural ingredients, but each has its share of problems for skin. We could go on, but you get ourpoint: Ren is really nothing more than an overly fragranced, fear-mongering, natural "me too" line using the same tired plant-based ingredient angle as countless other brands. The difference is that many of those other brands have a product assortment that, either from a price or formulary perspective, is much better than this one.

For more information about Ren, now owned by Unilever, call (732) 553-1185 or visit www.renskincare.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.

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