Retinol B3 Serum
La Roche-Posay touts its Retinol B3 Serum as being a suitable way for those with sensitive skin to use retinol – but in truth, it’s quite the opposite!
We’ll start with the good first: this serum comes in a dark-coated bottle that protects its delicate ingredients from light and air exposure. It has a lightweight texture suitable for all skin types, and it absorbs quickly with a weightless feel that means it works well with other skin care products (no pilling here!).
The star of the show here is time-released retinol, and while La Roche-Posay doesn’t reveal the percentage, it’s likely an amount that will have an impact on the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage.
There’s also a high amount of niacinamide (the vitamin B3 mentioned in the product’s name), an antioxidant with brightening and barrier repairing benefits. It’s backed up by antioxidants retinyl palmitate and vitamin E as well, helping boost this serum’s anti-aging claims.
Problematically, though, this product has a moderately high amount of drying denatured alcohol (it’s the fourth ingredient in). You can smell it as soon as you open the container. As a strong solvent, alcohol can help some ingredients penetrate skin more quickly (a good thing), but its drying and irritating nature counteract the potential benefits (see More Info for details).
Adding insult to injury is that this also contains fragrance, which increases the potential for irritation. It’s a bad mix all the way around – especially considering this is disingenuously marketed as a gentle option for sensitive skin!
Instead of this, we recommend instead one of the far better formulated options you’ll find on our list of best retinol products.
- Includes a good amount of wrinkle-fighting retinol.
- Contains a high amount of brightening, antioxidant niacinamide.
- Has additional antioxidants to boost anti-aging claims.
- Packaged to protect its light- and air-sensitive ingredients.
- Contains a high amount of drying and irritating denatured alcohol.
- Includes fragrance, which increases the risk of irritation.
- Not suitable for sensitive skin as claimed.
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, the product is highly likely to irritate and cause other problems for skin; it doesn’t take much of this type of alcohol to trigger skin stress. 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, erode 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 alcohol, stearyl 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.
What about very low levels of denatured alcohol? These sometimes show up in products because the alcohol may be part of the preservative system or may have been used to make certain ingredients more soluble in the formula. In these instances the amount of alcohol is typically below 0.1%, so is unlikely to pose a risk to skin.
References for this information:
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2017, pages 188-196
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
This anti-aging face and neck serum with pure retinol leaves skin feeling smoother, hydrated, and renewed. As a result, the look of lines, wrinkles and premature sun damage is reduced. This serum combines concentrated pure retinol and vitamin B3 for optimal effectiveness while also being suitable for sensitive skin.
La Roche-Posay At-A-Glance
L'Oreal-owned La Roche-Posay has a pharmaceutical lineage based in France, and the company speaks of their thermal spring water as the cornerstone of their commitment to dermatological skin care. In fact, the name La Roche-Posay comes from the French town that is the source of this water, which is said to be a rich in selenium. While selenium is an element that has potent antioxidant ability, it's unclear how much the water La Roche-Posay uses contains, since all water has to go through purification processes to be to used in cosmetic products.
That aside, this brand does have a number of standout products, including some good sunscreens and anti-aging treatments. Another positive: All of its skincare is packaged in containers that will keep beneficial products protected from light and air (no jar packaging here!). Unfortunately there are some missteps, namely that some otherwise-excellent products include potentially-irritating amounts of alcohol, fragrance, or other irritants. The line could also benefit from additional products that contain more state-of-the-art ingredients. Still, for a no-frills approach to serious skin care, there are some finds to be had!
For more information about La Roche-Posay, owned by L'Oreal, call (888) 577-5226 or visit www.laroche-posay.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.