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Review

Boots No7's first ever retinol is its most waitlisted product yet

May 25th 2020 / Victoria Woodhall / 0 comment

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Scooping over 99k sign-ups in 10 days, No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate is a formula that suits everyone

Boots No7 is famed for its clinically proven age-defying skincare - Protect and Perfect Advanced has rarely been out of our shopping baskets - and when it brings out something new, there's always great excitement. Why? because we know any claims it makes on skin benefits are always thoroughly backed up by clinical trials and have been tested on real women.

Its latest launch is breaking all records. Last week No7 teased its "first-ever clinically proven concentration with ten skin benefits that promise to deliver maximum results with minimal irritation", and despite not yet knowing what the product was, a staggering 99,719 people signed up for the waiting list - the most signups for a single product sign up for a Boots waitlist ever!

The mention of ‘minimal irritation’ may well have tipped skincare aficionados off that No7’s first dedicated retinol was incoming and as of today, 28 May it's available to buy. No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate, £34 (launch price £25) combines the power couple of 0.3% retinol, and the skin-firming peptide Matrixyl 3000+.

Nailing the ‘irritation’ issue when it comes to retinol (vitamin A) is why this has been a labour of love for No7 and the brand has taken its time to enter an already crowded space.

We're often asked, should I use a retinol? And if you're looking to tackle the sign of ageing we say absolutely, give it a try. What does retinol do for the skin? It's considered to be the gold standard of regenerative ingredients for supporting collagen production in the dermis, speeding up skin renewal and thickening the epidermis giving skin back its plumpness. As we age skin becomes thinner, less resilient making it appear dull; retinol reprogrammes it to act younger.

MORE GLOSS: Everything you need to know about retinol and retinoids

But it’s also one of the trickiest formulations to make universal. Everyone’s skin reacts differently to it, with many people experiencing irritation in the form of redness, dryness, sensitivity and peeling. Most of us need to build up gradually for our skin to get used to it. Unsurprisingly many people give up – and miss out.

It's a skin-kind retinol that’s tolerated by most people

The USP of No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate (a bit of a mouthful) is that it claims to have found the ‘sweet spot’ formula that makes retinol suitable and effective for pretty much everyone looking to address the signs of ageing. It could just be the keeper retinol that many of us have not yet found.

To improve tolerance they’ve added a calming chamomile extract called bisabolol. The formula is encapsulated in a 'retinol optimiser' to keep it as stable as possible and allow it to be time-released. Too quick a hit can cause irritation. (Remember retinol is an acid – if you are using an exfoliating toner and a vitamin C serum, you're already getting a dose of acids). In the lab, this 03.% retinol was still visible in the epidermis skin five hours later.

Why is 0.3% retinol the magic number?

According to No7's research with the University of Manchester, it's the highest concentration that can be tolerated by most people provided they use it at night (build up slowly if necessary) and use an SPF of at least 15 during the day. On this regime, more than 90% of consumers could tolerate it and saw the benefits.

How did they work it out? No7 tested three concentrations of retinol 0.3%, 0.5% and 1% (the highest amount allowed in non-prescription skincare). At least half of consumers experienced a mild reaction to the 1% and a quarter of people had to come off it entirely. “We felt that was just too high," explains Boots Skincare Scientific Advisor Dr. Mike Bell. "While we understand that the market is trying to drive for much higher retinol concentrations we felt that 1% gave too many tolerance issues for us to feel like it was a responsible concentration to provide to mass consumers.”

The consumer testers fared better with the 0.5% retinol, but still many suffered at least mild reactions. “At 0.3% we were getting pretty much everyone over the line in the trial, with very little drop out; 96% of consumers could tolerate it.”

But interestingly, he added, the difference in skin benefits between 0.3% and 1% wasn’t all that marked.

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Anti-ageing peptides give an added bounce to the skin

It wouldn’t be a No7 anti-ageing product without the brand’s signature anti-wrinkle peptide blend known as Matrixyl 3000+ found in many of No7 Age-Defying ranges, most recently in the recent best-selling No7 Laboratories Line Correcting Booster Serum, £38 (a previous most-waitlisted product). Matrixyl 3000+ helps renew the fibrillin springs (a bit like mattress springs) which give skin its bounce and which start to break down from your 20s.

What does the Advanced Retinol 1.5% complex mean?

Granted, the percentages are confusing. The 1.5% of the title refers to the cocktail of ingredients – the 0.3% retinol, Matrixyl 3000+ and bisabolol. It does beg the question as to whether calling it a 1.5% Retinol Complex is designed to make retinol sound more impressive: 0.3% doesn’t sound that much when others are offering 0.5% or even 1%. But once you understand the science, you realise that more isn’t necessarily more.

What happened when we tested it

To manage sensitivity, the retinol needs to be used at night within a skincare regime. I applied it as directed to cleansed skin (steering clear of any peels or exfoliating acids) waited one or two minutes for it to sink in (you can use it around the eyes) and then added a night cream on top. Dr. Bell advises using a night cream one with moisturising ingredients in such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, and with no extra retinol. It's a light cream that's not at all oily and is fragrance-free (big plus as fragrance can be an irritant) but you definitely need the night cream on top.

I already use 1% retinol but found that using the No7 nighly gave me a little dryness so I stepped back to twice a week (the recommended beginner dose) for the first week and went up to four times in week two, which was enough for me. The dryness I take as a sign that my skin is renewing and the product is doing its job.

What are skin reactions to expect from retinol?

Some dryness, peeling, flaking (known as skin frosting) are normal, says Dr. Mike Bell. Ditto mild tingling.

Some people experience sensitivity hot spots when using retinol, in the form of spots or redness especially around their nasolabial lines as this is where creams tend to pool. Make sure you apply it evenly. All-over redness means you’re overdoing it and our skin is inflamed. Take a break and try again in a few days, he advises.

The verdict

While No7 has already deployed a less irritating (but weaker) retinoid called retinyl palmitate in its Protect and Perfect Advanced Serum, £26 now it's bringing out the big guns. If you have never tried retinol, this might be your entry point. If you already use one, seven out of ten consumers in trials say they'd switch to this.

It's too early for me to see the 10 skin benefits it claims, from improved crows' feet, wrinkles, pigmentation and firmness, but on the basis of my two-week trial, and the science behind the well-tolerated retinol and a powerhouse anti-aging peptide, this is a reasonably-priced age-defying cocktail that I'd wholeheartedly recommend – and have already switched to!

No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate, £34, £25 launch price

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