Yet more retinol serums to love starring Optiphi, pHformula and Dermaquest

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’m a massive fan of retinol. Much the same way your body needs several vitamins to function, your skin needs multiple ingredients to live it’s best life BUT, if I haaaad to pick just one to really invest in, it would always be retinol.

A potent form of vitamin A and a great antioxidant, retinol is one of the most proven actives on the planet. If applied regularly, it can help increase cellular turnover, plump up your skin from the inside out by encouraging it to make more collagen, minimise the look of fine lines, improve acne and reduce the look of pigmentation. In all, it’s a bit of an anti-ageing wunderkind so I’m always happy to welcome a new retinol serum to the world and one of the latest is Optiphi Intense Retinol Serum, (R1 095), hitting the shelves in October. 

That’s the serum coming out on the left after I’ve pushed the pump.

I’ve struggled to get the exact percentage of retinol out of the brand and they have this to say: ‘The recommended level for retinol type products is 0.05%, however highly concentrated serums can contain higher concentrations of 0.5%. Our product contains slightly lower.’ I’m still not sure whether they mean theirs is lower than 0,5 or 0,05% but it would well be the latter as the retinol isn’t sitting up too high in the ingredients list. (By law, ingredients have to be listed in order of their greatest concentration.)

As for the serum itself, it’s got a lovely, feather light gel-lotion texture that sunk into my skin in a flash making it easy to layer something else on top of it. Optiphi also gets top marks for it’s air-proof pump. Retinol will break down when exposed to light and air, so if you’re using a product that boasts about it’s retinol content but is packaged in a jar please know you’re relying on a brand that A) has no clue what it’s doing or B) knows full well but doesn’t care as it’s a slave to the horrid truth that uneducated consumers perceive jar packaging to be ‘luxurious’ and are more willing/likely to shell out for something in a jar.

Anyway, in all, I’d happily recommend something like Optiphi’s serum to anyone who’s interested in using a retinol product for the first time. It’s the kind of ingredient many woman need to build a tolerance to. Using it in too high a concentration if you’re not used to it can cause redness and dryness. Even myself, who’s been using retinol forever, has to be careful to apply my own serum only every second day as opposed to every night.

So, what am I currently using? Dermaquest Retinol Youth Brightening Serum with 2% retinol (R1 100).

I have no clue where the lid is. Probably waiting tables at Spur until it hits the big time.

I’ve been using Dermaquest’s serum for about three months now and really, really like it. The texture’s kind of like a silicone-infused cream that’s ever so slightly too ‘rich’ for my oily skin in summer but just right in winter when it’s a bit more dry. I tend to apply it at night anyhow, so for me that doesn’t really matter.

Again, it’s excellently preserved in a pump bottle and I’m not put off by the price tag because I only need one pump and, as I don’t use it every day, it lasts for ages. Also, it truly is an incredibly high percentage and (as yet) don’t know of a locally available brand that’s creating anything similar at a lower price point.

If you’re looking to get into retinol as a newbie, this isn’t something I’d recommend you use. Use something with a lower concentration first, like Optiphi’s new serum or travel up the steps in Environ’s fantastic Originals range. It starts at Debut then moves on to Mild, Classic and Ultra (I have no clue as to what the percentage of retinol in Ultra is but despite it’s name it’s certainly not 1% or 2%) and they all cost around R300 a pop, proving that you don’t have to empty out your pockets to buy a great medium-strength retinol product. 

Anyway, I said we were going to talk about new retinol products so let me introduce you to another super sterk retinol treatment that’s just hit the shelves in SA – pHformula Vita A cream (R989).

Clever li’l capsule!

To give you some background, pHformula is a fairly new brand created by a husband and wife duo – him being a pharmacist with a family-owned lab and her being South African Petru van Zyl. One of our country’s most knowledgable skincare therapists, Petru used to work closely with Hennie Roos, the plastic surgeon who founded Nimue, essentially helping him get that brand off the ground in SA.

But let’s get back to the Vita A cream. It’s also a heavy hitter, coming in a 2%, and I absolutely love the packaging. It looks like a giant vitamin capsule that’s able to stand upright. Again, your product’s happily protected by a pump and the texture is lovely – a light gel-cream that, despite containing silicone, plays very nicely with my combination skin. I could happily wear this during the day under a super sheer sunscreen.

I don’t mind paying a grand for a high percentage retinol serum as it’s touting an ingredient I know is proven to work. (You’ll never catch me shelling out more than that for anything else in the skin care department, aside from Botox and filler.)

To find a pHformula stockist in your area call (011) 036 9600.

Again, I wouldn’t recommend pHformula’s Vita A cream to a retinol new comer. Only someone who’s been merrily using something around the 1% mark and has adjusted well. For the record, my top 1% recommendation would be Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment (R845).

Anyway that’s it from me. Feel free to leave any retinol questions you might have in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Love, love


3 thoughts on “Yet more retinol serums to love starring Optiphi, pHformula and Dermaquest

    1. Hi Angela! A prescription retinol will also be the ‘strongest’ you can get but isn’t always necessary in every case. Chat to your derm re your concerns and they may recommend one. But if you’re young and don’t have issues like sun damage etc you don’t need to hit a fly with a hammer just yet. The side effects (peeling, redness etc) of using too intense an active can negate the benefits.

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