skinceuticals blemish + age defense review

Wait, what?! Didn’t getting older meant swapping acne for wrinkles? Why are you getting both now?!

And just when you thought you had your skincare routine nailed down. If only there were one product that can tackle both acne and wrinkles at the same time, so you don’t have to revamp your skincare routine from scratch…

Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense promises to do just that. Does it deliver? I’ve put it to the test to find out:

About The Brand: Skinceuticals

SkinCeuticals is the number one US medical aesthetic skincare brand in the world. Its mission is to improve skin health, through innovative, science-backed skincare products. The brand was born from years of research that led to powerful breakthrough research, bringing us the wonders of CEF. CEF is the mix of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and ferulic acid, a super powerful combination that prevents wrinkles, protects skin from sun exposure, and brightens the complexion.

Its legendary Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Serum was a true pioneer. Today, it’s been duped over and over and over again (although most dupes still fall a little short). The serum I’m reviewing today contains another innovation, Diodic acid, an active that can lighten pigmentation. Will it be the next big skincare breakthrough and be as duped as CE Ferulic? Only time will tell…

Key Ingredients In Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense: What Makes It Work?


Salicylic acid is an exfoliant on steroids. It helps treat acne in three ways:

  1. Surface exfoliation: Salicylic acid dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together so they can slough off. Once they’re off your skin, they won’t accidentally fall into your pores and clog them up.
  2. Pore exfoliation: Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, so it easily penetrates the skin’s lipid barrier and gets inside the pores, removing all the gunk that’s clogging them up and giving you blackheads and pimples.
  3. Soothing: Salicylic Acid has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the redness that always comes along with pimples.

If you have blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples, a salicylic acid exfoliant is a must. It’s the only thing that can unclog those pores and get rid of acne.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin


Glycolic acid is the smallest member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family, a group of exfoliants that dissolves the glue that holds on skin cells together, so they can slough off your skin faster. Here’s how this benefits skin:

  • Smoothens texture: Removing rough skin cells makes your skin texture softer and smoother. Wrinkles look smaller too.
  • Fades away dark spots: When you remove the most damaged, darkest cells on the top of your skin, you unveil the newer, lighter ones that were hiding underneath. Repeat this enough times and dark spots disappear.
  • Hydrates skin: It has humectant properties that attract and bind water to the skin.
  • Prevents acne: If dead cells are off your skin, they can’t clog pores and give you breakouts.

Its small size is its strength: Glycolic Acid penetrates deeper than other AHAs, so it works better and faster. The catch? That also makes it more irritating.

Related: Glycolic Acid VS Lactic Acid: Which One Should You Use?


Alcohol Denat is one of the most misunderstood ingredients in skincare. Word on the street is that it’s terribly drying and irritating.

To an extent, that’s true. The reason you feel so bad after you gulp down one too many cocktails is that alcohol is drying out every cell in your body, giving you a bad case of dehydration.

Does the same thing apply to skin when you slather alcohol on it? It depends. If alcohol’s all you’re slathering on, then yes, it will dry out your skin.

But if you use alcohol together with moisturizing ingredients, they’ll counteract its drying effects. Science confirms this. Recent studies show that alcohol isn’t as drying as we once thought.

Having said this, everyone’s skin is different. If your skin is particularly sensitive to alcohol denat and doesn’t tolerate it well, this serum isn’t for you.

But what does alcohol do here? It’s a volatile carrier that helps create a thinner solution and texture.

Related: The Truth About Alcohol-Free Skincare: What Does It Really Mean? (Hint: It’s Not What You Think)


Diocic acid is short for Octadecenedioic acid. Similar in structure to azelaic acid, this acid has anti-inflammatory and skin-lightening properties.

Although we don’t know the exact mechanism of action yet, it does reduce the excessive production of melanin, the leading cause of dark spots.

The catch? We don’t know how much Diocic acid you need to deliver these benefits. Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense has 2%. Not the highest, not the smallest. Could be high enough to work.

Related: The Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: Which Is The Best Alternative To Hydroquinone

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes shine, pimples, and blackheads? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin” cheatsheet to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

The Rest Of The Formula & Ingredients

NOTE: The colours indicate the effectiveness of an ingredient. It is ILLEGAL to put toxic and harmful ingredients in skincare products.

  • Green: It’s effective, proven to work, and helps the product do the best possible job for your skin.
  • Yellow: There’s not much proof it works (at least, yet).
  • Red: What is this doing here?!
  • Water: The base of this (and most) skincare products.
  • Methylpropanediol: It’s a solvent that allows other ingredients to be dissolved. It also allows active ingredients, like salicylic acid, to better penetrate your skin.
  • Diisopropyl adipate: A lubricant that gives the surface of your skin a softer and smoother appearance.
  • Hydroxyethylpiperazine ethane sulfonic acid: Also known as HEPES, it creates a neutral pH in water-based solutions. In-vitro (non on real skin) research points to it generating free radical damage in the presence of oxygen. Free radicals make you age faster – and that’s not something you don’t want in your skincare. But until we have independent studies done on real skin, we don’t know if HEPES has this side effect when applied topically too.
  • Citric acid: A type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) extracted from citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges. Like all AHAs (such as glycolic and lactic acid), it has exfoliating properties. But that’s not what it does here. That’s not enough of it to exfoliate skin. Instead, it helps balance the pH so the product works its best without irritating skin.
  • Sodium hydroxide: It’s a pH balancer. It creates an ideal pH for active ingredients to work their best without irritating skin.
  • Polyquaternium-10: Mostly used in skincare products, it increases suppleness.


The texture of this serum is liquid and lightweight to the point of being runny. I personally find runny products annoying to use, especially without a cotton pad. But, on the other hand, that means the serum absorbs super quickly into your skin. That’s the most important thing. Who wants to use a sticky serum that takes ages to sink in?


Let’s start with the good. The serum is fragrance-free. I know it may be disappointed to those of you who like skincare products that smell like a garden in full bloom. BUT, fragrance is the most irritating ingredient in skincare products – especially for sensitive skin. By taking it out, Skinceuticals has removed a potential cause of irritation and made the product safer to use for more people. Kudos to them for that.

BUT, fragrance-free only means the brand hasn’t added an artificial scent. In reality, every product has a scent because every ingredient has a scent. That’s what you’re smelling when you’re smelling a fragrance-free product. In this case, the serum is high in alcohol, so that’s what you’re smelling when you open the bottle. Thankfully, it fades away pretty quickly.

How Do You Use Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense?

Even though the concentration of exfoliants is quite low, this is still an exfoliant so use it like it. How?

  • Every other night: Exfoliating nightly can lead to irritation, dryness, and redness.
  • After cleansing: Apply it straight after cleansing and before other serums and moisturiser to give it the best chance to penetrate your skin and slough off those dead skin cells that are dulling your complexion and roughening it up.
  • Avoid it on retinol nights: Like exfoliants, retinol (and other forms of Vitamin A) can be irritating and drying too. Using them on alternate nights reduces the risk of side effects.


The serum comes in a dark brown glass bottle with a pipette dispenser. It’s the best packaging, in my humble opinion, for a product with such a lightweight, runny consistency. You can just drop the serum onto your skin and pat it in. Super easy to use. Plus, I find the design elegant.

Performance & Personal Opinion

The first thing I noticed about Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense is how gentle it is. Despite the alcohol content, it doesn’t sting skin nor dry it out. In fact, I find the formula slightly hydrating (always a plus).

When you first start using it, you may experience some purging. My skin isn’t that prone to breakouts, so I didn’t. But I do get a pimple or two during that time of the month (oh, the joys of being a woman!).

As I’m getting older, that angry zit leaves a red mark behind after he dies. It disappears on its own, but I like to give it a helping hand to speed up the process. Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense does the job.

Not too slowly, either. I saw a reduction in the red mark after a couple of weeks. My skin by now was also smoother and softer. If you’re prone to acne, give it two more weeks and it’ll get rid of that too.

Instead, it didn’t do much for my fine lines and wrinkles. They’re still there, as deep as before. I recommend you alternate this serum with retinol to make a dent in them too.

Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It

skinceuticals blemish + age defense

What I Like About Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense

  • Lightweight, fast-absorbing texture.
  • It’s fragrance-free.
  • It makes skin softer and smoother.
  • It helps reduce dark spots.
  • Exfoliates skin, so it helps to prevent and treat acne.
  • Beautiful and practical bottle.

What I DON’T Like About Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense

  • If you don’t like runny textures, this isn’t for you.
  • It smells like alcohol (it’s the natural smell of the ingredients).
  • Doesn’t do much for anti-aging.

Who Should Use This?

This serum is best suitable for the following skin types:

  • Oily skin
  • Acne-prone skin
  • Mature skin who has both acne and dark spots

If you’re not dealing with acne/blemishes, this isn’t for you. There are better exfoliants around for other skin types.

Does Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense Live Up To Its Claims?

An oil-free face serum that reduces the formation of adult acne, and improves visible signs of aging. It does improve acne, but it doesn’t help much with anti-aging.
Reduces excess sebum production. It does it a little.
Improves the appearance of blotchiness, blemishes, and uneven skin tone. True.
Decongests clogged pores. True.
Diminishes visible signs of aging. It helps to fade away dark spots, not wrinkles.

Is Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defense Cruelty-Free?

Skinceuticals is not cruelty-free. Although the brand itself doesn’t test on animals, they’re owned by L’Oreal, which does.

Price & Availability

$92.00/£90.00 at Blue Mercury and Dermstore

The Verdict: Should You Buy It?

If you have acne, and can afford the splurge, this is a good option to consider. But, considering its limited anti-aging powers, there are plenty of other salicylic acid exfoliants that do the same job at a fraction of the price.

Dupes & Alternatives

  • La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo+ Ultra Concentrated Serum (£32.00): This exfoliant has both salicylic acid to unclog pores, glycolic acid to fade away dark spots, and niacinamide to treat acne and hydrate skin. Available at Boots, La Roche Posay, and Sephora.


alcohol denat., water, methylpropanediol, glycolic acid, diisopropyl adipate, octadecenedioic acid, hydroxyethylpiperazine ethane sulfonic acid, citric acid, capryloyl salicylic acid, sodium hydroxide, polyquaternium-10