Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator review

Does Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator have the exfoliating power of a daily 20% glycolic acid treatment?

If it’s true, it’s the answer to all our skincare prayers. 20% Glycolic acid exfoliates skin, reduces sun damage, and fades away dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

But that % is so harsh, it’ll strip your skin raw and irritate it like hell. Ouch!

If there’s something that gives you the same benefits without any of the side effects, I’m so here for it. Does this deliver?

What’s In Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator?


Hydroxyethyl Urea is the star of the show. It’s the little molecules that’s supposed to exfoliate your skin as well as 20% daily glycolic acid peels. Skinceuticals also claims it’s as hydrating as glycerin.

But what does science says?

Urea works in the same way as Glycolic Acid. Like it, it softens and dissolves the keratin that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off on their own. So, urea can exfoliate skin well.

But I couldn’t find any proof (yet!) that Hydroxyethyl Urea has the same benefits as plain old urea, let alone 20% daily glycolic acid peels.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t. Maybe it does, but no one has bothered to do a study on it. But for now, we have to take Skinceuticals’ word for it. That’s not good enough for me.

Personally, knowing how well plain urea exfoliates skin, I’m willing to give Hydroxyethyl Urea the benefit of the doubt. If your skin is so sensitive, it can’t tolerate Glycolic Acid, this may be worth a try.

But what about its hydrating properties? This time, science agrees with Skinceuticals. Research shows hydroxyethyl urea delivers “moisturization efficacy comparable to glycerin, while offering some advantages in terms of sensory perception in skin care products.”

So, it works just as well as glycerin and feels more pleasant on the skin. Me likes that.

By the way, the serum contains glycerin too. Just not that much.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Urea In Skincare

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Hydroxyethyl Urea and Glycerin aren’t the only hydrating ingredients here. Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator also has Hyaluronic Acid.

It’s a moisture magnet that draws water from the environment and binds it into your skin. It’s so powerful, it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water!

Extra moisture = plumper, softer and brighter skin.

Related: Why You Need Hyaluronic Acid In Your Routine, No Matter Your Skin Type


Light and fast-absorbing.


It’s fragrance-free.

How To Use It

Skinceuticals tells you to use it twice a daily, but you’re not supposed to exfoliate that much! Exfoliating too often will irritate your skin.

Instead, use it 2 or 3 nights a week after cleansing.

Performance & Personal Opinion

Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator isn’t lying about its hydrating properties. Just three or four drops are enough to cover my entire face and make it plumper and softer. 

Now that the weather is getting colder, I feel like this extra hydration is helping my moisturizer keep my skin hydrated all day and prevent dry and flaky patches (although, I’m sure this could help them heal, too).

After a couple of weeks, I’ve also noticed that my skin looks a bit smoother and is definitely a bit brighter. Basically, it just makes my skin look healthy.

Does it work as well as glycolic acid? It’s hard to say, even after a month of use. It does a great job, but I have to say, I’m sticking to glycolic acid simply because there’s way more evidence it works.

Related: How Often Should You Use Glycolic Acid?


Who Is This For?

Sensitive skin that can’t tolerate glycolic acid.

Who Is This NOT For?

If your skin can tolerate glycolic acid, that’s still the best option.


A see-through bottle with a dropper applicator.

Does Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator Live Up To Its Claims?

This oil-free serum simultaneously exfoliates skin and replenishes moisture for radiant, smooth, skin. True.
This oil-free serum has the resurfacing power of daily 20% glycolic acid treatment. There is NO scientific proof this is true.
Diminishes the appearance of surface lines and smoothes skin. True.
Increases the look of overall radiance. True.
Balances moisture levels. Yes, it hydrates skin.

Price & Availability

$82.00 at Blue Mercury and Dermstore

Do You Need It?

If your skin’s so sensitive it can’t tolerate glycolic or you’re simply curious to try an alternative, you may want to give this one a go. But for most people, exfoliating acids are still the better option.

Dupes & Alternatives


aqua / water / eau, hydroxyethyl urea, hydroxyethylpiperazine ethane sulfonic acid, pentylene glycol, saccharomyces/xylinum/ black tea ferment, glycerin, sodium hyaluronate, methylparaben, phenoxyethanol