Is Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator A Gentle Alternative To A 20% Glycolic Acid Peel?

by Gio


Sometimes, I think we make skincare way too complicated than it is.

We make our skincare routine 100 steps long, buy all the shining new products that catch our magpie eye, and even splurge on the craziest spa treatments (bird poo facial, anyone?). You’ll never know what works until you try it, so better try everything, right?

As fun as all that is (I do love trying new skincare products and having pampering facials – just not with bird poo, thank you very much), that’s what matters.

What matters is getting the basics right. And those are sun protection, exfoliation and hydration. Sun protection prevents sun damage. Exfoliation smooths out and brightens skin. Hydration plumps it up and softens it. All together, they keep your skin young and healthy.

I won’t bother you with sun protection today (I bet you’re relieved, right?), but I want to tell you all about a multitasking serum that hydrates and exfoliates at the same time: Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator.

Is Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator An Alternative To A Glycolic Acid Peel?

I was so curious to try this serum cos it promises to work as well as a 20% glycolic acid treatment. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know how obsessed I am with glycolic acid. It’s an antiaging superstar that exfoliates, hydrates and boosts collagen production to boot.

But 20% is pretty powerful stuff. I wouldn’t recommend that much to most people as it could cause some serious irritations. For sensitive skin, that’s a no-no.

Skinceuticals uses something that’s supposed to work just as well as that much glycolic acid, minus the irritation. And that same something is also supposed to be as hydrating as glycerin.

So, what’s this skincare hero called? Hydroxyethyl urea.

So, does hydroxyethyl urea really work as well as 20% glycolic acid?

Urea is a well-known keratolytic. That’s a fancy way of saying that it softens and dissolves the keratin that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off on its own. So, urea can exfoliate skin well.

But I haven’t yet found any studies that hydroxyethyl urea exfoliates skin at all, let alone as well as 20% glycolic acid. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t. Someone may simply not have done any studies about it, or not released them. Or maybe my research skills are getting sloppy.

Personally, knowing how well plain urea exfoliates skin, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I just feel like, at this price point, you should have a bit more proof before you make a claim like that.

Does hydroxyethyl urea hydrates skin as well as glycerin?

Ok, so the exfoliating part was a bit of a bummer. But the hydrating part makes up for it.

There is research that shows hydroxyethyl urea “to deliver 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.

What other skincare goodies does it contain?

Not many, to be honest. The list of ingredients is pretty short, which is great news for sensitive skin (the less stuff it contains, the less likely to give you an irritation, after all).

But I just have to mention Sodium Hyaluronate. It’s a form of hyaluronic acid that attracts and binds to the skin up to 1000 times its weight in water. The best part? It works well both in high and low humidity conditions.

No matter where you live, sodium hyaluronate will make sure your skin is always well hydrated.

Let’s Put It To The Test: How Well Does Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator Work?

Science lecture over. This is the part where I tell you how well (or poorly?) it worked for me.

As I said, the hydrating part is spot on. Just three or four drops (they’re dispensed through a dropper applicator) 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 having tried it. It does a great job, but I have to say, I’m sticking to glycolic acid simply because that one can boost collagen production too.

Would I Recommend Skinceuticals Retexturing Activator?

As I said, I’m sticking to my first love, glycolic acid.

But 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. I think you’d quite like it.

Price & Availability: $78.00 (30ml) at Skinstore

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


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Oyeyinka April 30, 2018 - 9:22 pm

Hi Gio, thank you for your very informative post. I’m new to skincare and not really sure of what I’m doing, I’m of african descent and have oily skin. I have blemishes all over my face, my skin texture isn’t smooth either and I have pigmentation around my mouth, on my cheeks and forehead. I want to ask if I can try the skinceuticals retexturing activator or Image skincare hydrating ACE serum, heard a lot about these two. Also am I doing the right thing with my rotuine ?
Cetaphil oily cleanser (sometimes I rinse my face with just lukewarm water)
Garnier Natural Aloe Extract Toner Normal Skin
No 7 Early Defence Glow Activating Serum
Ordinary Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
No 7 Early Defence Day cream
Clinique Mineral Suncreen Fluid for Face SPF 50
Cetaphil oily cleanser
Glycolyic acid 7% Toning Solution ( not on the same night as Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane)
No 7 Early Defence Glow Activating Serum
Ordinary Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane
No 7 Early Defence Night cream
I use the Ordinary Salicylic acid over my face at night/day when I have pimples but this makes me extremely oily
I use the Ordinary AHA 20% + BHA 2% Peeling solution once a week but this does nothing for my skin. I feel like my skin is badly damaged and I need remedy.
Open to your suggestions and thanks so much in advance!

Gio May 4, 2018 - 7:21 pm

Oyeyinka, does your skin needs more hydration? If so, Skinceuticals Retexturizing Activator is a good option. But I’d definitely change the vitamin C serum. Ordinary Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F is a good product but it’s for dry skin. Yours is oily. No 7 Early Defence Glow Activating Serum has vitamin C too but not too much. So I’d get rid of these two and substitute them with another vitamin C serum that’s more suitable for oily skin. You can definitely try the Image skincare one.

Sarah Davies October 6, 2018 - 1:07 pm

Hi I use retexturising activator in the morning after c e feurulic. Then B5 , then moisturise. I have Paula’s choice resist daily pore refining treatment 2% BHA and don’t know where to fit into my routine. I used to use it after c e feurlic.
I have combination skin. Thanks Gio!

Gio October 7, 2018 - 2:52 pm

Sarah, use it straight after cleansing two or three times a week.

Sarah Davies October 8, 2018 - 12:34 pm

So it’s safe to use the PC product and retexturising activator together? I was worried it’d be too much. Thank you x

Gio October 14, 2018 - 3:46 pm

Sarah, it shouldn’t be too much for most skin types. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, so if you feel your skin is getting drier, stop using the retexturing activator.

Jen November 26, 2018 - 6:05 pm

Hi! Im new to glycolic acid and on a tight budget. With that in mind, what product can u recommend? I have sensitive skin


Gio December 9, 2018 - 9:43 am

Jen, if you have sensitive skin, I don’t recommend glycolic acid at all. For your skin type, lactic acid is a much better option. Both The Ordinary and The Inkey List make good lactic acid exfoliants that don’t break the bank.

Cristina January 30, 2019 - 2:07 pm

Since “theoretically” one should wait between an AHA and a Retinol, i wonder if this could be an alternative to an acid in order to apply a retinol product without having to wait at all . Any thoughts? 🙂 Cri

Gio February 7, 2019 - 6:05 pm

Cristina, for dry skin yes, it could be a good alternative for women who don’t want to wait.

Najla January 9, 2020 - 7:55 pm

HI Gio!

Have been trying to incorporate a weekly exfoliant into my routine as I tend to get clogged pores around my nose, and just want a nice clean a week, or once every two weeks. problem is I have sensitive, reactive skin too… Tried glycolic, can’t do it, did a peel at a derms office and a side of my face peeled, and pigmented into a dark brown as I have middle eastern (olive) skin. It took a year for it to disappear. I can’t use lactic acid either as I get irritated and get little tiny whiteheads, tried Barbara sturms enzyme cleanser, it was fine in the T zone, but irritated my cheeks. Now I am looking into this product, would you recommend for sensitive skin? and if so, what frequency do you recommend? Any advice would be great.

Gio January 16, 2020 - 5:32 pm

Najla, if your skin is this sensitive, simply cleanse with a washcloth a couple of times a week. I’ll perform a gentle exfoliating action without irritating your skin.


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