the inkey list retinol serum

The Inkey List Retinol is one of the gentlest retinol serums I’ve ever tried.

Weird, when you think it contains 2 forms of retinoids. And that some sources report retinol is here in a staggering 1% concentration (that’s super high for retinol, FYI).

If the rumours are true, this serum should be harsh and drying on the skin… but it ain’t. Something doesn’t add up here. Is it technological magic or marketing hype?

I’ve put it to the test to find out:

What’s In The Inkey List Retinol?


You’ve probably heard that The Inkey List Retinol contains 1% stable retinol. Wrong. It contains 1% RetiStar, a stabilised retinol compound. There’s a huge difference.

According to BASF (the maker of RetiStar), 1% RetiStar contains 0.05% retinol mixed with tocopherol, sodium ascorbate, and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil in caprylic/capric triglycerides.

1% retinol is a huge dose that has some serious wrinkle-fighting properties. 0.05% retinol is a tiny dose that’s suitable for beginners. It’ll help your skin a little, but it pales in comparison to what 1% can do.

See how easy it is to make you think a serum contains more retinol – and is therefore more powerful – than it actually is?

Even so, 0.05% retinol isn’t completely useless. In fact, retinol is so harsh, you absolutely need to start with a very small concentration and work your way up to 1%.

Starting with the higher dose straight away is a recipe to disaster that only leads to dryness and irritation. All things that make wrinkles look worse, not better!

So, what does retinol do?

  1. It has antioxidant properties that destroy the free radicals that cause premature wrinkles and dark spots.
  2. It accelerates cellular turnover (i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process), reducing the appearance of dark spots, wrinkles, and acne.
  3. It boosts the production of collagen, the protein that keeps skin firm.

It does this even at tiny concentrations – but do work your way up as soon as your skin can take it.

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


Retinol isn’t the only retinoid in The Inkey List Retinol. This baby also contains 0.5% Granactive Retinoid (a.k.a. Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate).

Again, beware! Brands want you to think Granactive Retinoid is even more effective than retinol at fighting wrinkles and acne. It simply isn’t true.

There’s NO proof (yet) that Granactive Retinoid is more effective than retinol. Heck, there isn’t even much proof that it can fight wrinkles!

That’s because this retinoid is so new, there isn’t much research on it, yet. The only things we know for sure are:

Future research may show that Granactive Retinoid is a valid alternative for fighting wrinkles as well. Until then, I recommend it only to women with sensitive, acne-prone skin that can’t tolerate retinol.

Related: Which Form Of Retinoids Is Right For You?

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Peptides are the anomaly in the skincare matrix. In theory, they shouldn’t work: they’re too big to penetrate skin. In practice, studies show they do something.

One theory is they work even when left on the surface of the skin, by sending signals to skin cells to boost collagen production, ect. This serum contains two peptides:

Again, most of the studies on peptides come from the manufacturers. I don’t recommend buying a serum just because it contains peptides. But if they’re an extra (like here), why not give them a go?

Related: The Truth About Peptides In Skincare: Do They Really Work?


The Inkey List Retinol doesn’t only help prevent premature aging. It hydrates skin too. Here’s how:

  • Glycerin: A moisture magnet that attracts water from the environment and binds it into the skin, helping to keep it hydrated.
  • Squalane: Very similar to human sebum, it strengthens the skin’s protective barrier and moisturises skin.
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Like glycerin, it attracts and binds water to the skin. It’s so good, it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water!

Together, the extra moisture keeps your skin softer and smoother. It also helps prevents dryness, a common side effect of retinol.

Related: The Complete Guide To Squalane In Skincare: What It Is, What It Does, And How To Use It


Lightweight, yellow gel. It sinks in quickly without leaving a tacky residue behind.


It’s fragrance-free.

How To Use It

Three nights a week, after cleansing. Don’t exfoliate on the nights you use this!

Performance & Personal Opinion

I use The Inkey List Retinol every other night, alternating it with exfoliation. I don’t like to mix the two together because they can often irritate skin or dry it out too much.

Its texture sinks smoothly into my skin, leaving no tacky residue behind. It layers well with moisturisers, too – no pilling here.

It’s definitely gentle and a little more hydrating than most retinol serums I’ve tried. If you have sensitive skin or are looking for your first retinol serum, this is gentle enough for you (if your skin can’t take this, retinoids are NOT for you).

Does it work? It does help to improve the texture of your skin, making it smoother and brighter. It can also help you fade dark spots a little.

I admit I didn’t see much of a difference – but that’s because I’m used to 1% retinol. Compared to that, this just doesn’t work as well.

But you can’t use 1% straight away. It’ll dry out your skin, irritate it, and make it flake. And then you’re wondering why your wrinkles look so much worse when the exact opposite was supposed to happen. Take it slowly, ladies!

the inkey list retinol

Who Is This For?

  • First time retinol users who need a gentle serum to get started
  • Sensitive, acne-prone skin that can’t tolerate retinol
  • Skincare newbies who want to try both retinol and peptides for the first time

Who Is This Not For?

  • If you’re already using a serum with a concentration retinol higher than 0.05%, this would be a step back.


White, opaque squeeze tube. It’s sleek, practical, and protects the retinol inside from light, air, and anything that could spoil it.

Does The Inkey List Retinol Live Up To Its Claims?

The INKEY List Retinol Serum helps to stimulate the renewal processes in the skin resulting in brighter, smoother skin.  True.
Slow release formula for low irritation and effective active delivery.  True.
1% RetiStar – A stabilised retinol compound. True, but 1% RetiStar means 0.05% retinol – a much lower dose than implied.
Squalane for hydration and soothing. True.

Price & Availability

£9.99 at Asos, Cult Beauty, and Feel Unique

Do You Need It?

If you’re just starting out on your retinol journey or have sensitive, acne-prone skin that can’t tolerate high doses of retinol, this is a good option to consider.


Dupes & Alternatives


Water (aqua / Eau), Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Propanediol, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Dimethicone, Retinol, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Caprylyl Glycol, Phospholipids, Caprylic/capric Glycerides, Squalane, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Glycine Soja (soybean) Extract, Carbomer, Sodium Ascorbate, Tocopherol, Polysorbate 60, Tocopheryl Acetate, Glycolipids, Sodium Hydroxide, Disodium Edta, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Glycine Soja (soybean) Sterol, Leuconostoc/radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Hyaluronic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1, Phenoxyethanol.