Green Beauty Retinol (And My #1 Pick!)

green beauty retinol review

Retinol in green beauty…is that a thing? Does a “clean retinol” exist? And if so, does it work? I have been asked these questions so many times and as I’m settling into my mid-forties, I decided I needed to find out for myself. This post has been months and months in the making because I really wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty in terms of retinol products in the green beauty space.

First things first, what is retinol and why should we use it?


Retinol is one of those seemingly miracle products that clears up blemishes, diminishes fine lines and wrinkles, and brightens the complexion.

Retinoids (which is the umbrella term for most topical vitamin A–based drugs) are the most studied anti-aging compounds, as I’m sure you’ve heard of Retin-A, which was the first retinoid. Originally used as an acne treatment in the 70s, researchers soon discovered that it also evened pigmentation, sped up the turnover of superficial skin cells, and reduced fine lines and wrinkles.

How, you ask? Well, retinoids increase the production of collagen, as well as stimulating the production of new blood vessels in the skin which improves the skin’s overall look. It usually takes about 3 months of regular use to see results, and the best results are usually seen between 6 and 12 months.

There are all different strengths and types of retinoids – prescription formulas usually contain retinoic acid, and nonprescription alternatives (such as retinol) need to be converted into retinoic acid by the skin at the cellular level. Retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid, but it’s important to note that the end results are usually the same…it just takes retinol longer to achieve the same results as retinoic acid. There are also weaker retinoids such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate, which are the most gentle.

Bottom line – retinoic acid is the strongest and the most effective at reducing wrinkles, but also the most irritating. Retinol is in the middle – not as strong as retinoic acid, but still improves the appearance of skin and is less irritating in the process.  All can produce a similar result, it just takes the weaker ones longer.


Good question! We know it increases cell turnover and increases collagen (yay!), but retinoid toxicity could be a possibility. Honestly, it’s still up for discussion. I like to think you’d have to use a LOT O’ RETINOL for that to happen, but that’s just me.

The bigger issue is what’s accompanying retinol in conventional formulations. Parabens, fragrance, petrochemicals, and BHT, to name a few. A 2002 International Journal of Toxicology report linked short-term repeated exposure of BHT to toxic effects in the liver; when applied to skin, BHT has been associated with toxicity in lung tissue. The findings were serious enough that in 2015, General Mills made the decision to remove BHT from their cereals.

Annnd that’s where green beauty comes in!


The best part! Let’s talk retinol formulations in the green beauty space. Nowhere on these labels will you find BHT or any other nasties.

First, you have products that aren’t retinol per se, but mimic retinol’s activity, such as rosehip seed oil and fermented pumpkin enzymes. Let’s call it an “herbal alternative, ” shall we? Two products in this category that I like are Kypris Moonlight Catalyst and Tata Harper Retinoic Face Oil. These gently refine the skin and are a great start for the rejuvenation enthusiast.

However, if you want to dive right into real retinol, there are some great options as well. Marie Veronique makes the Gentle Retinol Night Serum and the Treatment Retinol Serum – they are actually the same formulation but labeled for different categories (one for aging, one for acne) to help those with specific skin concerns find them easily.

However, drumroll please, I have found the holy grail of green beauty retinol and it’s the Resurrection Cell Recovery Serum by African Botanics. Oh wow, my friends. I’ve been using this at night for months and I’m completely enamored with the way it’s transformed my skin. Softer, less texture, less redness, less clogged pores…I can’t even express how much I love it. So much so that I rarely wear foundation or BB cream anymore!

African Botanics Resurrection Cell Recovery Serum


I found out about the Resurrection Cell Recovery Serum through my Boxwalla box last year. I knew very little about the African Botanics brand personally but was excited to give it a shot. Described as an anti-aging serum that lifts, firms, and brightens the complexion, the serum diminishes the damage caused by sun, time, and pollution while protecting the skin with rare ingredients harvested in South Africa. One look at the ingredients and you know that it’s something special. Besides retinol, it contains resveratrol, hyaluronic acid, and plant peptides to smooth lines and wrinkles. I mean, if that isn’t the holy grail of good skin ingredients, I don’t know what is.

Not to mention the Swiss Garden Cress Liposomes and green sea algae which minimizes dark spots by 67% (I can attest to this!), and the anti-inflammatory and calming African Aloe Ferox, Arnica, Gotu Kola, Cucumber and Cape Chamomile extracts.

The sheer, gel-like texture applies so beautifully and doesn’t leave a weird film or stickiness that many gels can. And it doesn’t congest or irritate my sensitive skin in the least which is huge for me. All I can say is that after using it nightly for a few months, my skin visibly looks different. My normal redness and texture around the nose is gone, my lines around my eyes have softened, and I just look brighter overall.

I. Am. Thrilled.

And look at these ingredients! Not a nasty in sight, as it’s formulated without silicones, mineral oils, parabens, allergens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, PEGs and SLSs.

Aqua (Water), Hamamelis Virginia (Witch Hazel) Extract, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Arnica Cordifolia Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Extract, Sambucus Nigra (Elder Tree) Extract, Malva Sylvestris (Mallow) Extract, Hedera Helix (Ivy)* Extract, Anacyclus Pyrethrum (Pellitory)* Extract, Glycerin (Vegetable), Butylene Glycol (Sugarcane), Aloe Ferox Leaf Extract*, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hyaluronic Acid, Phytic Acid, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Linoleic Acid, Sorbitol, Alpha Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Ascorbyl Methylsilanol Pectinate (Vitamin C), Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Equisetum Arvense (Horsetail) Extract, Hydrocotyl (Centella Asiatica) Extract, Chamomile Martricaria Extract, Chlorella Vulgaris (Green Algae) Extract, Hydrolyzed Algin, Lepidium Sativum (Garden Cress) Sprout Extract, Lecithin, Myrothamnus Flabellifolius (Resurrection) Plant Extract, Resveratrol, Retinol (Vitamin A), Citrus Aurantium (Neroli)* Flower Extract, Eriocephalus Punctulatus (Cape Chamomile)* Flower Oil, Sclerocarya Birrea (Marula)** Seed Oil, Adansonia Digitata (Baobab)**, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract. *Organic and **Wild-Harvested Ingredients.

This serum now has a permanent spot in my nightly routine between toning and my oil/moisturizer. (Click here for my most recent skincare routine post.) I use about 1 1/2 pumps and apply over my face and neck.

I’m not going to lie, the luxury brand is not inexpensive. (It’s so dang worth it, though!) The only slightly terrible part? You are probably going to fall in love with it as much as I did, decide you can’t live without it, and then be forced to repurchase again and again. The things we do for (skincare) love, people. WE DID IT ALLLLL FOR THE GLORY OF LOOOOOVE. Yes, I just quoted a Peter Cetera song.

As always, if you have any questions regarding green beauty retinol, feel free to leave ’em in the comments!

Other posts you might like:

2018 Best in Green Beauty

The Best Organic Masks for Your Skin Type


The Shopbop Spring Event Is Here

Hear ye hear ye, my very favorite sale of the year is here! Spring is just around the corner and I always find a few stellar picks for Spring during the Shopbop event. Don’t forget to use the code GOBIG19 for 15% off orders of $200+, 20% off orders of $500+, and 25% off orders of $800+…including sale items! Sale runs until March 2.

UPDATE: April sale code is EVENT19.

Here are some of my favorites!


Odds and Ends

1. Reality Bites just turned 25. Hold me.

2. Now, THIS is the kind of sexting that gets me hot.

3. “Be patient and communicate your confidence that emotions almost always rise, swirl and settle all by themselves.” Best article about raising teens.

4. What’s coming and going on Netflix next month.

5. This is just as important (if not more) as talking to teens about sex. Have you had the talk?

6. Ooh ooh ooh! Like baths? And need a digital detox? Look no further! (Such a deal and I’m obsessed with this brand.)

7. I’ll be honest. I am not thrilled about this.

8. The danger in fake positivity and spiritual bypassing.

9. Are you all into this whole Theranos thing? What is up with Elizabeth Holmes?

10. No, you can’t ignore email. It’s rude. (This just makes me feel bad.)

11. Obsessed with this top.

Happy Friday, friends!

image credit: abbey withington