This French Retinol Will Transform Your Skin (Almost) Overnight

By now, nearly everyone who has ever read an article about skincare knows about the power of retinol. Long before fillers and botox were on the scene, retinol was touted as the fairy godmother of skincare. A cream that offered to slow down the aging process, stimulating collagen production, increasing cell turnover and plumping up fine lines and wrinkles (all the while clearing skin and making it glow). While not for everyone— those with sensitive skin, psoriasis, eczema and rosacea should avoid it—it’s a wonder product for the general population and one that has held steady against an influx of treatments that offer faster and easier results. Why? Because it works.

While there are a number of retinol creams available on the market, unless you’re going the prescription retinoid route (which, after what I call the “face-off incident”, I am not), it’s important to find one that is strong enough to do the job and gentle enough not to cause your face to look and feel as though you have walked through the gates of hell. Enter A313, the product all beauty editors know as the baby sister to the now discontinued Avibon. Used by French women for decades, Avibon gained celebrity status when Gwyneth Paltrow shared it with the goop crew. After drenching it in accolades, she signed off with “I know an older movie star who uses this every night and she has the most amazing skin!”

American beauty fanatics were sold.

Not long after the goop shout-out, Avibon was removed from the shelves when attempts to correct inconsistencies in the product proved futile. There was a slight panic as users from all the world were left wondering if they would find anything as good this side of the harsh and expensive Retin-A but manufacturers quickly replaced Avibon with A313. Enter a softer and more consistent product that worked as well as prescription-only retinals without the excess peeling and pain (and at a 2% concentration). Was it too good to be true? I wanted to find out.

I first got my hands on a tube in 2017 while on a family holiday in the south of France. Having heard so much about this miracle cream, I was determined to return to London with enough to last me a year or two. I spoke about needing to get to the pharmacy from the moment we landed and ran through the doors as soon as I saw one in town. To my dismay, they were completely sold out. “We just had twenty delivered and they were sold in two days,” said the woman behind the counter. When I asked where the nearest pharmacy was, I was told it was over a half an hour drive away. Getting my partner (then new boyfriend) to waste an hour driving to get me a wrinkle cream was not really something I wanted to ask and I guess the look on my face showed my disappointment because the sales lady looked at me with pity and asked, “How long will you be here?” I said eight days. “It usually takes fourteen but let me see what I can do.” I was thrilled. “Come and check in a week and we should have it for you.” A week later, I arrived and there were three glorious tubes waiting for me with my name on them…literally. I was thrilled. After receiving strict orders only to put on at night, to wear a good sunscreen of 40 or higher and to avoid putting it on a wet face (it makes the cream more potent), I waited impatiently to get home and give it a try.

Together At Last

The first night I got home, I opened the tube which is not dissimilar to a tube of toothpaste. The consistency of the cream is thick like soft, grainy petroleum jelly and you only need a pea-size amount as a little goes a long way. I felt a comfortable warmth and saw a little redness that stayed until I fell asleep an hour later but was gone by morning when I woke up to skin that looked bright with plumpy-hydration. When I say there was a noticeable difference in the morning without A313 the night before and the one with, I am talking one that is significant. Unfortunately, the morning afterglow settled down by day seven when my skin was ever so slightly dry and itchy on occasion thanks to my getting too excited and not following orders to put it on a dry face and only use the pea-sized amount I mentioned earlier. All discomfort came as a result of my pushing boundaries, not the product itself.

I used up my tubes and sort of fell off the wagon but decided to get serious with retinol once again a month ago and found a supplier of A313 on eBay. I ordered a tube to ensure it was the real deal (so many beauty products on Amazon have been proven fake and I am over it). The right cream arrived and I put on the product. I had several days of the glow and now in week two, my skin is now going through a very light retinol hazing where it’s a bit dry and can itch on occasion but otherwise looking smoother and brighter every day. That’s another bonus of retinol: It addresses hyperpigmentation as well (if not better) than it diminishes wrinkles. I have been told it can cause a breakout during the initiation period for those with cystic acne but I have not experienced any spots myself. I have colleagues who have struggled with acne who say it is less of a problem than what they faced with retinoids (a group of compounds that are derived from vitamin A such as Tretinoin the generic name for Retin-A ) but also a slower solution taking 12-24 weeks to make a real impact on skin. That said, I am in my first month and am already seeing lines soften, pores fade and makeup looks much smoother upon application.

My verdict: As retinols go, this one is the standout in my book. It’s user friendly, packs enough punch to be taken seriously but doesn’t make you miserable while it works. If you’re able to get your hands on a tube, I would highly recommend buying one (or three).

Now, let’s address a few questions you might have:

What is the difference between retinals and retinoids? Verywell gives a great breakdown here.

Why do I need a retinol? Glamour explains it perfectly.

What are things I need to know about using retinol? Check out this piece in Vogue.

Retinol and black skin. What do I need to know? Check out this piece in New York Magazine.

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