A Transformative Skin Care Find!


My experience with Shani Darden Retinol Reform for the past 5 weeks.

The first time I applied Shani Darden Retinol Reform to my skin was in the evening on January 28th. I know it was that day because I had just taken part in an interview with Shani during a Sephora Squad event and was extremely interested in trying her products after hearing more from her about them.

Her name sounded familiar and I clicked back over to Anna Mae Groves’ Instagram page and confirmed that this was the same product Anna had been raving about recently. I was struck by the before and after that Anna shared on her page (you can watch it all on the highlight called “Retinol”) and was so happy to give it a go.

Full disclosure: I did receive the Shani Darden Retinol Reform as well as the Intensive Eye Renewal Cream as a part of a gratis package as a Sephora Squad member, but I have since bought an additional two bottles because I don’t want to ever be without it.

Prior to using this product, my most similar experience was with a plant-based retinol alternative product by Biossance called the Squalane + Phyto-retinol Serum. I had great results with it, and I was pleased to try a plant-based product first because I imagined it to be more gentle on my skin.

Retinol, while effective, can sometimes be tough on the skin. There are side effects like redness, peeling, sensitivity, and more. It’s important to use it very sparingly at first, and slowly build your skin’s tolerance up to a level that works for you.

You may be wondering? What is so great about retinol anyway?

Retinol, which is a gentle yet effective Retinoid, is a synthetic form of Vitamin A. The term “retinoid” is an umbrella term for any synthetic vitamin A. Retinol is good for encouraging cell turnover, revealing more radiant and even skin. It can help lighten dark spots, and work to improve some signs of aging on the skin.

While it’s always important to wear a daily SPF, it is especially important when using a retinol product regularly as the skin is being renewed.

I was nervous about the side effects that some can experience when introducing retinol to your skincare routine. It’s advised to use a retinol product sparingly at first, and slowly build up frequency of use based on how your skin tolerates the product. As someone with sensitive skin, I followed these directions carefully.

The first night I applied Retinol Reform, I followed it up with the Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Dream Face Cream. That is a night cream I have been using for a long time, and I knew it agreed with my skin really well. So I washed my face, applied Retinol Reform, waited a few minutes, then applied my night cream. I then did all my other serums like brow serum, lash serum, eyelash conditioner, eye cream, etc.

I went to sleep and, to be totally honest, I was sure I’d see some redness or side effects in the morning. As it turns out, I saw nothing but perfectly happy and glowing skin. I am not going to lie, I think my skin looked noticeably better the very next morning, but I convinced myself it was probably just what I wanted to see. Now that I’ve had 5 weeks of experience with it, I kind of believe that I saw immediate improvement.

So here is my face before I tried the product.

This is a screenshot of a video I shot for a campaign, so I apologize that it isn’t totally clear. My skin is sensitive, I have dryness around my nose, and I’m prone to hormonal + mask-wearing induced breakouts along my chin. I see uneven tone, dullness, and a lot of dark spots along the bottom half of my skin.

My hope was that my skin would be more even and that I would see some of my dark spots lighten up a bit.

Here are a few shots of my skin after one use of the product. I am wearing a moisturizer here, just to be clear.

In general, my skin was in a pretty good spot in these photos. And at this point, I had already started to see more evenness in tone and it felt softer as well.

I took the following photos on February 18th. At this point, my obsession with Retinol Reform was thriving. I hadn’t had a single new blemish arise, and my skin was glowing and healthy. And again, just to be clear, I was wearing moisturizer in this photo as well as sitting in front of my lighted mirror.

So I’m now on my 5th week of using Retinol Reform as a part of my nightly skincare routine. I typically apply it 4-5 times a week at night. Very occasionally I will skip it if I plan to use the Ole Henriksen Lemonade Smoothing Scrub** the next day. I’ve found that I don’t feel the need to exfoliate as often as I did before, which is probably due to the Lactic Acid.

The most noticeable changes for me, that I hope are coming through in the photos for you, are fewer breakouts, more evenness in tone, softer skin, and radiance. Honestly, I feel like my confidence got a huge boost from using this product because my skin is so clear and even. I am beyond pleased that I haven’t experienced any, I mean ANY, negative side effects. I was really concerned about redness and flaking, and I haven’t had any.

A few common Q & A’s:

One. Why are you using this and not a prescription from your dermatologist? For one, I wanted to use the exact product that Anna was using because she had such great things to say about it. I also wanted to use something that anyone would be able to purchase for themselves as well.

Two. Are your results better than when you were using the plant-based retinol alternative? It’s hard to say because I went about a year or more between the two products, but in general, I saw results faster with the Retinol Reform.

Three. How frequently do you use it? I started with one night a week, then the following week I did two nights, and continued adding in nights from there. A slow build-up is key for watching for a reaction on your skin.

**The Ole Henricksen Lemonade Smoothing Scrub has AHA and it’s not recommended to use a product with AHA while also using a Retinol.

So overall, as I’m sure you can gather from this post, I am really impressed with this product! I’m incredibly pleased that I haven’t had any negative side effects and I’m so thrilled with the positive changes to my skin thus far.

Just like any time you are intersted in trying a new skincare product, make sure you do your research and do your best to figure out which would be best for you!

Leave a Comment

Comments (40)

  1. Posted March 4, 2021

    Oh wow, I’d love to try this retinol out! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  2. Sara K says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    I’m just curious if you’re currently still using a vitamin C serum daily while using retinol?

    • Kate says
      Posted March 4, 2021

      You can for sure! I am working through a container of Laneige Radian-C cream which has a vitamin C in it!

  3. Shelby says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    I want to thank you for recommending this product. I had been wanting to try a retinol but honestly I was a bit scared of possible side effects. Per your 2cents after watching stories I bought your recommendation and am so glad I did!
    The first night I used it my skin was in rough shape. I typically don’t have issues with breakouts but was at that particular moment-due to the darn mask & hormonal. I honestly wasn’t expecting to see any difference the following morning & honestly was questioning myself that morning as my skin already looked better to me. I couldn’t wait for application #2! I restrained myself and spaced it out as suggested. Again my skin looked better & wasn’t as dry. My skin has been pretty dry especially this winter. Now it’s soft, clear & bright!
    Thanks again—I am a true believer of retinol but especially this product!

  4. Amy Dickson says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Got mine ordered and can’t wait to try it! I’ve been waiting for your blog post on this and it now makes me even more anxious to try it!

  5. Kris says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Why did you stop using the bio essence? So this new retinol isn’t plant based?

    • Kate says
      Posted March 4, 2021

      I stopped using it when I was going through some dermatitis on my chin a few years ago. And then I just never started up with it again. I wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with the dermatitis either. . .!

  6. Hollie says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Do you happen to know how this product is different from The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid Emulsion? The Ordinary also has a Squalene serum, both cost at lot less. Thanks

    • Kate says
      Posted March 4, 2021

      I haven’t tried the Ordinary products so unfortunately I cannot compare!

    • Hilary says
      Posted March 5, 2021


      I haven’t tried The Ordinary’s retinol (although they’re on my to do list!), but I’ve been really happy with the 4 other Ordinary products I use. They also have an excellent return policy: 365 days to return as long as the bottle is 50% full. For just a few bucks, I say give it a try before splurging!

  7. Erica Moffitt says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Ok I bought this based on your glowing review! I have to ask, does yours have a weird smell or did I get a weird batch??


    • Kate says
      Posted March 4, 2021

      I do not notice a weird smell in mine!

      • Becky says
        Posted April 5, 2021

        I’m loving the results, but also think it smalls weird.

  8. Tracy says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Love your results! That product really works for you. I have natural redness to my skin, so I’m a little nervous to try a retinol. I’m really interested in trying a plant based one with Bakuchiol, though.

    • Kate says
      Posted March 4, 2021

      Give it a try!

  9. Vicky says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    I bought this on your recommendation and I’m absolutely positive I saw results after the first use. My skin is soft, much more even and I’ve had no breakouts of any kind. I didn’t have any drying or flaking and my skin is prone to that. Thank you so much for highlighting this product. I don’t think I’ve ever used one product that so dramatically improved my skin.

    • Kate says
      Posted March 4, 2021

      I’m so glad it’s worked for you!

  10. laura hughes says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Are you only supposed to use retinol products at night – why night time vs the day time?

  11. Stephanie says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Did you use the eye cream as well? Just curious if it works as well as the retinol or if you have another eye product that is your go to. Thanks.

  12. Crystal says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    How long does one bottle last for you?

  13. Megan says
    Posted March 4, 2021

    Is this a product that you would recommend making part of a daily routine or is this something you think would be better periodically?

    • Kate says
      Posted March 5, 2021

      In general the thought is to use a retinol very regularly, but I imagine you could do what works best for you. I think you’ll see the best results with continued frequent use though!

  14. Lauren says
    Posted March 5, 2021

    I have been religiously using the Shani Darden retinol for the past 3 years. I think it’s the combination of encapsulated retinol and lactic acid (which my skin loves) and I have seen improved skin texture, less hyperpigmentation, and just better skin. LOVE it!

    • Kate says
      Posted March 5, 2021

      Nice! It’s always great to find a skincare product that works so well!!

  15. Adriana says
    Posted March 5, 2021

    do you skip using a night time face serum on the nights you use retinol? My current night routine is wash, toner, serum, moisturizer. Would it take the place of the serum step?

  16. Alicia says
    Posted March 6, 2021

    What sunscreen do you use with this?

  17. Posted March 6, 2021

    Thanks for the recommendation! I just ordered this product. I wanted to try this type of product but wasn’t sure which one. I trust your opinion and for sharing your photos!

  18. Holly Cain says
    Posted March 7, 2021

    Your skin has been looking truly AMAZING!! Loyal follower and have been for years. I feel like I noticed right away. Not because I thought your skin looked bad but I didn’t really think it could look better?! In the best way! When you put that shear – Jones Road Beauty on last week in your stories – I immediately ordered it too. So fresh and beautiful!

    One Midwest Girl to another. ❤️

  19. Sandra says
    Posted March 7, 2021

    What is Your favorite sun screen with this product ?

    • Kate says
      Posted March 8, 2021

      I really love the sunscreen options from SuperGoop. They make a few different kinds, but a lot of them for the face are sheer and feel really light which is good!

  20. Jennifer says
    Posted March 8, 2021

    I bought both products and am loving them so far! So is the goal to build up to using retinol every night or is it something that you should just use several nights a week? Every other night maybe? I’ve been doing twice a week with no problem so I’ll probably up to three but then wasn’t sure where to go from there.

  21. Posted March 15, 2021

    I can’t do prescription Retin A, Differin, but I can use this product. I never thought of it as strong and was able to start using it every day once I bought it. I’ve been using it for years, no breakouts even out my skin tone, and is sort of moisturizing. It’s a holy grail. I will always have it in my stash. I love that it has lactic acid in it. I never the person to defend a product but I will hand down go to bat for this product. I love it!!!

  22. lindsey roy says
    Posted March 18, 2021

    I bought it and have been using it for almost a month now. This is probably the best thing you have ever recommended. I didn’t expect to see that it would help with redness. Less redness, smaller pores and tighter skin so far. Excited to see more results with longer use!

    • Kate says
      Posted March 18, 2021

      I’m so happy to hear this!

  23. Sherry L Hensley says
    Posted March 18, 2021

    Have you tried the Sunday Riley?
    If so is this better or comparable?


  24. Jessi says
    Posted March 19, 2021

    I’ve been using this product twice a week, for about 3 weeks now and have seen amazing results. I have mild-moderate rosacea and very sensitive skin and I’ve had no issues, my skin is thriving!! For the first time in as long as I can remember… my skin looks and feels amazing!!i cannot get over it! 😍 At 40, I feel comfortable without makeup and a huge confidence boost. This is definitely a holy grail product!

    Thank you so much Kate!

    • Kate says
      Posted March 19, 2021

      I am SO happy to hear this! I feel the same, it’s done so many great things for my skin!!

  25. Elizabeth Arnold says
    Posted April 8, 2021

    What sunscreen do you use on a daily basis? And when do you put it on during your morning routine?

  26. Jenn F. says
    Posted July 28, 2021

    Do you have a code to order? I tried the travel size and now I need more.

    • Kate says
      Posted July 29, 2021

      I wish I did but I don’t have a code!