Jennifer Garner Swears By This $25 Drugstore Retinol Oil. Is It Worth It, Tho?

November 13, 2020

I recently read in a woman’s magazine that TikTok is destroying Millennial beauty. You know what I’m talking about: perfectly curated shelfies, white-and-pink packaging, sans serif fonts, and girls with dewy skin and full glossy lips. Glossier defined so much of this trend and even created a new archetype of a beautiful woman for the late 2010s.

I always felt too old for Millennial beauty, so imagine my consternation at being too old twice over! It won’t be long before I’m on a display in a museum. I’m not on TikTok, (is it even downloadable for people over the age of 30? Asking for a friend) and what I’ve seen on other channels about beauty trends thereof has been frightening. The worst trend is the “fox eye,” having the last inch or so of your eyebrows and redrawing it to be straight, instead of droopy. Why, oh why?!

But while I’ll never be convinced to razor my perfectly fine brows to look 1% more like Kendall Jenner, Gen Z and I at least seem to share a kind of disillusionment with Millennial curation and perfectionism. It seems TikTok is swinging the pendulum back to drugstore beauty, including many brands that we used as teens. On TikTok, products that garner the most views are your run-of-the-mill L’Oreal mascara, and a viral CeraVe cleanser that took off in sales so spectacularly that it even made CNN.

Kids these days…

This makes sense to me, because about 60% of TikTok’s users are 16–24 years old, and when you’re that age you naturally don’t have $90 to spend on a bottle of moisturizer. But recently even people who can afford products at any price have declared that they love old-timey, 90s brands. Take Jennifer Garner for example, who says that she loves Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil that costs all of $25. Hmmm!!

Like every girl who was alive in the 90s and early 2000s, I have very bad memories of using that orange Neutrogena cleanser in the hopes of taming my acne. Back in the day, Neutrogena used all the hottest teen idols like Jennifer Love Hewitt (even her name says 90s nostalgia to me) and Kristin Kreuk. But that ubiquitous cleanser only made my skin dry *and* spotty. Also, Neutrogena’s microbead scrub played a significant role in adding tons of microplastic into our oceans and waterways before it was finally banned.

So I feel very skeptical of anything Neutrogena has to say, but I’m also willing to change my mind. Quick research tells me that the Retinol Oil contains a relatively few number of ingredients: Lsohexadecane, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, PPG-15 Stearyl Ether, Triethyl Citrate, Polysorbate 20, Retinal, Fragrance, Tocopheryl Acetate, Bisabolol, BHT. I meticulously checked each of them, and most of these are synthetic fillers that are designed to provide the right texture and absorption, not active ingredients. Dicaprylyl Carbonate is an emollient that can be from either animal or synthetic sources, and I’ll give them the benefit of doubt and say it’s synthetic. None of these appear to be dangerous to human health. Only one is a natural active ingredient: Bisabolol—a German chamomile essential oil used to improve dryness, damage, and redness.

If that’s not enough deterrent, Neutrogena still conducts animal testing. According to the company site, the brand “doesn’t conduct animal testing of our cosmetic products anywhere in world, except in the rare situation where governments or laws require it.” The brand sells in China, which requires animal testing for cosmetic products.

The moral of the story? There is a lot that I learned from bumbling my way through drugstore skincare in my teens and early twenties, and there’s a reason why I go like this 🙀 whenever I think about the damages from those years. My skin is so, so much healthier and more balanced since switching to “expensive” natural beauty products around 2013. And expensive is in quotes because if you consider how much money you can waste with half-used “cheap” products, it all evens out. I’ll stick with my favorite oils from Earthwise Beauty and 5yina, thank you very much. (And if you’re into retinol, check out our Creative Director and resident beauty guru Mary’s ride-or-die retinol.)

Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!


Photo: Abbey Yung via TikTok; Jennifer Garner via Instagram


always stay inspired!