Review: Cosmedix Refine 4%

I know these aren’t the world’s most exciting photos to look at, but this has been a hugely exciting addition to my skincare routine, so if you want excitement and hoo-ha I suggest you wear a party hat and blow a noisemaker and throw confetti while reading this post.

I’ve talked about some of the other products in the Cosmedix line before, but Refine for me is the showcase item in the line: a non-prescription retinol treatment that has really worked for me and that produced a noticeable improvement in my skin from the very first use. Srsly. It was the awesomeness of this product that got me hooked on the rest of the line.

The retinol in Refine comes via something called AGP Complex, which is Cosmedix’s patented vitamin A delivery system. I’ve tried other non-prescription retinol products and this is the first one that’s actually had an effect, so whatever it is, it seems to work pretty darned well.

The product is a thin yellow liquid that you are to apply sparingly to a clean (and dry; wet skin + retinol can equal a burning sensation and greater irritation) face. It’s a night treatment; retinol does not withstand sunlight well, and since it also makes your skin photosensitive it’s important to use it at night and wear a sunscreen during the day. It comes in an airless pump and the dispensing system generally works well; the pump is a little sticky so you can occasionally get more than you bargained for if you were trying to finesse the pump into giving you only a small amount. Cosmedix says that a “pea-sized” amount is enough for the whole face. I have two problems with this: 1) it isn’t, quite, and b) pray tell, how does one measure a “pea-sized” amount of a liquid? Anyway, the point is that less is enough.

The first night I put it on, I waited expectantly for some sort of irritation, or redness, or my skin catching on fire, but none of those happened. It dries to a barely-noticeable finish. The next morning my skin looked … better. Hard to say how. A little more even in tone, a little clearer. Huh. Maybe I was imagining it. The container says to start using it every few days and work up to increased usage as your skin learns to tolerate it, so I didn’t apply the second night. The next morning, my skin still had that nice look. I applied again that night, and it looked even better the next morning!

Lest you think this is going to be a tale of uninterrupted bliss, the day after that my skin began to peel, and that’s when I knew that this product was definitely working. (The label does say you may experience mild peeling.) I also had some sensitivity where the top of the cheekbone meets the orbital area, and I had to be very gentle with skincare as I found most of my usual products to be slightly irritating. So I reduced my usage and tried it every 3 days or so, and that seemed to solve the problem. Sometimes I work up to every 2 days, but in general this is working just fine. My skin tone is much more even, I am starting to see slight but noticeable reduction in fine lines and sunspots, and my skin feels a little thicker and firmer (which is good). I use much less foundation since starting this, and often only apply foundation to the places that actually need it, leaving much of my face foundation-free. (I do use a setting powder, and I apply that all over, but foundation “coverage” for the whole face isn’t nearly as much of an issue anymore.)

Refine 4% also has a big brother called Refine 8%, but I will be sticking with the 4% to start with and if you are new to retinols I would advise you to do the same. Cosmedix also advises consultation with a physician if you want to use this product while pregnant or nursing.


Cosmedix Refine 4%: $58

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Good. It’s pricey but it works, and it will save me a lot of money trying out other retinol products. It also lasts a reasonably long time, since you are only using a small amount and probably not every night.

Purchase again? Already did.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)