Dirty Lemon's newest elixir, +retinol, purports to give you smoother, younger-looking skin without scary side effects like dryness, irritation and sun sensitivity
What It Is: Dirty Lemon’s +retinol drink
Who Tried It: Michele Corriston, TV editor
Level of Difficulty: 3/10, the tart taste took some getting used to, but was eventually pleasant.
I have to admit, I’ve long been tantalized by the pretty, candy-colored Dirty Lemon products popping up on my Insta feed — and equally skeptical of the high prices and lofty promises. So when an opportunity to test +retinol for two weeks popped up, I figured, “Why not?”
Dirty Lemon‘s newest elixir, +retinol, purports to give you smoother, younger-looking skin without scary side effects like dryness, irritation and sun sensitivity. Retinol has long been promoted as a beauty enhancer, and their black cherry, acerola and pomegranate concoction is the first drinkable version, the company says.
Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, a dermatologist on PEOPLE’s Health Squad who is not affiliated with Dirty Lemon, explains, “Retinol is a retinoid, which means it is derived form vitamin A. The benefits of retinoids are it boosts collagen production (thus diminishing fine lines and wrinkles), increases skin cells’ turnover (thus brightens and smooths skin surface) and unclogs pores.”
But does the drink work?
“I am not aware of any such evidence,” Dr. Ingleton says. “Dermatologists prescribe an ingestible retinoid (isotretinoin) to treat severe cystic acne but I am not familiar with any other ingestible forms.”
Still, the company’s medical advisor, Dr. Laurie Brodsky, points out, “Vitamin A has a well-documented effect on skin health and plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological and developmental function, and supporting digestive organs,” she explains. “Many people don’t realize that vitamin A from plants (provitamin A) is not the same as active vitamin A (retinol). Beta-carotene, the type found primarily in plants, needs to first be converted to active vitamin A in order to be utilized by the body.”
By ingesting retinol, “you are essentially bypassing the intermediary breakdown steps of vitamin A to provide an easier format for the body to use,” she says.
Dr. Ingleton advises you to check with your doctor first before trying the product: “As a dermatologist who prescribes the FDA approved ingestible retinoid Isotretinoin, I think it is very important to be monitored by a physician if you are ingesting high levels of vitamin A. There are a myriad of potential side effects and potentially teratogenic effects on an unborn fetus if a pregnant woman takes high doses of vitamin A.”
She says topical retinol is more effective and for “someone in their mid-30s and older,” because “this is when the earliest signs of skin aging are seen. The perfect skin type to target would be anyone with early fine lines and wrinkles, or skin that is starting to lose its lustre/glow.”
At 27, I don’t have deep wrinkles yet, but I can trace little divots here and there. I have very fair, super sensitive skin and do a delicate dance with hormonal acne. (I use prescription moisturizers and take Spironolactone pills.)
First impression: This drink is really, really tart. But as time went on, I came to be comforted by the sour taste, craving the flavor each morning. As for my complexion? Admittedly, I didn’t see results right away. I was ready to write off Dirty Lemon as another social media fad. But about month after I began the regimen, my skin glowed and felt smooth as satin — and Dr. Brodsky says that’s exactly how long it takes.
Maybe I was finally less stressed. Maybe my hormones decided to give me a break. There are a host of possible reasons why I suddenly felt like going makeup-free (not even tinted moisturizer!) for days at a time. But maybe I have Dirty Lemon to thank.
“Studies show that vitamin A can be very effective at boosting collagen production, which as we know reduces fine lines and wrinkles,” Dr. Brodsky says. “Vitamin A stimulates the production of fibroblasts (cells found deep within the layers of the skin which are known to synthesize collagen and are responsible for the fresh, constant renewal of firm healthy skin cells). Vitamin A is also known to stimulate new blood vessels in the skin, which results in fresh oxygenation and increased circulation and blood flow that aids in the removal of toxins at the skin surface for a more youthful look, and improved skin tone. In short, vitamin A and retinoic acid impact collagen accumulation because there are more fibroblasts being produced.”
Both doctors agree it’s hard to ignore the proven results of topical retinol.
“I am a fan well-formulated retinol creams. It is important to find products that have a high enough concentration of retinol in order to get the clinical benefit. You should be ‘pushing the envelope’ a bit in terms of getting high enough concentrations of the retinol but not getting the irritation, in order to get clinical results,” says Dr. Ingleton, who is working on an eponymous skincare line featuring a highly concentrated retinol serum. “Remember, retinol is the weaker sister to the prescription-grade retinoids, and the prescription-grade retinoids are the ones that are clinically proven to show the best results on skin.”
And Dr. Brodsky points out that they’re not selling consuming retinol as a replacement for topical creams, calling Dirty Lemon “a first line of defense for internal protection,” because “the benefits are absorbed and dispersed evenly throughout the body, whereas the effects of topicals are localized to the areas where they’re applied.”
The Verdict: Topical retinol is probably your best bet for fighting lines and wrinkles, but if you don’t mind shelling out $45 for a case of six Dirty Lemon +retinol bottles, it’s worth a try. Check with your doctor, and if you get the go-ahead, you’re at least getting more vitamin A into your diet. Best case? You wake up with a fresher face and more confidence — just like I did.