How Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform Has Remained a Cult-Favorite—Even in an Oversaturated Market

How Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform Has Remained a Cult-Favorite—Even in an Oversaturated Market featured image

Having amassed an A-list group of clientele—including Kelly Rowland, Jessica Alba, and Molly Sims, to name a few—and creating one of the best-selling product lines at Sephora, there’s no question Shani Darden knows a thing or two about good skin care.

And that’s exactly why Retinol Reform, Darden’s first direct-to-consumer product launched in 2013, has maintained its cult-favorite status since its inception.

While there are countless retinol products available on the market today, back in the 2010s, the vitamin A derivative was only available to consumers with a prescription, and many had harsh side effects. But after years of working with world-class dermatologists, studying to become an esthetician, and opening up her own treatment studio in the backyard of her West Hollywood home, Darden was ready to make the all-star product—known to smooth out wrinkles, fight acne, and even out skin tone—available to the general public.

So she formulated a time-released encapsulated retinol serum, paired with lactic acid, to create an effective, yet gentle, exfoliant that could be tolerated by all skin types—without a script. And consumers fell in love.

10 years later, Retinol Reform is still on top. At Sephora, an average of six units are sold every hour, and the product has garnered over 1,200 five-star reviews online; all of which is no easy feat, considering the present oversaturation of the beauty market.

Here, NewBeauty spoke with Darden about how Retinol Reform came to be, why she thinks it’s still at the top of consumer’s minds, and her advice for up-and-coming founders.

When you first launched Retinol Reform, this type of product was mainly only available as a prescription. What made you want to make it more accessible?

I couldn’t find a retinol product on the market that had all of the benefits of a prescription retinol product without the dryness and peeling, so I decided to develop my own formula that is incredibly effective but without the harsh side effects. 10 years ago, I launched Retinol Reform which has an encapsulated retinol and provides multiple anti-aging benefits with minimal dryness and irritation.

For those who may not be aware, could you break down what it means to have a time-encapsulated retinol? Also, why did you decide to pair it with lactic acid? What benefits does this provide?

Retinol Reform is formulated with a slow-release, encapsulated formula, which means that it delivers a consistent stream of retinol throughout the night to minimize irritation often experienced with retinol products. I formulated it with lactic acid so that you get immediate brightening benefits to pair with the long-term anti-aging benefits of the retinol.

Tell me about the development of the packaging, from when you first launched to now?

My husband and I started the business and launched Retinol Reform ourselves 10 years ago. We would get shipments of the original bottles and have to individually put each bottle into a carton. As the company grew, we were able to focus more on rebranding to something that was more in line with my aesthetic. It’s still a work in progress today.

Why do you think this product has become a cult-favorite?

It’s a multi-tasking product that helps to address many different things, from the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, to uneven texture, dullness, and even loss of firmness. I’ve even seen Retinol Reform help some of my clients with acne scarring and blemishes. Overall, it gives you a really amazing glow with minimal irritation. It’s easy to use and you don’t need multiple treatment products to achieve glowing skin.

What’s the secret for staying top of mind for consumers in an oversaturated market?

My mission is always to provide honest, no-nonsense education surrounding skin care. I’m really passionate about developing products that are efficacious and easy to use. I always stand by the idea that skin care doesn’t need to be complicated in order to have great skin and I think that is something that people respect and appreciate.

What’s your advice to other skin-care entrepreneurs who are currently bootstrapping and looking for their big break?

I always encourage people to really put themselves out there and not be afraid that people won’t like them. That was something I really struggled with as I was building my brand, but I think you have to believe in yourself and your product fully and know that going into any conversations with investors. They talk to so many people and they can immediately sense authenticity and passion. When it’s not there, it’s obvious. So believing in what you’re doing is absolutely essential.

Knowing all you know now, is there anything you would have done differently on this 10-year journey?

It’s so hard to pinpoint anything I would have done differently. Of course there are always things you wish would be easier or that you would like to change, but you learn so much from all of the various experiences, setbacks, and mishaps.

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