Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Exfoliation for Sensitive Skin: Dr. Wu Intensive Renewal Serum with 18% Mandelic Acid

It's not the first and certainly not the last time I've been enabled to purchase a product because of  Driveller Kate's glowing recommendation; as it was the case with this dinky bottle of Dr. Wu Renewal System Intensive Renewal Serum with Mandelic Acid 18% ($28 for 0.5 fl oz/15 ml, I purchased mine on eBay; there's also a 6% concentration available).  Oh you frivolous Driveller, you! *shakes fist*

A couple months back, Kate shared an incredibly helpful post on hyperpigmentation-fighting skincare finds for folks with sensitive skin. In general terms, me and Kate have completely different skintypes, but we do share two common skin qualities: sensitivity and hyperpigmented areas (Kate has adorable freckles, I have less adorable freckles + post-inflammatory acne marks). I was actually planning to get my act together and share an overview/ comparison post of all the different brightening serums I've been trying, but this is (spoiler alert) too good to just sit on for the next couple months - so here it goes!
I think this is officialy the first time I'm trying a beauty product from an Asian brand; I'm normally too confused to try and make sense of the profusion of strange characters on the packaging, or even more confused after reading the machine-translated blurb in English. But soothed by another blogger's rave review, I didn't hesitate long to purchase; and I'm very glad I did! I can foresee some more forays into Asian brands in the future.
My Dr. Wu Intensive Renewal Serum with 18% Mandelic Acid came in a reassuringly foil-wrapped box printed with an expiration date. The English description for once actually makes a lot of sense, and you can also check the full ingredients list: the mandelic acid, derived from bitter almonds, is your exfoliating agent, but it also contains licorice extract to soothe redness and hyaluronic acid for extra hydration. The serum itself comes in a dark glass bottle with a dropper; this is a clear, very liquidy, water-like product, so the dropper is super handy.
I currently use the Mandelic Acid serum twice a week at night, alternating with Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum with 2% Hydroquinone as another hyperpigmentation fighter and Bioderma Hydrabio Moisturising Concentrate every other day for soothing hydration. I put about 5-6 drops directly on my face (forehead, both cheeks, chin area) and lightly distribute with my fingertips, and then press in. This fragrance-free serum sinks in fast, leaving a slightly glowy, moisturized feel; it almost feels like there's something oily that gives a bit of slip to the formulation. I then wait about 20-30 minutes for the acid to do its work (read my book in bed), as per Kate's recommendation, and then follow up with a facial oil for overnight moisture. There is absolutely no tingling, stinging or burning, or even a slightest bit of redness - which is why in the beginning, I thought the serum wasn't doing anything for my skin. But I was wrong!
After using the serum for about two months now, I definitely see a difference to my skin. In the mornings after applying the serum, my skin is smoother, softer and looks more even. It's also nicely plump and hydrated, and there's no irritation in sight - it's perfectly balanced and prepped for make-up application. It seems like the exfoliating action is very, very mild; I've never seen any flakes or areas of dryness after using this serum. But I have seen an improvement in my post-inflammatory hyperpigmented marks: they seem to disappear and even out faster than when I'm just using my Murad Rapid Age Spot Serum, but I've yet to see any discernible results on my freckles.

I find it very interesting that I seem to get much better results on my skin from mild exfoliants geared towards sensitive skin (Dr. Wu Intensive Renewal Serum & First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads) versus stronger/ more concentrated exfoliants I'd tried in the past (prescription tretinoin, higher concentration glycolic acid). I think that maybe the inflammation and dehydrated skin I was getting after using those stronger exfoliants was in fact effectively counteracting any benefits I might have been getting from the active ingredient, and making my skin even more unbalanced, and thus prone to more redness and breakouts. I've recently learnt a hard lesson on overusing glycolics (Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner) - my skin broke out in tiny itchy bumps on tops of my cheekbones and on my upper lip, and it actually looked rather close to eczema. I shoved that toner to the back of my cabinet, busted out Avene Cicalfate, and then slowly reintroduced my milder exfoliants - and thankfully the rash is gone now. But it was a valuable skincare lesson.

Anyway, to conclude this rather lengthy review: do check out Dr. Wu Intense Renewal Serum if your skin is sensitive and you're in need of some gentle but effective exfoliation. The small bottle should actually last you a pretty long time - I've had mine for over two months and I've maybe used up 1/6, so I think the price point is very reasonable. I will definitely repurchase once I run out - I now can't be without it! So thank you, master enabler Kate. What type of exfoliants do you use in your skincare routine? Do you have any favorites from Asian skincare brands?


  1. Oh, this sounds excellent! Indeed, Kate is such an enabler.

  2. Yes, isn't Kate such an enabler?? I should really get my stuff organized and consult with her before any trip to Asia. I went to Asia few months back and Dr. Wu counters are practically everywhere, it is in every single nook and cranny corner of the malls. DANG! Well.. It's the one product that I have on my list to try after I finished my trusty PC BHA (my daily exfoliant, been using this for years w/o irritation). Hmm.. as far as Asian skincare brands, I'm always on the look out for good Asian sunscreen but so far, I've only liked the Hada Labo UV SPF 50 PA+++. Most Asian sunscreen, I found out, contains alcohol which I think is quite sad considering they perform so much better than US Sunscreens.

  3. Hmmm...interesting. I am going to try that serum. It seems like a great one to try out. Thanks for sharing your views about these products.

  4. yes i read this on kate's blog too and practically want to buy her entire routine lol. i've been working my way through some other brightening thigns but this is DEFS on my list.

  5. I actually get better results with mild exfoliants as well. I had the viva amaze gel and it was too strong for me but I did get good results, the tatcha powder (for sensitive skin) was too strong for me as well and stripped my epidermis, I am now using dermalogica and I have the best long-term results. M yskin looks refined. The dr wu serum sounds interesting though. I have to check this one out. I am still looking for something that fights my hyperpigmentation, I think my skin already got used to the caudalie serum I use for a long time now. / Claire xxx

  6. I got a few bottles at home, but I still haven't try them. I am not sure how to fit them into my nightly routine. I clean--tone--Facial Treatment Essence--Serum--lotion. Should I clean and use this and wait 30 min and finish up with tone--Facial Treatment Essence--serum--lotion? what do you recommend?

    1. Hi Amy! I would cleanse and tone, then use the Dr Wu serum, and if possible, wait before finishing with your other serum and lotion. I do a somewhat simplified routine on the nights when I use this: cleanse, tone, apply the mandelic acid serum and wait for about 20-30 minutes, apply facial oil. Hope that helps!