Some firsts you never forget: kisses, jobs, and tretinoin. Yes, that inaugural time you slather on prescription retinol is one that sticks with you — mostly because it often brings torture along with it in the form of redness and flakiness. My experience came along at age 25 when I was desperate to banish my adult-onset acne. 

Although the results six weeks later were remarkable, I swore off tretinoin for four years due to inflammation. However, Agency Future Formula with Tretinoin reunited me with the retinol about eight months ago. Stress and constant mask wear brought my breakouts back with a vengeance, and nothing seemed to be helping. I needed to call in the big guns for treating my acne. 

Venturing out into the world to see a dermatologist for a tretinoin prescription terrified me. Health anxiety has plagued me for as long as I can remember, and I am prone to having panic attacks when going to a doctor’s appointment. Needless to say, I put off making an appointment for months — that is until the opportunity to try Agency came up. 

Agency provides you with a dermatologist appointment on your own time without leaving your couch or having face-to-face interaction. You fill out a quick online form detailing your complexion concerns, current skin-care routine, and medical history — all the typical parts of a visit to the dermatologist. Everything is easy to navigate while being incredibly inclusive, respectful, and private. You’ll send in photos of your skin for your provider to review too. 

From there, a dermatology provider will be assigned to you, and they will create an extremely detailed treatment plan for you, complete with prescription tretinoin sent right to your door and recommended skin-care routine. You can even message them whenever you want if you have any questions or concerns. 

But Agency’s prescription tretinoin isn’t simply the beloved vitamin A derivative, which increases skin cell turnover and stimulates collagen synthesis, according to Sheila Farhang, a board-certified dermatologist in Arizona. It’s custom compounded with ingredients specific to your complexion’s cravings, like niacinamide and tranexamic acid, while keeping the retinol from irritating your skin. Every month the percentage of each may change, and ingredients may be added and subtracted. Agency basically provides you with an all-in-one serum that changes as your skin improves. It’s like having a dermatologist and cosmetic chemist at your fingertips, which is my dream come true. 

My Future Formula, as Agency calls it, packs 0.035 percent of tretinoin alongside one percent of dexpanthenol, which is also known as provitamin B5, to moisturize skin while reducing transdermal water loss. It’s also joined by five percent of my recent favorite ingredient: tranexamic acid, a gentle dark spot treatment that wards off post-inflammation hyperpigmentation. And last but not least, niacinamide, aka vitamin B3, makes the ingredient list with a 4 percent concentration. 

It “works with your skin’s natural chemistry to improve overall skin texture by rebuilding a lipid layer, minimizing the appearance of pores, and preventing UV damage and inflammation as an antioxidant,” Brandith Irwin, a board-certified dermatologist based in Seattle, has told Allure



a person posing for the camera


© Allure


Every night — after cleansing and spritzing on my favorite essence —  I spread one pump of the creamy, buttery yellow Future Formula all over my face. Straight away, you can tell the serum is not going to suck the moisture out of your skin because its rich texture spreads on a layer of hydration without feeling like you’re undergoing a painful chemical peel. Plus, I love how it lacks an overwhelmingly chemical smell that retinol tends to have. From there, I simply layer a moisturizer on top, and I’m free to get my beauty sleep. 

Within a week, I noticed my skin clearing up, smoothing out, and getting brighter without any flakes or redness accompanying the results like my first retinol experience. Every month, I look forward to my new bottle of Future Formula arriving, and the list of friends and family I’ve recommended it to grows. My sister Taylor has even become an avid fan of Agency, and she’s a tougher skin-care critic than I am. 



chart: Prescription retinoids firm, smooth, and brighten, so why aren't we all walking around with gleaming, baby-bottom skin? Well, there are a few reasons you might not have an Rx: These retinoids are notoriously capable of stirring up side effects (dryness, flakiness, redness, burning) and they're not that easy to get. A prescription requires a trip to the dermatologist and for more than 42 percent of the U.S. population, that's not an option, according to a paper on areas underserved by dermatologists in JAMA Dermatology's Archives of Dermatology. (Retinols are available over the counter, but tretinoin, the gold standard for addressing fine lines, is not.) Agency is the first virtual-consult service we've seen that enables you to get a tretinoin prescription while in your living room, and in that respect "it's providing a dermatologist visit for those living in 'dermatologist deserts,'" says Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut. A visit, and then some: Because Agency isn't doling out standard prescriptions, if you are a candidate for tretinoin, you'll get a customized formula with one of four percentages, plus four complementary ingredients, such as brightening niacinamide or calming azelaic acid. That's a boon because attempting to layer tretinoin with your own skin care ups the risk of irritation: "It's not an ingredient that can play nicely in the sandbox with a lot of other active ingredients," says Gohara. "It's like the queen bee." Before mixing tretinoin with other actives, "we tested over 2,500 data points," says David Lortscher, the dermatologist who founded Agency, which offers newbies unusually low percentages (including 0.003 percent tretinoin). If you're new to tretinoin, a low percentage can make it possible to tolerate it, though any amount has the potential to irritate, says Gohara. When cherry-picking a client's formula, providers take into account three makeup-free selfies and a questionnaire. After you get your personalized formula, you'll have access to dermatologist check-ins as often as you like. If your skin acts up or results plateau, Agency's dermatologists can adjust your next formulation. All of this customization and concierge-y-ness will run you $30 per month (traditional tretinoin Rxs cost $50 to $250). "This is the way to get people the guidance they need — no, not need, deserve," says Gohara. "Access is so important." One of our beauty editors, Devon Abelman, has been using Agency for four months (her current formula: 0.035 percent tretinoin, 1 percent dexpanthenol, 5 percent tranexamic acid, 4 percent niacinamide) and it's helped quell her cystic acne and dark spots.  And Agency has saved her time and stress shuttling to and from appointments during an unpredictable pandemic. "This made me so at ease with my skin journey," Abelman says. "It puts everything my skin needs— over-the-counter and prescription ingredients — in one simple bottle."


© Courtesy of brand

Prescription retinoids firm, smooth, and brighten, so why aren’t we all walking around with gleaming, baby-bottom skin? Well, there are a few reasons you might not have an Rx: These retinoids are notoriously capable of stirring up side effects (dryness, flakiness, redness, burning) and they’re not that easy to get. A prescription requires a trip to the dermatologist and for more than 42 percent of the U.S. population, that’s not an option, according to a paper on areas underserved by dermatologists in JAMA Dermatology’s Archives of Dermatology. (Retinols are available over the counter, but tretinoin, the gold standard for addressing fine lines, is not.)

Agency is the first virtual-consult service we’ve seen that enables you to get a tretinoin prescription while in your living room, and in that respect “it’s providing a dermatologist visit for those living in ‘dermatologist deserts,'” says Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut. A visit, and then some: Because Agency isn’t doling out standard prescriptions, if you are a candidate for tretinoin, you’ll get a customized formula with one of four percentages, plus four complementary ingredients, such as brightening niacinamide or calming azelaic acid. That’s a boon because attempting to layer tretinoin with your own skin care ups the risk of irritation: “It’s not an ingredient that can play nicely in the sandbox with a lot of other active ingredients,” says Gohara. “It’s like the queen bee.”

Before mixing tretinoin with other actives, “we tested over 2,500 data points,” says David Lortscher, the dermatologist who founded Agency, which offers newbies unusually low percentages (including 0.003 percent tretinoin). If you’re new to tretinoin, a low percentage can make it possible to tolerate it, though any amount has the potential to irritate, says Gohara.

When cherry-picking a client’s formula, providers take into account three makeup-free selfies and a questionnaire. After you get your personalized formula, you’ll have access to dermatologist check-ins as often as you like. If your skin acts up or results plateau, Agency’s dermatologists can adjust your next formulation. All of this customization and concierge-y-ness will run you $30 per month (traditional tretinoin Rxs cost $50 to $250).

“This is the way to get people the guidance they need — no, not need, deserve,” says Gohara. “Access is so important.” One of our beauty editors, Devon Abelman, has been using Agency for four months (her current formula: 0.035 percent tretinoin, 1 percent dexpanthenol, 5 percent tranexamic acid, 4 percent niacinamide) and it’s helped quell her cystic acne and dark spots. 

And Agency has saved her time and stress shuttling to and from appointments during an unpredictable pandemic. “This made me so at ease with my skin journey,” Abelman says. “It puts everything my skin needs— over-the-counter and prescription ingredients — in one simple bottle.”


Agency Future Formula

$60.00,

Intrigued by Agency? Head over to withagency.com to see what all of the hype is about. And after you’re done here, check out all of our 2021 Allure Best of Beauty Award winners. (The entire list is well worth the read.)

More on Best of Beauty:

Now, see a stuntwoman’s entire beauty routine in action: 

Follow Devon Abelman on Twitter and Instagram.

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