So many Violets are using (and loving) their Dear Brightly retinoids. ME INCLUDED. I’ve been an avid user of retinoids since I was 22/23! A long time now. I firmly believe it is one of the reasons why my skin is still so healthy and youthful. It’s not a secret- it’s RETINOIDS. Medical grade retinoids, baby!

Before Dear Brightly, I would talk about retinoids sometimes. But not often because it wasn’t super accessible. Before Dear Brightly, you had to make an appointment at a Dermatologist’s office, go to the office, pay for the visit (often well over $100)… hopefully get a retinoid prescription, have to go fill that prescription (maybe they would have it in office)… use it (love it!) and then in order to get another refill, you’d have to make another appointment at your Derm and yet again, pay for that visit AND more retinoids. (Sometimes they would give you a few refills, sometimes only one!)…. THAT’S SO MUCH TIME AND MONEY.

Dear Brightly solved a serious problem. They wanted everyone to have access to retinoids as it can help with so much. (Before you say it’s expensive… and really it’s not, I’ve compared multiple retinoids… understand that you can wipe out a good 75% of your skincare routine and just use Dear Brightly. It’s pretty incredible.) They made it so that you can send in your photos online, have a doctor review them, and then get your retinoid prescription in the mail.

It’s very important to me that the brands featured on Violet Fog care very much about this community. Behind the scenes, on the phone, I tell brand’s all the time “The VF community is smart. They ask a lot of questions, they aren’t easily won over. You need to show that you care about them- number one by having a superior product… but I need to know you’re going to take care of them as consumers.” DEAR BRIGHTLY HAS BEEN SO GOOD TO THIS COMMUNITY.

I wanted to pull back the curtains even more on Dear Brightly and interview their Founder- Amy Chiu. She’s so kind, brilliant, and innovative. I hope you enjoy this! We talk a lot about the mission and also sprinkle in some tips on getting the most out of your retinoids.

1. What made you create Dear Brightly? What was the need you saw that had to be met?

We simply built DB to solve our own problem that we ourselves personally experienced. This is my own personal experience (Alda, the Co-Founder, will obviously have a different story)…!

When I was in my mid-20s, I experienced major changes in my skin – hormonal acne, sunspots, uneven skin tone mainly. I didn’t feel like myself and would hide… I was actually not as open. Skin changes can do that to someone.

I had never been to a dermatologist (never thought I needed to), and I remember calling a few that I found on yelp. Some had a waitlist, some didn’t. I went to my first derm appointment and had to take time off work. All of it was pretty inconvenient. I waited in the waiting room for about 15 minutes and my derm saw me for about 5-10 minutes. She didn’t even touch my skin. She looked at my skin and gave me retinoid samples from the office. I paid about $200 out of pocket (I had a high deductible) for the visit itself.

Upon using the product, I had a horrible reaction. My whole face was burning and turned red. Why? For one, I was using it during the day! My provider didn’t tell me how to use it properly and there were no instructions. It didn’t help that the commercially available strength was just too strong for me considering my skin is pretty sensitive and dry already (this is why tailoring is SO important).

The second time I went to a new derm, and she printed out instructions for me. Even this simple thing made such a difference. I used the product properly and my whole skin changed. My skin was even better than before I had bouts of acne, sun spots, etc. It was then that I knew the magic of retinoids and never looked back. I got my confidence back and felt totally like myself again, if not better.

All in all, the entire experience wasn’t ideal. It’s inconvenient, inaccessible, costly, and the commercially available retinoids feel medicinal, aren’t tailored to give you a smooth ramp up, and the instructions are horrible. They’re scary to read and hard to read (the font is so small!).

I have been a retinoid user for 6 years now, and I wanted people to see the magic of them without jumping through the hoops or horrible experiences that can easily turn one off, like I had experienced. I could have just given up and not tried using them a second time, but I really trusted my second derm (esp bc she gave me instructions), and now I continue to use retinoids for prevention purposes.

Long story short though…through DB, I hope to give people an ideal experience that I wish I had gotten, and for people to experience the magic of derm-grade retinoids. Everyone should be using one..seriously, everyone!

2. Can you explain what tretinoin/retinoids do in your own terms? For those who are coming to this article and just hearing about them.

I think of tretinoin as the “nighttime” SPF. It’s an absolute must in my nighttime routine.

To put it simply, tretinoin (a derm-grade retinoid), is a topical that is the gold standard for photoaging. I’ve even heard of it as “God’s gift to dermatology”. It stimulates collagen production to prevent and treat fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation like sun spots, big pores, and acne.

I wish I started much earlier!


3. What kind of testimonials are you hearing on the regular with your customers?

Reading testimonials are my favorite part of my day. Sometimes days can seem so hard with all of the big fires of starting a company, but hearing how life-changing our service has been for people makes it all so worth it. I hear a number of things. Here’s one story in praticular off the top of my head:

– One woman didn’t feel comfortable going outside because she didn’t feel comfortable in her skin. she started using our service, and it was a huge boost in her confidence. She was able to go out and not have to hide behind her makeup. Her husband even noticed (she didn’t tell him about us), and then he started using us as well :-).

Common things we hear:
—- I do hear a lot that people really love the texture :-). They appreciate that a beauty product now feels like a beauty product.
—- That they don’t have to wear as much makeup anymore. One girl told us how she went out on a date without makeup and felt damn good!! I loved hearing that.
—- How convenient and easy the service has been for them.
—- How they don’t rely on this big 10-step skincare routine anymore or monthly peels/facials. They were able to simplify their routine, which in turn has helped them save money.


4. What was the hardest part about starting Dear Brightly? What obstacles do you continue to face?

Leaving my previous job. I loved my time at Optimizely as an engineer…so much. I felt a pull and not a push to start DB. It took me about a year to actually leave to start DB because I just loved my job so much. But again, I was feeling a constant pull every day. I kid you not, I would wake up in the middle of the night (usually between 2-5am), and think about how DB needs to exist.

When we got into Y-Combinator (which was so surprising and one of the best things to happen to us), it was clear to us that we had to go for it. You’d think all of the setup and initial beginnings would be the hardest, but the hardest was really that transition –– leaving my job and embarking on an unknown. I had to trust what my subconscious was telling me to do (and pulling me towards).

There are so many obstacles we continue to face! I think the biggest one that can get me really down but also uplift me are customers. People think that I’m nuts for still doing some customer service and answering support tickets/calls, but I think it’s SO important to have a pulse on what’s going on. Off the record, I think sometimes customers don’t realize there is a real person behind an email and that we’re truly trying our best, but some can really treat you like you don’t matter or make you feel small. There are amazing days though where I hear stories of how DB has changed lives. I get so so excited when people find value out of the service. We built DB to solve our own problem, but to see how it positively impacts others feels so rewarding.

5. What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks you why they should choose a retinoid over retinol?

It’s 20x more potent! That’s pretty nuts to me but also not surprising considering retinol is not the active and requires multiple conversions for your skin to do anything with it. And the side effects one can get from tretinoin can be GREATLY minimized with proper use and tailoring. So when I think of efficacy and potential temporary side effects, derm-grade retinoids win for me.


6. Bakuchiol is a hot new ingredient- again, how do you think it stands up to retinoids? (I know my answer but would love to hear yours!)

It’s not my MO to put down other solutions, especially if these solutions work for other people. I think Bakuchiol is great as an alternative to retinol! But as an alternative to derm-grade retinoids like tretinoin? That’s a different story. There are no studies comparing bakuchiol to tretinoin, but if bakuchiol’s results are comparable to that of retinol, than from what we know of studies around retinol and tretinoin, tretinoin is much more potent still (we know tretinoin is 20x more potent than retinol).


7. What would you tell those who are JUST starting off on their retinoid journey? Like a friend calls you and says, “Okay, Amy! I pulled the trigger and I’m going to start retinoids. What do I need to be prepared for in the beginning?”

Initially, I’d say, this will be one of the best things you do for your skin! Start off slow and always listen to your skin as you gradually increase to nightly as tolerated. You may experience temporary side effects like dryness, sensitivity for the first 2-4 weeks, but your skin is learning to tolerate the active and it means it’s working. Patience is absolutely the name of the game here, and it’s so worth it to stick it out.


8. How does one know they are getting a high-quality retinoid?

Such a great question! It depends on how you want to define “high quality.” I think of high quality as efficacy. And of course, long-term safety is non negotiable. But the most important thing to me is hands down efficacy.

One knows if they are getting a high-quality retinoid if it has the active ingredient. Retinol is a type of retinoid, but it’s not derm-grade and is NOT the active. Along with Differin and other types of derm-grade retinoids, they are the active, BUT the ONLY derm-grade retinoid that has proven efficacy for photoaging is tretinoin– that’s what Dear Brightly is.

Additionally, the base ingredient matters a lot to me. I want to make sure what I’m putting on my skin, my largest organ, is up to my standards (i.e., not potentially and unnecessarily irritating, not tested on animals, etc.). It’s a huge bonus to me if the ingredients are cruelty-free, fragrance-free, etc. Besides tailoring to give one a smooth experience and ramp-up, I think ingredients are where DB has a huge leg up. We really advocate for ingredients that people are more comfortable with and are transparent about it too.


9. Besides retinoids– what is one skincare product (besides sunscreen) that you think should be a staple in most people’s routine?

I don’t think I can name one. I really think of cleansers, moisturizers, and antioxidants like vitamin C are staples. I’ve talked to enough dermatologists at this point where I know that those five are SUPER important to maintain healthy skin. I used to think that things like toners, collagen face masks, various serums, etc, were must needs in my routine because of the way they were marketed, but after being educated by the experts (derms), I learned that those are more or less bonus items. Sunscreen, retinoid, moisturizer, cleanser, and antioxidants like Vit C are true essentials.

10. What is next for Dear Brightly?!

So many things! But to put it simply, I have a vision to create a service that is truly made for the millennial who has grown up. The olays, the estee lauders, etc. aren’t doing it for us anymore. And they don’t care about simplifying for us either in a world that is becoming more and more complex. I want to create a service that does all of the hard upfront work to simplify what people really should be using. We want to create our five-product set with heavy input from derms. And we want to do all of this so you can spend more time enjoying life. Additionally, we’re not just a skincare service. I really care about sending the message that aging is living (brands surprisingly talk about looking young a lot), that we care about sustainability, etc. We’re a dynamic team, and we’re so much more than just skincare.

Y’all…. please check out Dear Brightly. It is the number one thing I will ever recommend for skin.