9/16/2021 Update: NIOD CAIS2 is no more. It has been replaced by Copper Amino Isolate Serum 3 1:1*, which I reviewed on my IGTV here, and which I love just as much! If you still prefer to read a text-based review, read on. CAIS3 feels and performs exactly the same for me and contains the same key ingredients in the same order, so most of this review still applies.
This review has been a long time coming. Not just because it typically takes me at least one or two months to determine whether a “serious” (e.g. anti-aging or spot fading) product actually does anything for me, but also because I’ve had a bias against Deciem brands for the longest time. Especially against NIOD, the brand that makes the product I’ll be reviewing today.
The product reviewed in this post was provided by Deciem*. This post contains affiliate links, which earn this blog a small commission for purchases made using those links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
So what was my problem with NIOD?
NIOD stands for “Non-Invasive Options in Dermal Science,” which begs the question, Why it isn’t called NIODS? But that’s besides the point. (Is it because NIODS sounds too much like “nads”? Did I watch too much Beavis and Butthead as a teenager? Who knows?)
NIOD products aim to improve skin’s health and appearance via indirect methods that stimulate skin to function better on its own, rather than achieving results through the direct action of often harsh actives like retinoids and exfoliating acids. I think.
The NIOD brand page* refuses to make things clear. Per Deciem:
The few observers of NIOD’s childhood know that NIOD isn’t a brand. It is a force and it has a soul. While NIOD’s genetics are committed to science, its soul is ultimately rooted in learning.
Oh. Okay. Cool?
The force with a soul that is NIOD offers products with names like Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex*, Modulating Glucosides*, Low-Viscosity Cleaning Ester*, Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate*, Non-Acid Acid Precursor 15%*, and Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist*. Product descriptions on their website are aggressively jargony and seemingly purposely obscure. And that is why NIOD always drove me crazy.
NIOD positions itself as “skincare for the hyper-educated,” implying that only very smart people can understand the products. It’s intellectually elitist skincare. I assume you’re meant to feel very smart once you work out what in the actual fuck “Sanskrit Saponins*” do for your face (it’s a balm cleanser that doesn’t actually contain any conventional cleansing agents, and no you don’t have to read the Vedas to use it), and very intimidated and impressed if you can’t.
My main joy in writing about skincare lies in presenting the products as clearly as I can so that as many people can understand and enjoy them as possible. That leaves me philosophically at odds with NIOD’s branding.
Things would have ended here, with me studiously ignoring the existence of the entire family of brands under the Deciem umbrella, if a friend of mine hadn’t landed in the PR department over at Deciem. If there’s one thing I trust more than my own instincts, it’s the instincts of the people whose skincare knowledge I respect. So thanks, Brian, for finally getting me to take the plunge into a bewildering world of skincare made by people who consider the term “cleansing” an “unnecessarily-privileged language form.” Because all philosophical considerations aside, I fucking love the product I’m going to review below.
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 (CAIS2) Review
I’ve been happy with the results of my tretinoin-heavy, youth-preserving skincare practices for some time now. Usually that would mean I wouldn’t see the utility of a copper peptide product like the CAIS2 in my routine. But I don’t like to put tret on my neck or chest, since I find those areas much more sensitive than my face. As a result, I’d started to notice a loss of elasticity in the skin beneath my chin. Additionally, I don’t like to use tret frequently in the summer. I live by the beach and spend a lot of time in the sun; I don’t want to risk sun damage due to tretinoin’s photosensitizing effects. So the CAIS2 came at a perfect time for me.
Purpose: NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 mainly claims to firm skin through improved collagen synthesis while boosting skin’s healing and immune functions and fighting inflammation.
Best suited for: All skin types.
Do not use if: Your skin is sensitive to anything in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: Upon opening, dump the Copper Amino Isolate Activator bottle into the Copper Amino Isolate Serum bottle. Close tightly with the dropper cap and shake violently for about 30 seconds.
Congratulations! Now you have a bottle of freshly mixed CAIS2!
Apply immediately after cleansing or as an early step layer after actives. While NIOD states that this version of the CAIS serum is not pH-sensitive like the older CAIS1 was, I would still wait at least 15-20 minutes after using low pH actives before applying this.
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 Activator ingredients: Water, glycerin, tripeptide-29, tripeptide-1, myristoyl nonapeptide-3, trifluoroacetyl tripeptide-2, acetyl tetrapeptide-2, sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, glycogen, propanediol, pentylene glycol, dextran, dimethyl isosorbide, ethyoxydiglycol, isoceteth-20, leuconostoc/radish root ferment filtrate, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin
NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 Copper Concentrate ingredients: Water, copper gluconate, isoceteth-20, phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin
Notable ingredients: NIOD CAIS2 is all about the copper peptides, which have been trending in skincare for the past few years due to their theoretical ability to increase collagen synthesis for firmer, smoother skin. The CAIS2 relies most heavily on GHK-Cu, a copper peptide that occurs naturally in human plasma and other bodily fluids and whose presence in the body decreases with age. Evidence suggests that GHK-Cu can tighten loose skin, increase skin firmness and elasticity, smooth skin texture, reduce inflammation, accelerate and optimize skin regeneration at a genetic level, and repair photoaged or hyperpigmented skin, along with a bevy of other possible effects that make this particular peptide especially sexy in the skincare world.
That list of benefits seems pretty wild for a non-prescription ingredient. If GHK-Cu could really produce all these results, it would deserve to join retinoids and vitamin C on the very short list of Skincare Ingredients That Actually Do Incredible Things To Skin. And yet I’ve tried several other peptidey and copper peptidey products that didn’t do a thing for me.
As with pretty much any other theoretically effective skincare ingredient, concentration makes a big difference in effectiveness. I don’t believe a consensus exists yet about the optimal effective concentration of these or any other peptides, but there must be an optimal concentration, and the closer any product comes to it, the better. I’m guessing that among other formulation weaknesses, the other peptide products I’ve used before didn’t contain those ingredients in effective doses.
In fact, the Deciem website throws shade at other peptide products for containing copper peptides “in very small amounts.” Normally, that might read as a standard slam against competitors. Here, I think they’re on to something. NIOD discloses the concentrations of their copper peptides: 1% GHK-Cu and 1% free-form GHK. The differences between the two forms remain unclear to my insufficiently hyper-educated eye, beyond what’s claimed on their website, but the fact that they disclose their concentrations is promising.
The proof, as always, is in the pudding.
Once mixed, NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 is a thin, watery serum with a faint sour scent and a beautiful blue hue that my fellow catless cat lady Angela over at Beauty and the Cat raved about in her review of this product.
The thinness of the serum has both advantages and disadvantages. The key advantage is how quickly and easily it sinks into skin: the water-like consistency vanishes almost immediately, leaving skin feeling bare, without any heavy residue to interfere with subsequent layers of other products. The key disadvantage is that the thinness of the product can make it easy to accidentally lose precious drops of product during the act of transferring it from palm to face. Watery serums are unforgiving that way. You can squeeze it directly from the dropper onto your face like beauty gurus do in oddly suggestive skincare videos, but even so, you have to move quick to catch it before it rolls right off your chin.
I also found that the thinness of the serum made it easy for me to overestimate how much product I needed at a time, resulting in unnecessary waste of a not-inexpensive product.
After a few mishaps, I finally settled on my usual dosage: a quarter of a dropper for face and a quarter of a dropper for neck and upper chest.
What I noticed after using the CAIS2 for just a few weeks was nothing short of extraordinary.
Remember how I said I don’t like using tret below my chin? Earlier this year, I’d started to notice a visible deterioration in my skin condition on neck and chest, which were starting to really really not match my face. There was a patch of skin under my chin that I found especially worrisome. Whenever I moved my head from side to side, the skin there looked loose, pulling into a crepey flap that I just didn’t like seeing. My neck itself and woefully UV-exposed upper chest also seemed to be losing ground compared to my face.
It wasn’t a hydration or moisture issue, since I take all my non-tret skincare all the way down to my Upper Tiddy Region. Nor could it be overexfoliation, since I don’t use acids or scrubs on those areas. It was, simply, a visible reminder that tret definitely works, because it was working on my face and creating a definite contrast to the rest of my skin that has to go without it.
Within three weeks after starting the CAIS2, that flappy bit under my chin had completely vanished. I still sometimes look for it, just to make sure. It’s just not there anymore, even when I do weird things with my head and neck. The skin under my chin has tightened up considerably. My neck and upper chest became smoother and firmer as well, less prone to that bit of wrinkling that’s especially visible for side sleepers when we first get up in the morning.
As for anti-inflammatory properties, the usual slight redness I get around my mouth and chin have faded so much that I never wear foundation anymore. I’d gotten my foundation usage down to just a fraction of a drop to even out those areas. Now it seems totally unnecessary. That in itself is magical, especially considering that the school year is about to start and will require me to be up around 6am and ready to leave the house at an hour that I’d naturally rather spend sleeping.
Does the CAIS2 stimulate collagen production and skin renewal on the same deep level as a good strong retinoid? I’m undecided about that. Tret takes a long time to show visible results. The effects of CAIS2, on the other hand, showed up remarkably quickly for me. My entirely unscientific theory for why this is, is that maybe the CAIS2’s mechanism of action affects levels of skin nearer to the surface, which would explain the quick and drastic change to skin tightness and texture but might be less lasting than changes deeper within. I don’t think CAIS2 accelerates actual skin renewal to the same degree as a strong retinoid, since it doesn’t cause any of the associated peeling or dryness that that would entail.
As for hyperpigmentation claims, I haven’t seen any impact from the CAIS2. In all fairness, though, I don’t have any particular spots I’m trying to fade on my face.
I won’t be giving up tret completely, since I believe tret affects skin at a deeper level than the CAIS2, but NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 has improved my skin so dramatically that it’s earned a permament slot in my daily skincare routine. I’ve gone through one of the 15mL bottles and one of the 30mL bottles now and have just mixed up my second 30mL bottle. I see no reason on earth not to continue. I want them to make this in a body product. I want to soak my entire body in it. I want to bathe in it like a far less murdery Erzsebet Bathory.
I assumed I wouldn’t like anything NIOD has to offer. I was proven wrong, and I’m happy to admit it.
1 – This should be taken off the market, or this failed at its one primary job.
2 – Caused me some problems or doesn’t work very well; would not buy again.
3 – Meh. Neither great nor bad.
4 – Pretty good. Would buy again unless I find something better.
5 – I’ll never be in the market for a replacement unless this one is discontinued.
Where can I buy NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1?
While CAIS2 is no longer sold, NIOD’s Copper Amino Isolate Serum 3 1:1 performs just as well for me, with the key difference being that you no longer need to mix the serum and activator upon opening. You can buy CAIS3 from Deciem here.*
Postscript: On press samples and replenishments
As a final note, I want to address something that I wouldn’t blame any of you guys for bringing up.
My first, 15mL, bottle of NIOD CAIS2 came as a press sample from Deciem. And before I finished it up, I was offered a replenishment along with another shipment of things to try, which I accepted. And the third bottle that I’ve just started was also provided by the brand.
I’m aware that the supply of product I receive puts me in an extremely privileged position as a beauty blogger. I’m also aware that it can give off the impression of bias: that I have to say I like the product or else I won’t get more. I understand where that suspicion comes from. But in this case, it’s putting the chicken before the egg, or the horse before the cart, or something like that. If I didn’t like it in the first place, I wouldn’t accept more. They’re sending more, and I’m accepting more, precisely because I genuinely love it. I hope it’s clear for those of you who follow my daily routines on my Instagram that products I don’t like don’t last very long in my routine.
Over the last few months of our relationship, Deciem has sent me a few products that haven’t worked for me. Something about the very novel “Adaptive Flexo-Silicone Mesh Complex” in the Hydration Vaccine clogs the fuck out of my pores. Meanwhile, I’m not seeing visible brightening results from the “networked technologies that approach visible pigmentation” in the Re:Pigment product, and I don’t like the heavy film it leaves on my face. So I’ve taken those products out of my routine and obviously wouldn’t be interested in getting replenishments.
I’m continuing to use CAIS2, and I’m so grateful and happy that I’ve been given further bottles of it, because this stuff is THE SHIT for my skin. It would be if I’d paid for it, and it is even though I haven’t. Now that I know how well it works for my skin, I’d totally buy it if I needed to. And that’s the final word!
Curious about my other forays into anti-aging products? Read more reviews here.