Best Retinol Creams 2022

Want a skincare hero that can fight fine lines, acne, and dark spots? Well, there’s a retinol cream for that. The best retinol products, whether in the form of face creams, serums, or lotions, can minimize a host of skincare concerns, but given their potency, they also require some know-how before application. “Retinols work by reducing oil production and promoting cell turnover,” says Dr. Lian Mack, medical director and owner of New York-based GlamDerm dermatology clinic. In turn, she says, this helps “diminish whiteheads and blackheads and improve skin radiance.”

However, to reap the benefits, it’s important to find a retinol formula that matches your skin type and concerns. If you have very dry skin, for example, you’ll want a cream that exfoliates but hydrates at the same time. The eye area also requires a gentle approach with a blend of ingredients that penetrate deeply without causing irritation. And while high-quality serums can be pricey, there are plenty of affordable choices out there with great results and the science behind them. Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best retinol options to consider, along with expert tips and advice from Dr. Mack on how to apply these skin perfectors and incorporate them into your routine for a clearer, brighter complexion. closed.


Best retinol cream overall

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula’s Choice is a top choice among dermatologists for its high 1% retinol concentration and timed release, which allows the active ingredients to be absorbed gradually to prevent dryness. It has a lightweight, primer-like lotion texture that gives you the flexibility to layer on a thicker cream if you need to.

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Best retinol cream for acne

CeraVe Retinol Resurfacing Serum

Retinol naturally exfoliates the skin, which helps remove debris from pores and control acne. If you have oily skin, consider a lighter serum rather than a cream – CeraVe contains encapsulated retinol which releases slowly over time and protects the skin barrier. It also minimizes acne scars, absorbs quickly and is affordable.


Best Retinol Night Cream

SkinCeuticals Retinol 1% Refining Night Cream

It’s best to apply retinol at night when your skin is repairing itself, to minimize irritation from UV exposure. For a customizable regimen, SkinCeuticals Overnight Vials are available in three retinol strengths: 0.3% (beginner) to 0.5% (intermediate) to 1% (advanced) so you can slowly increase or apply different concentrations on different areas of your face. Besides retinol, the formula also contains herbal remedies.


Best Budget Retinol

Roc Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream

This little gold tube is a classic for a reason. RoC was one of the first drugstore brands to sell a stable retinol product. Years later, their non-greasy yet hydrating night cream (and matching eye cream) are still top sellers. RoC does not indicate a percentage on the cream, which means that it can be between 0.1 and 1%. If your skin is acclimated to a very low amount of retinol, apply it slowly at first.


Best Retinol for Beginners

Glossier Universal Pro-Retinol

For new retinol users, Glossier’s formula contains 0.5% Retinyl Sunflower, a new retinol derivative comprised of retinol and sunflower seed fatty acids that is gentle yet highly effective in reducing fine lines, brown spots, uneven texture and acne. The concentration is sufficient to achieve the benefits while remaining tolerable for all skin types.


Best retinol for sensitive skin

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

This choice contains 1% retinol, the highest concentration without a prescription. But, unlike many creams of this strength, this one balances that magic that shrinks large pores, diminishes fine lines, and smoothes uneven texture with nourishing ingredients. Passion fruit, apricot, marula and jojoba oils, plus vitamin F, all work to restore moisture while retinol smoothes and clarifies skin.


Best Retinol Eye Cream

Sunday Riley 5 Star Retinoid & Niacinamide Eye Serum

The skin around your eyes is thinner than the rest of your face, so it’s often the first sign of aging, especially wrinkles and dark spots. It’s also very sensitive. This much-loved and cult cream combines retinol with mineral-rich spring water to firm and comfort the skin, and as a bonus, caffeine to minimize dark circles.


Best Retinol Alternative

Herbivore Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that some people might want to avoid, for example pregnant or breastfeeding women (read more about this in the ‘Everything you need to know about retinol’ section at the end ). In that case, try bakuchiol, a milder alternative to plant-based retinol that behaves similarly and promotes cell turnover. Herbivore’s must-have serum combines bakuchiol with polyhydroxy acids and tremella mushroom to exfoliate and lightly hydrate skin to soften fine lines and wrinkles.


Best retinol for dry skin

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max Facial Moisturizer

Olay’s Regenerist line is well tested and highly rated by dermatologists for its effectiveness. Retinol 24 Max firms and hydrates very dry skin with a retinoid complex and restorative niacinamide (aka vitamin B3). Although it’s technically a night cream, you can also apply it during the day, if you’re particularly thirsty.


Everything you need to know about retinol

What is Retinol?

So what exactly is retinol and how does it differ from retinoids? “Retinol and retinoids are both derivatives of vitamin A,” says Dr. Mack. At the extreme end of the severity (and effectiveness) spectrum is oral retinoid application. You probably know this prescription retinoid, used to treat severe acne, as Accutane. A little less hardcore (and kinder to the skin) is a prescription retinoid like tretinoin, often under the brand name Retin-A.

Over-the-counter retinol creams and serums are less intense (and suitable for most skin types and retinol beginners). Most of the products on this list fall into this category and are a good starting point for most people. But for super sensitive or dry skin, there are retinoid esters — look for retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate on the ingredient list — which are the weakest member of the family.

And for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or prefer to steer clear of supplemental vitamin A, try bakuchiol, a plant derivative that’s considerably kinder to the skin. “Bakuchiol behaves similarly to retinoids by promoting cell turnover, which ultimately increases the production of type I collagen, diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Mack.

Who can use retinol?

Retinol is generally considered safe for everyone (except pregnant or breastfeeding women), but people with darker skin should exercise extreme caution when using it. “If a darker-skinned patient is irritated by the product, they are more likely to develop hyperpigmentation compared to their lighter-skinned counterparts,” says Dr. Mack. While everyone should slowly acclimate their skin to retinol (Dr. Mack suggests starting with just a pea-sized amount twice a week, and slowly increasing the dose after three weeks), those who have darker skin should be especially careful during the ramp-up period.

How to best apply retinol

Regardless of your skin tone, only use retinol at night. And always, always follow up with a diligent application of sunscreen during the day, as your skin will become more photosensitive. Otherwise, you might just be speeding up the exact damage you’re trying to repair, like fine lines and uneven skin. Always apply on dry skin and then apply a moisturizer. When you’re just starting retinol, you might want to consider cutting or dabbing your serum or cream for a few weeks with a nourishing, non-active moisturizer (CeraVe’s will do) until your skin feels better. ‘acclimatized.

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