What are the best retinol products?
The answer to this question may just change your skin for good. I’m not kidding. Retinol (and any other form of vitamin A, for that matter) is the only thing that can REALLY reduce wrinkles.
Here’s how it works and where to find it:
- What’s Retinol And How Does It Benefit Skin?
- Best Retinol Products For New Users: 0.01%-0.03%
- Best Retinol Products For Intermediate Users: 0.04%-0.4%
- Best For Sensitive Skin: Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum ($42.00/£39.00)
- Best For Dry Skin: The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% In Squalane ($5.30)
- Best No-Frills Formula: Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 Night Cream ($62.00/£55.00)
- Best For Mature Skin: Paula’s Choice Clinical 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment ($52.00)
- Best Retinol Products For Pro Users: 0.5-1%+
What’s Retinol And How Does It Benefit Skin?
Retinol is a form of Vitamin A that fights wrinkles in three ways:
- It has antioxidant properties that destroy the free radicals that cause premature wrinkles and dark spots.
- It accelerates cellular turnover (i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process), reducing the appearance of dark spots and wrinkles.
- It boosts the production of collagen, the protein that keeps skin firm.
Retinol fights wrinkles, fades away dark spots and even treats acne. But it’s finicky AF. If you don’t formulate it properly, use too much or put it in the wrong packaging, it can spoil or irritate your skin.
If you’re new to retinol, you may experience redness, peeling, dryness and irritation. Before picking a retinol product, check out this guide to find out how to counteract these side effects so you can get all the benefits without any of the pain.
Related: The Complete Guide To Retinol: What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It
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How do you know which retinol creams and serums are worth the splurge? Here are the best retinol products for every skin type and need:
Best Retinol Products For New Users: 0.01%-0.03%
Best For Oily Skin: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol ($34.00)
Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum With Retinol literally contains every antioxidant you can think of, plus a few drops of retinol (0.03%) to fight wrinkles and prevent premature aging. The weightless formula dries matte and is perfect for oily skin. If you’re still young and just want to dab your toes into retinol, this is the perfect way to get started for your skin type.
Available at: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin
Best For Dry Skin: Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with Retinol ($34.00)
Like the oily skin version, Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentate Serum With Retinol contains every antioxidant under the sun plus the littlest drop of retinol (0.01%) to fight wrinkles. Don’t worry, even 0.01% is enough to make a difference. What makes it suitable for dry skin is the addition of plant oils to moisturise skin and soothing ingredients to reduce the risk of irritations. If you’re still young and just want to dab your toes into retinol, this is the perfect way to get started for your skin type.
Available at: Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin
Best For Sensitive Skin: First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum ($58.00)
If your skin is so sensitive, you’re struggling to find a retinol serum that doesn’t turn it into a red and flaky mess, try First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum. It only has 0.25% retinol, which is just about enough to work its magic (slowly!). To make it even gentler on the skin, First Aid Beauty added plenty of soothing ingredients, from oats to allantoin. And a sprinkle of antioxidants to help prevent premature aging. It’ll take a few weeks to see results, but the wait is worth it.
Available at: Dermstore, Feel Unique, Selfridges, Sephora, and Ulta
Related: How To Take Care Of Sensitive Skin
Best Retinol Products For Intermediate Users: 0.04%-0.4%
Best For Sensitive Skin: Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum ($42.00/£39.00)
Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum has its fair share of antioxidants and soothing ingredients to fight free radicals and inflammation, two of the main causes of premature aging. But the star of the show is retinol at 0.1% concentration. The lightweight texture sinks in quickly and is suitable for all skin types.
Available at: Feel Uniqueand Paula’s Choice
Related: Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum Full Review
Best For Dry Skin: The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% In Squalane ($5.30)
Everyone can use The Ordinary Retinol in 0.2% In Squalane. Squalane is one of those friendly oils that are safe for everyone, including fungal acne sufferers. But everything with an oil base is better suited for dry skin. The oil creates a protective barrier on your skin that locks moisture in, keeping your skin soft and supple for hours. Plus, it helps skin better tolerate retinol, too.
Available at: Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Escentual, and Feel Unique
Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Squalane In Skincare
Best No-Frills Formula: Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 Night Cream ($62.00/£55.00)
Ok, Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 Night Cream has a little alcohol, but if you follow this up with a facial oil to counteract the drying effects, you’re gonna be fine. It has enough retinol to up your antiaging game, fight deeper wrinkles and fade away dark spots faster. There’s not much else to say about it. It’s a simple formula that works.
Available at: Dermstore
Related: The Complete Guide To Facial Oils: Should You Add One To Your Skincare Routine?
Best For Mature Skin: Paula’s Choice Clinical 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment ($52.00)
You’ve probably heard that bakuchiol is a natural alternative to retinol that provides the same benefits without the side effects. That’s an exaggeration. Bakuchiol improves the texture of your skin and helps you fight premature aging, but I don’t recommend you switch to it – unless you’re pregnant or can’t use retinol for some other reason. Instead, use it together with retinol. Paula’s Choice Clinical 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment has both, plus lots of antioxidants and peptides to keep your skin firm and younger-looking for as long as possible.
Available at: Paula’s Choice
Related: Everything You Wanted To Know About Bakuchiol In Skincare
Best Retinol Products For Pro Users: 0.5-1%+
Best for versatility: Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster ($52.00/£47.00)
Retinol may be the star of the show, but there’s a lot more to Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster than retinol alone. This booster is also loaded with antioxidants to prevent wrinkles, soothing ingredients to reduce the risk of irritations from retinol and the odd peptide to fight premature aging. The texture’s so lightweight, you can use it alone or mix it with your fave moisturizers and serums.
Available at: Dermstore, Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice
Related: The Complete Guide To Boosters: What Are They And Should You Add One To Your Skincare Routine?
Best On A Budget: The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane (£5.80)
If you’re wondering how The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane can be so cheap, it’s because a) the company doesn’t waste money on advertising and b) retinol plays solo here. It’s the only antiaging active in the formula. Squalane is there just to moisturize skin and counteract the drying effects of retinol so you don’t get peeling or redness. If you’re on a budget, this’ll give you results without compromising on quality.
Available at: Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related: What Are The Best Products From The Ordinary?
Best For Antiaging: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00/£62.50)
Ok, all these options are great anti-aging. What gives Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM the extra edge is the higher concentration of retinol: 1.5%. That makes it more effective but… doesn’t it make it more irritating too? In theory, yes. In practice, PTR uses time-released technology, a fancy way of saying the serum releases retinol into your skin over a period of several hours instead than all at once. Translation: it’s gentler on your skin. Plus, it has vitamins C & E to fight wrinkles and squalane to moisturize.
Available at: Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Sephora
Related: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Full Review
What do you think are the best retinol products? Share your picks in the comments below.
Good list! I use both the Paula’s Choice 1% and her retinol product for the body, since I’m starting to see sun damage on my neck and chest.
I would like to offer another tip: if you get waxed on any part of the body ex: I get a monthly brow shape), stop using the retinol in that area a few days before the treatment. It can take a few additional layers of skin off, which is pretty unsightly!
omg, hahaha great tip!!!!
Laurie, Paula’s products are the best, aren’t they? I like them because, unlike most retinol treatments, they also have lots of other antioxidants and soothing ingredients, which skin very much needs.
That’s such a great tip. I think we often tend to forget about that till it’s too late, and then… ouch!
Thanks for this great info! I wonder how much retinol is in Neutrogena? I use the Neutrogena serum most evenings but havent noticed anything different, though my skin is good anyway so it is hard to tell. I also use Rosehip seed oil several nights a week, on top of everything else for the past few years. I have been thinking of taking collagen supplements in tablet form, which apparently are also good for skin, etc. Im definitely going to keep this list of yours as it may be worth trying one of the Paula’s Choice options in future.
Vivella, my pleasure. I’m not really sure about the concentration in Neutrogena, but retinol is one of those things that work even at very low doses. If you aren’t seeing any improvements, though, you may need a higher concentration. Rosehip is a great oil, too, and very moisturizing.
Thank you for this interesting post, i’m new to your site and learning so much!
Which of these would you recommend to normal skin?
Maya, welcome to the site. So glad you’re enjoying it.
If you have normal skin, you’ll be able to use most of these products, really. If you have wrinkles, I’d opt for Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment because it has the highest concentration of retinol. But, as normal skin doesn’t have any serious issues, Salma Hayek’s Nuance Capsules would work very well for you, too, and save you money as well.
Walmart has the Neutrogena for 11.99.
Alice, great! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Has anyone used Peter Thomas Roth’s retionl fushion pm? If so what do you think of it?
Lori, this post would have been too long if I had included all the retinol products I like! PTR Retinol Fusion Pm is another good product. It’s pricey but it has enough retinol to be effective.
I know you don’t like eye creams, but my mom wants a nice one and I don’t have the budget for the one you recommended. Are there any other eye creams that are cheaper and good too?
Claire, you can check out my recommended eye creams and serums here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/best-eye-creams-serums/
there are options for every budget.
I’m about to get a retinol product and have read very good things about sunday riley’s Luna serum and Resurface by shani darden. Have you tried them? What’s your opinion? And if you haven’t, any thoughts on the ingredient list? My skin is combination (oily/dry, yay!), I’m in my early 30s and it’s mainly for prevention, although I do have my first wrinkles on my forehead and hormonal acne, plus melasma, but I guess I’ll have to tackle that one separately! Thanks! 🙂
Or also Texture reform by shani darden, which is new and doesn’t have the same hype as the original yet, but seems more gentle?
Trin, all these products don’t contain retinol itself but gentler derivatives of vitamin A. I’d avoid Texture reform because retinyl palmitate, the form of vitamin A it uses, is the least effective. But the other two products make good starting points for your retinol journey. Sunday Riley is fragranced so if you have sensitive skin, it may bother your skin. But if your skin can put up with it, it’s very moisturising.
Or even zelens’ power a!
Trin, that’s another good one, too, I agree!
Is the packaging for THE ORDINARY RETINOL 1% IN SQUALANE acceptable?
Cameron, yes it is. I believe it is UV tinted.