- Learn More About Retinols
- Retinol Creams And Serums: The Best Retinol Products To Use
- What is retinol and how does it work?
- Does retinol work?
- Is retinol the same as vitamin A?
- How to use retinol?
- What are the percentages of retinol?
- When to use retinol in your regime?
- Where is it safe to apply?
- At what age should you start using retinol?
- Is retinol good for acne?
- How long does retinol take to work?
- 22 Best Retinol Creams – Retinol Products for Acne and Wrinkles
- The 12 best retinol creams, serums, and treatments to try now
- What is retinol?
- How does retinol work?
- What are the downsides?
- How do you use retinol?
- Best for beginners
- Best for retinol regulars
- Best for acne and scarring
- Best for lines
- Best for sensitive skin
- Best for instant results
- Best for eyes
- Best for all skin types
- Best for skincare minimalists
- An Expert Guide to Traditional and Natural Retinol
Learn More About Retinols
Why the SUPER RETINOL FORMULAS we source directly from the leading Swiss skincare lab are best in class – for pretty much everybody*.
It’s the one thing almost every dermatologist, cosmetic chemist, and expert facialist can agree on: retinols really work. And then the debates begin. And everybody has an opinion. So we’ve rounded up some facts for you, and answered your FAQs here:
What are retinoids and what do they do?
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A, the very first famous one being TRETINOIN- or Retin-A. It was introduced as an anti-acne treatment, but dermatologists noticed that it not only made acne-prone skin clearer, patients showed up with complexions that were softer, brighter, smoother, and younger-looking.
So what is retinol? And what’s the difference between a retinol and a retinoid?
Retinol is the name given to an over-the-counter (so non-prescription) retinoid. Retinol is absorbed by your skin and is gradually converted into retinoic acid (the same ingredient that’s in prescription creams).
Why use retinol?
Regular use of skincare formulations containing this magical rejuvenating skincare molecule can unclog your pores, boost collagen production (to help reduce fine lines), reduce collagen breakdown, speed up sluggish cell turnover, even out skin discolouration, normalize your skin’s barrier function and smooth your complexion – sometimes visibly in as little as four weeks.
It’s also shown that retinol can actively prevent long-term damage from the sun's rays (SPF on top please).
More is more? Less is more?
If you’re already using a prescription retinoid, it is overkill to add retinol products into your routine. Don’t do it.
Nor should you combine retinols with strong regular alpha hydroxy acid application (which may deactivate OR hyperactivate them), or any prescription keratolytics (unless your doctor says you can) or benzoyl peroxides. If in doubt – it’s always best to check with your dermatologist.
With retinol will your skin look worse before it looks better?
Normal retinols generally cause dryness, redness and flaking.
At BEAUTY PIE, we tested several retinol formulas from leading skincare labs and ingredient manufacturers in America, the UK, and Switzerland. Most of them left us red, dehydrated and a little bit raw.
(Do not ask Marcia about the photoshoot she had on day three of using the sample from that otherwise reputable lab in New Jersey. Ouch.)
With slow-release retinols ( the encapsulated kind in our SUPER RETINOL range), your skin will have a lower but more constant dose, and you’ll get all of the eventual upside, but without the telltale irritation. More on that below:
You may have seen a television presenter and a dermatologist make a blanket statement that retinol only works if you use it at .3%. Well, the genius chemist at the leading Swiss skincare lab disagrees with that. Because he HAS something better.
The SUPER RETINOL system he formulated (and the product that beat everything else we tried) is all about layering, slow-release, encapsulation, and constant delivery.
He suggests a gentle, constant dose of retinol, encapsulated for consistent and more efficient delivery, more often, and combining it with synergistic ingredients vitamin C, shea butter and barrier repairing ceramides, so you can slowly build up the system’s strength, add layers over days (or weeks) depending on the sensitivity of your skin, use a little less on days when you want to give your face a scrub, or combine with your favourite gentle peeling drops, or go for a facial, or detox your T-zone with a deep cleansing mask. This, according to our chemist, is the best way to use retinol. (It’s when you’re going on holiday and you pack layers. It keeps your options open.)
Why is encapsulated retinol so much more effective?
Encapsulation protects the retinol from degradation, increases its stability, and improves delivery to the skin. The SUPER RETINOL system also allows for a steady release, to ensure a prolonged action over time, and increasing the biocompatibility and efficacy while helping to avoid irritation. So you can simultaneously look great, and overhaul your skin.
DON’T FORGET: SUPER RETINOL is formulated with retinol that’s encapsulated within a complex, which allows it to be absorbed by the skin BEFORE releasing. So you get maximum efficacy, without the irritation, at a lower level.
SUPER RETINOL CERAMIDE-BOOST ANTI-AGING FACE SERUM – has a 3% encapsulated retinol complex, which works on the skin 0.09% pure retinol, use it twice daily (AM and PM) under the SUPER RETINOL night cream.
SUPER RETINOL (+ VITAMIN C) NIGHT RENEWAL MOISTURIZER – includes a 1% encapsulated retinol complex, with 0.03% pure retinol. Use it every night, alone, or overtop of the SUPER RETINOL SERUM.
SUPER RETINOL ANTI-WRINKLE EYE CREAM – includes 1% encapsulated retinol complex, 0.03% pure retinol. Use it twice daily.
SUPER RETINOL ANTI-AGING HAND TREATMENT – includes 1% encapsulated retinol, 0.03% pure retinol, use as needed, but not more than two or three times a day.
Retinol Creams And Serums: The Best Retinol Products To Use
And how it became the stuff of skincare legends
Retinol has long been worshipped by beauty editors, dermatologists and skincare fanatics a as the hero ingredient in the battle against fine lines and wrinkles. Some even say that nothing fights the signs of ageing better.
If you’ve never used it before and want to know the best way to use and apply retinol, its dos and don’ts, or you simply want to brush up on your skincare knowledge, keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about the beauty industry’s favourite ingredient.
And when you’re done swotting up well as our pick of the best retinol creams and serums out there…
What is retinol and how does it work?
‘Retinol is pure Vitamin A and it is used to treat specific skin concerns such as skin prone to large pores (acne prone skin) and mature skin,’ explains Linda Blahr, National Head of Training and Science at SkinCeuticals.
‘Retinol reactivates the skin renewal process and can be a great priming treatment to prepare skin for chemical peels and other medical procedures.’
Does retinol work?
In short – yes. Retinol is one of the most revered ingredients in the beauty industry and has been proven to be effective at tackling early signs of ageing such as pigmentation including sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles.
As well as having ‘an exfoliating effect that smoothes skin texture and gives a natural glow, it also has antioxidant properties and reduces the appearance of brown spots,’ says Dr Bernard Hayot.
Dr Hayot explains that retinol ‘stimulates flexibility and elasticity of the skin, collagen and also helps to create a bright complexion as well as regenerating melanin to tackle pigmentation.’
Make sure you’re using a product that contains the right form of retinol, though. Check the ingredients list first to make sure it contains ‘retinol or retinaldeyhe, rather than one of the less effective derivatives such as retintyplalmitate,’ recommends Dr Stefanie Williams. Read more about how retinol works on our Fabled store.
Is retinol the same as vitamin A?
Retinol is a form of retinoid, which is a derivative of vitamin A. Dr Hayot adds: ‘retinol is a vitamin A acid, which is the natural precursor to retinoic acid. Then body transforms retinol into retonic acid.’
It’s in this form, as retonic acid, that the benefits of retinol are truly felt on the skin.
How to use retinol?
‘Start, at the latest, when you see the first signs of reduced skin elasticity, fine lines and also irregular pigmentation,’ advises Dr Stefanie Williams, dermatologist and Director of the Eudelo clinic.
When first using retinol you can experience some irritation such as dryness, redness and even flaky skin. So if it’s your first time using it, ease yourself in by applying a low percentage and only use twice per week at intervals, gradually increasing to daily use if your skin can tolerate it well.
As your skin adapts and, if you don’t suffer from too much sensitivity, you can increase the percentage too. ‘Even if you can’t build up to anymore than two days per week it’s still effective and worth doing so don’t be put off,’ says Dr Stefanie.
When you first apply only use a pea-sized amount. Trust us, a little goes a long way.
What are the percentages of retinol?
‘The higher the concentration, the stronger the skin will respond with visible shedding and redness,’ explains Blahr. ‘But, it is just as important to note that this is exactly the reaction that we want for optimal results – it’s no irritation at all.
‘However, a skin with no retinol experience should always start low (with 0.3%) and increase the level (to 0.5% and then 1%) with each bottle. If the skin is quite sensitive just stay with 0.3%. The 1% is optimal for visible signs of ageing or photodamage (hyperpigmentation) and acne scars, however you’ll only get this with a prescription.’
When to use retinol in your regime?
Retinol can cause skin sensitivity an, after use, it’s important to be particularly careful in the sun and apply a high factor SPF 30 or 50, even if it looks cloudy or grey outside. It’s safe to apply it day and night, as long as you apply SPF afterwards.
That said, most people prefer to use it at night, Sunday Riley’s ever-popular Luna Sleeping Night Oil, as the chances of any sun damage or skin sensitivity are lower.
Where is it safe to apply?
It’s effective on all parts of the body. It is even included in some hand creams, though it is most commonly found in facial skincare products.
A good routine is to start with something La Roche-Posay Retinol 0.3% + Vitamin B3 and apply to the forehead, then the nose, cheeks and chin.
Be careful to avoid the eye area and around the nostrils as this area is prone to suffering from dryness.
‘Avoid using retinol around the eyes because the skin is thinner, more delicate and sensitive in that area,’ advises Dr Bernard Hayot.
At what age should you start using retinol?
It’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is different, but Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe of the SKNDOCTOR clinic tells us that as a general rule, the age of 25 is a good time to start using retinol as it’s when our skin’s collagen levels start to deplete.
Is retinol good for acne?
‘Vitamin A acid or retinoic acid was first used to treat acne on young adults before it’s skincare benefits were fully realised,’ says Dr Bernard Hayot. Isotretinion, more commonly referred to as the brand name Roaccutane, is a form of vitamin A.
Be careful if you’re on any prescribed acne medication though. Certain ingredients commonly found in acne medication such as salicylic or glycolic acid can cause irritation and redness if combined with retinol, so be sure to check with your doctor before using.
How long does retinol take to work?
As with all skincare products, you should be patient with the results. ‘Skin is renewed after 28 days on average, which means the new cells migrate to the surface of the skin after which time you should start seeing results,’ says Dr Hayot.
Next up, getting your hands on the best retinol products on the market. Take a look at our edit of the best below.
If you've been too scared to try this anti-ageing hero ingredient, especially if you have sensitive skin, this is a great place to start. La Roche-Posay has formulated a gradual release retinol combined with soothing vitamin B3 to help keep your skin smooth and hydrated. 88% of people said their skin felt firmer after using – so what are you waiting for? Give it a whirl.
Buy it now!
The perfect product to use if you’re a retinol virgin, this low dosage 0.3% serum smooths on without leaving a tacky finish.
Buy it now!
Vitamin C and powerful peptides combine in this velvety cream to compliment 0.5% retinol in brightening skin and tackling discolouration. Our favourite thing about this overnight treatment? It can effectively be diluted by mixing with the Dermalogica buffer cream, so you can gradually build up the dose as your skin adapts.
Buy it now!
A favourite of skincare blogger and facialist Caroline Hirons, these multi-tasking vitamin A drops contain time released, 0.3% encapsulated retinol as well as antioxidant geranium oil that helps to balance sebum so is ideal if you have a tendency to oilness. Omega 3 and 5 also help to balance moisture levels in the skin and restore barrier function for a three pronged attack on ageing.
Buy it now!
If you're a seasoned user and are looking to up the stakes, this higher 0.6% version offers a powerful hit of retinol that sinks in quickly thanks to the lightweight oil formula and handy pipette applicator.
Buy it now!
Good skin doesn’t have to break the bank, as this handy little tube from Indeed Labs proves, coming in at under £20. One of the easiest creams to apply, only a fine layer is needed to effectively target sun-spots, pigmentation and fine lines and it absorbs in a flash.
It doesn't have a traditional retinol percentage, but contains 1% next generation retinoid fluid, 1% short & long-term time release retinol complex and 3% retinol- peptide, helping to provide the same benefits as traditional retinol.
All of that sounds pretty complex, but just know that this is probably the best entry-level retinol products.
Buy it now!
This cream helps control the gradual release of 0.5% encapsulated retinol throughout the course of the night and is also paired with NeoGlucomsamine. The dual benefits of which are that it helps provide a good foundation for hyaluronic acid to plump and hydrate the skin and it helps inhibit melanin production for a smooth and even complexion.
Buy it now!
At just under £10 and with a 1% stable retinol inside, this Inkey List serum might just be the best bargain. With The Ordinary on a hiatus, The Inkey List, is your alternative to hardworking, low-priced skincare.
Buy it now!
Elizabeth Arden decided that to ensure that the retinol is at it's most potent, it would physically encapsulate it in bio-degradable capsules.
They say that in each one, the formula is 76% more potent than if it was just in fluid form in a bottle.
Despite it's potency, it's super gentle and those with sensitive skin (who normally would steer clean or retinol) are able to use to it because it's combined with skin repairing ceramides.
Buy it now!
22 Best Retinol Creams – Retinol Products for Acne and Wrinkles
While it's true there is no magic bullet when it comes to perfecting skin, one ingredient comes pretty close: retinol.
“Prescription Retin-A and Tretinoin and over the counter retinols increase skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen synthesis,” explains Jennifer Chwalek, MD of Union Square Laser Dermatology.
“With consistent use of a topical retinol or Retin-A you can see improvement of fine lines, dark spots, texture, and tone.”
While an OTC retinol (0.5%-2% concentration) isn't quite as effective or speedy as prescription-strength, it's less ly to cause irritation, redness, and peeling so better for anyone with sensitive or drier skin. But, proceed with caution. Dr.
Shereene Idriss recommends adding retinol into your skin care routine slowly and gradually. “I would start with one night a week and see to see how your skin reacts before adding a second night a week and so forth,” explains Dr. Idriss.
“If you find yourself to be extremely sensitive, then apply your moisturizer before applying your retinol in order to make it a little bit less effective and less irritating.”
There are also naturally derived retinol alternatives rosehip seed oil, chicory root oligosaccharides, and tara tree gum, but Chwalek cautions that there are no studies to prove efficacy for them. Ready to add retinol to your routine? Here are the latest options to stock up on.
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The Perfect Starter Serum
First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate
If you’re new to the retinol world, this is the perfect starter serum. Formulated for sensitive skin, the gentle product is packed with vitamin C and E, aloe, and colloidal oatmeal that alleviate the irritation and redness often associated with retinol products.
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A Nighttime Solution That Won't Irritate Your Skin
Retinol Fusion PM
Peter Thomas Roth sephora.com
Wake up with fresh and bright skin thanks to this cult-favorite retinol product from Peter Thomas Roth. Packed with micro-encapsulated retinol (retinol that has been placed into small capsules), the superstar ingredient is evenly distributed to prevent irritation and redness from overexposure. Plus, vitamins E and C nourish the skin to improve overall appearance.
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For Acne-Prone Skin
Need to calm inflammation? Fight wrinkle formation? Even out skin tone? Ideal for acne-prone skin, this retinol is gentle enough for sensitive skin while also being a very effective night treatment to rid skin of debris and oils. Wake up with unclogged pores and smoother and brighter skin.
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The Drugstore Star
Rapid Wrinkle Regenerating Face Cream [Fragrance-Free]
If you prefer your retinol easy on the wallet but still want it to do the job, then consider this drugstore moisturizer. In addition to a fast-acting form of the ingredient, the rich cream is packed with ultra hydrating hyaluronic acid.
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The Spot Treatment
iS CLINICAL Pro-Heal Serum Advance+
A serum for spot treatment. Ideal for treating acne spots, redness, inflammation, and rosacea. The product contains a number of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that target the issue and provide results.
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Epionce Intense Defense Serum
This serum contains a whopping total of 23 vitamins the skin uses for therapeutic functions on top of retinol. The vitamins are derived from botanical sources flax seed, a known source of omega-3 fatty acids, that are known to prevent irritation and Yarrow, an ancient herbal medicine, that has brightening properties for the skin.
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The Miracle Worker
Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Retinol Night Cream
This formula is so strong you'd think you would need a prescription. The deep wrinkle night cream hydrates your skin while reducing the appearance of expression lines while you sleep.
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The Glow in a Bottle
Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Boost Treatment 30ml
To feed your need for instant gratification, this hardworking serum is packed with exfoliating AHAs to give you an instant glow. And then non-irritating, wrinkle-smoothing encapsulated retinol makes you wait for it (Patience pays off).
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The Sleeping Beauty
Clark's Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream with Calming Colloidal Oatmeal, 1.7 oz.
Be a literal sleeping beauty with this potent treatment that works its age-fighting magic while you slumber. It's time release formula means it repairs, renews and regenerates all through the night.
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For Sensitive Skin
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream
Whether you've tried retinol in the past to only find redness and irritation or this is your first time trying the magic ingredient, Murad's night cream is a great option. Formulated for those with sensitive skin, the cream targets wrinkles and fine lines to plump and hydrate the skin. It's basically supple skin in a jar.
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Natura Bisse Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid
This multi-tasker boosts the power of retinol with amino acids, soy protein, and mushroom and wheat germ extracts. While the lightweight texture means it can be used as a treatment serum, those with oilier skin and lazier dispositions can just consider this tube their one-step anti-aging nighttime regimen
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111SKIN Celestial Black Diamond Retinol Oil
Oils are still all the rage. And this uber luxe one from London-based surgeon Yannis Alexandrides, MD offers the nourishing effects associated with the category while delivering a potent dose of retinol via otherworldly sounding rare black diamond particles through space and time, just kidding it's going through layers of skin. It'll get you glowing for sure.
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The Soft Skin Serum
Kate Somerville DermalQuench Liquid Lift Retinol Advanced Resurfacing Treatment
First Los Angeles-based aesthetician Kate Somerville created a topical, at-home version of her celeb fave oxygen facial and it was pretty, pretty, pretty good. But now she's taken it a step further and supercharged the formula with collagen-boosting retinol and bio-retinols to give you the glowing, taut, baby soft skin of your dreams.
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The Wrinkle Fighter
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum
Wake up looking a fresh-faced goddess when you use this one-two punch of overnight serum and peel before you turn in. Both pair pro-strength ferulic acid and retinol to seriously smooth skin and soften wrinkles, one gently exfoliates in the process and the other works overnight to detox skin from a long day of being attacked by free radicals, pollution, and other nastiness.
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The Chill Pill
Chantecaille Retinol Intense Cream
While prescription Retin-A is by far the most potent form of retinol, this OTC option makes a great second best, mostly because un sometimes-irritating Rx formulas, this combines a double dose of retinol with soothing magnolia bark and nourishing soy bean extract, meaning even finicky skins keeps its chill.
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The Power Player
Paula's Choice RESIST 1% Retinol Booster
Here's a retinol product that does not play. One percent is a big dose so it's best to proceed with caution.
If you’ve used retinol in the past or don’t tend to have negative reactions to new products, this booster—which is meant to be used in conjunction with another moisturizer— is for you.
If your skin is on the sensitive side, start with once a week applications to allow your skin to build a tolerance.
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The Lightweight Serum
Asarau Sleepercell Retinol Serum
From the new Australian gender-neutral beauty brand, Asarai, the retinol-based Sleepercell serum is…the sleeper hit of the season.
The vegan, lightweight liquid utilizes retinol to restore skin tone and prevent wrinkles. Sodium hyaluronate also works to brighten and hydrate.
Asarai is also made with predominantly natural ingredients so you never have to worry about animal testing or toxic chemicals with scary names.
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The Gentle Giant
Marie Veronique Gentle Retinol Night Serum
The ultimate collagen booster. On top of retinol, the green-tea based formula is packed with vitamin C to brighten the skin. There's also a dose of sodium salicylate, a retinol-moderating chemical compound that prevents irritation and stinging.
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The Pore Tightener
Anti-Wrinkle Polish and Plump Peel
Retinol can be harsh, so HydroPeptide's Anti-Wrinkle Polish and Plump Peel is a great option because it doesn't utilize traditional retinol but rather retinyl palmitate, a weaker retinoid suitable for sensitive skin. After a few uses, prepare for brighter skin and tighter pores.
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A Vegan Option
A-Passioni Retinol Cream
Drunk Elephant sephora.com
This lightweight cream is made up of one percent vegan retinol so it's safe for even the most sensitive skin. Fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage will be a thing of the past thanks to this new star product.
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For Full Body
RESIST Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment
Paula's Choice dermstore.com
Paula’s Choice makes a number of great face retinol products, so the brilliant scientists at the company decided to expand into body care. The skin-smoothing treatment uses retinol to fight against cellulite and stretch marks, revealing glowing skin.
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The Best Eye Cream
Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare sephora.com
Retinol is definitely the star of this show, but ferulic acid (an anti-aging plant-based ingredient) works to rid your skin of wrinkles and sun spots. Plus, caffeine plumps the delicate skin around the eyes and “wakes up” the skin. If you've got crow's feet and wrinkles, this is the product for you.
Here's Why Your Skincare Routine Needs a Serum
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- Living Your Best Life Beautifully
- Makeup & Skincare 2020
The 12 best retinol creams, serums, and treatments to try now
Of all the skincare treatments available to us today, retinol is perhaps the most transformative – and the most misunderstood.
Once restricted to the four walls of a dermatologist's office, this powerful active ingredient has now found its way into myriad over-the-counter skincare lines, with brands incorporating it into creams, serums, oils and gels. But, with so many nuances in formulation, finding the right one for you isn’t always easy. Here, we break down the basics, and reveal the most innovative, efficacious formulas available on the shelves now.
What is retinol?
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, and widely considered by most experts and dermatologists to be the final word in anti-ageing skincare.
Working by increasing the rate of cell turnover in the skin, it appears to be responsible for aiding just about any skin concern, from fine lines to pigmentation and even acne.
How does retinol work?
“From a skin perspective, retinoids work at a deep cellular level, where they help to boost collagen and elastin production, reduce cellular ageing and pore congestion, regulate sebum production, and also have pigment stabilising and anti-inflammatory properties,” explains GP and skin health specialist Dr. Anita Sturnham. “Vitamin A cannot be made by the body and therefore needs to be supplied through our diet and in terms of feeding our skin topically, through skincare.”
Sparking waves of confusion, retinol has become somewhat of an umbrella term in recent years, used to refer to a whole host of vitamin A forms, so it’s not always clear exactly what’s in your serum.
“The retinoid family comprises retinol and its natural derivatives, such as retinaldehyde and retinyl esters, as well as a large number of synthetic derivatives,” says Dr. Sturnham.
Pure retinoids are only available via prescription, but retinols sit on the shelves in many forms.
Retinol needs to be broken down into retinoic acid (also known as tretinoin) before it can regenerate skin cells and stimulate collagen production. The retinol found in most non-prescription products needs to be converted several times before it becomes retinoic acid – although many buzzy new launches are using potent derivatives that require fewer conversions.
What are the downsides?
According to Sturnham, there are several potential problems with a lot of retinol-based skincare. “Some brands use basically inert quantities that have no skin benefits, whereas others have such punchy retinoid-based formulations that the risks of side-effects outweigh the benefits,” she says.
These side effects – namely dry, flaking skin and moderate irritation – are however becoming less prevalent. The best retinol products on the shelves today use advanced formulations and slow-release encapsulation delivery systems to side-step the irritation caused by an increase in cell turnover.
How do you use retinol?
As with all active skincare, application is key in reaping retinol success. Dr. Sturnham advises applying only at night, after your cleanser and toner and before your (gentle) night cream. “With a good quality serum, absorption will be rapid and there is no need to delay application of your moisturiser,” she says.
When introducing your skin to retinol, it's vital not to try too much, too soon. Beginners should start by applying theirs once a week, slowly building up to every other night. Diving in at the deep end will ly lead straight to irritation and flaking.
Furthermore, it’s essential to wear a good, broad-spectrum SPF (30 or above) every day when using any retinol, as it may make your skin more photosensitive.
To help you reap the rewards of this wonder ingredient without any excessive brow-furrowing, we’ve rounded up the very best option for each skin type to try, from sensitive newcomers to seasoned users.
Best for beginners
Dr. Sam's eponymous product line makes active skincare easy, accessible, and affordable. Her website offers clear instructions for getting the best this hard-working serum, which combines 2% granactive retinoid with a trio of clearing and brightening ingredients.
Best for retinol regulars
Don’t be put off by the intimidating 6.5% retinol concentration emblazoned across the bottle – Sunday Riley’s latest serum is pleasingly kind on skin.
It actually contains a combination of 5% gentle retinol esters with 1% retinol proper and 0.5% natural, retinol-mimicking blue algae, offering just the right balance of potency and protection. Reach for this one if you’ve graduated from the brand’s equally brilliant, yet significantly milder, Luna retinol oil.
Introduce it into your routine by applying it for two consecutive nights, then take two nights off. Gradually build use up to every other night, and eventually, nightly.
Best for acne and scarring
This non-comedogenic overnight treatment will work wonders on all skin types, but the barrier-boosting peptide complex means it's especially valuable to those looking to reduce breakouts (or attempting to slough away acne scars.) The dense, yellow-tinged cream contains a stable form of retinaldehyde that offers potent resurfacing without irritation.
Best for lines
When it comes to retinol, Medik8 is the industry leader. This high-strength milky serum contains the brand’s trademarked Crystal Retinal, which only requires one transformation within the skin to become retinoic acid, thus working up to eleven times quicker than other products.
But accelerated results doesn’t mean increased irritation – packed with hyaluronic acid and calming vitamin E, this is also one of the most gentle formulas around.
Best for sensitive skin
This milky serum contains 3% retinol in an encapsulated form, which equates to 0.09% of retinol proper, and is gradually released into the skin over the night.
This gentle yet constant delivery means you're less ly to experience the redness or flaking associated with other formulas.
You won't see improvement overnight, but six months of loyalty will leave you with brighter, more even skin.
Best for instant results
For those who don't want to wait, these at-home chemical peel pads deliver staggering results after just one use. Each pad is steeped in a powerful blend of alpha-hydroxy-acids and retinol, and works to dissolve dead skin cells while boosting regeneration. Work them into your routine by using twice weekly, and only at night.
Best for eyes
Many retinols are too harsh to be used around the delicate eye area, but La Roche-Posay's clever formulation is ideal for smoothing bags and crow's feet. It combines a low-level retinol with caffeine to stimulate lymphatic drainage, and is 100% hypoallergenic.
Best for all skin types
According to Dr. Sturnham, a serum is the best way to deliver retinol into the skin, as it’ll reach deeper dermal layers than a cream or oil. Her own formula, Treat Tincture, combines a granactive retinoid with stem cells and alpha arbutin, which works to lighten areas of pigmentation. One push of the pump dispenses the optimum amount of serum, so you’ll never apply too much.
Best for skincare minimalists
This clever booster serum can be blended into your night-time product of choice to upgrade its rejuvenating powers. It contains 1% retinol (certainly not to be sniffed at), alongside a cocktail of antioxidants to keep free radicals from dulling your complexion. It’s perfect if you’re reluctant to add another layer to your night-time routine.
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An Expert Guide to Traditional and Natural Retinol
First, a quick primer on retinoids versus retinol:
Says Dr. Zeichner, “Retinoids are a class of molecules all related to vitamin A. There are many different forms including pure retinol, retinaldehyde, retinyl esters, and prescription versions Tretinoin.
Most retinoids are produced synthetically in the lab, and they are perhaps the best-studied ingredient we have available in skin care to fight aging skin and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
They work by binding retinoid receptors in the skin to tell cells to rev up collagen production.”
What is the difference between a traditional retinol and natural alternatives ( bakuchiol) in terms of their formula and source?
The biggest thing to understand is that retinol, as you’ve traditionally known it, is usually derived from animal sources beef, chicken liver, eggs, and fish, but it can also be found in many plants and vegetables cantaloupe, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. However, Dr.
Rabach clarifies that “although found in nature, most retinols utilized for commercial purposes are synthetically derived in a laboratory setting, exactly mimicking the molecule found in nature.
There are many different chemicals that are derivatives of the vitamin A molecule, and depending on the type of retinoid, it has a milder or stronger effect on the skin.”
Bakuchiol, the new natural retinol star, is derived from the seeds of the Psoralea corylifolia plant. According to Dr. Rabach, “The structure of the compound is in the class terpenophenol and is a large molecule.
In other words, on a molecular level, bakuchiol does not resemble a traditional vitamin A derivative.” Although there is no structural resemblance to retinol, bakuchiol does manage to have retinol functionality via “retinol- regulation of gene expression.
” That means it still prompts cell turnover and stimulates the production of collagen.
Is one more potent and/or effective than the other?
There sadly haven’t been that many studies comparing bakuchiol to different retinoids, so a lot of that data is yet to be collected. Of the one Dr.
Rabach cited (a 2018 randomized, double-blind, 12-week clinical study with 44 volunteers) it was demonstrated that “bakuchiol is comparable with retinol in its ability to improve photoaging,  wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, but has a better skin tolerance.”
Traditional retinoids, however, are available in numerous different strengths depending on what condition you’re treating and your skin’s sensitivity.
Says Wong, “Adapalene has different receptor selectivity, so it's usually recommended for acne rather than aging.” This is also the weakest retinoid, so it’s ideal for sensitive skin.
Tretinoin is a prescription-strength vitamin A derivative that is more potent than retinol, followed by Tazarotene, which is the strongest of the bunch.
Says Dr. Rabach, “Usually with retinoids, skin tolerance and strength go hand in hand. Meaning the stronger the retinoid, the more side effects in terms of irritation and dryness on the skin. So if I had to place a wager on bakuchiol, I would guess that it was on the weaker side of the retinol spectrum in terms of effectiveness.”