Retinol has long been the gold standard anti-aging ingredient. It's the beauty do-it-all that can tackle every skin woe, from pigmentation and uneven texture to wrinkles and zits. In short, there is not a person on this earth that wouldn't benefit from retinol. Of course, there's a "but": Retinol is notoriously irritating. It's a powerful, effective ingredient, but the side effect of all the good work is that it can cause the skin to flake, go red and become sensitized. These less-than-desirable side effects are short-lived, usually. As the skin starts to acclimate to the retinol, it does calm down, but that's why you have to take a low and slow approach to traditional retinol products: low percentages and limited use, building up over time. Some retinol products can only be used for a short period of time before your skin has to take a break altogether. This usually means people with hypersensitive skin find it's difficult to reap its rewards.
Enter: the new guard of over-the counter retinol products. It's little wonder that, with retinol being such a skincare superhero, brands wanted to be able to deliver its benefits to its shoppers without the downsides. And deliver they have. Brands from Clinique to Drunk Elephant have found ways to incorporate retinol into high-tech, non-irritating formulas. But wait, there's more. All of these next-gen retinol products are made with an added a cocktail of other actives, hydrators, and botanicals to amplify the smoothing and brightening effects. It sounds too good to be true, but we promise it isn't. Welcome to the world of retinol 2.0: we can all play here.
Keep scrolling to meet the new class of over-the counter retinol products.
Shani Darden's original Retinol Reform is incredibly potent and effective, but for sensitive skin types, this is the gentle sister. Darden has utilized Rentinyl Palmitate, which combines the ester of retinol with a fatty acid called palmitic acid, which buffers the retinol from the skin. Lactic acid gently exfoliates, improving skin texture, while niacinamide tackles enlarged pores.
By housing the retinol in single-use capsules, Elizabeth Arden is able to ensure the ingredient is kept potent and won't degrade before you get a chance to apply it. The addition of ceramides helps to bolster your skin's natural protective barrier to minimize the chance of sensitivity. Use one capsule a day for maximum smoothing effect.
Formulated with a potent cocktail of hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and E, as well as algae extract, this brand-new serum from Estée Lauder ensures your skin stays hydrated and happy while the encapsulated retinol gets to work. If your skin is very sensitive, proceed with caution and use every other night for the first two weeks before integrating it nightly to your routine. (Byrdie's editorial director Faith saw noticeable results after just a week of use.)
Despite Origins leaning on nature for many of its products, the brand knows that nature and science can play nice together, too. In this new moisturizer, they have formulated retinol with Alpine flower, which boosts the skin's natural collagen production, along with skin-soothing glycerin and niacinamide.
One of the punchier new-guard retinols, this serum from Sunday Riley contains a heady combination of 5% retinoid ester blend, 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol blend, and 0.5% blue-green algae (which acts like retinol). It works really well, but you do need to use it for two nights on, two nights off and gradually work your way up. Non-sensitive complexions will be able to handle it, but others may need to approach with caution. However, the skin rejuvenating and clearing results after just six weeks are impressive.
If you're a fan of face oils that do more than just moisturize, then these capsules packed with retinol and buffered by botanicals oils are for you. Apply to the skin at night either alone or mixed into a simple hydrating moisturizer (by that, we mean acid- and active-ingredient free) if your skin is hypersensitive.
A pretty impressive all-rounder, the 1% retinol in this cream may be the star of the show, but the supporting acts are worth a shout out too. There's a combination of superfoods (winter cherry juice, kale leaf extract and marula seed oil) packed with antioxidants that tackle the effects of pollution and even the HEV light emitted from our devices. Meanwhile, vitamin F (fatty acids) smooth the skin's texture and ward off any potential sensitivity.
Not only is this retinol encapsulated to ensure potency and minimise on irritation, but this formula is packed with skin-soothing ingredients like niacinamide, allantoin, vitamin E and a cocktail of nourishing oils. It's so gentle that it can be used morning and night to effectively tackle fine lines, pigmentation and dullness.
This booster contains slow-release retinol that ensures the ingredient is both efficacious yet gentle. It's formulated with skin-soothing and brightening licorice, as well as hydrating glycerin and antioxidants for added protection.
Clinique sells its retinol booster as part of its Fresh Pressed treatment program. Each booster, once opened, lasts one to two weeks, so you have a two to four week supply here. The Daily Booster has 10% Vitamin C to brighten the skin, while the Overnight Booster boasts retinol, salicylic acid and sodium hyaluronate to penetrate deep into the skin, speeding up cell turnover, plumping, rejuvenating and hydrating. Use this in the run-up to a big event for a total complexion overhaul.
Want to know more about retinol? Check out this straight forward retinol guide.