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When it comes to skincare, retinol is the ingredient you need to know about. The ingredient speeds up cell turnover, boosts collagen, unclogs pores, and helps give your skin a healthier and clearer complexion. Considered the “cure-all” factor, it can solve all those pesky problems that come with age (fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, acne, and more), but it’s important to understand what it does and how it can affect your skin before purchasing.
Retinol is the number one recommended ingredient by dermatologists for age-fighting powers, but for some it can be incredibly irritating to the skin. Even in over-the-counter forms, which are less concentrated than clinical versions (0.01% to 0.5% and 1% respectively), it’s strong. Before you test it out, consult your dermatologist to learn which version is best for you.
If you’re ready to give it a try, check out our list of the top over-the-counter retinols on the market right now.
Best Overall: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum
As an Amazon Choice product, this serum is one of the most talked about retinol treatments out there. It includes 1.5% of a microencapsulated retinol, which is a little different than just your regular retinol serum. Instead of freeform retinol, this lab-created version encloses retinol molecules into a capsule that can then evenly distribute across your skin and penetrate your skin more effectively and causes less irritation.
Vitamin C and E are mixed in to moisturize your skin and help keep it smooth. It’s intended for nighttime application so the retinol has a chance to properly sink into your skin without makeup or the sun affecting it.
Best Budget: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging with Mineral Extracts
For a drugstore retinol, this is the best you can get. It’s inexpensive but effective, promising to diminish the look of wrinkles and fine lines with just 12 weeks of continuous use.
Retinol is featured low on the ingredient list, so it’s not as strong as most luxury retinol products. A low concentration is a good option for retinol first-timers if you’re not sure how your skin will react to the ingredient.
Best for Eyes: Dr. Dennis Gross Triple Correction Eye Serum
Unlike other retinol products that are meant for your whole face, this serum is for eyes only. It reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles and can help control under eye circles and the crepiness that can appear over the eyelid. Dr. Gross, a well-known dermatologist in NYC, included ferulic acid (which offers sun protection) and dark-circle reducing licorice root extract to balance out the retinol. An added bonus: this product is vegan and cruelty free.
Best Clinical Strength: SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0
SkinCeuticals created this night cream for retinol veterans who have properly conditioned their skin to handle more intense ingredients. Because it contains 1% pure retinol, this is one of the strongest versions you can buy over the counter. The brand recommends consulting your dermatologist before using to see if you actually need this high of a concentration. Sorry rookies, this one isn’t for you.
Best with Sunscreen: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair with SPF 30 Sunscreen
According the American Academy of Dermatology, topical retinol has been linked to increased photosensitivity, so sunscreen is a must. Instead of adding yet another product into your routine, Neutrogena saved you a step by including a UVA/UVB SPF 30 in this cream. The brand recommends reapplying at least every 2-3 hours if you’re spending a continuous amount of time outside for maximum protection.
Best Nighttime Treatment: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream
Murad’s tri-active retinol formula is one of the most progressive and advanced formulas on the market. They've combined a fast-acting retinol, a time-released retinol, and a retinol boost to give you maximum results with as little irritation as possible. By using this at night, which is when your skin typically repairs itself, you give the retinol a chance to do its thing without any interruptions.
Best for Body: Paula’s Choice RESIST Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment
Paula’s Choice took all that retinol goodness found in facial products and turned it into a body lotion, which is great news since retinol has been shown to improve to look of cellulite and stretch marks within a few weeks. This treatment can give you an all over glow by hydrating your skin with the added shea butter and smoothing it with the retinol and antioxidants. Plus, it’s fragrance and cruelty free.
Best for Acne: Differin Adapalene Gel
Acne is the most common skin condition in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Fortunately, there are many treatments for it, and one of them is retinol. Retinol has the power to unclog pores and calm inflammation, which makes it a preferred ingredient for combatting acne. This treatment was the first ever over-the-counter retinol approved by the FDA for acne. Although you should still consult your dermatologist before using, this gel offers a safe alternative to a prescription, and it’s super affordable.