14 Retinols That Are Gentle Enough for Sensitive Skin

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When it comes to aging skin, dermatologists across the board recommend retinol. “Retinol is a form of vitamin A,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. “It’s been shown to help stimulate collagen production and enhance cell turnover, making it useful in treating fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.”

While it works well on many skin types, retinol can be particularly tricky on sensitive skin. “It’s effective, but it’s also potentially irritating to the skin,” says Zeichner. But don’t fret—even sensitive skin types can use retinol. You just need to utilize the right strategy.

Look for formulas that feature a retinol alternative, called retinyl esters. “They’re less potent but less irritating,” says Zeichner. When choosing between products, he also recommends opting for a retinol formula with a low concentration. The next step is gradually incorporating retinol into your skincare routine. “Start applying it once a week and slowly advance as tolerated,” says Zeichner.

Zeichner’s final tip? “Apply a moisturizer to your skin first to act as a buffer. Then, apply your retinol on top of it.” With continued use, it’ll take several weeks to see visible results, but believe us when we say that the lengthy routine is worth it.

Ahead, discover the best retinol products for sensitive skin.

Best Overall: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum

This potent-yet-gentle formula boasts skin improvement in as little as two weeks. Retinol decreases the appearance of fine lines and boosts radiance, while hyaluronic acid plumps the skin with moisture. Reviewers appreciate the lightweight texture, which doesn’t feel tacky or thick when applied to the skin.

Best Budget: Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil

Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil

An oil that helps your skin bounce back? Can’t say no to that. Its cocktail of retinol, peptides, and ceramides work to refine texture, improve firmness and elasticity, and smooth fine lines. Plus, it pulls double duty—reviewers report that it works well as a makeup primer.

Best for Beginners: First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum .25% Pure Concentrate

If this is your first retinol rodeo, this gentle serum is a great place to start. While it promotes collagen production and reduces the appearance of wrinkles, it also retexturizes the skin for an even-looking complexion.

What Our Testers Say

"It’s strong yet effective and is formulated with skin-loving ingredients to keep your face nurtured while retinol gets to work on imperfections." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester

Best for Dull Skin: Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum

Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum

Introducing a non-irritating retinol-infused serum that brings life back to your skin. It softens lines and wrinkles and evens out skin tone, without causing your skin to freak out. Reviewers report experiencing no redness, no irritation, and no drying—which, to us, means no worries.

Best for Acne: SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

This cream features a delivery technology that allows for a steady release of 0.3% pure retinol into the skin. It targets a slew of aging concerns, like discoloration, enlarged pores, and even blemishes. Plus, the protective packaging essentially guards the efficacy of the product.

Best for Discoloration: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

If you suffer from post-acne marks, discoloration, and enlarged pores, this formula will even out your skin. With encapsulated retinol, ceramides, and licorice root extract, it reduces the appearance of imperfections and brightens your skin tone, revealing a natural glow.

Runner-Up, Best for Discoloration: Good Face Stuff Plush Peptide Retinal Serum

Good Face Stuff Plush Peptide Retinal Serum

It’s called “plush” for a reason. From its velvety soft texture to how it makes your skin feel after continued use, this serum lives up to its name. It features the ingredient retinal, an advanced form of vitamin A that’s less irritating. Massage into your skin for ultimate rejuvenation.

Best Cream: Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.05 Cream

Eau Thermale Avene RetrinAL 0.05 Cream

Users with sensitive skin find the low retinol concentration gentle enough to use a few times a week. They reported no peeling and no irritation—a big win for those with fussy skin types.

Best Oil: Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil

Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil

Along with the pleasant, transporting scent, I love how much power can be found in this natural formula. Its main ingredient is rosehip seed oil which features a natural form of retinoic acid that reduces the look of wrinkles. You’ll also find a blend of botanicals and neroli that help soften and moisturize.

Best Night Serum: One Kind Midnight Magic PM Serum

Midnight Magic PM Serum

A triple threat combo of 0.1% retinoid, peptides, and plant stem cells firm, smooth, and even out your skin. One reviewer reports that she’s experienced a smoother complexion, reduced acne, decreased redness, and even fast healing.

Runner-Up, Best Night Serum: Mahalo Hawaiian Nights Phyto Retinoic Restoring Night Serum

Mahalo Phyto Retinoic Restoring Night Serum

All it takes is one pump of this silky oil to instantly hydrate thirsty skin. Over time, ingredients like retinol and hemp seed oil gradually renew skin—taking dull, tired complexions and transforming them by encouraging cellular renewal and production. I also found that while this is an oil, it’s easily absorbed into the skin.

Best Eye Cream: RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream

RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Anti-Aging Retinol Eye Cream

The skin around your eyes needs some attention, too. Mighty enough to combat dark circles, wrinkles, crow’s feet, and more, this formula is also gentle enough to be used on the delicate skin around the eyes.

Best Ampoule: Doctor Babor Power Serum Ampoules Retinol Serum

Doctor Babor Power Serum Ampoules Retinol Serum

Within seven ampoules is 1% retinol ester, a gentler form of retinol that has a lower irritation potential, and tripeptide-1, which helps to repair aging skin. To apply, shake the ampoule then snap it open. Pour the liquid into your palm and then softly apply all over the face, neck, and chest. This serum is more of a treatment, which lasts seven days.

Best for Dry Skin: The Better Skin Co. Retinol Remedy

The Better Skin Co. Retinol Remedy

Green tea, vitamin C, and avocado oil bring major moisturization to parched skin. Plus, vitamin A, which houses the retinol, stimulates collagen production, promotes new skin cells, and reduces the look of dark spots. Reviewers rave that its changed the texture of their skin.

A pea-sized amount of retinol is enough to treat your entire face. If you find your sensitive skin acting up, hold off on application for a day or two until your skin returns to normal. If symptoms persist, talk to your dermatologist.

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