This $17 Retinol Serum Has Over 1000 5-Star Reviews on Amazon

Today's new class of skincare products is a game of Pac-Man—between the ingredients, the devices, and the treatments, it's a maze to navigate, and before you can wrap your head around one, you get swallowed up by the next wave. Sure, it's fun to test-drive as many new launches as you can get your hands on, but introducing your skin to several different factors is overstimulating, and a pared-down, efficient lineup will yield much more tangible results (not to mention less irritation).

Recently, I'd overheard a top dermatologist say that there are just three skincare staples she'll always recommend to her patients: sunscreen, a good hydrating moisturizer, and a retinol. The first two seem self-explanatory, but understandably, there's still some skepticism around the third. Essentially, its purpose is to stimulate cell turnover and "thicken" the skin, which in turn helps plump fine lines and wrinkles and reverse sun damage and discoloration. It's also a proven acne treatment, acting as a wick to sweep away pore-clogging, breakout-causing buildup. Sure, if used too frequently or in conjunction with the wrong products, it could induce adverse side effects, but with correct use, you'll wonder how you ever went without it. The remaining problem, however, is that a lot of today's leading retinol formulas come with a steep price tag.