Apparently, You Shouldn't Buy Retinols From the Drugstore—Here's Why

Black woman applying face cream


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There's nothing more satisfying than nabbing a high-quality and effective skincare product that also comes in at a fraction of the price of similar products. And yes, despite the fact we definitely hoard plenty of skincare that undoubtedly makes our wallets cringe in disapproval, we're equally appreciative of the all-star drugstore picks that our budgets love us for. However, all that love and appreciation aside, strategically speaking, it's good to be on guard when selecting which products we're opting for at the drugstore and which ones we delegate for a splurge-worthy investment. 

According to a recent post on SheFinds, most skincare products like cleansers, toners, SPF, and lotions are A-okay to pick up at the drugstore. After all, brands are working harder than ever to establish authority, transparency, and innovation in the market of budget-friendly skin care that's more accessible for all. That said, the phrase "you get what you pay for" will always be true to a certain extent. As Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, warned SheFinds, you might as well steer clear of retinol on your next Target or Rite Aid run. The main issue? These formulas tend to be significantly less concentrated and are therefore much less effective if not useless altogether.

“Look for Retinyl Palmitate (vitamin A) which is formed by retinol and palmitic acid," Frank suggests as an alternative option. "This combination is antioxidant and good for the skin as well as cell turnover. Retinyl Palmitate is usually higher in concentration because the skin first has to convert it to retinol then retinoic acid in order for the skin to use it therefore this form is usually a higher concentration."

As a sound and general rule of thumb, make sure the source of retinol is one of the first on the product's ingredient list. In most expensive formulations, this will be the case.

Additionally, in order to preserve their potency, high-quality retinol formulas should always be stored in opaque versus clear packaging, should be kept out of excessive light or sun, and should always be shut or screwed tight. Never leave a tub or jar out in the open after application.

Curious to know which retinol formulas Team Byrdie personally vouches for? Keep scrolling! 

FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate 1 oz/ 30 mL
First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate $58

The 0.25% retinol formulation helps support skin's natural collagen production, while peptides smooth skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Joanna Vargas super nova serum
Joanna Vargas Super Nova Serum $295

Part of Joanna Vargas' high-performance skincare collection, this serum utilizes Vitamin A, a range of fatty acids, and chamomile to soothe and protect skin.

Ferulic + Retinol brightening solution
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid Plus Retinol Brightening Solution $88

This anti-wrinkle serum packs a punch, thanks to ferulic acid (which offers antioxidant protection) and a range of other good-for-you ingredients, like bearberry and willow bark extract.

Hydrate & Nourish Age Defence Retinol Day Moisturizer SPF 30
MZ Skin Hydrate & Nourish Age Defence Retinol Day Moisturizer SPF 30 $149

SPF 30 protects from harmful UV rays, while a potent combination of vitamins A, E, and C protect against free radicals and brighten skin.

Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream $88

A 1% retinol formulation helps with discoloration and fine lines, while bisabolol and boswellia serrata extract help soothe the skin.

Retinol Renewal
PCA Skin Retinol Renewal $100

This formula combines stabilized retinol and phyto-retinol, to improve clarity and tone. Hyaluronic acid and vitamin E help promote moisture, so skin retains clarity even while working overtime to diminish signs of aging.

+Retinol Vita C Power Serum 1 oz/ 30 mL
Kate Somerville +Retinol Vita C Power Serum $98

Retinol and vitamin C work in conjunction to refresh skin, combatting uneven tone and texture, as well as dullness and loss of elasticity.

Retinol Fusion PM 1 oz
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM $65

Vitamins C, E, and encapsulated retinol work to improve skin tone and texture and promote collagen production.

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum $89

This top-selling retinol product utilizes a tri-active technology to help fight the look of lines and wrinkles, and increase skin's resilience over time.

Retino 1.0
Obagi Retinol 1.0 $67

A full 1% of retinol helps boost cell turnover, fighting fine lines and hyperpigmentation, while hydrating jojoba oil and shea butter ensure skin retains moisture.

Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus
IS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus $155

Natural extracts like olive leaf combine with vitamins and antioxidants to nourish skin and neutralize free radicals. The result is improved texture and elasticity.

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