19 Retinol-Based Products That Will Improve Your Skin Fast

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While it’s true there’s no magic bullet when it comes to skin perfection, one ingredient comes pretty close: retinol. If you struggle with acne, scarringor hyperpigmentation, retinol can pretty much solve all your skin problems. And if you’re considering Botox for fine lines, retinol is also a powerful, non-invasive alternative found in many anti-aging products-including retinol eye creams to treat crow’s feet.

“Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that loosens the bonds between the top layer of cells and unclogs pores to help with acne, but also tricks the skin into thinking it’s injured to stimulate collagen production,” says Dr. Purvisha Patela Tennessee-based dermatologist and the founder of Visha Skincare. “It is the alcohol form of the derivative … and is the gold standard for a safe, effective skin care ingredient that helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles.”

And for those with oily skin, retinol helps shrink oil glands to reduce oil production in the skin.

The beauty of retinol is the different strengths and versions offered, which provide different results for a variety of skin types. (In addition to being found in over-the-counter creams and serums, Dr. Patel notes that retinol is “available in stronger percentages and orally by prescription.”) But it’s also a complicated ingredient to get into. While you can add a Vitamin C serum into your routine overnight, retinol can be intense, and not all formulas are created equal. But do you just skip this ingredient? No way. If you’re ready to add retinol to your routine, here are 19 great options for every skin concern and skin type. And keep scrolling to find answers to all your retinol queries thanks to Dr. Jennifer ChwalekMD of Union Square Laser Dermatology and other New York-based dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss.

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1

Best pharmacy option

Neutrogena

Rapid Wrinkle Regenerating Face Cream

2

Best for acne-prone skin

Cosmedix

Serum 16 Rapid Renewal Serum

3

Best gentle retinol

Peter Thomas Roth

Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum

4

Best for real results

Paula’s choice

Boost 1% Retinol Booster

5

Best for sun protection

Olay

Retinol 24 + Peptide moisturizer

6

Best stain treatment

is clinical

Pro-Heal Serum Advance+

7

Best for fine lines

Kate Somerville

DermalQuench Liquid Lift Retinol Advanced Resurfacing Treatment

8

Best for dry skin

La Prairie

Skin Caviar Nighttime Oil

9

Best for beginners

SkinCeuticals

Retinol 0.5

10

Best for enlarged pores

Joanna Vargas

Supernova serum

11

Best for even skin

Drunk elephant

A-Passioni Retinol Cream

12

Best for soft skin

CeraVe

Resurfacing Retinol Serum

13

Best for sun damage

La Roche-Posay

Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3

14

Best for dark spots

ZO Skin health

Retinol Skin Brightener 1%

15

Best for Brightening

Epionce

Intense defense serum

16

Best for sensitive skin

Murad

Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

17

Best for glowing skin

111 SKIN

Heavenly Black Diamond Retinol Oil

18

Best for all skin types

Visha Skincare

Advanced corrective serum with Illuminotex

19

Best Peel Alternative

Dr. Dennis Gross

Advanced retinol + ferulic overnight wrinkle treatment

What is the difference between over the counter retinol and prescription retinol?

“Prescription Retin-A and Tretinoin and over-the-counter retinol increase skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen synthesis,” Chwalek explains. “With consistent use of a topical retinol or Retin-A, you can see improvement in fine lines, dark spots, texture and tone.”

While an OTC retinol (0.5 percent to 2 percent concentration) is not quite as effective or fast as prescription strength, it’s less likely to cause irritation, redness and peeling, so it’s better for anyone with sensitive or drier skin. But proceed with caution.

How should you use retinol?

Dr. Idriss recommends adding retinol to your skin care routine slowly and gradually. “I would start with one night a week to see how your skin reacts before adding another night a week and so on,” explains Dr. Idriss. “If you find you’re extremely sensitive, apply your moisturizer before your retinol to make it a little less irritating.”

Are retinol alternatives effective?

There are also naturally derived retinol alternatives such as Rosehip Seed Oilchicory oligosaccharides and tara gum, but Chwalek cautions that there are no studies proving their effectiveness.

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