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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Best pharmacy option
Rapid Wrinkle Regenerating Face Cream
Best for acne-prone skin
Serum 16 Rapid Renewal Serum
Best gentle retinol
Peter Thomas Roth
Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum
Best for real results
Boost 1% Retinol Booster
Best for sun protection
Retinol 24 + Peptide moisturizer
Best stain treatment
Pro-Heal Serum Advance+
Best for fine lines
DermalQuench Liquid Lift Retinol Advanced Resurfacing Treatment
Best for dry skin
Skin Caviar Nighttime Oil
Best for beginners
Best for enlarged pores
Best for even skin
A-Passioni Retinol Cream
Best for soft skin
Resurfacing Retinol Serum
Best for sun damage
Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3
Best for dark spots
ZO Skin health
Retinol Skin Brightener 1%
Best for Brightening
Intense defense serum
Best for sensitive skin
Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream
Best for glowing skin
Heavenly Black Diamond Retinol Oil
Best for all skin types
Advanced corrective serum with Illuminotex
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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