The Best Retinol Creams to Revitalize Your Skin

La Roche-Posay's Anti-Aging Retinol Serum helps to reduce wrinkles

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Retinol Cream

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Adding retinol, a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, to your beauty routine is a great way to up your skincare game. While its potency is known to sometimes cause side effects like redness, dryness, tightness, and peeling, using it can accelerate skin turnover for healthier-looking skin.

Reviewed & Approved

Formulated with retinol, La Roche-Posay's Anti-Aging Serum works to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. We also recommend Olay's Regenerist Retinol Facial Moisturizer if you have sensitive skin and are looking for an affordable option.

“Retinol is a gold-standard skincare ingredient that stimulates collagen production to smooth skin’s texture, improve skin radiance, and even pigmentation,” says Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD, of Skin Wellness Dermatology.

When buying a retinol cream, look for retinol, which ranges between 0.25% and 1%. Also, consider whether it's free of irritants like fragrances. We researched dozens of retinol creams and evaluated them for use, price, and whether they contained irritants.

Here are the best retinol creams on the market.

Best Overall: La Roche-Posay Redermic R Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

4.9
La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Cream
Courtesy of Amazon.

Who else recommends it? Harper's Bazaar also picked the La Roche-Posay Redermic R Anti-Aging Retinol Serum.

What do buyers say? 300+ La Roche-Posay reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

Even though it's technically a serum, we chose La Roche-Posay's Retinol as our top pick because it has a lightweight formula that reduces fine lines. It also works well on even the most sensitive skin because of its Retinol Booster Complex, made of Retinyl Linoleate and Adenosine, which amplifies retinol’s potency without causing skin discomfort. The formula, which included lipo hydroxy acid, helps reduce wrinkles around the lips, forehead, and eyes.

Best Budget: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Facial Moisturizer

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Facial Moisturizer
Courtesy of Amazon.

Olay Retinol is a go-to product for many because it works well with sensitive skin types. It brings loads of hydration without irritation through its vitamin B3 and retinol complex combination. By penetrating deep into the skin, this fragrance-free and affordable moisturizer visibly reduces wrinkles, dark spots, and the appearance of pores, while increasing smoother, brighter, more firm skin. The whipped moisturizer also absorbs quickly so your skin is never left greasy. 

When it comes to finding the right retinol cream, Dr. Hartman suggests looking for “retinols that are in a more moisturizing vehicle, like a cream or lotion, instead of a gel or solution. The base can aid in moisturization and reduce the irritation and flakiness.”

Best Night Cream: SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream

AlphaRet Overnight Cream

SkinBetter

“SkinBetter AlphaRet is a favorite of mine for its ability to combine a medium strength retinol with glycolic acid and produce little to no dryness or irritation,” explains Dr. Hartman. By applying a thin layer over the face at night, users claim that it significantly reduce wrinkles in as little as four weeks. Whether that’s actually true or not, the product does combine a retinoid and lactic acid to counter the irritation and dryness usually associated with retinoid-based products by adding moisture to the skin

A 2017 company-funded study found that the cream reduced the severity of wrinkles, skin tone degradation, Erythema, and pore size over the course of 12 weeks. The study also concluded that it’s more tolerable than 1% of other retinol creams.

Best for Acne: SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3
Courtesy of Skin Store.

Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 is a great introduction to retinol creams. Retinol creams are known to cause irritation upon first using them, but retinols do come in varying strengths according to Dr. Hartman: a quarter (0.25), half (0.5), and full strength (1.0). “For retinol naïve patients, the lower concentration should be tried first before titration as tolerated,” he advises.  

This particular molecule is a derivative of vitamin A that promotes cell turnover, which in turn helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, blemishes, and pores. It’s also formulated with bisabolol to calm and comfort the skin. “Skinceuticals Retinol comes as a lower strength in a novel 0.3 concentration that shows improvement in skin texture in as little as four weeks,” adds Dr. Hartman. 

Free of parabens, fragrance, and gluten, this cream is meant for regular use. Initially, it’s recommended that you use it only once or twice a week during the evening on dry skin, then gradually increase frequency to every other night until your skin has adjusted enough to use it every night. For any retinol product, Dr. Hartman says he “would prefer a patient use the product only one to two times weekly but stick to the schedule than to stop and start with no real diligence.” He also suggests applying your moisturizer before using the retinol to make it easier for your skin to get used to it. 

Best Moisturizer: Kate Somerville Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Kate Somerville Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Amazon

There are two major components to this moisturizer: retinol and vitamin C. The retinol works to reduce fine lines and wrinkles while resetting skin’s texture and firmness. At the same time, the Vitamin C brightens and evens out the skin. With the help of wild gooseberry extract, this night cream will boost hydration and refresh skin through nightly use. It’s ideal for those with normal to dry skin, struggling with pore size, dehydration, and uneven skin tones.

Best for Sensitive Skin: Shani Darden Skin Care Texture Reform

Shani Darden Texture Reform
Courtesy of Sephora.

Esthetician Shani Darden has quite the cult following, and so does her Retinol Reform serum. It combines retinol and lactic acid to improve the appearance of lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and blemishes. In addition to utilizing a mild retinoid and lactic acid, this serum contains aloe vera to soothe the skin. It’s effective on all skin types—normal, dry, combination, oily, and sensitive—and is said to brighten the skin, causing it to visibly glow.

Best for Men: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream

4
roc retinol

Amazon

RoC Deep Wrinkle Retinol Night Cream’s non-greasy, non-comedogenic formula reduces wrinkles and fine lines by lifting and firming the skin. It also helps with dark circles, dry skin, and uneven skin tones so you can wake up in the morning looking refreshed. Since it contains a lighter dose of retinol, this cream is perfect for people trying out retinol products for the first time. 

Final Verdict

Retinol creams can be pricey, and if you’re not sure how your skin will react to it, try Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Facial Moisturizer first. It’s reasonably priced and comes highly recommended. However, if you’ve turned to retinol creams before and are still in search of the “perfect” one, give SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream a chance. The cream is fast-acting, gentle yet powerful, hydrating, and should cause little to no irritation. 

What to Look for in a Retinol Cream

Moisturizer-Based

As Dr. Hartman mentioned, you’ll want to look for a retinol that is a cream or lotion over a serum because it’s more moisturizing and reduces irritation.

Concentration Level

The retinol potency you can handle is totally dependent on your skin, so paying attention to the tiered strengths is important: a quarter (0.25), half (0.5), and full strength (1.0). If this is your first time using retinol, it’s best to start at the lowest concentration and then work your way up.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you apply retinol cream?

    Retinol cream is applied topically. Apply it at night as that is when your skin does most of its repair. First, wash your face and wait 20 minutes so that your skin is dry. Squeeze out a pea sized amount of the cream on your finger. Use about half of that to rub lightly onto your forehead. The rest can be used on your face — cheeks, chin, around your eyes. Apply it in circular motions until you no longer see the cream. You can use moisturizer after, but wait 20 minutes before doing so.

  • Can you use retinol cream every day?

    It’s better to gradually build up your use of retinol cream. For example, if you haven’t used it before, try using it about twice per week to start, giving your skin a break for a few days between uses. After a couple of weeks without side effects, you can try using it more frequently, but not every day. It may not be necessary to use it every day, but if you want to, try daily use only after several weeks to months without side effects.

  • At what age should you start using retinol?

    Retinol is an anti-aging ingredient and can therefore reduce signs of aging. In that case, using retinol may be an attractive option at older ages. However, retinol can also be used to treat acne and acne scarring, which may be helpful for young people. So, there is no “right” age. It just depends on what you use it for.

  • What is the highest amount of retinol you can buy over-the-counter?

    Over-the-counter retinol creams have a range of concentrations, usually between 0.25% and 1.0% retinol. If you are new to using retinol cream, start with the lowest concentration first to see how your skin reacts to it, then go from there.

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Having been raised by two medical professionals, Amari Pollard understands the importance of health literacy. As a seasoned health writer, she is committed to producing well-researched and well-sourced product reviews to help people make informed medical decisions.

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  1. The 17 Best Retinol Creams Worth Adding to Your Skincare Rotation. Harper's Bazaar. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/skin-care/g25939407/best-retinol-creams/

  2. Mcdaniel DH, Mazur C, Wortzman MS, Nelson DB. Efficacy and tolerability of a double-conjugated retinoid cream vs 1.0% retinol cream or 0.025% tretinoin cream in subjects with mild to severe photoaging. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017;16(4):542-548. doi:10.1111/jocd.12381