The 7 Best Retinol Creams of 2021

For clearer, brighter, and healthier skin

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products, and articles are reviewed by healthcare professionals for medical accuracy. You can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Retinol Cream

Getty Images

Using retinol to your beauty routine is a great way to up your skincare game. While incredibly beneficial to skin health, it comes with side effects. Its potency is known to sometimes cause side effects like redness, dryness, tightness, and peeling. “Retinols are synthetic derivatives of vitamin A that are converted to retinoic acid (retinoids) when applied topically by skin enzymes,” explains Dr. Corey L. Hartman, MD, FAAD of Skin Wellness Dermatology. “Retinol is a gold-standard skincare ingredient that stimulates collagen production to smooth skin’s texture, improve skin radiance, and even pigmentation.”

Similar to any other product you introduce to the skin, adjusting to retinol just takes time. When using retinol creams, the key is to start slowly, but be consistent, says Dr. Hartman. “The period of retinization is when your skin becomes accustomed to the rapid cell turnover and changes at the cellular level that will eventually reveal results on the skin’s surface,” he adds. 

Many turn to the product because they want to address skin problems, such as acne, melasma, sunspots, wrinkles, photoaging, and oiliness. While a lot of retinol creams promise better, faster results in shorter period of time, it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is different and it might be a while before you notice results. Using retinol can be a slow process sometimes, and while some people may see results in six weeks, it could take six months for others. It’s a great addition to have in your daily skincare routine, especially for those dealing with acne or the effects of aging, but practicing patience is key. 

Here are some of the most trusted retinol creams for your consideration.

Our Top Picks
It works well on even the most sensitive skin because of its Retinol Booster Complex.
By penetrating deep into the skin, this fragrance-free and affordable moisturizer visibly reduces wrinkles, dark spots, and pores.
By applying a thin layer over the face at night, this cream is said to significantly reduce wrinkles in as little as four weeks.
Free of parabens, fragrance, and gluten, this cream is meant for regular use.
With the help of wild gooseberry extract, this night cream will boost hydration and refresh skin through nightly use.
It combines retinol and lactic acid to improve the appearance of lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and blemishes.
Since it contains a lighter dose of retinol, this cream is perfect for people trying out retinol products for the first time.

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

La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Cream

Dr. Hartman explains that La Roche-Posay R Retinol Cream “adds salicylic acid in a lightweight formula that works fast but gently to reduce fine lines.” It 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

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 30ml

AlphaRet Overnight Cream

“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

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

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

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 Deep Wrinkle Retinol Night Cream

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.

Why Trust Verywell Health

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.

Was this page helpful?
1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. 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