You’ve probably heard that retinol is the Holy Grail for anti-aging — but do you actually know what it is, how retinol products work, or if it’s right for you? The experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab do. We’re here to give you the lowdown on this powerful over-the-counter vitamin A derivative that’s finding its way into more and more skin care products.

Here are their answers to some of your biggest questions about retinol:


What is retinol?

Retinol is powerful wrinkle-fighter, but it’s also so much more. The potent ingredient boosts skin’s collagen production (and decreases its breakdown) to both minimize and prevent fine lines. It also speeds up cell turnover to reduce dark spots and helps unclog pores, making them appear smaller.

When should I use retinol?

At night! The theory is that your skin repairs itself as you sleep, so any anti-aging ingredients will be more effective if you apply before bedtime. Sunlight and retinol are not BFFs, either: UV has been thought to degrade retinol, decreasing its effectiveness. But more and more daytime moisturizers now contain retinol and SPF (like one of our top picks, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30).

Be sure you only use it once a day to start: Your skin needs to get used to the ingredient. If you don’t experience residual dryness, stinging, or redness, then you can try using it both A.M. and P.M. a few days a week. If you do have side effects, reduce use to every second or third day. In the interim, try other anti-aging ingredients like peptides or vitamin C.

Should I use prescription-strength retinol?

Not necessarily. Prescription-only retinoic acid is stronger and can give you better results than retinol, but it also can be more irritating. Some dermatologists recommend starting with retinol products (like our picks below) to let your skin acclimate to the ingredient before ramping up the potency. Plus, retinols are available at a fraction of the cost of prescription retinoic acid and you don’t need to schedule a doctor’s visit.

Will retinol make my skin more sensitive to the sun?

Yes, that one is true. Your skin will be more susceptible to burning and irritation from the sun for the whole time you’re using a retinol, and for several weeks after you stop. This is because speedier cell turnover pushes new, delicate skin to the surface. That means you must apply sunscreen every day when you’re using a product with retinol. (But you should already be doing that!) Check out our pros’ go-to moisturizers with SPF or facial sunscreens.
Now that you have a retinol primer, let’s get to the goods. Here are the GH Beauty Lab’s top-tested picks for the best retinol face creams, serums, and oils you can try in 2019:

10 best retinol products that tackle ageing, acne and hyperpigmentation

Retinol is one of the few anti-ageing ingredients that actually has a fair chunk of science behind it. It is derived from vitamin A which can increase cell turnover and encourage the production of collagen, improving the appearance of sun damage, lines, acne, scars and dark spots, while evening out tone and texture.

Be careful, though, because overuse can cause dryness and irritation, particularly for more sensitive skin types. If your skin can cope with it, however, you can use a retinol every day – vary your usage to see what works for you.

And they’re not only suitable for mature skin: we recommend catching signs of ageing early and starting with regular retinol use in your late 20s or early 30s. It can also make skin more sensitive to sunlight, so it’s best use at night. Make sure you follow up with your usual SPF in the morning.

Each of our favourites has been tested for at least two weeks on a range of skin types and ages, looking for visible reduction in fine lines and tone, smoother skin texture and any adverse effects.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Indeed Labs retinol reface skin serum: £16.66, Amazon

Indeed Labs’ offering is fragrance-free and thin in consistency, so it doesn’t have the nourishing feel of many, but, as often with the brand, it gives results that match products five times the price. This is a great place to start if you’re new to retinol and want a fair-price, good-results entry product.

Buy now

La Roche-Posay redermic anti-ageing concentrate intense: £24, Feel Unique

Compared to a lot of retinol products, which are notoriously expensive, La Roche-Posay’s delivers great results without the matching price tag. Our tester’s skin was having a small crisis – dehydrated, rough and breaking out – but this “sorted it right out” within three weeks of daily use, with zero irritation.

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Murad Retinol youth renewal night cream: £65, John Lewis & Partners

There is not a single dud product in the extensive Retinol range from the US dermatological brand. This is a night cream that isn’t super heavy or oily, and skin is left feeling silky, fresh and well-rested in the morning. Plus, our tester’s usually sensitive skin didn’t show any signs of redness or irritation.

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REN bio retinoid anti-ageing cream: £45, Look Fantastic

REN’s bio retinoid (a moisturiser rather than a serum or oil) is a winning combo of mid-range price, minimal fuss and very good results. Our tester’s mature skin felt firmer and brighter and she saw a marked improvement in the lines around her brow and mouth.

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Zelens power A high potency vitamin A treatment drops: £120, John Lewis & Partners

Our tester found that this smelt fantastic – lightly fragranced and not at all overpowering – and the pipette is easy to control to dispense the small amount necessary, cutting out waste. Skin was smoother and pronounced lines were reduced, but everyday use caused irritation after a couple of weeks, so we recommend limiting use to three times a week.

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Sunday Riley A+ dose retinol serum: £70, Cult Beauty

Sunday Riley’s A+ dose retinol is very strong, containing a 6.5 per cent retinoid blend, but it’s incredibly effective in reducing redness and scarring, and our tester (who is a seasoned retinol user) experienced no irritation. It’s a wonder product for improving the appearance of acne scars, and general brightening and tightening.

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Holy Grail retinol repair skin creme: £23.99, Holy Grail

Holy Grail’s line is minimalist in both packaging and products – it features just four essentials. It’s retinol cream is a lightweight moisturiser with one per cent retinol, plus hyaluronic acid and aloe vera. We particularly love it for sensitive skin, but it’s price point will appeal to all.

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Dr Dennis Gross ferulic + retinol wrinkle recovery overnight serum: £88, Dr Dennis Gross

This, from the New York dermatologist brand, may be pricey but its results are undeniable: texture and elasticity was noticeably improved after using for just a week on mature skin. As well as retinol, it contains ferulic acid, which both boosts the powers of the retinol and protects skin against further environmental free-radical damage.

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Elizabeth Arden retinol ceramide capsules line erasing night serum: £42, Elizabeth Arden

To guarantee the product you’re using is at utmost potency (many ingredients degrade from bottles being opened and closed regularly, or housed in clear containers), Elizabeth Arden’s retinol comes in individual, biodegradable capsules that you tear into each use.

It claims to be 76 per cent more potent than non-encapsulated retinol, but while we can’t be quite so exacting in our testing, we found that it had a lovely velvety texture on application, skin was noticeably plumper immediately after use and texture noticeably improved after a week.

Buy now

Estee Lauder perfectionist pro rapid renewal retinol treatment: £63, Feel Unique

Apart from being suckers for its oh-so-shiny silver tube, we also love rapid renewal retinol’s quick smoothing and brightening effects, and the speed with which it set to work on long-established lines around our tester’s forehead and mouth. It also contains plumping hyaluronic acid and antioxidants to protect against environmental damage.

Buy now

The verdict: Retinol products

If you’re coming to retinol with no previous experience, start with Indeed Labs – it scores highly across the board and comes at a give-it-a-go-friendly price, too.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

So you’ve decided to add retinoids to your skincare routine? Well good for you girlfriend! So let’s take the first step and learn which retinoid is right for you!

Don’t be a momo like me and just grab the first retinoid you see because you can end up either becoming red and scaly and stopping before you begin, or picking one too weak wasting valuable money and time (and I’m sorry to tell ya, the clock is a’tickin’).

Retinoids are your strongest line of defense against aging skin (after sunscreen, of course) so it’s not a matter of if, but when you add them to your skincare regimen. Why not start today?

Retinoids in Skincare can:

Add Elasticity To Your Skin

Improvement in Skin Elasticity Before and After Tretinoin Treatment

Smooth Out Wrinkles and Lines (slows down the aging process!)

Twin on your left doesn’t use retinoids. Twin on your right does.

Smooth Stretchmarks

Stretch Marks (A) Before and (B) After Tretinoin Treatment

Even Out Your Skin Tone

Skin Tone Before and After Tretinoin (Obagi brand)

Minimize the Look of Large Pores

Acne Scars Before and After Tretinoin Treatment

Control and Prevent Acne

Acne Before, During and After Tretinoin Treatment

So, let’s start with a little known but important fact. Retinoids and retinol are not the same.

Retinoids vs. Retinol

So many articles use the terms ‘retinol’ and ‘retinoid’ interchangeably, so I’m not blaming you if you think they’re the same thing, but they’re not.

Retinol is another name for the vitamin A molecule (a powerful antioxidant that fights off free radicals that damage the skin as well as repair damage that has already taken place). Retinol = Vitamin A

Retinoid is the category of all molecules that can be converted to retinoic acid. Since retinol is vitamin A and vitamin A converts to retinoic acid, retinol is a retinoid and all retinol products are retinoids.

But, as not all flowers are azaleas, not all retinoids are retinol.

This is important to know since there are many retinoids to choose from <this is the time to pay attention>, some being way stronger than others. It’s important to start with the right one so you don’t gee up your skin and give up before you start.

Types of Retinoids

The retinoids that you need to know about when it comes to skincare are:

        • Retinyl Palmitate & Retinyl Acetate (aka retinyl esters) – the least irritating retinoids (20% weaker than retinol) and are best to begin with if you have dry or super sensitive skin.
        • Retinol – the second weakest retinoid (about 20x less effective than retinoic acid), but is also a good place to establish your retinoid baseline.
        • Retinaldehyde (aka retinyl) – stronger than retinol but one step weaker than the retinoic acid and a good way to work up to it.
        • Retinoic Acid (aka Tretinoin, Retin-A, Renova) – the strongest , most effective retinoid (about 100 x stronger than retinol) and can only be obtained through a prescription from your doctor.

Tretinoin (retinoic acid) is the form of retinoid that does all of the work. Every other retinoid must first convert to tretinoin before it is effective.

When a retinoid is applied to the skin it ultimately converts to a retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is the effective part of retinoids. A retinoid MUST convert to retinoic acid before it can be effective in skincare.

The strength or effectiveness of a retinoid depends on how many conversions it takes to become retinoic acid.

If you refer to the chart above you’ll see that retinyl palmitate & retinyl acetate, once applied to the skin, must first convert to retinol → then to retinaldehyde before it becomes → retinoic acid.

That’s 3 conversions making retinyl the weakest form of retinoid.

Retinol takes two conversions (retinol → retinaldehyde → retinoic acid) , making it a bit stronger but retinaldehyde just takes one conversion making it stronger than retinyl.

Think of it like this. Each conversion takes energy and the more energy exerted, the less energy is left to do the work it needs to do to be effective.

In Arizona speak, if you’re on a hike and your dog gets chased by a coyote would you rather have the guy that’s just starting his hike help you run after the dog or the guy who hiked 10 miles already and is tired help rescue Fido?

The first guy would probably be more effective, unless of course the second guy happens to be Usain Bolt, but you get the point. 😉

Choosing Your Retinoid

Retinoids are LONG TERM, homies! You have to use them for them to keep working and you’re not going to use them if they wreak havoc to your skin.

Listen to what I’m about to tell ya and you have nothing to worry about, your skin will be happy and you get to enjoy the ultimate benefits of your retinoid!

For Sensitive Skin Start With a Retinyl

If your skin irritates easily or has a propensity towards dryness, you may want to start with a retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate.

Retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate are retinyl esters, a storage form of vitamin A. Retinyl acetate is the vitamin A found in our skin and retinyl acetate is the synthetic alternative.

There’s a cool foamy retinyl palmitate peel by HydroPeptide that may be good start if you’re skin shy. I gave one to my tomboy girlfriend who’s just not ready to “commit to a daily skincare routine”. She’s been using it twice a week for a month and asked me what else she should be doing for her skin!

The HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish $78 only stays on your skin for about 8 minutes and is a cool way to acclimate super sensitive skin. It’s also got lactic acid and vitamin C for exfoliation and brightening so it’s not a sissy way to start either.

I’d start with twice a week and if your skin doesn’t get crazy dry then I’d move up to a daily cream or even move up a step to a retinol.

Mr. BeautyBlackBook uses the Derma e Anti-Wrinkle Vitamin A Retinyl Palmitate Creme ($10ish) which keeps his skin moist and has made his first foray into the retinoid world pretty seamless.

I would only choose a retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate product if your skin is super sensitive. Otherwise, don’t be a wuss. Consider something stronger like retinol which is 25% more effective than any retinyl product.

Start with a Retinol

If your skin isn’t crazy super sensitive then you may want to start with a retinol product. You can find them over the counter at your local drugstore and they are more effective than the retinyl’s.

For the eyes, I love me some Roc.

The Roc Retinol Correxion Eye Cream ($15ish) is a cool start for your eye area. I would also recommend trying it on the lip lines above your lips. This is serious stuff though so don’t go all hog wile with it because you’ll end up with temporarily crepey eyes and that is what we’re trying to avoid.

Use it once every three days to start. If it’s too drying them move it to once a week or mix it with a yummy creamy lotion like the Osea Eyes & Lips.

For the face and neck I love the Neutrogena Rapid Repair Moisturizer Night which would go on before or be added to your regular night cream.

But if you’re also in the market for a night cream then check out the Radha Beauty Retinol Moisturizer Cream for Face and Eye Area ($20ish).

The SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5 is another good choice since it’s loaded with other good stuff like peptides, vitaman E, hyaluronic acid, green tea and ceramides.

The main thing to make sure of when buying a retinol, or any retinoid really, is that it comes in an opaque bottle. This protects it from light which can make it ineffective.

Air impacts the effectiveness too, so be quick everytime you open the bottle. Or better yet, buy one with a pump. Store your retinoid in a dry cool place. I keep mine in a drawer away from the window.


Retinaldehydes are a more sensitive option to retinoic acids. I skipped those AND the retinol and hopped up to the big boys which was a BIG mistake (it cost me ten whole years of retinoid happiness!).

Retinaldehyde is the least commercialized retinoid but is important to know about since it’s just one step down from retinoic acid, is stronger than retinol, less irritating than retinoic acid, and can still be bought over the counter.

Here are a couple notable ones that don’t break the bank.

Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL Eyes Cream ($50ish) for the eye (and lip line) area, also has hyaluronic acid to hydrate and plump the skin, Collactin to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and dextran sulfate to reduce dark circles.

And I’m sticking with the Eau Thermale Avene RetrinAL line for the rest of the face and neck.

Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream ($70ish) combines retinalhyde with a pro-elastin peptide to firm skin, and vitamin E to protect skin from free radicals.

When Retinoids are combined with other antioxidants, peptides, or other yummy stuff, it’s like turning it on supersonic mode.

Retinoic Acid (big girl retinoids)

Retinoic acid goes by many names (Retin-A, Renova, Avita) but the generic version is called Tretinoin, which is what I use.

I am currently rotating between the Tretinoin .05% in the gel form and the cream form, every other day that sexiness took about a year of the .025% first. I’d recommend starting with that.

Believe it or not my health insurances pays for my tretinoin with a $15 copay but without insurance it starts around $50. Best to check with your pharmacy. Stick with the generic (tretinoin) to keep the price down.

Also, get the smaller tube so it stays fresher longer.

How to Apply Your Retinoid

The second most important thing you have to consider when starting retinoids is how you apply them. Here’s the rule of thumb:

  • For the first couple of weeks use a pea-sized amount every three days. If it’s too strong then add a layer of moisturizer first (or mix it in with your moisturizer like I do).
  • Once your skin acclimates, about two weeks, amp it up to every other night.
  • When your skin gets used to that (for at least 2 weeks) then move up to every night.
  • Next, jump up to a stronger retinoid,
  • so on and so forth.

Retinoids are not an immediate gratification thing. They work gradually and cumulatively. When you stop and then start back up, you may have, to a certain extent, go through the acclimation process again. So make it a habit and stick to it!

You’re going to be 80 one day so why not look younger doing it?

And one more thing before I leave you, I recommend using retinoids at night but not because retinoids make your skin sensitive to the sun because that’s a myth.

Retinoids do NOT make your skin more sensitive to the sun!

As a matter of fact, retinyl palmitate actually protects your skin by absorbing ultra violet B radiation. That’s actually the same way that chemical absorbing sunscreens work!

A clinical study at the Department of Dermatology at University Hospital in Geneva Switzerland put retinyl palmitate or sunscreen on the butt cheeks of volunteers and found that the retinyl ester was as efficient at blocking ultraviolet B as an SPF 20!

Retinoids become unstable in light meaning that the sun makes them inactive and they don’t work. So, you won’t get hella burned if you use it in the sun, but you will be wasting a good retinoid.

Fine lines and crepiness under the eyes are simply inevitable as we get older (thanks, collagen production decline), but there are ways in which you can slow down the process — only should you want to, of course. Adding retinoids (aka the umbrella term used to describe any vitamin A derivative including retinol) to your skin-care routine is one measure that almost every dermatologist highly recommends. “Retinoids work by increasing collagen production as well as speeding up the rate of skin cell turnover, which makes them very effective at minimizing fine lines and wrinkles,” New York City-based dermatologist Shari Marchbein tells Allure. She adds that using an eye cream spiked with the powerhouse ingredient is an excellent idea for anyone hoping to reduce the appearance of fine lines, as well as to help prevent them from forming in the future. Why not just a regular retinol under your eyes? Because typically, they tend to be more intense in terms of strength, which could lead to irritation and dryness around the delicate eye area. What’s more, retinols can also induce symptoms of dry eye when placed too close to the eye itself, according to optometrist Tanya Gill, who previously spoke with Allure about retinol eye masks. You don’t have to drop a ton of money on eye creams with retinol, either. Sure, there are a few prestige options that derms swear by, but there are also several affordable options that you can easily access at your local drugstore. Ahead, find eight retinol-infused eye creams at every price point, straight from the pros.

Algenist Review & Alguronic Acid Analysis

Your Best Bet: Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum

If you must try Algenist products, the Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum contains the highest concentration of the active microalgae ingredient. Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum also contains the highest concentration of niacinamide of any of the Algenist products. Considering niacinamide has been clinically proven to do everything from soften skin to treat hyperpigmentation to eliminate mild cases of acne, it makes Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum your safest bet.

Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum has a light, quickly absorbing consistency, so it’s perfect for daily wear under sunscreen, especially since Solazyme research suggests it boosts UV protection.

Ingredients in Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum: Water/Eau (Aqua), Dimethicone, Isononyl Isononanoate, Pentylene Glycol, Glycerin, Saccharum Officinarum Extract, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Butylene Glycol, Glyceryl Stearate, Hydroxyphenoxy Propionic Acid, PEG-100 Stearate, Niacinamide, Algae Exopolysaccharides, Tetrapeptide-21, Beta-Glucan, Algae Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Fruit Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Malus Domestica Fruit (Apple) Cell Culture Extract, Inula Crithmoide Extract, Bambusa Vulgaris (Bamboo) Leaf/Stem Extract, Glucosamine HCL, Pisum Sativum (Pea) Extract, Ergothioneine, Cetearyl Alcohol, Lecithin, Sorbitol, Xanthan Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Caprylyl Glycol, Ceteareth-20, Sclerotium Gum, Propanediol, Sodium Hydroxide, Hexylene Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Disodium EDTA, 1,2-Hexanediol, Benzoic Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Citral, Fragrance (Parfum), Phenoxyethanol.

Bottom Line

My bottom line? Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum is worth a shot if you’re dying to try alguronic acid, but the data is not glowing enough for me to make it an all-time favorite. Maybe Solazyme will produce more research and I will happily do a re-post at that time, but until then, I’m going to hold off on giving this one a glowing review. Based on the data, I personally will stick with my antioxidants/sunscreen/niacinamide by day, retinoids/peptides/niacinamide at night, and will stay on the lookout for more new ingredients!

Get 4% Cash Back on Algenist at!

Sign up at, and receive 4% cash back on all of your purchases at When your total cash back on eBates totals $5.01 or more, you receive a check! I’ve been using this service for all of my online purchases since 2008, and I absolutely love it!

There are more than 100 algae-derived ingredients used in cosmetics worldwide, Mrs. Lewis said. The patent-pending alguronic acid in Algenist is a “single, purified, highly bioactive compound,” said Tony Day, the vice president for research and development at Solazyme, and therefore delivers “much higher activity to the skin” than products using only a microalgae extract.

Studies conducted by an independent lab and commissioned by Algenist, none of which have been published in a peer-reviewed journal, showed alguronic acid increased cell regeneration and the synthesis of elastin (which gives skin that snap-back youthful quality). This testing also demonstrated that alguronic acid provided protection against cell damage induced by ultraviolet rays, and inhibited the enzymes that break down elastin.

Image Credit…William P. O’Donnell/The New York Times

After reviewing press materials and Solazyme’s 84-page patent application, Dr. David McDaniel, a dermatologist and the director of the Institute of Anti-Aging Research in Virginia Beach, Va., said he was impressed by the in-vitro testing of alguronic acid. “In the petri dish, their data seems to show some substantial benefits to their active ingredient,” he said. But he cautioned that in-vitro testing does not demonstrate how a final formulation works off the shelf.

Dr. Dana Sachs, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, wrote in an e-mail after looking at Algenist’s dossier that “the claims on cell regeneration and elastin synthesis are based on in vitro models, which is hard to extrapolate to in vivo, and again no statistical significance is presented, so this is a weak claim.”

Dr. Day, who has a doctorate in biochemistry, said that statistical significance was found but not included in press materials. And, according to the company, a study of 30 women showed that after 10 days of using the Algenist serum, they had a 25 percent decrease in wrinkles as shown by silicone replicas of their faces.

Anti-Aging Ingredient Claims To Rival Retinol

It’s not everyday that scientists researching the world’s most pressing issue- renewable energy resources and biofuels-stumble upon a skin care ingredient so packed full of anti-aging skin care benefits that it gives retinol (the current gold standard in beauty) some competition. But these days do indeed occur.
Scientists studying microalgae out of a garage in San Francisco, CA, came across the ingredient alguronic acid and, from there, an unlikely beauty brand was born. Algenist, which officially launched a line of skin care products last March, contains this patent-pending and proprietary ingredient. It first rolled out a serum, moisturizer and eye balm banking on the fact that in clinical studies, alguronic acid increased elastin synthesis for younger-looking skin. It also showed the ability to protect against further cell damage incurred by the aging process and everyday environmental aggravators, as well as improve cell regeneration. In head to head studies commissioned by Algenist, alguronic acid actually outperformed retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C in its anti-aging capabilities.
The latest addition to the skin care brand, which launched last month, is Firming and Lifting Intensive Mask, $52, Firming and Lifting Cream, $94, and Firming and Lifting Eye Gel, $68, which combine their star ingredient alguronic acid with active peptides and proteins to comprehensively restructure and repair aging skin.
Related Links:
Top 10 Wrinkle Erasing Ingredients
Risky Retinol Combinations

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