The 4 Best Retinol Creams For Acne

As anyone who’s ever had acne knows, you can be seemingly doing everything right, yet breakouts still persist. Thoroughly removing your makeup every night? Check. Cleansing and toning? Check and check. Following up with an oil-free moisturizer? Yep. Sometimes acne is just stubborn, which is where retinol cream might come in handy. Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology, calls them the “foundation of an acne treatment.” But if you’re not exactly sure what a retinol (or its more potent derivative, retinoid) cream is — or how to find the best retinol creams for acne, more specifically — Dr. Levin is here to break things down.

How does retinol treat acne?

“Retinoids are essentially a basic umbrella term for both over-the-counter retinols and prescription retinoids,” Dr. Levin explains. “Retinols contain a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient, and prescription retinoids have a much higher concentration of the active ingredient,” she says. Basically, this means you’ll have an easier time finding a retinol cream at the store or online, and you’ll need to make an appointment with your dermatologist for a stronger retinoid. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, Dr. Levin notes that you should avoid retinoid products altogether.

Whether you pick up a retinol cream on your own or visit your derm first, the reason why these creams are so effective is the same. “They treat and prevent acne by declogging pores, normalizing skin cell turnover, and working as an anti-inflammatory,” Dr. Levin says. “Furthermore, retinoids have been proven to improve skin discoloration and texture,” she goes on to say, noting that this also means they “restore the skin from prior outbreaks.”

How to use a retinol cream:

Using a retinol is simple for both over-the-counter and prescription formulas, with Dr. Levin recommending that you apply the product as the first step after cleansing during your nightly routine, because sunlight can deactivate the retinoic acid. (You’ll also want to make sure you’re putting sunscreen on during the day, however, since retinol makes your skin more photosensitive.)

While most skin types can handle a retinol cream just fine, Dr. Levin notes that starting with an over-the-counter retinol and easing into daily use will help minimize irritation like redness, dryness, and flaking, which are common when you begin using a retinol. “Start off by applying a retinoid every third night,” Dr. Levin says. “If your skin isn’t irritated after two weeks, increase to every other night for another two weeks,” she continues, adding, “If your skin is still tolerating the retinoid, go for every night.”

Your nightly moisturizer will also help to combat any dryness or flaking. Dr. Levin notes that you should apply a pea-sized amount of your retinol on dry skin, and after several minutes, follow up with your moisturizer.

To simplify your search for the best retinol creams for acne, I’ve rounded up four great picks — including Dr. Levin’s top recommendation.

1. The Overall Best Retinol For Acne

Dr. Levin’s top pick, Differin Gel, is the only retinoid product available over-the-counter. The noncomedogenic and fragrance-free gel contains 0.1 percent adapalene, which is a type of retinoid, and helps to heal current acne while preventing future breakouts. While it takes 12 weeks of usage to see the full benefits, a reduction in inflammation and blemishes can be seen in as little as two weeks.

And Dr. Levin isn’t alone in recommending Differin Gel. Not only is it one of my personal favorite acne products, but Amazon users are also on board, with nearly 1,000 five-star reviews. While many note you’ll need to use a moisturizer with this product to avoid excessive dryness, they also credit it with clearing up their skin.

“I have suffered from mild to moderate acne since my hormonal teen years and it never went away,” writes one reviewer who shares that they tried everything from over-the-counter products to prescription antibiotics without success in the past. “Once I finally began using this, I noticed results almost instantly — my acne has cleared up almost completely.”

3. Best Drugstore Retinol For Acne

Retinol and hyaluronic acid are combined in this gentle nightly moisturizer to unclog pores and leave skin hydrated and plump. Though it calls itself an anti-wrinkle moisturizer, because retinol is its active ingredient, it’s just as effective at treating acne. Need more proof? Many Amazon users note that the Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Anti-Wrinkle Night Moisturizer lightened their hyperpigmentation and treated current breakouts. “This has changed my skin immensely,” raves one reviewer. “I had a lot of red marks and weird pigmentation from pimples, and this stuff has totally faded my marks and made my skin tone so much more even and smooth looking.”

3. A Two-In-One Moisturizer/Retinol Cream

This little overachiever contains retinol to help regulate skin cell turnover as well as moisturizing ingredients like glycerin, shea butter, and squalene to help combat the drying effects of retinol you don’t need to use a separate moisturizer. Paula’s Choice Resist Barrier Repair Moisturizer With Retinol was also formulated with skin-soothing ingredients like licorice and chamomile extract to further ease any irritation, making it a solid choice for anyone with sensitive skin or who’s looking to save a step in their nightly skin care routine.

4. An Acne-Fighting Cream First & Retinol Second

Murad’s Acne Control Skin Perfecting Lotion targets acne with retinol to clear out pore and queen of meadow extract, a natural form of salicylic acid. The traditional healing herb has astringent, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties that also help it to reduce oil production and pore-visibility.

Additionally, this dermatologist-developed, oil-free moisturizer contains hydrating and soothing ingredients like honey, allantoin, and arnica to keep skin smooth and reduce any redness or irritation that typically occurs with retinol use.

“It actually helps control my oiliness and my acne,” writes one Amazon user who uses the lotion after cleansing with the Murad Acne Clarifying Cleanser. “I love this Murad routine because it doesn’t cause dryness, which was my number one problem with other acne treatments in the past.”

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle’s editorial and sales departments.

The Best Retinoid Products—and Why You Should Use Them for Better Skin

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What Is Retinoid?

Retinoids are a class of vitamin A derivatives has been used in skin care since the 70s. Chances are, you’re familiar with retinoid because it’s the active ingredient that’s touted in the vast majority of anti-aging products. The most famous product, Retin-A, is made with the retinoid tretinoin. It was developed in the late 60s by Albert Kligman, PhD, a professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, as an acne treatment and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (Chances are, you used it on pimples back in the day.) Kligman and his colleague James Leyden, MD, noticed that Retin-A also improved wrinkles and skin tone in acne patients. Kligman eventually patented Renova, a tretinoin in an emollient base, which was the first FDA-approved topical treatment for wrinkles and fine lines. That was about 18 years ago, and yet retinoids still star in everything from moisturizers and serums to eye and neck creams. Why is what’s old still so new?
“There is not a single class of ingredient that can rival the track record that retinoids have for proven scientific results,” says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, MD, PhD, a New York City–based dermatologist. Other experts are equally enthusiastic. Susan Weinkle, a dermatologist in Bradenton, Florida, calls retinoids skin care’s heavy lifters. “I tell patients that regardless of how much time or money they have, sunscreen and a retinoid are the most important anti-agers to use,” she says. “This combo covers all your dermal needs: UV protection; smoother, firmer skin; a more even tone; fewer breakouts; and tighter pores.”
RELATED: How Long Does it Actually Take for Anti-Aging Products to Work?

Retinol vs. Retinoid—How Are Retinols Different?

Retinol, on the other hand, is Vitamin A, and it’s found in food and dietary supplements. It’s important to the body for multiple reasons, including growth, development, good vision, and a strong immune system.

How Do Retinoids Work?

Retinoids are amazing multitaskers. By acting directly on the DNA in skin cells, “they boost the many cell functions that tend to slow down once we hit 30,” says Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas. For one thing, retinoids increase cell turnover, so the skin is continually sloughing off damaged cells and healthy skin is always what you see on top. “This enhances radiance,” says Dr. Weinkle. Retinoids also thin the top layer of skin, the stratum corneum, while thickening the smoother second layer, the epidermis, which makes the skin look luminous and firm.

But the benefits don’t stop at the surface. According to Patricia Farris, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Tulane University, in New Orleans, retinoids also boost the production of collagen (one of the skin’s primary support structures) and prevent its breakdown as they work their way into deeper skin layers. There is evidence, too, that retinoids foster the creation of glycosaminoglycans, substances found in the body that help keep tissues hydrated. And, wait, there’s more: Retinoids help clear dead skin cells, oil, and debris from pores, leaving them less distended; retinoids even decrease oil production—a boon to those prone to breakouts.

Which Retinoid Is Right for You?

For first-timers, over-the-counter (OTC) formulations are the mildest and the best way to start. “The most common retinoids on these labels are retinol and retinyl palmitate,” says Chris R. Stahl, the director of research and development at Raffaello Research Laboratories, in Torrance, California, a skincare and hair care formulation company that produces many of the retinoids used in commercial preparations. (You might also see retinaldehyde, which is used less frequently.) These ingredients convert to retinoic acid in the skin and then work their magic.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About Tretinoin—The Anti-Aging Ingredient Derms Swear By
In contrast, prescription retinoids contain pure retinoic acid (or the related compound all-trans-retinoic acid). Some experts estimate that these can be up to 20 times stronger than over-the-counter varieties, because the retinoic acid is applied directly to the skin and doesn’t lose potency through conversion like OTC retinoids do. Prescription retinoids appear on the ingredient label as tretinoin (found in the wrinkle creams Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova, Atralin, Avita, and Avage), tazarotene (found in the acne cream Tazorac), and adapalene (found in Differin, an acne gel).
“The higher levels may provide a quicker benefit,” says Stahl. “But this can be accompanied by increased redness, drying, peeling, and flaking, the most common side effects of retinoids.”
OTC formulations may bring on a brighter complexion within a few days. Give them at least six weeks to start smoothing out fine lines. In most cases, results plateau in six months to a year, after which you might consider moving on to something more intense, such as an OTC serum (to layer under your retinoid cream) or a prescription product. If your skin feels comfortable before the six-month mark and you would like more dramatic results, you may consider progressing sooner.
Because vitamin A is prone to breaking down and losing potency, choose formulas labeled as “stabilized” or “encapsulated,” which won’t degrade in the presence of other ingredients. Packaging is also important. “Retinoids are sensitive to light, heat, and oxygen,” says Stahl, “so look for an airtight system,” such as a plastic or aluminum tube or an airless pump. Jars will not keep retinoids as fresh and effective.

How to Use Retinoid If You Have Sensitive Skin:

Besides the right formulation, a smart regimen is key to optimizing results and minimizing irritation. Without that extraneous layer of dead skin, your newly exposed healthy cells may be vulnerable to sunburn. So it’s best to apply a retinoid only at night. (Unless, that is, you’re using a day-specific formulation. Of course, always apply an additional layer of broad-spectrum sunblock.) Intensify the treatment only gradually. With proper technique and regular use, says Dr. Weinkle, you’ll eventually become “retinized”—that is, tolerant of retinoids and capable of ramping up to higher concentrations more quickly. Here’s how.

  • Wash your face before bedtime with your usual cleanser. “Cleansers with alpha hydroxy acids or salicylic acids are OK,” says Farris, but avoid the unnecessary roughness of granular varieties. Wait about 20 minutes before applying a retinoid to avoid stinging.
  • Take a dime-size amount of your retinoid product (less is more) and smooth it onto your face, including around the eyes, as well as on your neck, hands, and décolletage.
  • Follow up with your usual nighttime moisturizer. For extra-sensitive skin, apply moisturizer before the retinoid to reduce tenderness. Don’t worry—you won’t compromise results.
  • Can’t tolerate the burn? Wash the retinoid off after 15 minutes, suggests Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas, who calls this the “short contact” method. This will greatly increase your comfort while only slightly lessening the benefits.
  • Whatever the formulation, use it twice weekly for two weeks, then increase to three times a week. Back off if you notice irritation. You may work up to a nightly application. But if your skin feels most comfortable at three times a week, stay there.

Retinol Cream and Other Products We Like:

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum, $48,

StriVectin S.T.A.R. Light Retinol Night Oil, $99,

RoC Retinol Correxion Daily Moisturizer SPF 30, $18,

Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer, $90,

Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Overnight Rescue Overnight Cream with Calming Colloidal Oatmeal, $98,

Neocutis Nouvelle Plus Retinol Correction Intensive Anti-Aging Cream, $150,

Retinol: it’s the skincare ingredient that needs no introduction. By now you’re likely already aware of the near infinite benefits it has to offer. From working wonders on fine lines and wrinkles, to improving skin’s texture, reducing scarring and enlarged pores. It’s also great for people with acne.

As leading Hollywood dermatologist, Dr Lancer, who works with famous faces like Victoria Beckham and Beyonce, explains – it’s one that truly works. “Retinol is lauded for it’s medically and scientifically-proven ability to speed up the skin’s cell cycle” he says. “It is one of the few ingredients on the market that comes with this absolute guarantee – it has no gimmicks.” The zero BS approach makes it even more appealing.

So, when should you start using retinol?

In theory, you could start using retinol in your mid to late 20s. Prevention is better than cure – aka the earlier the better – but, obviously within reason (if you’re under 25, you probs don’t need it).

How do I choose a retinol?

There are variations of retinol and also different strengths. If you’re just starting out, you should be using a low percentage. La Roche-Posay Redermic R, is the perfect starting point as it contains a mere 0.3%, it’s also a good option for people with sensitive skin. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane is a great contender for newbies, too, plus it’s super affordable.

If you’re a seasoned retinol user, Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 is a great option (and one we personally swear by). One of the strongest formulas out there Sunday Riley’s A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum is an incredibly potent, supercharged serum that will get you results fast.

How do you use retinol?

Apply it at night and avoid mixing it with other active skincare ingredients. It can be layered with hyaluronic acid, but try to minimise mixing it with lots of products.

Are there any side effects?

Unfortunately, retinol does come with some side effects, though these can be reduced by choosing the right formula for your skin type and applying it properly. You should always introduce retinol tentatively into your skincare routine at first, then build it up slowly as your skin becomes more tolerant. Initially, begin using it a couple of times a week in smaller doses. As you start to see results and less irritation, you can steadily increase the percentage – but this has to be done over time (read more about best practice retinol usage here). Overuse of retinol can cause redness, sensitivity and peeling. Keep in mind that whilst using any product containing retinol you’ll need to apply daily sunscreen.

These are 11 of our favourite retinol formulas that we actually use…

15 Best Retinol Products Esha Saxena Hyderabd040-395603080 November 22, 2019

If you’ve ever found yourself stressing over fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and skin discoloration – it’s time you give it a rest. The closest thing to magic for reducing all your skin issues while improving the overall health and beauty of your skin is the much-talked-about ingredient called ‘Retinol.’ This Vitamin A derivative helps to unclog pores, reduce fine lines, and boost collagen. It’s hands down the gold standard component of the beauty industry. Here are your options for the most popular and best Retinol products that you can add to your skin care routine – and these don’t require a prescription!

Products Check Price
SkinMedica Retinol Complex Check Price
Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream Check Price
La Roche-Posay Redermic R with Retinol Check Price
Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Prescription Strength Retinoid Acne Treatment Check Price
SkinCeuticals Retinol Cream Check Price
Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion Check Price
Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Boost Check Price
Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment Check Price
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum With Retinol Check Price
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Check Price

Best Retinol Creams And Products That You Should Try For Acne And Wrinkles

1. SkinMedica Retinol Complex


  • Hygienic dispensing
  • Gentle yet effective
  • Non-irritating
  • Overnight results
  • Appropriate for all skin types


  • Pricey

SkinMedica Retinol Complex Review

SkinMedica’s Retinol Complex comes in three different concentrations – 0.25, 0.5, and 1. It’s always best to start off with the lowest concentration of retinol if you’ve never used it before. This product enhances your skin tone, its texture, and resiliency. It also helps in diminishing the appearance of fine lines and coarse wrinkles. This is less harsh than other retinol creams and serums and will give you results almost immediately. It’s best to use as a night time moisturizer. If you want something that is 100% effective, this is highly recommended!

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2. Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream


  • Soothes and treats irritated skin
  • Great for aging, drying, and stressed skin
  • Increases cell turnover to improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Paraben, sulfate, and gluten-free
  • Cruelty-free


  • Expensive
  • May not suit overly sensitive skin

Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream Review

This Retinol Rescue overnight treatment infuses moisture, evens skin tone with its marine extract, and fights free radicals with its Jasmine Absolute and Vitamin E content. It’s best known for its anti-aging benefits which use retinol to target the most visible signs of aging by replenishing dehydrated skin. If you have already used retinol treatments in the past, you could give this night cream a chance as it is quite strong and free from parabens. But, if you are new to retinol, this may not be a suitable option to start off with.

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3. La Roche-Posay Redermic R With Retinol


  • A lightweight texture that absorbs quickly
  • Contains time-released retinol
  • Reduces fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots
  • Does not irritate the skin
  • Fairly hydrating


  • Contains fragrance
  • Does not include antioxidants

La Roche-Posay Redermic R With Retinol Review

This retinol treatment by La Roche makes for a great bed-time moisturizer. Redermic R contains two forms of Vitamin A – Retinol and Retinyl Linoleate, which have time and again proven to reduce wrinkles. This moisturizer boosts the production of collagen, which results in firmer skin and accelerates cellular turnover – so all your old and dull skin cells are replaced by new ones. This one is more suitable for dry skin because it contains ingredients like glycerin to replenish the skin’s moisture.

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4. Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Prescription Strength Retinoid Acne Treatment


  • Very effective
  • Unclogs pores and promotes skin cell turnover
  • Works well against blackheads, whiteheads, and active acne
  • Improves skin’s texture and tone
  • Free of alcohol, fragrance, and oil


  • Your skin may get worse before you start to see improvement
  • Not recommended for those who are new to retinol

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Prescription Strength Retinoid Acne Treatment Review

Differin Gel contains Adapalene as the key ingredient. This chemical is used to treat acne, and it actually works wonders in this area. Besides combating acne, it helps to restore your skin’s texture and even out skin tone. It’s mostly recommended by dermatologists to their patients dealing with breakouts and acne. This gel is going to be stronger than other retinol products you’ve used before, so you need to use this with caution. If you have never used retinol before, you need to work your way up to actually using this hardcore product.

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5. SkinCeuticals Retinol Cream


  • Comes in three varied concentrations
  • Makes skin softer and smoother
  • Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Treats acne
  • Absorbs quickly


  • Has an unpleasant fragrance
  • The high concentration of retinol may irritate the skin if used frequently

SkinCeuticals Retinol Cream Review

SkinCeuticals Retinol cream is ideal for problematic and sun-damaged skin that has been preconditioned with the use of retinol beforehand. This night cream diminishes the appearance of fine lines, discoloration, and wrinkles while minimizing breakouts and the appearance of pores. It’s best to start with the 0.5 compositions of retinol and work your way up to 1. Follow it up with a moisturizer if you have extremely sensitive skin and you will see visible improvement.

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6. Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion


  • Lightweight and absorbs quickly
  • Fragrance-free
  • Provides moisture and does not clog pores
  • Helps diminish fine lines, wrinkles, and acne scars
  • Keeps acne at bay


  • Contains parabens
  • Preservatives in the lotion may cause some irritation if you have very sensitive skin

Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion Review

This skin-perfecting lotion by Murad is meant to be applied before bedtime. It’s phenomenal for reducing acne and providing hydration to your skin. With regular use, you can see an evident improvement in skin tone. If you have really oily skin, this helps in reducing oil production and stabilizing uneven areas of your skin. Do give this a try!

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7. Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Boost


  • Effective and provides fast results
  • Multi-purpose
  • Fairly gentle on the skin
  • Suitable for all skin types


  • Expensive
  • It has a fragrance

Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Boost Review

This powerhouse of a booster clarifies your skin, leaving it glowing. It helps in improving the overall appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while getting rid of acne, acne scars, skin discoloration, and age spots. If you want extra radiance and a luminous glow, this product does an excellent job to provide your skin with some much-needed radiance. Although it’s a little too expensive, this is worth a shot!

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8. Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment


  • Lightweight and non-greasy
  • Softens and soothes skin
  • Diminishes fine lines and wrinkles
  • Helps minimize pores
  • Suits all skin types


  • Medicinal scent
  • Thick consistency

Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment Review

This retinol treatment is an anti-aging night cream with a time-release formula. It does not irritate even the most sensitive skin. It’s best to use this product alone without any follow up products for the most effective results. A little goes a long way, and it successfully reduces the appearance of scars and unclogs pores.

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9. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum With Retinol


  • Uses retinol as its key ingredients
  • Contains ingredients that soothe rather than cause any kind of irritation, as is the case with most retinol-based products
  • Effective and fast-acting
  • Affordable and reasonably priced


  • If you have super sensitive skin, it may cause some flakiness initially
  • Has a fragrance

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum With Retinol Review

This serum by Neutrogena Contains retinol; glucose complex, which is a retinol booster; and hyaluronic acid, which helps to hydrate and moisturize your skin. It’s a silky serum that is light and has a fresh scent. It absorbs into your skin with ease and begins its work almost instantly. If you have crow’s feet, this serum will improve the appearance, and they won’t look as prominent in just about a week’s nightly use. If you have sensitive skin, you need to keep it to twice a week.

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10. Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM


  • Improves skin texture
  • Lightweight and non-greasy
  • Goes on smoothly
  • Improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots


  • Difficult to use due to its watery consistency
  • Takes time to show results

Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Review

This serum has a watery consistency, and it absorbs quickly into your skin. You can follow it up with a moisturizer on top, and it’s fairly mess-free. The bottle lasts forever as you only need a few drops, and that goes a long way. It does result in noticeable changes within a few weeks, leaving you with an improved and much smoother skin texture. It’s suitable for all skin types.

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11. ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream


  • Contains a high concentration of retinol
  • Contains glycolic acid to provide moisture
  • Minerals increase skin cells overturn
  • Works for all skin types
  • Oil-free


  • High retinol levels aren’t suitable for beginners
  • Slight irritation after application

ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream Review

This Retinol cream by ROC contains retinol, zinc, copper, magnesium, and glycolic acid. It’s an award-winning formula that will leave you with an even skin tone and will also keep your acne at bay. The thin, white formula comes in an airtight aluminum tube, which prevents the retinol inside from degrading. It has a slightly medicinal scent and tingles when applied, but that is due to the ingredients present in the cream. However, this will give you guaranteed results in improving the overall appearance of your skin.

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12. Kate Somerville Retasphere Retinol Night Cream


  • Gentle and non-irritating
  • Helps to smoothen and brighten your skin
  • Makes your skin tighter and plumper
  • Great packaging


  • Not moisturizing enough
  • Expensive

Kate Somerville Retasphere Retinol Night Cream Review

This cream is designed to gently infuse your skin with pure retinol and sustained hydration. It does an effective job of improving the appearance of wrinkles, evening out skin tone and texture, and helps in uncovering a revitalized complexion. The cream is a thick, non-greasy formula that does not over-dry your skin. It exfoliates and hydrates well and is suitable for all skin types.

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13. Obagi360 Retinol 1.0


  • Diminishes the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Minimizes the size of pores and cures uneven skin tone
  • Has a high concentration of retinol and is still fairly gentle
  • Fast-acting results


  • Has an unpleasant smell
  • Not for retinol beginners

Obagi360 Retinol 1.0 Review

The Obagi360 Retinol 1.0 contains 1% of retinol, which is very high, so if you think your skin can handle that kind of dose, go for it! It contains bisabolol, jojoba seed oil, sage leaf extract, and shea butter beside the retinol, and is suitable for all skin types. However, this cream is for those who have already used retinol in the past, owing to its high concentration. It’s time-released, which makes it rather gentle for your skin. Definitely give this a try!

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14. Bioelements Oil Control Sleepwear


  • Highly effective in controlling oil production
  • Lightweight and absorbs easily into the skin
  • Improves skin texture and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Good for oily and combination skin type


  • Not great at combating acne
  • Fairly gentle

Bioelements Oil Control Sleepwear Review

This night cream by Bioelements works very well as a night treatment for your skin issues. Its active ingredients include retinol, peptides, calcium, and vitamin E. It improves your skin significantly, and if you are struggling with oily skin, this is something you will absolutely love!

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15. Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream


  • Paraben-free
  • Affordable
  • Gentle and non-irritating
  • A powerful anti-aging formula that diminishes wrinkles and blemishes.
  • Suitable for all skin types


  • Takes time to work
  • Not suitable for those who have used higher doses of retinol in the past as this may be way too gentle

Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream Review

This formula Contains retinol and glycerin and is gentle enough to be used on arms and hands as well. It helps in reducing dark circles and puffy eyes. It also smoothens uneven skin patches and gives you even-toned, more radiant-looking skin. However, this cream falls under the slow firing category, so if you have a lot of patience and don’t want to opt for hard-hitting, quick formulas, this will suit your needs.

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*Product prices may vary

*Subject to Availability

Tips And Precautions To Be Followed While Choosing And Using Retinol Products

  • If you’re a retinol rookie, there are certain things you must keep in mind to pick the best retinol product and use it the right way. Let’s go over some quick guidelines to help you with your decision.
  • Firstly, it’s important to choose a product from a trustworthy and reputable brand.
  • It’s also essential to look for the amount of concentration of retinol. You can get a concentration as low as 0.01% and as high as 2% retinol. Low concentrations are great for beginners, and once you get your skin accustomed to it, you can gradually increase the percentage of concentration.
  • You need to be patient and take retinol slowly. Experts suggest applying it every third day, at least for the first two weeks, until your skin gets the hang of it. Also, it’s best to stick to a pea-sized amount before bedtime. Sunlight can destabilize its effectiveness and can cause more harm than good.
  • It’s extremely important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF daily, especially because your skin becomes extra-sensitive to sunlight when you subject it to retinol.
  • There are side effects that you may face, such as dryness and irritation, redness and swelling, but if you start at a lower concentration, moisturize properly, and keep yourself hydrated, you can minimize these side effects.
  • Finally, retinol may worsen your skin condition at first because it makes it flaky and facilitates the shedding of the outer layer of the skin. But ultimately, it improves the texture and tone of your skin. The side effects are rather natural, but if they get out of hand, please visit a dermatologist.

That was our pick of the 15 best-over the-counter retinol products. Have you ever tried any of these creams and serums? What was your experience with retinol? Share with us in the comments!

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

What are the three best retinol products for acne-prone skin?

Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Facial Night Acne Cream, Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Prescription Strength Retinoid Acne Treatment, and SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream are great options for those of you dealing with acne and breakouts. These creams are specially formulated to keep acne at bay and also fight active acne.

What are the best anti-aging retinol products?

Eve Lom Time Retreat Radiance Boost, Obagi360 Retinol 1.0, and SkinMedica Retinol Complex do wonders for improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

What are the best retinol products for sensitive skin?

Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream, La Roche-Posay Redermic R with Retinol, and SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.25 are fairly mild and gentle. If you have sensitive, touchy skin, these products will fit your needs better. It’s also best to use the lowest concentration of retinol to minimize side effects.

I have dry skin, what are the best retinol products for my skin type?

Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion, Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream, and Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum With Retinol are great for dry skin as these also consist of moisturizing ingredients to hydrate and nourish your skin from within.

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Esha Saxena

Esha Saxena is a writer, journalist, and a full-time wallflower. She holds a Master’s degree in Media and Mass Communication and firmly believes that makeup is nothing less than art. Combining her love for writing with her passion for makeup, she brings to you reviews, techniques, and her ever-growing knowledge on this form of art. In her spare time, she loves reading, listening to obscure indie bands, and writing poetry – all of this while being a crazy dog lady.

What Is Retin-A and Are There Any Non-Prescription Alternatives?

Retin-A can do some really great things for your skin (besides clear acne)– there’s no denying that.

However, it does require a prescription and some of the side effects are just too intense for many people to tolerate.

The good news is, there are a slew of over-the-counter retinol creams that do essentially the same thing as Retin-A, without all the negatives.

But before we get to those, let’s take a step back and briefly go over Retin-A and what it does…

Retin-A (brand name for the ingredient tretinoin) is a vitamin A derivative that was approved by the FDA over 40 years ago as a prescription acne treatment.

In addition to clearing up acne, doctors also noticed that their patients skin also looked brighter, smoother and less wrinkled.

That led to Retin-A being used and studied as an anti-aging treatment.

After decades of real-life use and clinical studies, it’s now widely accepted that Retin-A and all its retinoid derivatives are very good at:

  • speeding up skin cell turnover
  • reducing fine lines and wrinkles
  • fading and evening out pigmentation and discoloration
  • shrinking and unclogging pores
  • retexturizing and smoothing skin surface
  • rebuilding collagen

That’s a lot of proven benefits for one ingredient!

But for all the wonderful things about Retin-A, there are a few downsides…

First, it requires a prescription from a doctor.

While that’s not a huge deal for some people, it does require the time and expense of a trip to the doctor, a trip to the pharmacy and follow-up visits.

Second, Retin-A has some annoying side effects.

These are due to the fact that Retin-A has very small molecules which can penetrate deep into the skin. It’s been known to cause mild-to-moderate redness, peeling, scaling, itching, burning and worsening acne. These side effects are typically more pronounced in the first 6-8 weeks of use.

Third, Retin-A makes skin more sensitive to sunlight. So you’ll have to extra careful with your sunscreen application.

All-in-all, these downsides to Retin-A may not bother some people.

But for those who don’t want to deal with them, there’s a really good, non-prescription alternative.

And that alternative is retinol.

Retinol is an ingredient found in over-the-counter creams and works in a similar way to prescription treatments like Retin-A.

When absorbed by the skin, retinol is actually converted into retinoic acid, the same thing found in Retin-A.

However, this “extra step” of converting the retinol makes it less potent…

And according to New York cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, “this dramatically reduces the negative effects of Retin A- the peeling, sun sensitivity, redness- but has all the same fundamental results.”

Further, Dana Sachs, associate professor of dermatology at Michigan Medical School says, “There’s a lot of literature showing that while retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid (Retin A), biochemically it does exactly the same thing– it just may take longer to see results.”

Did you catch that?

What these experts are saying is over-the-counter retinol cream can get you the same results as prescription Retin-A, it just takes longer to see them.

But with these creams, you can probably avoid most if not all of those annoying side effects we talked about earlier.

So that’s really the choice you’re left with…

If you don’t mind seeing a doctor regularly and dealing with some side effects like redness, burning, and peeling, Retin-A is a great choice for relatively quick results.

But if you want the same results (just a little slower) and minimize the side effects, then a OTC retinol cream would make more sense.

Either way, you’re sure to love the proven benefits of what this amazing ingredient can do for your skin!

If you decide to go the over-the-counter route, be sure to check out our ranking of the best retinol creams.

The Best Retinol Creams You Can Buy Without a Prescription

Dermatologists consider retinol the holy grail of noninvasive wrinkle-prevention. When applied topically, this vitamin A derivative stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, evens out complexion, and unclogs pores.

That said, retinol does have its drawbacks. Side effects can include dryness, peeling, and skin irritation, and some people may see their acne flare up. So before you start slathering these products on your face and neck, you’ll want to keep a few tips in mind.

RELATED: 8 Anti-Aging Moisturizers That Are Worth Your Money

“To reduce irritation, start every other night with the product and move up to every night only when tolerated,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at the George Washington University Medical Center. “Add extra moisturizer when using, and use only a very mild, creamy cleanser to compensate for the extra dryness.” You’ll also want to guard your skin with SPF 30—retinol may make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Though you can ask your doc for a prescription-strength retinoid—which is a much stronger version of what you can buy over the counter—the derms we spoke to said drugstore and beauty counter brands do the same thing, and that it just may take longer to see results. Read on for the retinol recommendations from Dr. Tanzi and other top skin doctors.

Plus: Want more anti-aging recommendations from Health? Here are our favorite derm-approved vitamin C serums, anti-aging night creams, eye creams, eye creams that have retinol, hyaluronic acid serums, and top anti-aging products you can buy on Amazon under $20.

Retinol. The answer is retinol. The question is almost irrelevant (assuming it’s skin-related) because if you’re asking me or any beauty editor with more than five minutes’ experience what to do about pretty much any skin issue — acne, fine lines, brown spots, drooping, dullness, dark circles, enlarged pores — retinol will likely be central to the solution.

Retinol is pure vitamin A. Along with a bunch of other vitamin-A derivatives starting with the letter R, retinol is an example of a retinoid — that’s the catchall term for these A-based formulas, both the over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription varieties. The potent Rx creams contain retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A that immediately binds with receptors on our skin cells, causing them to behave younger and healthier. This directive can translate to countless improvements — normalized cell turnover for clear, glowing skin; balanced pigment production for fewer splotches; revved-up collagen synthesis for smoother skin and tighter pores — but it generally comes with an irksome adjustment period. OTC vitamin-A creams, like retinol and retinaldehyde, tend to be weaker because the skin has to convert them to retinoic acid before using them.

Speaking from experience, though, that doesn’t mean they can’t take your face off — especially if you’re sensitive. Which is why with any retinoid you have to practice restraint, applying a pea-size drop only one or two nights a week until skin acclimates, and buffering that dose with a squirt of anti-inflammatory serum or lotion (think niacinamide, polyphenols, lipids, ceramides). These are doctors’ orders — well-established ones — that I’ve long practiced and preached.

Even still, this hasn’t completely spared me from those famous retinoid rough patches. And despite having two decades’ worth of derm secrets embedded in my brain, I’ve only very recently found a handful of retinols my skin won’t reject. (I’m 40, guys.) Full credit goes to the chemists behind these formulas, who’ve dreamed up innovative ways to deliver all the magic of this molecule without the cursed side effects.

Since discovering my go-to’s and expanding my search for non-irritating retinols, I’ve found 10 standouts that are at once ultra-effective yet gentle enough for the retinoid-intolerant. (In fact, we tested them on women claiming to be just that.) What makes these non-Rx gems so transformative is that they all contain either pure retinol or a next-gen derivative shown to turn on those same aforementioned receptors to spark change.

Before we explore their individual merits, heed this brief buyer beware: There are a ton of serums and oils on the market right now masquerading as retinols. You won’t find retinol (or any recognizable derivative) on their ingredient lists, however, as they rely on plant extracts, like rosehip oil, as alternate sources of vitamin A. But, according to cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos, “There’s no evidence that natural sources of retinoids are safer than synthetic, and often their effectiveness is highly suspect. Rosehip oil contains only about 0.4 parts per million (0.00004%) of retinoic acid — that’s a very tiny amount, and it’s further diluted in the final product.”

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

1. Marie Veronique Gentle Retinol Night Serum

Courtesy of brand

The best retinol creams and moisturizers you can buy

  • Retinol is a superstar skin-care ingredient that helps mitigate normal signs of aging, acne, hyperpigmentation, and skin laxity.
  • We consulted celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman to determine how to buy the best and most effective retinoid products.
  • Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream is our top pick because it contains a high concentration of retinol as well as peptides, vitamins, and oils to hydrate and nourish skin.
  • If you’re pregnant, we recommend using an effective alternative like Bakuchoil found in Beautycounter’s Countertime collection. Retinol can be harmful to pregnant people.
  • Below, we’ve addressed some general FAQs about retinol. Jump down to our recommendations here.

There’s a running joke that no matter what you’re trying to “fix” about your skin, the answer is probably going to involve retinol.

Retinol multitasks. It smoothes fine lines and wrinkles and helps minimize new ones. It helps regulate oily skin and keeps pores from clogging, which mitigates breakouts. It exfoliates on a cellular level and reveals brighter, smoother, newer skin which, over time, helps even out your complexion and fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

But there are so many variations of retinol, and so many ingredients listed on products at vastly different price points. How do you shop strategically for retinol? What works? What should you avoid? We consulted celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman to create a conversational cheat sheet, and then rounded up a list of the best retinol creams you can buy in 2019 below.

Why does retinol work so well?

As we age, we lose vitamin A, and this depletion contributes to the normal signs of aging. Retinol is pure Vitamin A. According to Dr. Engelman, “Retinol, and especially retinoic acid, work to increase cell turnover, build collagen, improve discoloration, hydrate skin and reduce acne by replenishing the body of vitamin A.”

Technically, retinol is just one of the many different types of retinoids. (Retinoid is the catchall phrase for A-based formulas). You’ll see the name retinoic acid in prescription products, and names like retinol and retinaldehyde in over-the-counter (OTC) products.

What to look for when you’re buying retinol products:

The gist is this: all derivatives of vitamin A are effective, but those derivatives vary in their effectiveness. However, weaker doesn’t necessarily mean less effective; Studies show you’ll reap the same long-term youth-preserving benefits even if you’re using a weaker product. So, it’s sort of hard to go wrong — just make sure the ingredients include an actual retinoid, and avoid the weakest retinoids (like retinyl palmitate) unless you’re really concerned about sensitivity.

The products that will work the fastest will require a prescription (like the gold standard, tretinoin), but, according to Dr. Engelman, OTC products do the same thing — they’ll just take longer to do it because they’re weaker and your body has more chores to do before it can start using them.

“Retinoic acid is the most active form of Vitamin A. Other forms need to be converted to retinoic acid before use by the skin. Retin-A contains high concentrations of retinoic and therefore can only be purchased with a prescription. Biochemically, retinoid and retinol, do exactly the same thing—it may just take longer to see results with Retinols since they are weaker.” In laymen terms, you can’t go wrong — prescriptions will get you there faster, but you’ll see the same results over time from non-prescription products.

For dry skin: Choose a product that also contains hydrating ingredients like ceramides or oils. (Dr. Engelman recommends Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules).

For oily and acne-prone skin: Adapalene is the strongest OTC option available that’s also been designed to treat acne. You’ll find it in products like Differin with a 0.1% concentration, which once required a prescription.

When using retinol creams, you may experience some dryness and sensitivity, but not necessarily. Dr. Engelman recommends starting out by applying a retinol one to two nights per week to build your skin’s tolerance. Even sensitive skin can be “trained” to tolerate retinol.

Jump down to more FAQs about retinol here.

Here are the best retinol creams and moisturizers you can buy:

  • Best retinol cream overall: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
  • Best drugstore retinol moisturizer: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream
  • Best high-strength retinol cream: SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream
  • Best retinol moisturizer with antioxidants: StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer
  • Best retinol cream for sensitive skin: Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream with Calming Colloidal Oatmeal

Updated on 01/10/2020 by Mara Leighton: Updated prices, revised introduction copy and slides to integrate an interview with Dr. Dendy Engelman. Added additional retinol FAQs. We are currently testing new products, so we’ll update this guide soon.

Best retinoids for acne

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