Retinol serums are the gold standard when it comes to skincare. Retinol is a true gem, as it can reduce signs of aging by improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles; promoting plump skin; preventing dull, uneven skin and even treating acne. In addition to increasing collagen production, it also helps exfoliate.
In rare cases, it may worsen eczema, but other than that, it’s a miracle-worker product that can give you glowing skin at any age.
Since retinol is one of the most sought-after skincare ingredients, let's find out what makes it so popular.
What is retinol?
People use the terms retinol and retinoids interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Retinoids are antioxidants and vitamin A derivatives that are converted to retinoic acid to use in skincare. Retinoids are proven to promote collagen, increase cell turnover and lighten dark spots.
Retinol is the over-the-counter (OTC) version of a retinoid, which is less concentrated and causes less skin irritation. Prescription retinoids have a higher concentration of active ingredients.
Side effects of retinol
Almost all skin types can tolerate retinol, but if you have dry or sensitive skin, it’s possible for retinol to cause some irritation. Retinol can make your skin dry and flaky, so be sure to moisturize your skin and keep it hydrated.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, dermatologists advise against using retinol products, as they may cause birth defects.
When and how to use retinol
For beginners, it’s recommended to start with OTC retinol serums before using prescription-strength products. It’s important to slowly introduce retinol in your skincare routine to avoid skin irritation. You can integrate retinol serum into your routine in your mid-to-late 20s. Start by using retinol serum two times a week and slowly increase frequency as your skin gets more used to it in about a month.
Retinol can make your skin sensitive to the sun, so it’s advised to use retinol products at night. Make sure to use sunscreen every day to protect your skin, as it may still be a little sensitive.
Dermatologists don’t recommend using retinol products in conjunction with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and benzoyl peroxide, as they can deactivate some retinol. If you’re using AHAs regularly, it’s safe to alternate nights with retinol. Consistency is key to reap the maximum benefits.
Best retinol serums
L'Oréal Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum with 0.3% Pure Retinol: available at Ulta and Amazon Pure retinol is considered one of the most potent retinol. This drugstore brand can visibly reduce even deep wrinkles. It's non-comedogenic and absorbs quickly.
La Roche-Posay Retinol Serum with Vitamin B3: available at Ulta, LovelySkin and Amazon This retinol serum reduces signs of sun damage and the appearance of lines and wrinkles. In addition, vitamin B3 (niacinamide) helps brighten the skin. It replenishes elasticity and firmness.
Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform: available at Sephora and Violet Grey This popular serum has retinol to improve the look of lines, dark spots and blemishes and lactic acid to reduce inflammation and improve elasticity. It's cruelty-free and paraben-free.
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum: available at Murad, Ulta, Sephora and LovelySkin This Murad serum combines three retinol technologies of a fast-acting retinoid, a time-released retinol and a retinol booster to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and boost radiance in 2 weeks. It also has hyaluronic acid for extra hydration.
Juice Beauty STEM CELLULAR Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Overnight Serum: available at Ulta, Credo Beauty and LovelySkin This vegan retinol serum prevents visible signs of aging and fatigue. It also has jojoba, coconut and shea butters to provide hydration. It's very sustainable, as the ingredients are organic, and the packaging is 100% recyclable.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum: available at LovelySkin and Sephora This multitasking serum has retinol, ferulic acid and niacinamide to help skin's natural repair process while encouraging healthy skin cell turnover and creating a glowing complexion.
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum: available at Ulta, Sephora and Amazon This formula is made for beginner retinol users, as it has 0.25% pure retinol. It also has hyaluronic acid and ceramides to keep the skin hydrated and protected.
StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum: available at Ulta, SkinStore and LovelySkin In addition to having the benefits of retinol to improve signs of aging, this serum also has vitamin C to brighten the skin and protect it from free radicals. This non-sticky formula works well under makeup.
Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum: available at SkinStore, Sephora and LovelySkin This extra-strength retinoid serum has a 6.5% solution of stabilized retinoid blends and botanical retinol alternative to help with wrinkles, and hydrating honey and CoQ10 to prevent loss of firmness and elasticity.
SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5: available at LovelySkin and SkinStore This paraben-free retinol serum is gentle for beginners and fades fine lines and dark spots. It has bisabolol to soothe and calm the skin. It shows visible results in 8-12 weeks.
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream: available at SkinStore and LovelySkin This gentle yet effective retinol is suitable for anyone with aging, hyperpigmented or acne-prone skin. It also refines the look of large pores.
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum: available at Sephora, Ulta and SkinStore This oil-free and fragrance-free 1.5% concentration of retinol significantly reduces the appearance of lines and helps skin look refreshed. It has vitamins C and E to protect against free radicals.
Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Concentrate Anti-Wrinkle Treatment: available at SkinStore, Ulta and Amazon This is Vichy's highest concentration of retinol. It's a daily wrinkle-filler treatment that plumps skin, making it look fresh and radiant in a month. It isn't sticky or greasy.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum: available at Ulta and Amazon This drugstore favorite can visibly reduce the deepest wrinkles and make your skin look smooth and firm in just 4 weeks. It has a mineral complex to provide hydration.