If you’re new to the world of retinol products, one way to think about them is investing in the long-term. Typically, Retinol, part of the Vitamin A family, is used in skincare products to speed up cellular turnover (which slows as we get older) and to fight the signs of aging: fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven tone.
Some of the best retinol products today offer much more than anti-aging benefits: they moisturize the skin, they brighten the skin, and even address dark spots and acne scars (thanks, technology). So if you think retinol products are just for old(er) folks, you’re wrong. You don’t need to see, say, wrinkles on your face before you start incorporating retinol into your skincare routine. The sooner the better is wise, as a preventative measure.
Some retinol products can be used morning or night, but if you have sensitive skin, opt for nightly use. This is because the powerful ingredient can leave your skin dry, flaky, and extra sensitive to the sun — be sure to use an SPF in the morning (which you should be doing anyway even if you’re working from home). When you first start using retinol, give your skin time to build a tolerance to it. You can start by using it twice per week, and then increase usage if needed. Of course, like with any skincare product, read the instructions and consult with your dermatologist for individual concerns.
To point you in the right direction, we scoured the market for the best retinol products — from the ones beauty insiders use to medicine cabinet flexes, clean beauty options, and more.
The Beauty Insider’s Pick
Famed beauty blogger Jackie Aina has blessed us with many things: a thorough skincare routine, telling it like it is on her YouTube channel, and introducing us to Guidance to Glow. Created by Fenya Abramian, Aina’s esthetician, Guidance to Glow offers a range of medical-grade skincare products that are vegan safe and chemical-, cruelty-, and paraben-free, including her powerful retinol serum. Retinol Radiance combines retinol and alpha hydroxy acid to improve skin texture and promote cellular turnover.
The Hollywood Elite’s Pick
Shani Darden boasts Chrissy Teigen and Jessica Alba as some of her clients. She’s one of the most recommended estheticians in Tinseltown, and her Retinol Reform serum is what started it all. Its formula is gentler than the average retinol product, which means you’ll experience less drying and irritation while fighting fine lines, blemishes, and even acne scars. The serum also contains lactic acid, which helps with brightening skin, a benefit you’ll see sooner than later.
The Dermatologist's Pick
You know those skincare brands you’ve only vaguely heard of because you’ve seen them at your dermatologist’s office? skinbetter science is one of them. You’ll be required to enroll to make a purchase, which involves selecting your dermatologist (if they’re an authorized partner). The AlphaRet Overnight Cream uses alpha hydroxy acid and a retinoid, as well as moisture, which creates a gentle yet effective product that also prevents the dryness associated with a retinoid. Start by using it twice per week at night, and build up use if needed.
The All-In-One Pick
Natura Bissé is a great choice if you want to target more than just fighting wrinkles and unevenness. With collagen, proteins, retinol, and elastin — to name just a few ingredients — the Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid effectively hydrates and protects skin from premature aging.
The Medicine Cabinet Flex
Formulated with ingredients including Japanese pearl and golden silk essence, this product does more than broadcast luxury — it works. It contains a potent and highly stabilized (read: very safe) retinol that targets deep wrinkles. The Wrinkle Smoothing Serum Supreme can be layered with other serums and used in the morning (don’t forget to apply SPF), but if you have sensitive skin, opt for nightly use.
The Clean Beauty Pick
If clean beauty is a priority for you, there are natural alternatives to retinol. One of them is wild cherry oil, which targets fine lines and unevenness in the skin. Anju Rupal, the creator of Abhati Suisse, draws upon her Indian origins and uses ingredients that are sourced from tribal farmers in India, of which many are harvested exclusively for the brand. Her Lalitya Whipped Face Cream is a lightweight moisturizer — a nice alternative to a serum — that hydrates and provides the benefits of a retinol using various plants and oils, including wild cherry oil.