You may have heard about retinol creams and serums used for their ability to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, but you may not know how they work or even what retinol products even are. Retinol is a form of vitamin A and it can do wonders for your skin, but not all of these anti-aging products are created equal. You’ll need to use the best retinol creams and serums in order to see the type of anti-aging results you’re looking for.
The anti-aging skincare industry produces hundreds of products every year ranging from creams and serums to masks and moisturizers, making it almost impossible to choose a product that you know really works and one that can have a positive impact on your skin. I’ve tested many of the best-selling products on the market, narrowing it down to three creams and three serums that deliver. These products have what it takes to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while leaving behind healthy, fresh-looking skin that can instantly shave years off of your face. I’ve also created a buyer’s guide that will teach you everything you need to know about retinol-based products, how they work, and what to look for that will ensure you end up purchasing a product that’s effective. Below, you’ll find a comparison chart that includes each of the six products that landed on my list and what features they offer that make them one of the most effective products on the market.
Retinol Cream Comparison Chart
Best Over-The-Counter Cream-LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream Moisturizer
If you’re worried about using a retinol product that dries out your face, then this product loaded with jojoba oil is a perfect choice. This cream offers maximum strength and will not cause peeling, redness, and flaking. It comes loaded with jojoba oil, shea butter, green tea extract, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid. It works for people of all skin types. It’s designed to fade stretch marks, fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, crow’s feet, and sun damage. It can also help to brighten the skin, evening out your skin tone. This is a non-greasy formula that is perfect for all skin types, even combination skin. This cream doesn’t contain parabens or artificial fragrances.
- Safe for daily use
- Works for all skin types
- Will not cause redness, flaking, or peeling
- Won’t clog pores
- Can take several weeks before results are seen
This product isn’t just a great anti-aging treatment, but it can also be used on acne-prone skin, helping to treat and prevent future blemishes. This is an all-natural formula that’s free of parabens and added fragrances, making it safe for daily use.
Works On All Skin Types – Simplified Skin Retinol Moisturizer Cream
This product contains 2.5% active retinol, the strongest non-prescription strength blend available. This product contains a moisturizer, which helps to minimize signs of irritation such as redness and inflammation. The cream is designed to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and contains green tea extract, jojoba oil, shea butter, and hyaluronic acid. This anti-aging cream is fast-absorbing, lightweight, and features a non-greasy formula. It can also be used day or night, unlike competing creams that are only recommended for night use.
- All-natural formula
- Contains 2.5% retinol concentration
- Treats signs of aging and acne-prone skin
- Must be applied daily
This product is 71% organic and ninety-eight percent natural. It comes with a one hundred percent money-back guarantee, so you can return it if you’re unhappy with the results, no questions asked. The non-greasy, all-natural formula makes this product a great choice for all skin types, while the money-back guarantee shows consumers that the manufacturer believes in its products.
Most Powerful Moisturizing Formula-Baebody Retinol Moisturizer Cream with Retinol
This retinol moisturizing cream is lightweight and works to minimize the signs of aging, skin discoloration, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation. It also works to brighten the skin, restoring its natural glow. This product contains argan oil, hyaluronic acid, tea tree oil, and activated charcoal. The formula is paraben-free, cruelty-free, and safe for use for most types of skin. However, this formula is somewhat greasy, so it’s not recommended for oily skin.
- Contains tea tree oil
- Cruelty-free formula
- Treats signs of aging and hyperpigmentation
- Not recommended for oily skin
This product may not be the best choice for skin that’s oily but is a perfect choice for combination skin and dry skin. The formula’s strong moisturizing power will leave the skin hydrated and feeling smooth, helping to minimize the signs of irritation that are common with retinol use, such as dryness, redness, and peeling skin. This product is very versatile and can be used to treat discolored patches of skin, dull skin, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging including crow’s feet, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Best Over-The-Counter-Serum-Tree of Life Retinol Serum for Face and Skin
This serum features a formula that’s seventy-two percent organic and is designed to treat crow’s feet, wrinkles, and fine lines while helping to improve the texture of the skin. This formula contains hyaluronic acid, which moisturizes and replenishes the skin, working to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, restoring healthier, younger-looking skin. It also contains green tea extract, jojoba oil, witch hazel, and vitamin E. This product is designed for night use and should be applied right before bedtime.
- Contains vitamin E
- Moisturizes skin
- Designed for night use
- Non-greasy formula
- May be very drying to the skin
- Formula is only seventy-two percent organic
While this formula does contain many natural ingredients such as green tea extract, jojoba oil, witch hazel, and vitamin E, it also contains parabens, which can be damaging to the skin in the long run. The formula is also very drying to the skin, so you may want to start off by using it only two to three times per week until your skin adjusts to retinol use.
Best Choice for Sun Damaged Skin-Yeouth Retinol Serum
This serum features a 2.5% retinol concentration, which is the strongest you can get without a prescription. This product helps to fight the signs of aging, and can also be used to treat acne scars, skin discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and acne-prone skin. It contains hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, vitamin E and C, and beta carotene. The hyaluronic acid works as a natural moisturizing agent that also helps to decrease the signs of aging while leaving your skin feeling softer. The addition of vitamin E and aloe vera will soothe the skin, minimizing irritation that’s associated with retinol use. Vitamin E also helps to increase the skin’s natural defense against harmful UV rays. The vitamin C helps to soften and naturally brighten the skin. This product comes with a one hundred percent satisfaction guarantee, which will be a huge selling point for most buyers.
- Contains vitamins E and C
- Gentle on the skin
- Works for all skin types
- May not work on severely wrinkled skin
This serum is gentle enough for nightly use and contains many all-natural ingredients that help to minimize the signs of aging while also protecting the skin from irritation from retinol use and exposure to UV rays. The formula is lightweight, fragrance-free, and non-greasy, so it will work well for most skin types.
Best Lightweight Formula-TruSkin RETINOL Serum for Wrinkles
This retinol serum by TruSkin consists of a lightweight formula that can improve skin texture, the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and helps to minimize skin discoloration and acne scars. This product is also corn-free, paraben-free, cruelty-free, soy-free, and is a great choice for people with sensitive skin. The product is covered by a manufacturer guarantee, which provides buyers with a full refund within ninety days. Most retinol products take three to six months of use before any noticeable results appear, so the money-back guarantee should have at least been extended to six months. The lightweight, fragrance-free formula is also vegan-friendly and will work well for all skin types, including those with very sensitive skin.
- Lightweight formula
- Short money-back guarantee time frame
The short three-month money-back guarantee may be enough to cause some people to pass this product by, since most products that contain retinol will take three to six months before they provide results. Aside from the short return period, this is a great product and one that’s effective, gentle on the skin, paraben-free, soy-free, and cruelty-free.
Retinol Cream Buyer’s Guide
Most people have heard about the benefits that retinol offers, but many don’t know what retinol is or how it works. Basically, retinol is a form of vitamin A and is a nutrient we get from our diet. It’s also a vitamin that’s crucial for good eyesight, in addition to skin health. When used in a skincare ingredient, it stimulates collagen production, neutralizes free radicals, and improves cell turnover, smoothing wrinkles and fine lines. It can also help to treat acne and will blur any marks left by acne scarring. Retinol is one of the leading ingredients in many anti-aging products and usually features a concentration of .01% and up. Prescription-strength retinol contains a concentration of 3% retinol and up.
Below, I’ll go over some of the most important benefits that come with retinol use, when you should start using this type of anti-aging product, and what to look for in a cream or serum that’s effective.
Benefits of Retinol Creams and Serums
Sunscreen is the number one skincare product that’s recommended by dermatologists, but retinol comes in as a close second. Retinol is one of the most recommended products for anti-aging because it’s been proven to make a significant difference in the texture and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
There are many benefits linked to retinol use, many of which will have a major impact on how your skin looks and feels.
- Daily use of retinol can boost collagen production. Collagen is what gives the skin structure, propping it up and providing skin with elasticity and firmness. As we age, repeated sun exposure breaks down the collagen so that the cells produce less over time, causing a significant dip in damage control. In turn, the skin loses its plumpness and begins to sag as wrinkles pop up.
- Retinol use will boost the production of collagen while preventing the rise of collagenase after repeat sun exposure. Collagenase is responsible for the decrease in collagen levels.
- In the past, retinol was prescribed as the go-to acne treatment, but dermatologists quickly realized that this powerful compound also brightened the skin and transformed it.
- This powerful ingredient will also protect the skin from environmental aggressors, in order to prevent aging. Since retinol is an antioxidant, it also works to delay the processes that make the skin act and look older.
- The size of your pores is mainly affected by genetics, however, with the use of retinol, the size and shape of your pores will improve. This may be due to its exfoliating power which removes any debris from the pores that can stretch them out, leaving them wide open. Instead, with regular use, your pores will shrink, while your skin stays glowing and hydrated.
- While retinol helps smooth fine lines, it also works to prevent new wrinkles from forming. Retinol exfoliates on a cellular level and reveals smoother, brighter skin. It will even out your complexion, helping to fade acne scars, hyperpigmentation, sunspots, and dark spots.
- It works as a great acne treatment, working to regulate oily skin and preventing clogged pores.
- There are many retinol products that are stabilized with preservatives, such as BHT and parabens, which have been linked to harmful health effects. However, there are clean retinol products out there, which utilize plants that are high in vitamin A, in order to achieve a higher retinol content. These clean products do not use any harmful preservatives and offer a clean retinol formula.
- Most types of retinol products are derived from the enzymes in eggs or milk. Animal-based retinoids are considered more potent for skincare use. However, there are plant-based sources of vitamin A, which are referred to as carotenoids and when used consistently, they can be just as effective. Many people will supplement a carotenoid skincare product with a diet that’s high in beta-carotene, in order to convert the vitamin A inside the body. By consuming a diet that’s high in leafy green veggies, orange or yellow fruits,and veggies, you can get an extra source of retinol as vitamin A, which will be very beneficial for the immune system and healthy mucous membranes, in addition to boosting eye health. Since it’s also an antioxidant, beta-carotene can help to neutralize any free radicals on the skin and in the body. Additionally, beta-carotene is also considered one of the best vitamins for eye health.
- Retinol is considered the best vitamin derivative that can get rid of wrinkles under the eyes.
Now that you know more about the benefits of consistent retinol use, I’ll go over the right and wrong ways to use these products and what you need to do to see results, and important information to look for when you’re researching new products.
- Give the formula time to work. Nonprescription levels of products that are retinol based can take up to six months to work in order to achieve any type of noticeable difference.
- Like with many things in life, when it comes to retinol use, less is often more. Use only a pea-sized amount since using more of a retinol product can cause skin irritation, red eyes, and skin inflammation.
- Use a retinol product only at night, on dry, clean skin
- Avoid using a retinol cream with certain types of products. Combining one of these creams or serums with an acne treatment that contains benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, resorcinol, or sulfur can worsen skin irritation.
- Limit how much time you spend in the sun. Apply a sunscreen that contains at least thirty SPF and avoid spending any time in the sun during peak hours.
- Pay Attention to the Additives and Ingredients
- Retinyl palmitate is considered the most stable form of vitamin A
- Peptides work by sending signals to the skin cells, helping them to function properly
- Antioxidants will protect the skin by significantly reducing free radical production
- Avoid products that contain sulfates, which is a corrosive ingredient that’s often found in common floor cleaners
- Products that contain parabens should also be avoided since these synthetic preservatives can have a negative impact on hormone levels.
- Products that contain heavy mineral oils can suffocate the skin and clog your pores. Additionally, products that contain petroleum should also be avoided for the same reasons.
How to Choose the Right Retinol Serum or Cream
Since retinol products can be very drying to the skin, look for a serum or cream that also includes moisturizing ingredients including shea butter, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid, all of which will help to minimize irritation and boost moisture.
All derivatives of vitamin A will be as effective however, many derivatives will vary in terms of effectiveness. Yet, a weaker product doesn’t exactly mean it won’t be effective. Some studies have shown that a user will still enjoy the benefits of retinol use even if the product is weaker. The products that work the fastest often require a prescription, however, over the counter creams and serums will do the same thing, they’ll only take longer to work since they’re not as strong.
If you have dry skin, then make sure you choose a product that contains hydrating ingredients such as oils or ceramides.
If you have acne-prone or oily skin, then use a stronger concentration, which is also designed to treat acne.
Below, you’ll find other factors that you should consider that can help you narrow down your choices and find a cream or serum that’s perfect for your skin and can provide the type of results you need.
Retinol Product Types
Retinol can be mixed with other types of products in order to promote cell rejuvenation, which will revitalize the top layer of skin, improving collagen production. Many retinol products contain beta or alpha hydroxy acids. Alpha hydroxy acids produce a type of synergistic effect when used with combined with retinol.
However, if you have very sensitive skin, some types of combined formulas can be very irritating to the skin. If your skin does become irritated, you can mix your retinol products with a moisturizer in order to dilute it. If the over the counter product you’re using isn’t working very well then you may need to switch to a slightly stronger concentration.
Clear List of Ingredients
Many popular products will provide a transparent list of ingredients. Avoid using a product that doesn’t clearly list all of the ingredients in a cream or serum since you may end up using a product that contains unwanted chemicals that may be potentially harmful. Look for a company that will list active ingredients right on the label or their website.
Retinyl palmitate is an ester of vitamin A and is used in retinol products. Since vitamin A isn’t stable, it tends to lose its potency. Look for a product that’s encapsulated or stabilized to protect vitamin A’s integrity. On the other hand, some products may contain too much retinol, which will cause the skin to become inflamed. Stick with a formula with one percent of retinol or less.
Skin that’s hydrated properly is the key to an even skin tone and clear skin. Some studies have suggested that hydration can help with maintaining the skin’s barrier, promoting the regular production of melanin. To get the best results, look for a product that won’t just focus on smoothing out your complexion, find one that also moisturizes the skin as well.
Each year, Americans spend millions of dollars on anti-aging products and still end up unhappy with the lack of results. It’s much safer to invest in a product that offers a money-back satisfaction guarantee, which shows that the company stands behind its products.
These days, products that contain retinol are more affordable than ever. This means, even if you’re on a tight budget you can still afford an effective retinol-based product. On average you expect to pay anywhere from ten up to thirty dollars for an over the counter retinol cream or serum.
Who Should Avoid Using Retinol Products?
If you’re breastfeeding or pregnant then avoid products that contain retinol since it’s able to cross the placental barrier and may cause birth defects. If you want to use prescription-strength retinol you may be required to take a pregnancy test beforehand. Retinol products are also not recommended for people who have skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema. Retinol can make the skin very photosensitive. Because of this, sunscreen should be liberally applied throughout the day to prevent irritation.
When Should I Start Using Retinol?
Many dermatologists recommend beginning retinol use once you hit forty. When you’re in your forties past sun exposure can lead to collagen damage. Damage to collagen can weaken the skin’s foundation. Because of this, it’s important that you use a product that contains retinol in order to stimulate collagen production. Using a topical retinoid serum or cream in the evening will work to strengthen the skin, stimulate collagen production, and minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
For many, over the counter strength retinol products will work just fine. Starting off with a prescription-strength product can do more harm than good and may cause severe skin irritation. Begin with the lowest concentration possible, slowing increasing retinol strength until you find a product that provides the type of results you’re looking for.
How to Use Retinol Creams and Serums
When it comes to reversing damage, retinol is very effective, but how you apply it can also have a big impact on the type of results you get. Applying too much of a product or applying it too often can actually cause more skin damage.
So, what’s the right way to use retinol products?
- Start off by washing your face using a gentle cleanser.
- Wait until your skin is completely dry. If retinol is applied to wet or damp skin then it can cause the product to seep too deeply into the skin, which can lead to irritation.
- Use a pea-sized amount of the cream or serum and begin by applying it to your chin, using your fingertips is an outward, upward motion.
- Allow the product to dry, then add a moisturizer, which will prevent the retinol product from drying out your skin.
- During the day, since retinol products can make your skin more sensitive, dermatologists recommend applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Frequency of Use
Use only a small pea-sized amount of the product, apply it to your entire face, every other night. Keep in mind, it will take several weeks for your skin to adjust, so make sure you use it sparingly for the first month of use, in order to allow your skin to adjust to the product gradually. If your skin becomes irritated or dry, then minimize use to two to three days a week only. If you’ve overdone it and you’re left with inflamed, irritated skin, click here to read my guide on w to Soothe Irritated Skin around the Eyes and Eyelids.
Are Retinol Products Safe?
Over the counter products are much weaker compared to prescription strength and are considered to be safe by the FDA. However, there is a retinoid reaction, which causes some redness and skin peeling for approximately two to four weeks after the initial application. This is usually just an adjustment period for most people, so the irritation will eventually cease. This process involves exfoliation. During this phase, the top thinner layer of skin will exfoliate. With continued use, the middle layer of skin will thicken, as the wrinkles and fine lines lessen with continued retinol use. Wrinkles actually live in the middle layer of skin.
Facts About Retinol
If you don’t know whether or not retinol is right for you, speak with your dermatologist. If you don’t have one, then start off with the gentlest option, which would be retinyl palmitate. Over the course of a year, you’ll slowly move up to a higher strength formula. Regardless of which type of retinol you choose, in the long run, all retinol products are effective.
- As much as most people love a quick fix, in order to work, retinol will require consistent use for a minimum of three months before you even see a hint of a difference in the appearance of your skin. How fast this product can deliver results will vary from person to person. For many, this lengthy wait time can be frustrating, but in the end, it’ll be worth it. Keep in mind, retinoids change the skin at a cellular level. This means, if you don’t use this type of product regularly, then your skin will return to its baseline.
- Retinoids don’t have to cause skin irritation. While you can expect an adjustment phase once you start treatment, if you start off using a gentle formula, and start slowly, then you won’t have to deal with severe side effects such as flaky skin, peeling, or a stinging and burning sensation.
- While retinoids vary in price, most drugstore products are very affordable.
- Only a small percentage of people will have skin that cannot tolerate retinoids. If you’re one of those people, try exfoliating your skin a couple of times a week and use a good sunscreen in order to prevent collagen loss.
- If you decide to use a clean retinol product ( meaning it’s additive-free), then you’ll need to include antioxidant-rich ingredients to your skincare regimen, such as CoQ10, vitamin C, or marine microalgae. These antioxidant-rich additives are a great alternative and work to brightening your skin.
When you first begin using retinol products you can expect your skin to turn flaky with some redness and dryness. It may even cause mild stinging or burning, especially during the first two weeks of use. As I mentioned earlier, it will also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so wearing sunscreen daily is recommended. However, these reactions should be mild and should not cause severe discomfort.
When Can I Expect Results?
Just like with any other type of skincare product, consistent use is the key to seeing results. Retinol won’t deliver results overnight, so you’ll need to be patient. It can take approximately three to six months to see an improvement in the texture of your skin. With continued use, you’ll see more positive changes over the coming weeks and months.
When a retinol is applied, you’re basically constantly exfoliating the top layer of your skin. The result will be improved skin texture, unclogged pores, lightened dark spots, and the reduction of wrinkles and fine lines.
Prescription-strength products are much more irritating to the skin compared to over the counter products and can potentially cause severe redness and skin peeling. Trying an over the counter product first is the best way to enjoy many of the anti-aging benefits, without the severe side effects that come with prescription-strength use.
The best retinol creams and serums are designed to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines over the course of several weeks, without causing further damage to the skin. With so many products to choose from, it can be difficult to find one that works the way the manufacturer claims it can, which is why this buyer’s guide and my list of the top six products will be invaluable. Remember, you can’t expect one of these products to begin working miracles overnight. Instead, you’ll need to be patient and wait for signs of improvement after three to six months of use. With the right product, careful application, and consistent use, your skin will be glowing and will feel softer and firmer than it has in years.