The Best Retinol Creams You Can Buy Without a Prescription

Many anti-aging products available at drugstores and beauty counters reduce wrinkles just as well as the ones that dermatologists prescribe.

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Dermatologists consider retinol the holy grail of noninvasive wrinkle prevention. When applied topically, the vitamin A derivative stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, reducing fine lines' appearance, evening the complexion, and unclogging pores.

Though you can ask your healthcare provider for a prescription-strength retinoid—a much more potent version of what you can buy over the counter—dermatologists explained that drugstore and beauty counter brands do the same. However, it also may take longer to see results. 

Here's what you should know about the retinol recommendations from Dr. Tanzi and other top dermatologists.

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.

Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisture, Night

Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Cream
Amazon

"I recommend this product to my patients all the time because Neutrogena is a reliable company and the products are easy to find in any drugstore. The ingredients are of good quality, and I have never had anyone complain about any skin reaction or difficulty managing this retinol," said Jessica J. Krant MD, MPH, a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York.

Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisture, Night has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on over 280 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $22

CosMedix Serum 16

CosMedix Serum 16
Dermstore

"This is a great intro-to-retinol product because it features microencapsulated retinol complex, which delivers results without the irritation and drying," said Francesca J. Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

CosMedix Serum 16 has an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on over 60 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $80

Neocutis Nouvelle Plus Retinol Correction Intensive Anti-Aging Cream

Neocutis NOUVELLE Retinol Correction Cream
Dermstore

"One of my favorite retinols utilizes only 0.6% retinol in a special microbead formulation that helps penetrate the skin deeper with less skin irritation and less flaking. As an added bonus, it contains melaplex, a hydroquinone-free skin-brightening complex that diminishes the appearance of dark spots and evens out skin tone. We recommend our patients start applying retinol two to three times a week, just before bedtime, and slowly progress to nightly as tolerated," said Ulysses H. Scarpidis, MD, a plastic surgeon at Scarpidis Aesthetics in New York.

Neocutis Nouvelle Plus Retinol Correction Intensive Anti-Aging Cream has an average rating of 4.29 out of 5 stars on Dermstore, based on seven reviews.

Price at time of publication: $150

Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream

RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream
Amazon

"The highest strength of retinol you can get before a trip to the dermatologist's office," said Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care in Chevy Chase, Md.

Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream has an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on over 19,000 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $30

Amarte Wonder Cream

Amarte Wonder Cream
Dermstore

"A key goal within any retinol skin care program is maximum retinol effectiveness with minimized potential for irritation. Because of this, high-potency nano-encapsulated retinol formulations such as Amarte Wonder Cream (which also contains multiple potent natural antioxidant ingredients) are ideal. They will ensure maximized retinol efficacy with a virtually non-existent potential for irritation," said Craig A. Kraffert, MD, board-certified dermatologist at CK Derm in Redding, Calif.

Amarte Wonder Cream has an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on over 50 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $120

HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel

HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish and Plump Peel
Dermstore

"I love recommending the HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel to clients as it's an extremely effective over-the-counter option for brightening skin and tightening pores. Instead of retinol, which can be irritating to sensitive skin types, it actually utilizes Retinyl Palmitate—an ester of Vitamin A that's converted to retinoic acid once absorbed by the skin. I use it weekly, on Sundays—which is my pampering day—to ensure my skin always has a healthy glow," said Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, MPhil, a cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatologist at Vibrant Dermatology in Dedham, Mass.

HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel has an average rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars on Dermstore, based on 10 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $79

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Moisturizer
Amazon

"One of my favorite OTC retinoids is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30. It works against fine lines during the day with a unique sunscreen and moisturizer hybrid. A glucose derivative is combined with this retinol formula to help brighten discoloration. I especially like that it contains hyaluronic acid, which holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water," said Jeanette Jacknin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Encinitas, Calif.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30 has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on over 13,900 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $21

SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25

SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex
Dermstore

"When patients want a particularly gentle formulation, I like SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25. It is one of the mildest non-prescription retinols available and is in an elegant moisturizing formulation," said Dr. Krant.

SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25 has an average rating of 4.81 out of 5 stars on Dermstore, based on over 200 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $64

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

best-retinol-serum-drunk-elephant
Sephora

"I wear this gentle cream—a brand-new release from Drunk Elephant that's made with vegan retinol—during the day with sunscreen on top. It doesn't irritate at all and is lightweight," said beauty director Heather Muir Maffei.

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream has an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars on Sephora, based on over 1,200 reviews.

Price at time of publication: $74

Summary

Although it's great for fighting acne and protecting your skin against fine lines and wrinkles, keep in mind that retinol does have its drawbacks.

Side effects can include dryness, peeling, and skin irritation. Additionally, some people may see their acne flare up when they start using the product. So, before slathering retinol on your face and neck, you'll want to keep a few tips in mind.

"To reduce irritation, start every other night with the product and move up to every night only when tolerated," said Dr. Tanzi "Add extra moisturizer when using, and use only a very mild, creamy cleanser to compensate for the extra dryness," added Dr. Tanzi.

You'll also want to guard your skin with an SPF of at least 30—retinol may make your skin more sensitive to the sun's harmful UV rays.

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