Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Editor’s Picks: 8 Top Retinol Creams and Serums Based on Expert Tips

These skincare products can help fight acne, unclog pores, and even out skin tone.

Although many skincare ingredients are available, retinol (a form of vitamin A) is often recommended for various skin conditions, including acne. Additionally, it can be used to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. “It is the gold standard ingredient in anti-aging—and for good reason—having been extensively studied and shown to help increase the production of collagen in the skin, leading to a visible reduction in fine lines and wrinkles,” says Geneva, Switzerland–based dermatologist Dr. Luigi L. Polla, founder of Forever Institut and Alchimie Forever. “By helping to accelerate cellular turnover, retinol helps to refine the appearance of the skin, minimize pores, and remove dead skin cells, which make the skin look dull,” he says.

Still, it can be overwhelming to figure out which formulation or iteration of retinol you should use. And while board-certified dermatologist Kim Nichols, MD, founder of NicholsMD of Greenwich, Connecticut, says retinol is safe for all skin types, there are some things you may notice when you first use it. “Common side effects to introducing retinol in a skincare regimen are peeling, dryness, redness, and other irritation; these are all part of the exfoliation process—because retinols speed up the cycle of cell turnover, old layers of skin shed faster than usual,” she says. But you can mitigate those side effects by applying retinol just one or two times per week for the first month of use, and as your skin builds up its tolerance, you can incorporate it into your nighttime routine more frequently, says Dr. Nichols.

Furthermore, although Dr. Polla always encourages the use of sunscreen, he notes that it is even more vital when using a retinol-based product because it will “make the skin more photo-sensitive.” This is especially important for people of color as darker skin tones are “more prone to hyperpigmentation,” notes Dr. Nichols. And even though retinols work well on all skin types, some people should avoid them. “Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use retinol,” says Dr. Polla.

Here are eight expert and editor picks for retinol creams and serums.

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Pressed Night Cream with Retinol + Niacinamide

Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of L'Oréal Paris

In addition to retinol, this editor's favorite also contains niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3), which can help reduce damage to the skin caused by environmental stressors and hyperpigmentation and protect the skin barrier. One press of the L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Pressed Night Cream with Retinol + Niacinamide airless fresh-pressed jar offers the proper dose for each moisturizing application. 

La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum

Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of LaRoche-Posay

This sensitive skin formula from La Roche-Posay is a favorite of Dr. Nichols. Along with retinol and vitamin B3, this serum also contains hyaluronic acid—which can be found naturally occurring in the skin, tissues, and fluids of the body—a humectant that helps to maintain the skin's moisture.

SkinCeuticals Retinol

 Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retino

Image courtesy of SkinCeuticals

"When it comes to over-the-counter products, my go-to are the SkinCeuticals Retinols; the great thing about this line is that it offers three different strengths of retinol, ideal for gradually increasing strength as a tolerance is built," says Dr. Nichols. The brand recommends its retinol 0.3 for first-time retinol cream users and as a prerequisite to SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 and Retinol 1.0.

Differin Gel

Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of Differin Gel

Acne-prone skin tends to be sensitive, so choosing the right product is essential. "Any prescription retinoic acid product will be effective to treat acne, and [OTC] Differin is a go-to," says Dr. Polla. The active ingredient of Differin is retinoid adapalene, which can help to clear acne and prevent breakouts.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ 0.3% Night Cream

 Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of Neutrogena

Made sans fragrance, parabens, mineral oil, dyes, and phthalates, this non-comedogenic night cream, which also contains hyaluronic acid, is best suited for retinol users but not beginners.

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Serum

Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of Olay

The brand claims that in about four weeks, Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Serum will minimize the appearance of pores, dark spots, and fine lines, and even skin tone. However, during testing this editor's pick showed improvement of dark spots even sooner.

As with all retinols, it is best to cleanse the skin of makeup and oils before applying this fragrance- and dye-free formula. "Apply retinol to clean, but dry skin, [as] moisture on the skin prior to application will enhance the penetration of the ingredient and aggravate side effects," says Dr. Polla.

Avène RetrinAL Intensive Cream

Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of AVÈNE USA

Formulated with retinaldehyde—a more potent form of topical vitamin A—Avène RetrinAL Intensive Cream also contains vitamin E. "I look for moisturizers with vitamin E or aloe to help soothe the skin as they hydrate," says Dr. Nichols. "Irritation from retinol can be prevented by ensuring that your skin is being hydrated every morning and night. However, when irritation occurs, cold compresses, gentle skincare cleansers, and keeping skin free of makeup can help affected skin," she says.

Womaness Plump It Up Retinol Face Serum

Health Accolades Editor's Picks - Retinol

Image courtesy of Womaness

Womaness was founded by two women who wanted to help center the conversation around people entering and going through menopause. This product is free from animal-derived ingredients, parabens, phthalates, sulfates, artificial colors, formaldehyde, and mineral oils. Its active ingredients include retinol, hyaluronic acid, and ceramide NG, which can help protect the skin's barrier, maintain moisture, and stave off environmental damage.

This article was fact checked by Morgan Mullings.

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  1. Zhen AX, Piao MJ, Kang KA, et al. Niacinamide protects skin cells from oxidative stress induced by particulate matter. Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2019;27(6):562-569.

  2. Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):253-258.

  3. Motamedi M, Chehade A, Sanghera R, Grewal P. A clinician’s guide to topical retinoids. J Cutan Med Surg. 2022;26(1):71-78.

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