The 16 Most Effective Retinoid Products According to Beauty Industry Experts
From drugstore favorites to under-the-radar brands.
There’s much to discuss in the world of retinoids, but almost every skin-care professional we speak to agrees that adding one to your routine will help improve the look and feel of your skin. From reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles to fighting hormonal acne, it’s one of the most effective topical ingredients you can find in the beauty realm.
So what’s the bad news? Well, there are dozens upon dozens of options out there, which is great, considering how different everyone’s skin is, but there’s also no clear answer as to what formulation is the best. Finding your ultimate product can take some trial and error, sure, but we figured we’d cut to the chase and ask 10 of our most trusted industry experts for their recommendations. From drugstore staples to under-the-radar brands, here are their picks for the best retinoid products on the market right now. Just remember—if you’re using one during the day, always follow up with your favorite SPF to protect your skin and prevent damage!
Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD FAAD
“I like the SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum because it’s light and not as irritating as some of the over-the-counter options out there. [It] also has hyaluronic acid, [which is] likely why it’s not as irritating, and vitamin C.
“The other is the PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment 0.5% Pure Retinol Night treatment. This is one I recently discovered. I like that it has a retinol and salicylic acid to help more acne-prone skin. Good over-the-counter option if you can’t make it to the office to see a dermatologist.”
Dr. Michelle Henry, board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon
“I love Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Eye Cream. It’s formulated to be gentle in the periorbital area, which is one of the most sensitive areas on the face. It is the culmination of years of work by Olay to make a stable and effective yet gentle retinol.
“I love Alastin Renewal Retinol, [which] is formulated with oat extract to mitigate against irritation, and it is lipid encapsulated to encourage skin penetration and efficacy.”
Sofie Pavitt, New York–based aesthetician
“Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform is a great introductory retinol product that is really good for retinol beginners. You can start using it one to two times a week in the evening, followed by a moisturizer to buffer it a little, if you need. It’s also great for gently lifting discoloration and fine lines.
“My favorite retinol is AlphaRet Overnight Cream by Skin Better. It’s formulated with an AHA blended into it, so it gently exfoliates alongside the retinol. It’s seriously gentle and very effective. This is a bit of a pricey option, but worth it. Excellent for anti-aging, so I use it in the evening, and I never flake or get irritated with it.”
Dr. Jessie Cheung, board-certified dermatologist
“For sensitive skin, I recommend Alpyn Beauty’s Plantgenius Melt Moisturizer. This is the perfect product if you have sensitive skin but need active skin care, and from a clean, sustainable source. It contains bakuchiol, which is a plant-derived alternative to retinol that delivers the same collagen-boosting effects, but without the irritation. It’s also rich in soothing botanicals, antioxidants, and tripeptide-29, which has synergistic effects on collagen production.
“For those struggling with frequent breakouts, Differin Gel 0.1% is a great option. It’s a topical retinoid that was previously prescription-only for treating acne and now available without a prescription. It’s the most active formulation available over the counter, but still mild enough to use on the whole face as a wrinkle fighter, even if you don’t have acne.”
Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology
“Probably my favorite retinol is SkinBetter AlphaRet, which is a potent combination of an over-the-counter retinoid (which has demonstrated similar results as a prescription Tretinoin 0.025 percent cream), 10 percent glycolic acid, vitamin C, antioxidants, and peptides.
“For more sensitive skin or those who have never tried a retinol, I love Alastin Retinol due to its incredibly hydrating and well-tolerated formulation with moisturizing ingredients.”
Melanie Grant, skin expert and aesthetician
“Cosmedix Elite’s Eye Doctor is a nourishing, plumping eye serum containing a host of antioxidants and a microencapsulated retinol designed specifically for the delicate eye contour. It builds skin density and promotes collagen, so it’s great for padding fine lines, lifting dark circles, and really illuminates throughout the day. I’ve been using this myself for years—a vanity staple.
“U Beauty’s Resurfacing Compound [is] a great multi-functional night serum to streamline your regime without having to compromise on actives. It contains a slow-release retinol, as well as plumping hyaluronic acid, peptides, vitamin C, and AHAs to refine and renew the complexion, and uses a patented technology that helps these actives target only damaged cells—so it’s well tolerated by sensitive or redness-prone skin.”
Dr. Jeanine Downie, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Image Dermatology
“[One of] my favorite retinols is Melatonik by Isdin. This product contains retinol, melatonin, and bakuchiol. It is a fabulous night serum that helps to decrease fine lines and wrinkles and build collagen.
“My second-favorite retinol is the Senté Labs Bio Complete Serum. This has heparan sulfate in it, builds collagen, and is highly tolerable because of the growth factor/peptide complex base. Both of these retinols do not dry out your skin while they build collagen and decrease fine lines and wrinkles and help to improve firmness.”
Taylor Worden, New York–based aesthetician
“I love the retinol from Environ (retinol 1, retinol 2, and retinol 3). You start with retinol 1 and use it twice a week for the first two weeks and gradually build up to where you can use it every day—it can take a couple of months before getting to that point. After finishing your first bottle of retinol 1, you will need to go through two more bottles of retinol before you can graduate to Environ’s retinol 2. Because it’s made with the freshest and most potent ingredients, Environ has a short shelf life, thus providing the most effective form of the product. A pea size for the face, neck, and décolleté is all you need to receive the benefits. I always say, ‘A little retinol a day keeps the plastic surgeon away!’
“I also love the Retinol Eye TR from Medik8. It has a spatula applicator, and all you do is sweep a small amount under your eyes and around the brow bone. It goes on super smooth, like an oil, and it has vitamin E in it. It doesn’t irritate the eyes (this is coming from personal experience—I have very sensitive eyes). Use twice a week the first two weeks and gradually go up from there.”
Renée Rouleau, Austin-based aesthetician and founder of Renée Rouleau Skin Care
“SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Cream is a good step up from a lower-strength formula before you take the plunge into a prescription strength. The calming addition of bisabolol to the 1 percent retinol formula makes a good combination for improving the look of the skin.
“[Also,] Renée Rouleau Skin Care Advanced Resurfacing Serum. What makes this serum so exceptional is the synergy of anti-aging actives—not just the retinol itself. The skin-thickening properties of retinol are enhanced by a potent firming matrixyl peptide and glucosamine HCL to accelerate smoothing and brightening. These are all carried deep within the skin by a liposomal delivery system for maximum activity. The Resurfacing Serum is a great starter for people new to retinol.”
Dr. Amy Wechsler, board-certified dermatologist
“Prescription retinoids are the gold standard in anti-aging creams, against which all other anti-aging creams are measured (or should be). I start patients on the lowest strength, 0.025 percent tretinoin cream, and try to work them up to 0.05 percent over time. Prescription retinoids send a signal to the dermis to make more collagen. They prevent and lighten brown sun spots, improve/prevent fine lines and wrinkles, exfoliate, and prevent non-melanoma skin cancers.”
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