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Retinol is a derivative of topical vitamin A. When applied to the skin, it may be effective against wrinkles and signs of aging by changing the appearance of the skin’s surface.

A quick look at the best retinol creams of 2023

In addition to its other benefits, retinoids may help unclog pores, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an over-the-counter (OTC) retinoid gel to help treat acne in those aged 12 and over.

The amount of retinol varies widely from product to product, so it is important to find one with the correct strength for a person’s needs. People may wish to talk with a doctor about prescription-strength products.

Retinol is a topical medication derived from vitamin A that manufacturers can incorporate into creams, lotions, gels, and foams. It can address skin concerns from acne to wrinkles. Retinols are similar to retinoids, which are also derived from vitamin A but are not as powerful.

A small 2020 study found that retinol helped improve wrinkles, skin elasticity, hyperpigmentation, and overall skin tone.

According to a 2019 study, retinol effectively reduces wrinkles and fine lines and improves skin texture. It can also play a part in the even distribution of melanin by reducing pigmentation by up to 60%.

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Price: MNT chooses available products for a wide range of budgets.
  • Ingredients: MNT lists all known ingredients clearly.
  • Skin concerns: MNT chooses products that target a specific skin concern, such as dryness, oiliness, or aging.
  • Safety: MNT chooses products that contain ingredients deemed safe for topical use.
  • Reputable: MNT includes products from businesses that adhere to industry best practices.

Learn about MNT’s product selection and vetting process here.

Below are some of the best retinol creams for a person to consider.

Please note that the author of this article has not tried any of these products. All information is research-based.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best for new retinol users: SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

  • Skin type: oily, normal, and combination
  • Key ingredients: 0.3% retinol and bisabolol from chamomile
  • Features: good for new retinol users and best for nighttime use
  • Size: 1 fluid ounce (fl oz)
  • Price: around $70

SkinCeuticals, the manufacturer, states that this product can improve the appearance of:

  • fine lines
  • discoloration
  • wrinkles
  • pores
  • blemishes

Pros

  • contains a moderate amount of retinol, which may work well for beginners
  • has a noncomedogenic base which may suit those prone to acne
  • paraben-, fragrance-, and gluten-free

Cons

  • may cause dry skin if a person uses it too often (according to anecdotal evidence)

How to use

The company recommends applying a pea-sized amount to the skin in the evening. A person should start using it once or twice weekly, gradually increasing the frequency as needed.

Best high potency: Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, and combination
  • Key ingredients: 1% retinol, licorice extract, and oat extract
  • Features: reduces signs of aging and is hydrating
  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Price: around $62

This cream combines a higher concentration of retinol with moisturizing and emollient ingredients.

It also contains plant extracts, such as oat extract and willow bark. The manufacturer claims that these extracts have calming properties on the skin.

According to a 2015 study, oat extract may benefit the skin due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2019 study found that willow bark extract also has these properties, which suggests that it may safely and effectively manage bacterial skin conditions.

Pros

  • may help moisturize the skin
  • contains calming and anti-inflammatory plant extracts

Cons

  • may not suit those new to retinol products (due to higher retinol content)
  • may not suit those with highly sensitive skin

The manufacturer claims that some people may experience a delayed reaction to the 1% retinol. It recommends that a person take note of their skin’s reactions and adjust their usage accordingly.

If a person experiences redness, flaking, drying of the skin, or tenderness, they should reduce the amount they use.

How to use

Individuals should apply a pea-sized amount of this cream to clean skin at night, starting 3 nights per week. They can then increase the frequency if no irritation or unwanted dryness occurs.

Best for fast results: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Retinol Cream

  • Skin type: mature skin
  • Key ingredients: accelerated retinol SA and hyaluronic acid
  • Features: fast-acting, with visible differences in one week
  • Size: 1.7 oz
  • Price: around $32

Accelerated Retinol SA is Neutrogena’s key ingredient. It combines retinol with a glucose complex and hyaluronic acid, which the manufacturer says may help speed up retinol’s effects on the skin. However, there is limited research to confirm this.

Pros

  • may work faster than other products (due to the combination of ingredients, according to the company)
  • may help repair and regenerate the skin

Cons

  • product may be too drying (according to some anecdotal evidence)
  • may not suit sensitive skin due to added fragrance
  • unclear how much retinol is in this product

How to use

A person should apply this product once every other night, building up to twice daily if there is no irritation.

Best for redness: First Aid Beauty (FAB) Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate

  • Skin type: sensitive
  • Key ingredients: 0.25% retinol serum, colloidal sulfur, aloe, ginger, and bisabolol
  • Features: soothing and suitable for sensitive skin
  • Size: 1.7 fl oz
  • Price: around $25

This product combines retinol with peptides, which may help give skin a smoother and more plump appearance. Its aloe, ginger, and bisabolol ingredients may reduce the redness of the skin.

FAB claims that their product can improve the appearance of:

  • dullness
  • fine lines
  • fine wrinkles
  • uneven skin tone
  • uneven skin texture
  • skin elasticity

This product is also vegan and gluten-, nano-, and nut-free.

Pros

  • contains lower-strength retinol so may suit sensitive skin
  • designed to suit balanced, dry, oily, and combination skin types
  • vegan and fragrance-, gluten-, nano-, and nut-free

Cons

  • low levels of retinol may not suit everyone’s needs

How to use

The company advises a person should apply 1 or 2 pumps up to three times each week, in the evening. They should gradually increase the frequency to every other evening, then to every evening, as tolerated.

Best for everyday use: L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Moisturizer

  • Skin types: all skin types, including sensitive skin
  • Key ingredients: pro-retinol, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and niacinamide
  • Features: reduces signs of aging and moisturizes
  • Size: 1.7 fl oz
  • Price: around $28

This cream contains retinol combined with vitamin C, which may help brighten the skin. However, studies on this are limited. It also contains niacinamide, which, according to an older 2005 study, may help improve skin tone.

Pros

  • may improve the skin’s overall appearance
  • may not clog pores if a person uses the cream underneath makeup
  • may reduce wrinkles and firm and brighten the skin in one week
  • paraben-, mineral oil-, and dye-free
  • hypoallergenic and fragrance-free

Cons

  • strength of the retinol not listed on this product

How to use

According to the manufacturer, a person can apply this product to their skin every morning and evening.

Best hydrating: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

  • Skin types: balanced, dry, combination, and oily
  • Key ingredients: retinol and niacinamide
  • Features: wrinkle-reducing and helps protect the skin
  • Size: 1.7 fl oz
  • Price: around $86

Murad’s Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream helps prevent and minimize wrinkles and other signs of aging.

At the same time, it protects the skin’s barrier, and, according to the manufacturer, is intensely hydrating.

The product contains time-released retinol, a retinol booster, and a fast-acting retinoid to work over an extended period.

The manufacturer claims that the product does not contain:

  • parabens
  • sulfates
  • phthalates
  • mineral oil

Pros

  • may benefit those with acne (due to potential antimicrobial effects)
  • paraben-, sulfate-, and phthalate-free
  • contains no animal-derived ingredients

Cons

  • more expensive than some other options
  • amount of retinol is not defined

How to use

The company advises a person to apply the product nightly with its Retinol Youth Renewal Serum and reduce the application frequency if skin irritation occurs.

Best for long lasting effects: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream

  • Skin type: mature skin
  • Key ingredients: retinol, proprietary mineral complex, and glycerin
  • Features: minimizes signs of aging
  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Price: around $30

RoC contains pure retinol and is available at a reasonable price.

The manufacturer claims this product can produce results while also being gentle enough for a person to use daily.

Pros

  • nongreasy and noncomedogenic
  • effects may last up to 12 weeks after use

Cons

  • not fragrance-free

How to use

The company advises a person should apply the product to clean skin every other night. They can then increase to nightly application if the skin tolerates it well.

Best for 24-hour hydration: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Face Moisturizer

  • Skin type: normal, combination, and oily
  • Key ingredients: proprietary retinoid complex with vitamin B3 and retinoid, niacinamide, and amino-peptide
  • Features: hydrating and smoothing
  • Size: 1.7 oz
  • Price: around $30

The manufacturer claims this product can help a person’s skin appear brighter and firmer. It also claims that a person will see results in 4 weeks.

According to the manufacturer, the product is fragrance- and dye-free.

Pros

  • fragrance-free
  • hydrating

Cons

  • retinol strength is not listed
  • may not suit those with dry skin

How to use

The company advises massaging the product over the face and neck every night. A person should stagger use if their skin shows signs of irritation.

Best for whole body tightening: Replenix Retinol Smooth + Tighten Body Lotion

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, and sensitive
  • Key ingredients: proprietary retinol formulation consisting of medicinal grade All-Trans Retinol, ceramides, and green tea polyphenol
  • Features: smoothing and tightening
  • Size: 6.7 fl oz
  • Price: around $93

A person can use this product on their whole body. The manufacturer claims it should suit normal, dry, oily, and sensitive skin types.

Unlike the other products on this list, this cream may reduce the appearance of cellulite. It also supports collagen production.

Pros

  • suitable for all skin types
  • large quantity

Cons

  • retinol strength is not listed
  • not listed as having clean ingredients or as being fragrance-free

How to use

The company advises that a person should apply this product twice daily or as a physician directs.

Best vegetarian option: Origins PlantScription Retinol Night Moisturizer with Alpine Flower

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, and combination
  • Key ingredients: retinol and niacinamide
  • Features: moisturizing, smoothing, and softening
  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Price: around $71

This vegetarian-based formula contains high grade retinol. It also contains several plant oils, niacinamide, and shea butter.

The manufacturer claims that this product can:

  • enhance the skin’s moisture
  • improve suppleness
  • support proteins in the skin
  • help reduce dry skin

Pros

  • may suit vegetarians
  • includes natural, plant-based ingredients
  • paraben-free

Cons

  • may not suit oily or acne-prone skin
  • retinol percentage not given

How to use

The manufacturer advises using this product every other night for 2 weeks, increasing the usage to every night. They also advise that individuals use sunscreen alongside the product and for 1 week after.

A person may experience redness, a warm, tingling sensation, or flaking skin.

Also, the company states individuals should avoid using this cream around the eyes.

Best for glowing skin: Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Repair Cream

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, and combination
  • Key ingredients: 0.01% retinol, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidant blend peptides
  • Features: plumps and moisturizes skin to minimize signs of aging
  • Size: 1.7 fl oz
  • Price: around $35

This is a moisturizing cream with ingredients that may improve skin texture, smoothness, firmness, and hydration. The manufacturer claims it gives the skin a youthful and healthy glow.

A person may apply the product to their face, neck, and area around the eyes.

Pros

  • reportedly has a creamy texture that soaks into the skin
  • may smooth skin texture and reduce signs of aging

Cons

  • lower concentration of retinol
  • does not state if it is fragrance-free

How to use

Individuals should apply a dime-sized amount to clean skin at night, starting with 2 or 3 nights each week. They can then increase the frequency if no irritation or unwanted dryness occurs.

Best for an organic serum: Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Overnight Serum

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, and combination
  • Key ingredients: retinol and hyaluronic acid
  • Features: reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Size: 1.7 fl oz
  • Price: around $75

This intensively hydrating cream contains certified organic ingredients. It may also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

In addition to being certified organic, the product is free of parabens, petroleum, propylene, silicones, talc, phthalates, sulfates, dyes, and synthetic fragrances.

Pros

  • moisturizing
  • certified organic
  • cruelty-free

Cons

  • does not list its retinol concentration
  • may not be suitable for those who prefer daytime moisturizers

How to use

Individuals should apply this cream to clean skin at night before bedtime. They may want to start by using it just 2 or 3 nights each week. They can then increase the frequency if no irritation or unwanted dryness occurs.

Best for a budget: Good Molecules Gentle Retinol Cream

  • Skin type: normal, dry, oily, and combination
  • Key ingredients: 0.1% retinol and antioxidants
  • Features: reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Size: 1 fl oz
  • Price: around $8

Good Molecules states this cream smooths and firms up the skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This antioxidant-rich product includes bakuchiol, which reportedly enhances retinol’s effects without irritating.

It may also help minimize acne breakouts, hyperpigmentation, and enlarged pores.

The manufacturer notes that people should not use this cream with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, chemical exfoliants, or physical exfoliants.

Pros

  • budget-friendly
  • fragrance-free
  • cruelty-free
  • gentle to skin

Cons

  • people cannot use vitamin C or certain exfoliants and ingredients with this product

How to use

Individuals should apply this cream to clean skin at night before bedtime. They may wish to start by using it 3 nights each week. They can then increase the frequency to 4 nights if no irritation or unwanted dryness occurs.

Best for a body lotion: Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Body Lotion

  • Skin type: all
  • Key ingredients: retinol, squalane, and cocoa butter
  • Features: moisturizing, brightening, and may reduce signs of aging
  • Size: 6 fl oz
  • Price: around $18

This lightweight vegan cream combines retinol, cocoa butter, and squalene to moisturize and repair the skin. The product reportedly helps firm and smooth the skin on the face and all over the body, including the chest, knees, and elbows.

The manufacturer notes that the retinol is less effective when combined with UV ray exposure. The company recommends people wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.

Pros

  • vegan
  • lightweight
  • eco-friendly packaging

Cons

  • does not state how much retinol is in the product

How to use

Individuals may massage the cream onto clean skin daily at any time.

Best retinol alternative: Indie Lee Retinol Alternative Cream

  • Skin type: all
  • Key ingredients: retinol alternative rambutan and squalene
  • Features: moisturizing and brightening
  • Size: 45 milliliters (ml)
  • Price: around $72

This product contains a retinol alternative called rambutan to provide the benefits of retinol with a lower risk of skin irritation. Additionally, the company states it can help plump and moisturize the skin.

This product may improve the skin’s elasticity and firmness. It may also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Pro

  • cruelty-, phthalate-, mineral oil-, paraben-, sulfate-, and formaldehyde-free
  • does not contain any GMO ingredients
  • retinol alternative for those who are sensitive to retinol

Cons

  • more expensive than many options on this list

How to use

Individuals should apply the cream to clean skin in the morning or the evening. For additional moisture, people can also use the product with facial oil.

The following table compares the retinol creams in this article on skin type, ingredients, and more.

Skin typeKey ingredientsSizePrice
SkinCeuticals• oily
• normal
• combination
• 0.3% retinol
• bisabolol from chamomile
1 fl ozaround $70
Paula’s Choice 1%• normal
• dry
• oily
• combination
• 1% retinol
• licorice extract
• oat extract
1 fl ozaround $62
Neutrogenamature skin• accelerated retinol SA
• hyaluronic acid
1.7 ozaround $32
First Aid Beautysensitive• 0.25% retinol serum
• colloidal sulfur
• aloe
• ginger
• bisabolol
1.7 fl ozaround $25
L’Orealall skin types• pro-retinol
• hyaluronic acid
• vitamin C
• niacinamide
1.7 fl ozaround $28
Murad• balanced
• dry
• combination
• oily
• retinol
• niacinamide
1.7 fl ozaround $86
RoCmature skin• retinol
• proprietary mineral complex
• glycerin
1 ozaround $30
Olay• normal
• combination
• oily
• proprietary retinoid complex
• niacinamide
• amino-peptide
1.7 ozaround $30
Replenix• normal
• dry
• oily
• sensitive
• proprietary retinoid complex
• ceramides
• green tea polyphenol
6.7 ozaround $93
Origins• normal
• dry
• oily
• combination
• retinol
• niacinamide
1 fl ozaround $71
Paula’s Choice Intensive• normal
• dry
• oily
• combination
• 0.01% retinol
• hyaluronic acid
• antioxidant blend peptides
1.7 fl ozaround $35
Juice Beauty• normal
• dry
• oily
• combination
• retinol
• hyaluronic acid
1.7 fl ozaround $75
Good Molecules• normal
• dry
• oily
• combination
• 0.1% retinol
• antioxidants
1 fl ozaround $8
Versedall skin types• retinol
• squalane
• cocoa butter
6 fl ozaround $18
Indie Leeall skin types• retinol alternative rambutan
• squalane
45 mlaround $72

The following factors can help a person select the right retinol cream for their needs:

  • Skin type: People with skin allergies, rosacea, or dry, sensitive skin should proceed with caution when using retinol products. OTC or lower strength products are typically gentler on skin.
  • Concentration: A study comparing retinol serums with concentrations of 0.3–0.5% found that, while both improved the skin, 0.5% solutions produced more frequent and more intense irritation signs. A person with sensitive skin should consider products with lower retinol concentration.
  • Cost: Some retinol products may cost more than others. A person should consider their budget.
  • Ingredients: Individuals may benefit from checking the ingredients to ensure their chosen product contains no known allergens.

Potential side effects of retinol include:

  • irritated skin
  • redness
  • dry skin
  • itching or burning
  • peeling skin
  • increased sensitivity to sunlight and greater risk of sun damage

Additionally, pregnant people should not use retinol.

Below are some common questions relating to retinol.

How do I use retinol?

Dermatologists recommend a gradual and consistent approach to the use of retinol cream. Individuals should test the product twice per day on their inner forearm for 4–5 days to identify any irritation. They should stop using the product if it causes an allergic reaction.

Some dermatologists recommend using the lowest concentration of retinol cream that produces the desired effects. They also advise using sunscreen, limiting exposure to the sun’s rays, and moisturizing often.

A person should always follow a product’s directions.

How often should I use retinol?

Packaging instructions will vary, and a person should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If they have any doubts about their chosen product, they should consider consulting a dermatologist or healthcare professional.

Who should not use retinol?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), retinoid products, such as retinol creams, may not suit people with dry skin, skin allergies, or skin prone to inflammation and redness.

To avoid hyperpigmentation from irritation, people with darker skin tones should proceed with caution if they start using topical retinol products.

Pregnant people should avoid retinol completely.

Which beauty cream has the most retinol?

Not all creams list the strength of their retinol content. However, 1% retinol is the highest concentration currently available.

What percentage of retinol is best?

There is no retinol percentage that is the best. Different concentrations work well for different people.

People new to using retinol may wish to start with a lower concentration to reduce the risk of skin irritation.

Retinol does not change the skin overnight, so a person needs to use it for several months to see its benefits.

If a person notices redness, peeling, or discomfort while using a retinol cream, they may need to use it less often. If redness or irritation is severe or does not go away, a person should see a doctor.

Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher every day while using retinol creams. These products can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. Using sunscreen can also help protect the skin from damage and signs of aging.