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Retinol is a derivative of topical vitamin A, which when applied to the skin, may work as an effective anti-wrinkle agent by changing the appearance of the skin’s surface, as well as having anti-aging effects.

A quick look at the best retinol creams of 2022

As well as other benefits, retinol 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) retinol 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 conditions 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 is also able to 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 products that are available 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%

Key ingredients0.3% retinol

bisabolol from chamomile
Featuresgood for new retinol users

best for nighttime use
Size1 fluid ounce (fl oz)
Pricearound $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

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 by using it once or twice per week, gradually increasing the frequency as needed.

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

Key ingredients1% retinol

licorice extract

oat extract
Featuresreduces signs of aging

hydrating
Size1 fl oz
Pricearound $60

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, and it suggests that this extract may safely and effectively manage bacterial skin conditions.

Pros

  • may help to moisturize the skin
  • contains skin-calming 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 should 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 with 2 or 3 nights each 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

Key ingredientsaccelerated retinol SA

hyaluronic acid
Featuresfast-acting

visible difference in 1 week
Size1.7 oz
Pricearound $30

Accelerated Retinol SA is Neutrogena’s key ingredient. It combines retinol with a glucose complex and hyaluronic acid, a combination of 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

Key ingredients0.25% retinol serum

colloidal sulfur

aloe

ginger

bisabolol
Featuressoothing

suitable for sensitive skin
Size1.7 fl oz
Pricearound $25

This product combines retinol with peptides, which may help give skin a smoother and more plump appearance.

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

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

Key ingredientsPro-retinol

hyaluronic acid

vitamin C

niacinamide
Featuresreduces signs of aging

moisturizing
Size1.7 fl oz
Pricearound $25

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

Cons

  • strength of the retinol not listed on this product

How to use

A person can apply this product to their skin every morning and evening.

A person can purchase L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Moisturizer online here.

Best for oily/combination skin: Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion

Key ingredientsretinol

queen of meadow

panthenol

honey

allantoin

arnica
Featuresmoisturizing

softening
Size1.7 fl oz
Pricearound $40

The manufacturer claims that the product may suit those with oily skin and combination skin.

It also claims that the product does not contain:

  • parabens
  • sulfates
  • phthalates

The product contains queen of the meadow, which is also known as meadowsweet. According to 2014 research, meadowsweet extract has antimicrobial effects.

Pros

  • may benefit those with acne (due to potential antimicrobial effects)
  • paraben-, sulfate-, and phalate-free

Cons

  • may not suit those with dry skin
  • amount of retinol is not defined

How to use

the company advises a person to apply the product twice daily over other acne treatments. They should also apply it under sunscreen during the day.

Best for overnight use: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream

Key ingredientsretinol

proprietary mineral complex

glycerin
Featuresreduces signs of aging
Size1 oz
Pricearound $16

RoC contains pure retinol. It also contains minerals that may help nourish the skin.

The manufacturer claims that 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
  • unclear how much retinol the product contains

How to use

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

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

Key ingredientsproprietary retinoid complex

niacinamide

amino-peptide
Featureshydrating

smoothing
Size1.7 oz
Pricearound $33

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

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.

Best for whole-body tightening: Replenix All-Trans-Retinol Smoothing Body Lotion

Key ingredientsproprietary retinol formulation

ceramides

green tea polyphenol
Featuressmoothing

tightening
Size6.7 oz
Pricearound $80

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

Unlike the other products on this list, this is the only one that might also affect cellulite.

Pros

  • suitable for all skin types
  • large quantity

Cons

  • retinol strength is not listed

How to use

The company advises that a person should apply this product in the morning or as a physician directs.

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

Key ingredientsretinol

alpine flower

anogeissus
Featuresmoisturizing

smoothing

softening
Size1 fl oz
Pricearound $65

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.

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 more gentle to the 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 using a retinol cream. Individuals should test the product twice a 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 altogether.

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 sun protection factor 30 or higher each 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 further damage and signs of aging.