19 Best Retinol Creams for Acne and Wrinkles in 2022


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While it’s true there is no magic bullet when it comes to perfecting skin, one ingredient comes pretty close: retinol. Whether you’re struggling with acne, scarring, or hyperpigmentation, retinol can pretty much solve all your skin woes. And in case you’re debating getting Botox for fine lines, retinol is also a powerful, non-invasive alternative found in many anti-aging products—including retinol eye creams to treat crow’s feet.

“Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that loosens the bonds between the top layer of cells and unclogs pores to help with acne, but also tricks the skin into thinking it is wounded to stimulate collagen production,” says Dr. Purvisha Patel, a Tennessee-based dermatologist and the founder of Visha Skincare. “It is the alcohol form of the derivative…and is the gold standard for a safe, effective ingredient in skin care that helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles.”

And for those with oily skin, retinol helps to shrink oil glands to reduce oil production in the skin.

The beauty of retinol is the varying strengths and versions offered, which yield different results for a gamut of skin types. (In addition to being found in over-the-counter creams and serums, Dr. Patel notes that retinol is “available in stronger percentages and orally by prescription.”) But it’s also a complicated ingredient to get into. While you can add a vitamin C serum into your routine from one day to the next, retinol can be intense, and not all formulas are created equal. But just skipping over this ingredient entirely? No way. If you’re ready to add retinol to your routine, here are 19 amazing options for every skin concern and type. And keep scrolling to find answers to all your retinol queries courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Chwalek, MD of Union Square Laser Dermatology and fellow New York-based dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss.

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1

Best Spot Treatment

iS Clinical

Pro-Heal Serum Advance+

2

Best for Fine Lines

Kate Somerville

DermalQuench Liquid Lift Retinol Advanced Resurfacing Treatment

3

Best for Dark Spots

ZO Skin Health

Retinol Skin Brightener 1%

4

Best for All Skin Types

Visha Skincare

Advanced Correcting Serum with Illuminotex

5

Best for Real Results

Paula’s Choice

Boost 1% Retinol Booster

6

Best Gentle Retinol

Peter Thomas Roth

Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum

7

Best For Acne-Prone Skin

Cosmedix

Serum 16 Rapid Renewal Serum

8

Best for Sun Protection

Olay

Retinol 24 + Peptide Moisturizer

9

Best Drugstore Option

Neutrogena

Rapid Wrinkle Regenerating Face Cream

10

Best for Beginners

SkinCeuticals

Retinol 0.5

11

Best for Enlarged Pores

Joanna Vargas

Supernova Serum

12

Best for Even Skin

Drunk Elephant

A-Passioni Retinol Cream

13

Best for Soft Skin

CeraVe

Resurfacing Retinol Serum

14

Best for Sun Damage

La Roche-Posay

Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3

15

Best for Dry Skin

La Prairie

Skin Caviar Nighttime Oil

16

Best for Brightening

Epionce

Intense Defense Serum

17

Best for Sensitive Skin

Murad

Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

18

Best for Glowing Skin

111SKIN

Celestial Black Diamond Retinol Oil

19

Best Peel Alternative

Dr Dennis Gross

Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Overnight Wrinkle Treatment

What’s the difference between over-the-counter and prescription retinol?

“Prescription Retin-A and Tretinoin and over-the-counter retinol increase skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen synthesis,” explains Chwalek. “With consistent use of a topical retinol or Retin-A, you can see improvement of fine lines, dark spots, texture, and tone.”

While an OTC retinol (0.5 percent to 2 percent concentration) isn’t quite as effective or speedy as prescription strength, it’s less likely to cause irritation, redness, and peeling, so it’s better for anyone with sensitive or drier skin. But, proceed with caution.

How should you use retinol?

Dr. Idriss recommends adding retinol into your skincare routine slowly and gradually. “I would start with one night a week to see how your skin reacts before adding a second night a week and so forth,” explains Dr. Idriss. “If you find yourself to be extremely sensitive, then apply your moisturizer before your retinol in order to make it a little less irritating.”

Are retinol alternatives effective?

There are also naturally-derived retinol alternatives like rosehip seed oil, chicory root oligosaccharides, and tara tree gum, but Chwalek cautions that there are no studies to prove efficacy for them.

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