Retinol is in just about every anti-aging skin care product on the shelves today. But just what is it about this super-popular ingredient that makes it so effective? “Both retinol and Retin-A are very effective exfoliants, which help smooth the skin and can improve texture and even fine wrinkles,” says Joseph Machuzak, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at the Skin and Cancer Center of Scottsdale. “They also carry natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which serve to ‘reverse’ damage in aging skin.”
To get the best results, Dr. Machuzak recommends consistent, daily use of retinol products to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles, lighten darken spots and provide a more fresh look to skin overall. But it takes more than just a good cream or serum to affect serious change. “A healthy, balanced, low-fat diet with plenty of water and antioxidant-rich vegetables like peppers, spinach and carrots will always be helpful,” he says, since eating right helps reduce the amount of free radicals and inflammatory chemicals in the body. He also recommends antioxidant supplements, such as beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and avoiding smoking, which has distinct damaging effects on skin that can speed up the aging process.
Asked which products work well with retinol, he recommends these three: exfoliants, antioxidants and sunscreens. In addition to retinol, glycolic acid and salicylic acid are effective exfoliants, which smooth the skin, lighten dark spots and control blemishes and breakouts. Alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C and green tea extract are all great antioxidants to keep an eye out for because they provide a powerful counterbalance to free radicals in the skin and pollutants in the environment. As for sunscreen, Dr. Machuzak still considers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to be the best active ingredients, as long as you use an SPF of at least 30 to protect against skin cancer and minimize the aging effects of the sun.
With Dr. Machuzak’s advice in mind, here are the top 10 retinol products as recommended by our editors.
162 5-Star Reviews
7,010+ Customers Purchased
For problematic or photodamaged skin, this night cream promotes healthy cell regeneration and boosts collagen production to reduce the appearance of aging. For best results, only use a few times a week at most.
48 5-Star Reviews
1,690+ Customers Purchased
In addition to a healthy dose of retinol, this serum also features green tea polyphenols to neutralize free radical damage, diminish dark spots and protect skin from further damage. One DermStore.com reviewer said she noticed positive results within a few months and has been using the cream for two years.
32 5-Star Reviews
1,250+ Customers Purchased
Featuring a formula that combines retinol with grape seed extract and hyaluronic acid, this serum is a gentle and effective way to incorporate retinoids into your regimen—a good choice for younger skin or those sensitive to stronger topical retinoids.
23 5-Star Reviews
900+ Customers Purchased
As an anti-aging moisturizer with a high concentration of vitamin A, this cream helps visibly reduce the appearance of wrinkles, leaving you with younger-looking skin. It also contains a pro-elastin peptide that tones and firms your complexion as it fills in fine lines and wrinkles.
23 5-Star Reviews
710+ Customers Purchased
This treatment is ideal for those who are already accustomed to using a retinol product on their skin. It promotes a smoother, more rejuvenated complexion by minimizing the appearance of age spots and wrinkles. And with continued use it also encourages faster cell renewal.
21 5-Star Reviews
790+ Customers Purchased
Fight the signs of aging from environmental aggressors and reveal a more radiant and youthful-looking complexion with this 1% retinol solution. It also contains jojoba oil, shea butter and vitamins C and E to promote firmness and elasticity.
10 5-Star Reviews
330+ Customers Purchased
With 1.5% microencapsulated retinol, this product encourages the skin-renewal process by combining it with vitamins C and E. One DermStore.com reviewer with retinol-sensitive skin said her skin tolerated the dosage without additional dryness or redness.
6 Five-Star Reviews
530+ Customers Purchased
Featured on the Today Show and awarded Best Anti-Aging Retinol Cream twice by NewBeauty Magazine, this anti-aging solution combines retinol, peptides and antioxidants for superior improvement in the appearance of skin texture, fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage for younger, healthier looking skin.
6 5-Star Reviews
360+ Customers Purchased
With a proprietary blend of retinol and antioxidants, this retinol serum also contains licorice extract and algae extract to brighten, fortify and replenish your skin. The result is younger-looking skin and a radiant complexion.
4 5-Star Reviews
200+ Customers Purchased
If your skin looks dull or tired, this combination of retinol and ferulic acid will revitalize the delicate surrounding skin. Ferulic acid delivers powerful antioxidant protection while retinol reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Salicylic and azelaic amino acids work with bearberry extract to minimize the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmentation and age damage while willowbark extract calms inflammation.