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Best Retinol Creams

Updated January 2023
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Best of the Best
RoC Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Creme
Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Creme
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A dual-purpose product by a popular name in skincare that has a smoothing and moisturizing formula.


Formulated with retinol and hyaluronic acid, ingredients known to smooth and moisturize. Has silky feel and light scent. Some users rave about smoother, brighter skin after just a few applications.


A few customers complain that it feels a bit "heavy" on the face. Price is on the high side for a relatively small jar.

Best Bang for the Buck
Tree of Life Retinol Facial Moisturizer
Tree of Life
Retinol Facial Moisturizer
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Simple Yet Solid
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This product keeps skin soft and moisturized thanks to shea butter, jojoba oil, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid.


Clinical-strength retinol tackles fine lines and signs of aging while deeply moisturizing skin. Recommended for use as a night cream. Cruelty-free, vegan, and paraben-free formula. Ingredients are natural and organic.


May be harsh on sensitive skin.

Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
Paula's Choice
Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
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Trusted Brand
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A product that smooths out skin texture and reduces wrinkle appearance.


Contains 1% retinol with vitamin C and peptides for wrinkles, along with oat and licorice extracts to calm your skin. It is paraben, cruelty, and fragrance-free and works for every skin type.


Some buyers said the pump didn’t work well when they purchased the product.

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream with Retinol, 1.4 oz.
Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream with Retinol, 1.4 oz.
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Delivers Results
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Known for many quality skin care products, this retinol cream is another member of the brand's family that delivers results for many users.


A hypoallergenic cream that's formulated with vitamins. Doesn't contain added fragrance, oil, or alcohol. Absorbs quickly — perfect for use at night, but not too heavy for daytime use.


Tube only contains 1.4 oz., but a little goes a long way for most users. Cream contains parabens.

CeraVe Anti-Aging Retinol Serum for Face
Anti-Aging Retinol Serum for Face
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Customer Favorite
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A retinol cream created with the help of dermatologists.


This anti-aging cream serum is not only affordable but created with help from dermatologists. It does not have a scent and won’t contribute to pores clogging. It includes retinol and hyaluronic acid in its ingredients and three ceramides. Super hydrating.


Some users said that their skin broke out after using this product.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best retinol creams

Today’s fountain of youth isn’t a magical spring but a deluge of products that promise anti-aging results. Many of them offer little more than hype, but retinol stands out for its proven results. Retinol creams diminish the signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and discoloration, for fresher, more radiant, and younger-looking skin.

The results of retinol creams are backed by decades of clinical research and many happy customers. However, there are dozens of retinol products on the market, all with different formulations. How do you decide which retinol cream is right for your skin?

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Retinol was first developed as a treatment for acne but was soon shown to improve skin tone and diminish wrinkles as well.

What is retinol?

Retinol (also called retinoid) is a compound derived from vitamin A, which is essential for growth, healthy bones and organs, and good eyesight. Vitamin A is also an antioxidant, which means it works to fight cell damage. Retinol works by stimulating cells on the surface of your skin to rapidly shed so they can be replaced by healthy new cells beneath the top layer of skin.

While the debate continues over the health benefits of many vitamins and supplements, there is no argument about the benefits of retinol creams when it comes to the skin. Dermatologists recommend these products because retinol works and the science is there to back them up.

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Did you know?
Retinoic acid is 100 times more potent than retinol and is available only by prescription. The lower concentration of retinol in OTC retinol creams changes to retinoic acid on the skin.

Benefits of retinol creams

Retinol creams are the ultimate multitaskers when it comes to skincare. It’s hard to find another product that promises to do so much.

  • Stimulate new skin cell production

  • Increase cell turnover

  • Slow the breakdown of collagen (a protein found in every part of the body)

  • Boost collagen production

  • Smooth skin texture

  • Firm skin

  • Brighten skin

  • Improve skin elasticity

  • Hydrate skin

  • Minimize wrinkles and fine lines

  • Fade dark spots

  • Curb the production of melanin

  • Counteract the effects of sun damage

  • Tighten pores

  • Decrease acne breakouts

Reactions to retinol creams

But with the promises come some serious cautions. Retinol creams can cause adverse reactions, particularly if you have very sensitive skin.

  • Burning

  • Stinging

  • Tingling

  • Itching

  • Swelling

  • Peeling

  • Redness

  • Dryness

  • Discoloration

Prescription retinoids can be 20 to 100 times more potent than over-the-counter (OTC) retinol creams, and on rare occasions, they can cause more serious reactions.

  • Hives

  • Swelling

  • Difficulty breathing

Note that too much vitamin A can be toxic, causing liver damage and other serious side effects. Always consult your doctor before using any retinol products on your skin, especially if you’re taking medications or any supplements that contain vitamin A.

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Expert Tip
UV rays affect retinol, which is why it’s best to apply retinol cream before bed. Always wear sunscreen outdoors to protect the sensitive new skin that’s revealed by the shedding effects of retinol.

Types of retinol creams

There are different formulations of retinol creams to suit different skin types, such as sensitive or oily, and to target different problem areas, such as deep wrinkles, dark spots, or sun damage.

  • Retinol eye creams go after the crow’s feet and fine lines that crease the delicate skin around the eyes. While these retinol creams are created for use near the eyes, you should not use these products on the eyelids or allow them to come in contact with the eyes.

  • Retinol day creams are lightweight moisturizers that keep skin hydrated during the day. These retinol creams often include sunscreen.

  • Retinol night creams are designed to work while you sleep. These retinol creams often have a thicker, heavier texture that may not be suitable for daytime use.

  • Retinol serums don’t include the moisturizers that you’ll find in retinol creams. Serums containing retinol have a thin consistency and are highly concentrated. They are intended to be used right after cleansing your skin but before applying moisturizer.

How to use retinol cream

If you’ve never used retinol cream before, OTC retinol creams are milder than prescription creams and the best way to start. A common regimen is to use the retinol cream twice a week for two weeks, and then increase the frequency to three times per week as you build up your skin’s tolerance.

  • Clean and dry your skin.

  • Smooth a pea- to dime-sized amount of retinol cream on your face. You can also use it on your hands, neck, and décolletage.

  • Let the retinol cream fully soak into your skin.

  • Apply moisturizer if needed. (If applying retinol in the morning, apply sunscreen.)

  • If you experience burning or stinging, you can wash off the retinol cream after 15 minutes and still reap most of the benefits.

  • If your skin becomes irritated, stop using the retinol cream for a few days.

  • If your skin tolerates the retinol cream, you can gradually increase use to every night.

Retinol cream prices

The price of OTC retinol cream varies depending on the brand, the size of the container, and the concentration of retinol in the formula (although that percentage is not always indicated on the packaging, and manufacturers aren’t required to say). You can expect to pay between $4 and $100 per ounce of retinol cream or serum, although there are some bargain-priced spa-size containers available for less. Prescription retinoids usually cost more, but these formulations are much more potent and work more quickly.


  • Check with your dermatologist before using a retinol cream. Retinol can cause skin irritation if used with skincare products that contain salicylic acid, sulfur, or benzoyl peroxide.

  • Pregnant or nursing women should talk with their doctor before using retinol products.

  • Start using retinol in the summer. A good time to begin a retinol cream regimen is during the summer because the humidity in the air will keep your skin from drying out as it adjusts.

  • Use sunscreen. Sunscreen and retinol creams make the best “anti-aging” combo out there. Use SPF 30 sunscreen to help stave off the effects of sun damage and aging.

  • Look for retinol creams in airtight containers. Heat, UV rays, and oxygen can cause retinol to break down and lose potency. Look for “stabilized” or “encapsulated” in the product’s description, terms that indicate the retinol won’t degrade.
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There are retinoids on the market to treat not only acne, discoloration, and wrinkles but also warts and psoriasis.


Q. When will I see results from using retinol cream?
If you’re using OTC retinol cream, you can usually expect to see results, such as diminished wrinkles or crow’s feet, faded age spots, and smoother skin, within three to six months, although some products claim you will see a difference in as little as one week. After six months or a year, your results may plateau, in which case you might want to move on to a stronger formulation. If you’re using a prescription retinoid, you could see results in as little as four weeks, but you are most likely to see results in six to eight weeks.

Q. Can I use a retinol cream if I have sensitive skin?
You should always check with your dermatologist before beginning any new skincare regimen. That said, you should be able to use retinol cream if you choose a product described as hypoallergenic or specifically formulated for sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin, begin using retinol slowly, such as twice a week. Increase your usage only when you’re sure your skin can tolerate it. However, some people have extremely sensitive skin and may never be able to use retinoids.

Q. What strength retinol cream should I use?
The answer to that question depends entirely on your skin. It’s true that products with high concentrations of retinol (up to 2%) offer more dramatic benefits more quickly, but they can also potentially cause more side effects. Even if you have deep wrinkles or very dark spots you want to treat, you should start with the lowest concentration (.01%), and work your way up as you see how your skin tolerates the cream. These creams are packed with other beneficial ingredients and hydrating compounds, too, so you will be doing your skin lots of good even at the lower concentrations of retinol. Also, note that not all OTC retinol creams list the concentration.

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