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Best Retinol Creams

Updated July 2018
Why trust 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.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
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.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 38 Models Considered
  • 7 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 155 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust 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.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    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.

    Shopping guide for best retinol creams

    Last Updated July 2018

    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 one product – 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, younger-looking skin.

    The results of retinol creams are backed by decades of clinical research and many happy customers. But 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?

    At BestReviews, we make it our mission to help you find the right products for your home and your budget. If you’re already familiar with retinol creams and ready to buy, check out our top five picks in the matrix above. If you’d like to learn more about these anti-aging skin care products, continue reading our shopping guide.

    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. The way retinol works is 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.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Retinoic acid is 100 times more potent than retinol and 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 skin care. 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

    Results you can see in as little as one week

    This powerful retinol day cream promises to reduce wrinkles in one week, as well as smooth skin and fade dark spots. The rich, oil-free formula quenches thirsty skin but won’t clog pores. RoC Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Creme also includes hyaluronic acid, which moisturizes and plumps skin.

    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.

    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.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    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.

    Turn back the clock for less

    You can diminish fine lines and wrinkles and moisturize your skin without breaking the bank. Advanced Clinicals Retinol Firming Cream is a non-sticky formula that absorbs quickly to leave your skin feeling silky smooth and refreshed. And the generous 16-ounce jar will last you for months.

    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-size to dime-size 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.

    Tips

    • Check with your dermatologist before using retinol cream. Retinol can cause skin irritation if used with skin care 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 cream 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.
    There are retinoids on the market to treat not only acne, discoloration, and wrinkles but also warts and psoriasis.

    FAQ

    Q. When will I see results from using retinol cream?
    A.
    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?
    A.
    You should always check with your dermatologist before beginning any new skin care 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?
    A.
    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.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alice
      Alice
      Web Producer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Writer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer