Ask anyone with glowing skin, and they'll likely tell you it's thanks to the best retinol serums and creams (and, okay, maybe genetics). Retinol is often hailed as the gold standard for both fighting acne and reducing wrinkles. But while the skin care ingredient is extremely effective, using it is also notoriously tricky to get right.
Our Top Picks:
- Best for Acne Scars and Acne-Prone Skin: Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, $55
- Best for Beginners: The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum, $13
- Best for Wrinkles: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream, $25
- Best for Mature Skin: Kate Somerville +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer, $110
- Best for Sensitive Skin: SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex .5, $80
- Best for Hyperpigmentation: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream, $74
First, let's back things up a little bit to answer the most obvious question: What exactly is retinol? Retinol is basically a catchall term for topical skin care products that contain a vitamin A derivative. If you want to talk specifics, retinol is technically a type of retinoid. “Retinoids work by increasing collagen production, as well as increasing the rate of skin-cell turnover,” says Shari Marchbein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “They also help treat acne, clogged pores, and blackheads by reducing the stickiness of the cells that clog pores, as well as speeding up the rate at which the skin turns over and regenerates.” Because of this, the best retinol serums and creams are ideal for evening out skin tone, minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, improving skin's overall texture, and decreasing pore size.
But all this turnover can also lead to what's known as “purging:” irritation, including redness, peeling, and increased breakouts. Most derms recommend easing into retinol serums and creams, starting with one or two applications a week to build up your tolerance. You can also try buffering—i.e., sandwiching retinol between two layers of moisturizer—to keep retinol burn and dryness at bay. It's also worth noting that retinol works best when used at night. “Most retinoids are not stable in the sun,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. Not to mention all retinoids can make your skin somewhat sun-sensitive due to their exfoliant properties, so be sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day, she adds.
If used correctly and carefully, though, a good retinol product can truly revolutionize your skin care routine, something many of our editors can say with certainty. We know, because we've tested all the most popular picks on the market and polled dermatologists about their favorite retinol products—the superstars that deliver results without irritation. Read on for the best retinol serums, creams, and oils they swear by, no prescription required.
All products featured on Glamour are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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