The best retinol cream

Ana Sanchez

Retinol is derived from vitamin A, an antioxidant that combats free radicals that can cause cellular damage.

Today's marketplace is inundated with anti-aging products claiming to reverse the effects of time. While the fountain of youth remains undiscovered, there is a skincare ingredient that stands out with scientifically proven results: retinol. Retinol reduces the telltale signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots, by stimulating surface skin cells to shed and reveal youthful, brighter-looking skin underneath. Derived from vitamin A, retinol is safe to use and dermatologist-recommended. Before slathering on creams containing retinol, you'll definitely want to know which products stand out from the pack. This quick shopping guide will give you everything you need to know about using retinol, including our top picks. Our favorite retinol is a dual-action cream by RoC that moisturizes as it smooths away those pesky crow's feet.

Considerations when choosing retinol creams

Benefits of retinol creams

Retinol works on a multitude of skin issues, which is why dermatologists often prescribe it. Though over-the-counter retinol creams are less potent than prescription ones, which are 20 to 100 times stronger, they still have a number of benefits.

Retinol creams:

Promote new skin cell production and increase turnover
Boost collagen production, which improves skin's elasticity
Slow collagen breakdown
Smooth uneven texture
Brighten skin
Firm skin
Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
Fade sun spots and counteract sun damage
Tighten pores
Decrease acne
Inhibit the production of melanin that causes dark spots

Types of retinol creams

Retinol creams are not one-size-fits-all. You'll want to choose one that's suited to your skin type and/or your problem area.

Retinol eye creams

A retinol eye cream is formulated for use near the eyes. These creams diminish crow's feet and wrinkles around the eye area. However, they cannot be used on the eyelids and should never come in contact with your eyes.

Retinol day creams

Retinol day creams are designed to be applied in the morning for wear throughout the day. They usually include sunscreen. Retinol plus sunscreen is a potent anti-aging combo because UV rays cause premature aging.

Retinol night creams

Night creams tend to be thicker and heavier than day creams and are designed to be applied at bedtime to work wonders while you sleep. They may be packed with vitamins and other nourishing ingredients.

Retinol serums

Serums have a completely different makeup than creams, but we thought we'd include them if you're looking for a more concentrated formula of retinol. Retinol serums have a liquid consistency and are best applied before moisturizer, day or night.

Other important details

Anti-aging products can run the gamut from drugstore to luxury prices. Retinol creams are no exception. Expect to pay as little as $4 per ounce or as much as $100 per ounce. Prescription retinol can be even more expensive (if not covered by your insurance) but works faster.


Q. Are there side effects to using a retinol cream?
You can have an adverse reaction, especially if you have sensitive skin. Reactions to retinol may include tingling, burning, itching, swelling, dryness, peeling, redness, and discoloration. OTC retinol creams cause less severe side effects than prescription ones, but it's best to consult with a dermatologist and/or doctor before using them, especially if you're already taking a vitamin A supplement.

Q. Is there a way to reduce the chances of any side effects occurring?
Start using the retinol cream twice a week and then gradually build up to once a day. If you experience irritation, you can always discontinue use for a few days, then resume. If you experience a burning or stinging sensation, washing the cream off after 15 minutes (unless the sensation is severe) will still retain most of the retinol's benefits.

Retinol creams we recommend

Best of the best: RoC Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Creme

Our take: From a name-brand in anti-aging skincare, this retinol cream boasts bonus ingredients.

What we like: Formulated to brighten and smooth skin with retinol while also effectively moisturizing skin with hyaluronic acid. Silky feel. Works fast.

What we dislike: On the heavy side for daytime application.

Best bang for your buck: L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Anti-Aging Day Cream with Pro-Retinol

Our take: A firming retinol day cream suited for sensitive skin and dermatologist-approved.

What we like: Paraben-free. Can be used on the neck for contouring. Non-comedogenic. Light scent that shouldn't irritate sensitive skin.

What we dislike: Too greasy for some users.

Choice 3: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream with Retinol

Our take: A hypoallergenic retinol night cream that delivers results from a trusted brand.

What we like: Absorbs quickly for a night cream. Can be used during the day, too. Doesn't contain alcohol, fragrance, or oil. Suitable for more sensitive skin.

What we dislike: Contains parabens.

Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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