Dermatologists consider retinol the holy grail of noninvasive wrinkle-prevention. When applied topically, this vitamin A derivative stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, evens out complexion, and unclogs pores.
That said, retinol does have its drawbacks. Side effects can include dryness, peeling, and skin irritation, and some people may see their acne flare up. So before you start slathering these products on your face and neck, you’ll want to keep a few tips in mind.
“To reduce irritation, start every other night with the product and move up to every night only when tolerated,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at the George Washington University Medical Center. “Add extra moisturizer when using, and use only a very mild, creamy cleanser to compensate for the extra dryness.” You’ll also want to guard your skin with SPF 30—retinol may make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Though you can ask your doc for a prescription-strength retinoid—which is a much stronger version of what you can buy over the counter—the derms we spoke to said drugstore and beauty counter brands do the same thing, and that it just may take longer to see results. Read on for the retinol recommendations from Dr. Tanzi and other top skin doctors.
Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisture, Night
“I recommend this product to my patients all the time because Neutrogena is a reliable company and the products are easy to find in any drugstore. The ingredients are of good quality and I have never had anyone complain about any skin reaction or difficulty managing this retinol.” —Jessica Krant MD, board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate
CosMedix Serum 16
“This is a great intro-to-retinol product because if features microencapsulated retinol complex, which delivers results without the irritation and drying.” —Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
Neocutis Nouvelle Plus Retinol Correction Intensive Anti-Aging Cream
“One of my favorite retinols utilizes only 0.6% retinol in a special microbead formulation that helps penetrate the skin deeper with less skin irritation and less flaking. As an added bonus, it contains melaplex, a hydroquinone-free skin-brightening complex, that diminishes the appearance of dark spots and evens out skin tone. We recommend our patients start applying retinol two to three times a week, just before bedtime and slowly progress to nightly as tolerated.” ––Ulysses Scarpidis, New York City plastic surgeon, Scarpidis Aesthetics
Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
“The highest strength of retinol you can get before a trip to the dermatologist’s office.” –– Dr. Tanzi
Amarte Wonder Cream
“A key goal within any retinol skin care program is maximum retinol effectiveness with minimized potential for irritation. Because of this, high potency nano-encapsulated retinol formulations such as Amarte Wonder Cream (which also contains multiple potent natural antioxidant ingredients) are ideal. They will ensure maximized retinol efficacy with a virtually non-existent potential for irritation.” ––Craig Kraffert, MD, Redding Derm
HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel
“I love recommending the HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel to clients as it’s an extremely effective over-the-counter option for brightening skin and tightening pores. Instead of retinol, which can be irritating to sensitive skin types, it actually utilizes Retinyl Palmitate—an ester of Vitamin A that’s converted to retinoic acid once absorbed by the skin. I use it weekly, on Sundays, (which is my pampering day!), to ensure my skin always has a healthy glow.” –– Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, MPhil, Vibrant Dermatology
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30
“One of my favorite OTC retinoids is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30. It works against fine lines during the day with a unique sunscreen and moisturizer hybrid. A glucose derivative is combined with this retinol formula to help brighten discoloration. I especially like that it contains hyaluronic acid which holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water.” ––Jeanette Jacknin M.D. and Brand Ambassador for ZSS Skincare Solutions
SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25
“When patients want a particularly gentle formulation, I like SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25. It is one of the mildest non-prescription retinols available and is in an elegant moisturizing formulation.” —Dr. Krant
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
“I wear this gentle cream—a brand-new release from Drunk Elephant that’s made with vegan retinol—during the day with sunscreen on top. It doesn’t irritate at all and is lightweight.”