Gemma Chan definitely knows how to make an impression. Her turn in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians was unforgettable, and we’re waiting with baited breath for Don’t Worry Darling to land next year (Chan, Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles, and Chris Pine star). In the meantime, Chan is working on a podcast about Asian American civil rights, and using her position as a L’Oréal Paris spokeswoman to promote self-care’s role in building confidence and asserting equality. To that end, the actress and activist recently revealed her full beauty routine — and the intel is juicy.
In a video for Vogue released earlier this month, Chan walked viewers through exactly what she relies on to maintain her glowing skin. As expected for any celebrity, she invests in some pricey finds like Augustinus Bader’s The Rich Cream, celebrity aesthetician Joanna Czech’s Facial Massager, and Foreo skincare tools. Yet alongside those triple-dollar-sign buys — The Rich Cream fittingly goes for $265 a bottle — are two hard-working products in the under-$20 range.
The first? L’Oréal’s Revitalift Derm Intensives Pure Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum, an all-important base layer. Hyaluronic acid is in tons of products these days because, as researchers say, it has a “unique capacity” for retaining hydration — it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, which keeps that dew-making moisture on your skin. With that power, it’s no wonder Chan says the serum “works really well” to wake her face up on tired mornings after late nights, or that the serum’s garnered over 18,000 five-star Amazon ratings.
“I’ve been breaking out so badly from constantly having to wear a mask,” writes one 30-year-old with skin they describe as extremely sensitive and dry. “I added this serum to my skin care routine, and I got instant results overnight. My face is so dewy and moisturized, I’m literally glowing for the first time in years.” Others write that it instantly fills in deep wrinkles, and more still say that after trying “everything on the market,” the Revitalift serum gave them silky, glowing skin.
That efficiency is rivaled by the next steal in Chan’s routine. “My secret weapon is a caffeine eye cream,” she explains. “[I] just very, very gently dot under my eyes. Hopefully [it] encourages a bit of drainage of the puffiness,” Chan says of The Inkey List’s $9.99 Caffeine Eye Cream. Reviewers say it does the trick: They credit the formula with taking puffiness down quickly and keeping it down all day, on top of brightening under-eyes and dark spots.
“Holy crap, it really does reduce puffiness,” writes a shopper of the impact. “I’ve been using this product consistently (AM and PM) for just over a week, and I already notice such a difference. I don’t look like a zombie anymore.” Others say the cream’s moisture lasts all day, even for dry eyes — and at $10, it bests even more expensive products. Shop it at Sephora, and keep scrolling to see the rest of Chan’s routine for blockbuster-ready skin and makeup.
Ah, retinol. When it comes to defense against fine lines and maintaining a healthy glow, there’s no ingredient in skincare more lauded. The irony? Even though the revolutionary youth-enhancing active is a mainstay of drugstores, department store counters, and dermatologist offices alike, it still manages to mystify. And thus, it’s often underutilized or misused.
What is retinol?
To bring it back to the basics, retinol—alongside other retinoids, such as retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate—is essentially a derivative of vitamin A, which is one of the body’s key nutrients for boosting cell turnover. “It’s added to topical skincare products to promote skin renewal, brighten skin tone, reduce acne, and boost the collagen production,” explains New York City dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. “It also functions like an antioxidant to help address free radical damage, which leads to visible signs of aging.” The way dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, sees it, it’s the ingredient that does it all in dermatology, both cosmetically and medically. “I consider it a gold standard in skincare and often explain it to my patients as something that sweeps away dead skin cells, clogged pores, and dull skin,” she explains.
Here, experts break down how to carefully incorporate the powerhouse ingredient into your regimen to achieve a supernaturally fresh-faced complexion, now and for decades to come.
Begin in Your Mid 20s or Early 30s
Thirty has long been the banner year for introducing retinol into one’s routine, but many women are starting before then, motivated by early signs of aging, such as sun spots or crows feet, or simply eager to get a head start and utilize the latest technologies—under the careful watch of their dermatologist. “Your mid-twenties are a great time to start using retinol,” says Ellen Marmur, M.D. “Many patients who have used it for years swear by it.”
Integrate Retinol Slowly and Gently
“Balance is critical,” cautions Bowe. “Retinol can be very irritating if used too frequently or if the formulation is too strong for your skin.” She recommends starting off with a pea-sized amount of a low percentage over-the-counter formula (.01% to 0.03%), and using it “two times per week, slowly increasing the usage to give the skin a chance to acclimate.” Moreover, you should skip your retinol product on the day before you exfoliate (Bowe recommends exfoliating two to three times per week). “Exfoliating is abrasive and irritating, and you do not want to compound the skin irritation by heightening your skin’s sensitivity,” she says, adding that if you’re getting certain in-office treatments like lasers, microneedling, microdermabrasion, you will want to take a break from your retinol. In the spirit of not overdoing it, there’s a spate of new time-release formulas fit for skin types prone to redness or breakouts. “They’re a good option for people who have sensitive skin,” explains Fusco. “It releases the active ingredient over time and may offer less irritation.” In terms of prescription retinol versus something over the counter, the former is much more potent with a higher percentage of retinol and one may graduate to it over time, says Bowe.
Watch Out for Harsh Side Effects
While certain side effects, such as mild irritation, dryness, and sun sensitivity are normal as your skin adjusts to the active ingredient, intense flaking, redness, and burning are not—and those with especially sensitive skin, or who struggle with conditions like rosacea or eczema, should be wary of retinol or shy away from it all together. “If you cannot tolerate retinol, don’t worry,” says Marmur. “It’s not the only anti-ager! There are plenty of amazing anti-aging ingredients, such as wild indigo, that work beautifully without any irritation or sun sensitivity.”
Use Retinol Only at Night and Wear SPF Every Day
“Retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays and sunlight decreases the efficacy of the product,” explains Bowe, who instructs patients to only use retinoids at night and be diligent about applying a daily broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher during the day. Moreover, with retinol use, one should always be conscious of the weather forecast and trips to hot locales. “It should not be used during seasons or vacations when individuals will be spending extended time in direct sunlight,” warns Fusco.
Don’t Stop at Your Face
When applying a retinol-infused elixir, don’t neglect your neck or décolletage, which are areas notorious for showing the signs of aging, yet often overlooked. “If those zones seem too sensitive for your current formula, add a squirt of ceramide-enriched moisturizer before smoothing it on, or pick up a separate retinoid made specifically for the area in question,” says Bowe. “They typically contain a lower dose of vitamin A, zero fragrance, and loads of soothers.”
If you want a healthy-looking glow without having to put on a full face of makeup, stocking up on one of the best tinted moisturizers available will go a long way to perfecting your routine. These multitasking products combine all of the hydrating benefits of a moisturizer with the sheer-to-medium coverage of an everyday foundation—making them the MVP to any beauty lover’s bag. They’re also an absolute summer beauty essential; tinted moisturizers have a lightweight texture, are easy to apply, and often include SPF to help protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. Just try to name a more efficient beauty product—I’ll wait.
As you’d expect, there’s a whole slew of tinted moisturizers on the market right now—and across a range of finishes, skin concerns, and budgets. Which is why Glamour editors were asked about their all-time favorites. From Glossier’s Skin Tint to Fenty Beauty’s new Eaze Drops, scroll down to read their reviews and shop the best tinted moisturizers.
Best Overall: Tarte Cosmetics Maracuja Tinted Moisturizer
The perfect blend of moisturizer and medium coverage—I love the glow that Tarte’s tinted moisturizer gives my skin. It lasts all day and helps my makeup go on more smoothly and more evenly. Plus, it has good-for-your-skin ingredients like hydrating maracuja oil, hyaluronic acid, aloe, and turmeric. —Jessica Radloff, West Coast editor
Best for Evening Skin Tone: Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint
It would be impossible to talk about no-makeup makeup without mentioning Glossier. The quintessential millennial beauty brand (which is also a hit with Gen Z), basically cemented the less-is-more beauty mentality in the early aughts that’s all but mainstream now. When shopping for summer-friendly makeup essentials like a tinted moisturizer, the big G is an obvious brand to consider, thanks to its skin-care-first positioning that feels ideal for scorching summer days spent gallivanting and fully vaxxed. I love how Skin Tint evens out my tone and blurs pores without feeling cakey or like it’s adding to any skin congestion. I’ll definitely be keeping this in my makeup bag all season long. —Erin Parker, commerce writer
Best Drugstore: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Mineral Primer With SPF 50
Meet one of my all-time favorite drugstore finds. This pocket-size product is formulated with SPF 50, so I feel comfortable applying it without extra sunscreen. The tint also provides medium coverage, which is nice during the winter months when my face looks like a pale zombie’s. The formula is packed with hydrating vitamin E—and it’s gentle enough to not irritate my keratosis pilaris–prone skin. —Talia Abbas, commerce writer
Most Natural Finish: Fenty Beauty Eaze Drop Blurring Skin Tint
I’m shocked at how much I love Fenty’s Skin Tint. I typically would never go for a satiny finish since I have supremely dry skin and fine lines, but this somehow does not accentuate either. The color match is absolutely perfect (which is saying something because it’s usually hard for me to find a flawless fit for my medium skin), and the coverage is just my type: It easily evens out my skin tone but is light enough to actually look natural. (It really, truly looks like skin.) The only thing I wish this product had was more moisturizing properties to make it appropriate year-round. —Shanna Shipin, commerce managing editor
Best Clean Formula: Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40
I thought the perfect tinted moisturizer didn’t exist…until I tried Ilia’s Super Serum Skin Tint. Packed with plant-based squalene, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid, the formula is incredibly lightweight and hydrating—and the matte finish gives my skin this lit-from-within look that I’m obsessed with. The 30-shade range and addition of SPF 40 make it a full-package deal. —T.A.
Best for Moisturizing: Urban Decay Stay Naked Hydromaniac Tinted Glow Hydrator
I’m not usually a fan of tinted moisturizers, mostly because they rarely offer enough coverage and feel watered down. Urban Decay’s is different. Not only does it moisturize, but the tinted formula also provides such fantastic medium coverage that I don’t need foundation or powder. The tip is also super skinny, so I never have to worry about applying more than I need. It stays all day, doesn’t settle into my pores, and keeps my skin hydrated. Totally sold. —J.R.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Milk Makeup Sunshine Skin Tint Clean SPF 30 Foundation
I’m a firm believer in full-coverage foundation thanks to my acne and hyperpigmentation, but the Sunshine Skin Tint is seriously making me reconsider my stance. Though it really only covers any slight redness, it makes my skin look so dewy and glowing, it’s worth a few pimples shining through (or some carefully placed concealer). Though I’m acne-prone, I’m also dry, so I appreciate the moisture from the oils in the formula, and it just makes my skin look so healthy and fresh. The roller applicator is really fun to use, and I appreciate the fact it has SPF 30. —Bella Cacciatore, beauty associate
More of a foundation than a tinted moisturizer, what makes Supergoop!’s CC screen so, well, super, is that it has SPF50 and offers fantastic protection, plus total coverage. It also comes in a ton of different shades, which I love since it’s typically hard to find something to match my super-pale skin. —J.R.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: It Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation Full Coverage Moisturizer With SPF 50+
Pregnancy caused some dark spots to appear on my cheeks and around my mouth, so I’ve been on the hunt for a fuller-coverage formula to cover them up without having to slather a ton of product on my face. I found my holy grail with It Cosmetics. A single pump is all it takes to conceal and make me feel instantly put together. And though the product has a medium-to-thick texture, it doesn’t irritate my eczema-prone skin. —S.S.
I’ve probably used this tinted oil more than anything else throughout the entirety of quarantine. All you need is a few drops to instantly brighten and even your skin tone while adding a sun-kissed, dewy glow. Just be sure not to go overboard with application, otherwise it can turn out shiny. Sometimes I’ll go for something more matte, like the Fenty Eaze Drops, but this is one of my favorite skin-care/makeup hybrids ever. —E.P.
Best for Covering Redness: Erborian CC Red Correct
On hot summer days when I don’t want to wear foundation, this CC cream with SPF is all I need. It evens out my red complexion and doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin one bit. I’ve stocked up out of fear of not having it on hand. It’s that good. —Kat Thomas, assistant fashion editor
Best Luxury: Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
No tinted moisturizer list would be complete without this classic. There’s a reason it’s so beloved: It really hits the perfect balance between foundation and skin tint. It covers what you want it to, while still letting skin shine through. I also like that it has a more natural finish for days when I don’t want to be super dewy. I’ve also noticed the staying power is pretty unmatched for a moisturizer—I can wear it all day without the coverage fading away. —B.C.
Best for a Matte Finish: Origins GinZing SPF 40 Energy-Boosting Tinted Moisturizer
Origins’ tinted moisturizer is a great everyday workhorse thanks to the addition of SPF 40. It doesn’t come in a ton of shades, but it just kind of blurs into your natural color, giving you a smooth, matte finish without looking like you’re wearing makeup at all. —Emma Wartzman, producer
Best Budget: Garnier SkinActive Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream Anti-Aging
This was my go-to in high school, and I stand by it. It’s much thicker than other tinted moisturizers I’ve used, so it provides pretty decent coverage. It feels really nice and hydrating on my skin, and I definitely appreciate the anti-aging ingredients more now than I did 10 years ago. The only drawback is it has only one shade. —B.C.
Best for Soothing Irritated Skin: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
This is my peak-summer and dead-of-winter must-have when my skin decides to flare up with all the eczema and flakiness it can possibly muster. It’s made with soothing colloidal oatmeal, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E—three ingredients my dry skin soaks right up and that I feel comfortable using while pregnant. Bonus points for also including SPF 30 protection. —S.S.
Best for a Sun-Kissed Glow: Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
What I love most about Drunk Elephant’s tinted moisturizer is the luminous glow it delivers. It makes my face look like some bronzed goddess who spent the first half of the year vacationing in the French Riviera (a girl can dream). The texture is not greasy at all and blends seamlessly into my dry skin if you want to build for more coverage. I personally just use two squeezes so I can let my natural freckles shine through. —T.A.
Jennifer Garner is full of surprises. I can’t say I was expecting her to be the hilarious Instagram video creator that she is, or for her to team up with Jill Biden to promote vaccinations in West Virginia. One thing slightly more routine? For Garner to be transparent as a window about the specifics of her beauty routine — and while her adoration for Neutrogena skin care is well-known, she says the brand’s most recent addition is making all the difference.
According to an interview with PEOPLE published in May, the pep in Garner’s step — and skin — is thanks to a recent Neutrogena release focused on firming skin with anti-aging benefits. Speaking to Neutrogena’s new Rapid Firming Peptide Contour Lift Face Cream, Garner says, “It just gives the skin a real youthful vibrancy, and a kind of bounce to it.”
The Neutrogena moisturizer is part of the brand’s new firming collagen and peptide-centered line, reliant on a dermatologist-developed micropeptide that it claims can deeply penetrate skin to counter depleted collagen and elasticity. For background, peptide products based on enhancing collagen are an ongoing skincare trend; Jennifer Aniston and Kourtney Kardashian advocate for ingesting collagen and tons of Amazon’s best-selling skin products revolve around the ingredient, including serums that have skyrocketed in popularity.
The reason: Our body’s natural collagen production weakens as we age, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner previously told InStyle. Collagen is composed of three polypeptide chains, so using them topically can stimulate your skin to pump up its collagen creation and return youthful texture to your face. Since launching last month, the reviews for Garner’s favorite new cream back up the science and its promise of a “visibly lifted, firmer-looking” appearance.
“Beyond making my skin look and feel smoother, healthier, and more rejuvenated, the serum and cream have helped firm and tighten the skin along my cheeks and jawline,” one shopper in their 50s writes. “My cheekbones appear more pronounced, my face looks less puffy, and my skin no longer looks/feels crepey. I enthusiastically recommend these products to others my age who are trying to achieve firmer, younger-looking skin.”
Another person testifies that the fast-absorbing, lifting cream plumped up their fine lines within a week, bringing a hefty dose of moisture to super dry skin and cinching in their sagging neck. “For that alone, it gets five stars,” the reviewer says. “It also helps with those stupid lines around your mouth, and I swear there’s an improvement with less pronounced marionette lines, so I don’t look like I am super unhappy all of the time.”
In just under two weeks, the cream fades forehead wrinkles into a shadow of their once-pronounced self, tones down laugh lines and under-eye puffiness, and scraps rough patches altogether. Others say the immediate tightening effect blurs and smooths fine lines from the jump, and within a couple weeks firmed up their jowls without requiring the “guts or the money” needed for more invasive work.
Garner’s use of the cream and lack of furrowed wrinkles only makes sense — she comes off as a chronically happy person, and while no one’s joyous 24/7, it could be Neutrogena’s innovation that makes it seem that way. Try the drugstore’s newest wonder for $30 and see the changes for yourself.
The brightening skincare ingredient can tackle hyperpigmentation.
As far as brightening skincare ingredients go, vitamin C is an A-list star. However, there are other effective ingredients that can treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, sun damage, or melasma that deserve some time in the spotlight, too.
Tranexamic acid is one such ingredient having a moment, with more and more skincare influencers and beauty brands shining light on its benefits and including it in product formulas. While tranexamic acid can be effective on its own, it works even better as an ensemble with other dark spot-fighting ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid, niacinamide, and more.
What Is Tranexamic Acid?
“Tranexamic acid is a synthetic form of lysine, which is an amino acid needed to make proteins,” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, board-certified dermatologist in NYC. “It works by decreasing the production of melanin and we know that the oral form is much more effective at treating melasma than topical form. That being said, serums and other products that contain this ingredient have a lot of potential to help improve hyperpigmentation.”
The ingredient originally was used as a hemostatic agent to help blood clots, but recently has been utilized as a brightening ingredient to help minimize hyperpigmentation as well as melasma.
What Are the Benefits of Using Tranexamic Acid?
One of the major benefits of tranexamic acid is that it plays nice with other brightening ingredients, so you can really zero in on hyperpigmentation.
“There are many treatments for dark spots and these often work well together including licorice, niacinamide, kojic acid, tranexemic acid, retinoids, chemical exfoliants [such as glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid], and more,” Dr. Marchbein says. The dermatologist often recommends serums with tranexamic acid and other brightening agents be used in the same routine for the ingredients to work synergistically to improve post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Tranexamic acid is also a safer, effective alternative to hydroquinone, a potentially irritating bleaching ingredient. “There aren’t many options when it comes to safe, effective skin lightening bioactives,” says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. “Hydroquinone is banned in the EU and restricted in many countries due to its safety concerns. Tranexamic acid has shown promising evidence as a plasmin inhibitor and therefore an effective treatment for UV induced discoloration, dark spots, and redness.”
What Are the Side Effects of Tranexamic Acid?
All skin types can use tranexamic acid, but like adding any other new ingredient to your skincare routine, it’s best to do a patch test to ensure you won’t experience irritation.
It’s also important to wear SPF when using tranexamic acid, along with other brightening ingredients, because the sun can make hyperpigmentation darker.
“Remember that before you spend your money on antioxidant serums, brightening ingredients, and retinoids to improve the tone of your skin and hyperpigmentation, the most important and first step is diligent daily sun protection,” Dr. Marchbein says. “It is key to reduce the appearance of brown spots (otherwise you are literally throwing your money away).” The dermatologist recommends a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher should be applied to the face, neck, and ears every day — even in the winter.
How Do You Add Tranexamic Acid to Your Skincare Routine?
Dr. Marchbein says to use tranexamic acid once or twice a day. “I also layer tranexamic acid containing serums over Vitamin C serums and under SPF in the morning and under retinoids at nighttime, so this can safely and effectively be combined with multiple other actives.”
The active can be found in serums, moisturizers, and toners, so it’s entirely up to you what step of your routine in which you want to incorporate it.
That being said, Koestline says serums are a popular way to go. “Most people do like using actives in their serum layer since you’re applying it before other products.”
Shop Tranexamic Acid Skincare Products:
SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense
Dr. Marchbein is a fan of this serum by SkinCeuticals, which she often recommends to patients treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. It’s infused with tranexamic acid, along with kojic acid and niacinamide, another two tried-and-true brightening ingredients.
Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment
In addition to niacinamide, the all-star cast of Peter Thomas Roth’s discoloration treatment includes tranexmic and kojic acids, alpha arbutin, and pentapeptide. The lightweight cream can be applied twice a day on clean skin and is best followed by a moisturizer.
Puffiness? Dark circles? Dryness? Crow’s feet? This eye mask by celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas checks all the boxes. It’s powered by brightening tranexamic acid, collagen-boosting matrixyl, soothing allantoin, and hydrating licorice root extract.
If post-breakout dark spots, hyperpigmentation, or dullness are your main skincare concerns, try swapping your usual moisturizer for this overnight treatment. Powered by tranexamic acid, vitamin C, and acai berry extract, it targets areas of discoloration and boosts overall radiance.
Dr. Marchbein says SkinMedica’s Lytera 2.0 serum is another great option for treating discoloration. It combines tranexamic acid with niacinamide, phytic acid, phenylethyl resorcinol, and a marine extract blend to improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation without drying out skin.
If you’re a fan of hybrid beauty products that do it all in one step, Amazon shoppers think you’ll love Garnier’s SPF-infused serum creams.
The Garnier SkinActive Green Labs serums are available in three different versions: Hyalu-Melon for plumping, Pinea-C for brightening, and Canna-B for “pore perfecting” and mattifying. The three-in-one product is a serum, moisturizer, and SPF 30 sunscreen. Formulated without parabens, mineral oil, or dyes, the serums are non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog pores), provide all-day hydration, and are suitable for all skin types and tones, according to the brand. The multi-use serums have become quite popular over the last few months — so much so that they’re selling out at retailers like CVS, according to a brand representative.
Fortunately, all three serums are still in stock at Amazon, and they’ve collectively racked up hundreds of positive reviews since launching. Shoppers say the serum creams are so moisturizing that they’ll leave your skin “dewy and glowing,” and are even “as good as $100 products.” Each serum also comes with a sample of Garnier’s popular micellar cleansing water.
Customers seem to particularly love the Pinea-C serum, which is formulated with vitamin C and pineapple to tackle dull skin and dark spots. One shopper wrote: “This multitasker feels indulgently soft and rich on my face, which has stayed pleasantly hydrated and nourished all day. It combines several steps in my morning routine into one application, saving me time and multiple coins.”
Shoppers also say they’ve noticed a “major pore reduction” when using the Canna-B serum, which is made with blemish-fighting niacinamide. The mattifying serum “works great for oily skin,” but still leaves skin “moist and supple for hours,” according to reviewers.
If your skin concerns include fine lines, customers rave that the anti-aging Hyalu-Melon serum, made with hyaluronic acid and watermelon fruit extract, has made them look “10 years younger” after just a few days of use. Others note that it smells refreshing, and thanks to its creamy texture, “a little goes a long way.”
The long, dark days of winter are officially behind us, but the effects may linger in the form of dull, lackluster skin. Fortunately, the seasonal shift brings a sense of renewal, the welcome shedding of layers—and there’s no reason that should stop with your wardrobe.
“Spring is an ideal time of the year to start incorporating retinol into your routine,” says Onyeka Obioha, M.D., a dermatologist in Los Angeles. She joins a perpetual chorus of experts championing the ingredient as a means to brighter, smoother skin. Plus, she adds, “in warmer months, people are able to better tolerate it.”
For the uninitiated, retinol and other derivatives of vitamin A (together, they fall under the umbrella category of “retinoids”) count among the hardest-working ingredients in the skin-care realm. Vitamin A offers a multitude of benefits for skin: Thanks to its ability to speed cell turnover and spur collagen production, it can help smooth out wrinkles and fine lines, brighten dark spots and discoloration, and even quell breakouts. (The prescription-strength form called tretinoin—known by its brand name, Retin-A—originally launched as an acne medication before people realized its broader utility.) “When it comes to visibly improving the texture and appearance of your skin while preventing signs of aging, retinol is unmatched,” says Austin-based esthetician Renée Rouleau.
There is a common downside. Because the ingredient is so powerful, explains Rouleau, “it can also come with unwanted side effects, like dryness, flaking, irritation, and sensitivity, for a lot of people, especially during the first four to six weeks.” (Retinoids are not advised for those who are pregnant or nursing.) Although over-the-counter forms of retinol tend to be milder than the derm-prescribed counterpart, it’s still wise to wade in slowly. Obioha recommends starting with a pea-size amount three nights a week, then gradually increasing from there. Following up with daytime sun protection is of utmost importance, since retinol can increase skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.
Even if you’ve had a touch-and-go experience with retinol in the past, recent formulations designed with tolerance in mind offer an incentive to dip back in. There’s no better time for a fresh start.
Shani Darden Retinol Reform Serum
Created by Los Angeles aesthetician Shani Darden, this cream combines retinol with lactic acid and anti-inflammatory niacinamide. It’s a strategic pairing, with the lactic acid delivering immediate smoothing and hydrating benefits while retinol gets to work from within.
StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum
While vitamin C certainly has a starring role in many retinol products, it doesn’t always match the power of a dedicated vitamin C serum. Not so with this dual-action serum, which offers that dream team at high concentrations to improve skin tone and texture.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Topical Retinoid Acne Treatment
If you’re experiencing acne lately, you’re not alone. “Warmer temperatures and an increase in humidity can cause buildup on the skin, which clogs pores and can result in breakouts,” says Obioha. This powerful treatment uses adapalene, which is the sole prescription-strength retinoid available without an Rx, to help maintain a clear complexion.
As protective face masks are still de rigueur, so is maskne. Retinol can help. “It can work to increase skin cell turnover and unclog pores,” says Obioha. Salicylic acid in this oil offers acne-fighting benefits on the spot, while the retinol works to prevent future breakouts.
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules
Concentration isn’t the only thing that matters in a skin-care formula—potency does, too. These sealed, biodegradable capsules keep the combination of retinol and antioxidants fresh and at peak efficacy until it’s applied to the skin.
Why settle for one type of retinol when you can have three? This potent cream consists of a fast-acting retinol, a time-release version, and a retinol booster for peak efficiency. Lest your skin starts to feel dry just reading that, not to worry: Niacinamide gives it proper credibility as a calming night treatment, too.
To amp up the power of this night oil, retinol is paired with salicylic acid, which is prized in its own right for its ability to gently lift dead skin cells. In practice, this ultimately clears the way for retinol to better penetrate—in turn yielding results in as little as one week.
IT Cosmetics Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream
Retinol is uniquely equipped to handle signs of aging. “Retinoids actually build collagen and thicken the dermis layer of the skin, which makes the skin appear plump and healthy,” says Obioha. This hybrid formula pairs both free and encapsulated retinol molecules—the better to reach multiple layers of skin—with soothing niacinamide.
Fine lines and deeper wrinkles can’t be blamed on a single culprit. Conversely, their treatment approach isn’t singular, either. That’s why this serum combines retinol with a collagen-boosting blend of peptides, vitamin C, and botanical extracts, which together work to firm and smooth skin.
If you’ve been on the internet within the past year, chances are you’ve read about The Ordinary or have seen photos of its minimalistic products (picture what face serums would look like if Apple made them). The Canadian skincare brand has everything from facial peels to zinc serums at super affordable prices — which is why it’s amassed a cult-like following.
Because the brand has so much to offer, it’s hard to figure out what to start with, especially when anti-aging is on your mind. There’s a ton of competing information out there when it comes to skincare, which is why I usually opt for reviews from Reddit and advice from dermatologists.
There are no skincare fanatics out there quite like those on beauty subreddits. They’ve tested out every product imaginable, and give raw advice and reviews like a best friend. When it comes to what works and what doesn’t, Reddit doesn’t hold back. Here’s what they have to say about some of The Ordinary’s anti-aging offerings.
“I’ve had a great response to Alpha Arbutin from the Ordinary. I really notice a difference that I hadn’t achieved with retinol or vitamin C, which are commonly used. Something to keep in mind if you try the common solutions and don’t see the results you’re after.”
“The alpha arbutin works on my dark spots. I noticed they fade faster than my usual routine. I also use niacinamide for my whole face to target oiliness. The AA, I patch it only on my dark spots. But you have to combine it with regular exfoliation and sunscreen.”
Best to combat puffy eyes: Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG
“At the moment I have a cold that morphed into a sinus infection (the JOY!). I’m even puffier than usual. Normally I would patch test, but what with not feeling well and looking like a freaking basset hound I thought screw this sh*t and put it on. It bloody works! You can see the difference almost immediately (this coming from me is a high praise :)”
Best for fine lines and wrinkles: Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion
“It eliminated most of the fine lines on my forehead (I’m 28, combo skin, prone to breakouts). Makes my skin very smooth too! I started on the 1 percent in squalane in December but I think that made me break out so I switched back.
It did take me a couple of months to really see the difference though, but I read somewhere retinoids take at least min six to eight weeks to reach their top effect (the anti-aging part at least, don’t know about the acne prevention)… But I’m really happy now!“
“I currently [use] the Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%, it’s only been two days and my skin when I wake up is so glowy and well-hydrated. I’ve been letting it sit at night for about 30 mins before adding my Ponds Hydrating Cream.”
Best for evening skin texture: Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
“I’ve been raving about this stuff on this sub for a while now (and being consistently downvoted for some reason). It really is a game changer. I can’t use it every day because my skin is very thin and sensitive but on the days I do use it it gives me porcelain skin.”
Whether you’re a 13-stepper or keep it narrowed down to the basics, every skincare routine should have a reliable night cream in its roster. After cleansing away the day, a hydrating cream is the finishing touch that works its magic while you sleep, a perk that’s safe to say both the highly invested and relaxed can get behind.
And when that night cream is packed with anti-aging ingredients like retinol at a price of $12, Amazon shoppers say it’s worth shouting about from the rooftops.
With hundreds of reviews praising its wrinkle-reversing and hydrating benefits, Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream is one of the retailer’s overall best-sellers alongside some heavy hitters in the category of facial night creams. The hypoallergenic and fragrance-free pick is so beloved by shoppers, some say they’ve been using it for more than a decade.
The secret to the cream’s clock-fighting power lies in its inclusion of retinol, a derivative of vitamin A that reduces fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. “This cream works,”one reviewer shared. “I bought this cream because, for years, I have been using sunscreen on my face and not on my neck. I live in Florida, so I’ve developed droopy and wrinkled skin on my neck. Within a week of using this [cream], the appearance of my neck has greatly improved! I’ve been FaceTiming a lot with family during the quarantine, and they’ve noticed as well that my neck looks way better and less wrinkly. I’m surprised at how quickly I’ve seen an effect!”
Even with powerful retinol in its formula, the best-selling Neutrogena cream deeply moisturizes thanks to a blend of vitamin B5 and E, which specifically work to smooth and soften skin. And since it’s oil-free, you don’t have to worry about it causing pore congestion.
“When I woke up after the very first night of using this cream, I already noticed a dramatic difference,” another shopper said. “I’ve suffered from dermatitis on my forehead for as long as I can remember and have been trying for years to find a product to bring it down. Well, this is it. After one night I already saw my bumps go down significantly. I don’t know what it has done to my skin but I am very grateful for this product!”
From fading dark spots to improving adult acne, this is one product you don’t want to skip!
In the over-the-counter battle against breakouts, there are a few key players you should know about, and salicylic acid is at the top of that list. Simply speaking, salicylic acid is one of acne’s biggest enemies. You reach for a product within the second you see a zit invading your face. You slather it on a pimple overnight and oftentimes, you wake up in the morning with a pimple that is dried up and much less noticeable. But, what exactly does salicylic acid do, and what are the best ways to reap its benefits?
What is salicylic acid?
First off, let’s establish what salicylic acid is. It’s a little complicated, but the exact structure of salicylic acid is important in explaining why (and how) it works so well. When it comes to skin-care products, there are two classes of acids you’ll see often: beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).
“Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. “[This] means the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, as opposed to an alpha hydroxy acid where they’re separated by one carbon atom.”
Furthermore, salicylic acid is actually derived from willow bark, says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, and it belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates. Are you still with me? Good, because this is where it gets fun. “This structure is important because it makes salicylic acid more oil-soluble so it can penetrate into the pores of the skin,” Schueller says.
Both alpha and beta hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin, but AHAs are water-soluble, while BHAs are oil-soluble, explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Sejal Shah. Examples of AHAs, for reference, include glycolic and lactic acids.
“Generally, oil-soluble ingredients penetrate through the lipid layers between the skin cells more readily,” Shah explains. In other words, oil-soluble ingredients can penetrate the skin at a deeper level than their water-soluble counterparts.
Robinson sums up their differences succinctly. “AHAs work well on the skin’s surface to loosen old, dead skin and reveal fresh newer skin,” he says. “Salicylic acid works deeper [and is] able to penetrate into the pores to unclog them.”
What does salicylic acid do for the skin?
What all of this means is that salicylic acid can get deep into your skin to do its job. This quality is precisely what makes salicylic acid such a potent ingredient for targeting acne — especially for blackheads and whiteheads.
Once it penetrates the skin, salicylic acid “dissolves skin debris that clogs pores, [acts] as an anti-inflammatory and also helps red inflamed pimples and pustules go away faster,” explains Naissan O. Wesley, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.
The ingredient can penetrate so deeply into skin that actually breaks down the connections between skin cells, according to Schueller and Wesley. “Once it has penetrated the skin, the acid part of the molecule can dissolve some of the intracellular ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together,” says Schueller.
Salicylic acid is also an exfoliant.
This breaking down of skin cells also promotes exfoliation. Salicylic acid is considered a keratolytic medication, which means that it’s perfect for supreme exfoliation. “Keratolytic medications cause softening and sloughing of the top layer of skin cells,” says Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Salicylic acid also loosens and breaks apart desmosomes (attachments between cells in the outer layer of skin). “This ‘desmolytic’ action encourages exfoliation of skin and unclogging of pores,” says Sue Ann Wee, a dermatologist in New York City.
“One thought etiology of acne is that the skin cells do not behave normally, and rather than sloughing off through a healthy skin cell cycle, they stick together and clog the pores, creating cysts and blackheads,” says Nazarian. “Salicylic acid aids in removing and loosening these skin cells and helps to dissolve the blackheads.”
Salicylic acid works best on blackheads and whiteheads.
Schueller says there are three factors that contribute to acne: an abnormal sloughing off of skin cells, excessive oiliness, and the action of P. acnes bacteria. “Salicylic acid helps with the first cause by dissolving the type of skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne,” he says.
Therefore, the best acne to treat with salicylic acid are blackheads and whiteheads. “Salicylic acid can directly dissolve the keratin plugs and regulate the skin cells,” says Nazarian. “It does have some effectiveness against cystic acne due to its antibacterial activity, but less so than the classic blackheads and whiteheads.”
Who should avoid using salicylic acid?
You can actually use too much salicylic acid, which can become a problem. “The primary negative side effect of salicylic acid is its ability to irritate and dry skin in those that are very sensitive or those who overuse it,” says Nazarian.
“Depending on the concentration and the number of applications, some people may experience dryness, peeling, redness, and some skin irritation,” says Schueller. For this reason, those with skin that’s already severely dry or sensitive should consider avoiding SA altogether. It’s also not the best choice if you are pregnant or taking certain medications, including blood thinners.
What’s more serious: “Applying salicylic acid or any salicylate to very large portions of your body can lead to salicylate poisoning.” So just don’t apply a layer of it all over — stick to only acne-prone areas.
What are the best salicylic acid-containing skincare products to use for acne?
As with many things in life, the answer to this question depends largely on the individual. “Depending on the severity of their acne, I may recommend an [SA-containing] acne wash, such as SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser, which contains a blend of salicylic acids,” says Wesley. “For mild acne that just occurs every so often, an acne spot treatment can be helpful, especially when applied early.”
As far as concentrations go, the Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to make acne-fighting claims for salicylic acid-containing products if they use it at levels between 0.5 percent and 2 percent, so that is the full range you’ll find in over the counter skin-care products. For chemical peels performed at the dermatologist’s office, the concentration may be as high as 20 to 30 percent, Wesley says.
Salicylic acid isn’t just for blackheads, according to experts. “At lower levels, salicylic acid can speed up the desquamation process and aid in conditions such as dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, which are caused by a slowing down of skin cells sloughing off,” says Schueller. Pretty cool.