The Best Retinol Products For A Well-Timed Skin Reboot

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.

Shop $88

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.

Shop $103

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.

Shop $30

Dermalogica Retinol Acne Clearing Oil

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.

Shop $80

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.

Shop $25

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

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.

Shop $82

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil

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.

Shop $23

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.

Shop $69

Clinique Smart Night Clinical MD Retinol Serum

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.

Shop $70

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The Most Exciting New Skincare Products From March

As we say “so long!” to the winter and enter the spring, it’s time to switch up our skincare routine because when the months change, your regimen should too. So, to help you out, I’m going to keep on sharing the newness that I know you’ll love so much. 

SK-II Skinpower Airy Milky Lotion

SK-II’s Skinpower Airy Milky Lotion is an airy, lightweight moisturizer that will plump up your skin as it’s hydrating it. Inside the little red jar, you’ll find a formula filled with calla lily extract, dokudami extract, and peony extract, which work together to give skin a bouncy, healthy look and feel.  

$160 (Shop Now

Versed Auto-Save Advanced Restoring Serum

If your skin is looking tired or dull, try the Versed Auto-Save Advanced Restoring Serum. Its formula has ferulic acid to diminish dark spots and shea butter to moisturize. Not to mention, there’s also microalgae in the mix, which will assist in brightening.  

$25 (Shop Now)  

Elizabeth Arden Visible Brightening CicaGlow Concentrate

Ready to glow? Elizabeth Arden has you covered with the new Visible Brightening CicaGlow Concentrate. This treatment is made with niacinamide and cica to help diminish hyperpigmentation and soothe skin. The top green liquid is loaded with vitamin C to brighten, while the orangey bottom has all the exfoliants in it, like chestnut extract. Shake them together, and say hello luminosity. 

$70 (Shop Now

Clark’s Botanical Jasmine Vital Oil

Clark’s Botanical Jasmine Vital Oil is made with a fast-drying, non-greasy formula that features virgin hemp and cottonseed oils to give skin a dewy, hydrated finish. Pat on a dropper-full of this oil before makeup, and you’ll have that glow-from-within vibe within seconds of applying.  

$99 (Shop Now)  

Dermalogica PowerBright Dark Spot Serum

Pimples can be a pain, but let’s not forget the dark spots that come after a breakout, too. With Dermalogica’s PowerBright Dark Spot Serum, you can diminish that hyperpigmentation in no time. Its ingredient list features niacinamide and shiitake mushroom, which will help brighten that unwanted discoloration (while simultaneously hydrating it) in no time.    

$95 (Shop Now)  

Chapstick Total Hydration Sea Minerals Exfoliator Lip Balm

Chapstick’s Total Hydration Sea Minerals Exfoliator Lip Balm features shea butter to moisturize and sea salt extract to buff away dead skin. This stick formula is also super convenient — the sleek, compact tube is tiny enough to go just about anywhere with you.

$8 (Shop Now

Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Butter

When you apply Isle of Paradise’s Self-Tanning Butter before you go to bed, you’ll wake up with the most natural-looking tan. The gradual formula has a faint green hue that works as a color corrector, so not only will you look bronze, but your tone will be nice and even.    

$25 (Shop Now)  

Dial Clean Gentle Body Wash

Dial’s Clean Gentle Body Wash comes in three scents: Fragrance-Free, Waterlily, and Aloe. It’s a vegan formula that leaves skin feeling hydrated, soft, and silky (thanks to the flower oil on the ingredient list) as it cleanses.   

$4 (Shop Now

Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser With Goji Berry Extract

If you love Philosophy’s Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser, you’re going to adore this limited-edition version. Like the original, this wash has meadowfoam seed oil, which melts away leftover debris and makeup, as well as goji berry extract, a Chinese fruit known to be a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation. 

$25 (Shop Now)  

Ole Henriksen Wrinkle Blur Bakuchiol Eye Gel es Créme 

Ole Henriksen’s latest eye cream, Wrinkle Blur Bakuchiol Eye Gel Créme, is — you guessed it — made with bakuchiol, a natural alternative to retinol. The pretty lavender formula also has orchid stem cell to reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles.

$49 (Shop Now

Curél Makeup Cleansing Oil

When you mix one pump of Curél’s Makeup Cleansing Oil with water you get a milky texture that instantly lifts makeup and even stubborn waterproof mascara. For that, you can thank the castor oil in the formula, which also leaves the skin feeling soft and looking dewy. 

$20 (Shop Now)  

Covey First of All Cleanser

Founded by model Emily DiDonato, new skincare brand Covey launched with three products in its collection, including the First of All Cleanser. It’s made with hydrating ingredients like aloe leaf juice and babassu oil to remove all dirt and makeup effortlessly without stripping skin.  

$29 (Shop Now

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Firming Collagen Cream

Made with colloidal oatmeal to calm the skin and niacinamide to reduce redness, First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Firming Collagen Cream is a dream for eczema- and acne-prone skin. Not to mention its thick texture is perfect for what’s left of these dry, winter days. 

$42 (Shop Now)  

Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Moisture Essence

Elemis just launched its first-ever essence: the Pro-Collagen Marine Moisture. It’s made a hydrating blend of hyaluronic acid and sea spring water to plump skin and diminish dryness. Gently pat the treatment into your skin after cleansing and instantly reveal glowiness.  

$90 (Shop Now

Peace Out Blemish Balm 

Join me in welcoming Peace Out’s first cleanser: the Blemish Balm. Work this exfoliating formula into your skin in the morning and at night, and you’ll start to notice a clearer complexion, thanks to its salicylic acid. Plus, this jar also has hydrating hyaluronic acid in it, so don’t worry about drying your skin out. 

$22 (Shop Now)

Kate Somerville Kateceuticals Total Repair Cream

Kate Somerville’s Kateceuticals Total Repair Cream is formulated with hyaluronic acid and squalane to hydrate and a powerful blend of ceramides and peptides to smooth out any fine lines. Consider it a one-stop shop for softer, plumper skin.  

$120 (Shop Now)  

Thrive Causemetics Smart Microdermabrasion 2-in-1 Instant Facial

Get ready to scrub all of your skin concerns away with Thrive Causemetics’ Smart Microdermabrasion 2-in-1 Instant Facial. It’s made with a blend of alpha hydroxy acids to exfoliate and beta hydroxy acids to reduce the appearance of acne and enlarged pores. Use this treatment twice a week to reveal your softest, brightest skin.   

$44 (Shop Now)

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