The 14 Best Retinol Products of 2020

Kate Somerville RetAsphere 2-in-1 Retinol Night Cream

This two-in-one night cream diminishes the appearance of wrinkles and evens out skin texture and tone. Plus, this formula packs its retinol in a lipid shell, meaning it minimizes irritation and dryness that can sometimes occur as a result of retinol.

Buy on Amazon $69

OLAY Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum

Relying on a blend of vitamin B3 and retinol, this night serum works to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots, and enlarged pores — and keeps skin hydrated for 24 hours (hence the name). One reviewer, who said she’s been using Olay products since she was 14, noted that the product is “like fine wine.” She added: “Olay has tapped into the Fountain of Youth with this new line.”

Buy at Walmart $20

Verso Night Cream

If you’re down with the latest trends in retinol, then you may have heard of retinyl retinoate, an alternative to retinol that is said to boast the same benefits as its older sister (like increased collagen production and a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles) minus the skin irritation. Verso’s rich night cream also contains antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, as well as hyaluronlic acid and jojoba. 

Buy at Dermstore $90

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Face Moisturizer

Scoop this Neutrogena pick up at your local drugstore and you’ll start to see benefits in a week. Anti-aging retinol and hyaluronic acid work together to plump and moisturize skin, reducing the look of deep wrinkles, including pesky crow’s feet.

Buy at Walmart $18

Dr. Brandt Skincare 24/7 Retinol Eye Cream

If you’re looking for a brightening and anti-aging eye cream you can use morning or night, this one might just be your new go-to. It contains light-reflecting particles to instantly soften the look of dark circles and keeps fine lines around the eyes in check with time-released retinol.

Buy at Sephora $55

SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream

If you’ve been using a product with .5 percent retinol and looking for a little more oomph, consider this night cream from SkinCeuticals, which contains 1 percent retinol — plus ultra-soothing chamomile, frankincense, and shea butter. “The difference is amazing,” one reviewer, who has used the product for over a year, wrote. “At 62, my skin looks better than three years ago. My sun damage is gone.” 

Buy at Dermstore $88

Naturopathica Argan & Retinol Wrinkle Repair Night Cream 

If you’re looking to target fine lines and wrinkles but are prone to irritation, try this retinol night cream from Naturopathica. It uses encapsulated retinol plus argan plant stem cells and castor oil for a natural dose of moisture. 

Buy at Dermstore $120

Jordan Samuel Skin Retinol Treatment Oil

Thanks to the addition of soothing and hydrating marula oil, this retinol treatment oil works as a moisturizer, too — so you can apply as the last step in your skincare routine and call it a night.

Buy on their website $43

Skinbetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream

If you have sensitive or dry skin but want to start using a retinol cream, then this formula may be a match made in heaven for you. Not only does it address wrinkles, dullness, and dark spots, but it also serves as a skin-soothing moisturizer thanks to the addition of lactic acid, an exfoliant and humectant. 

Buy on their website $125

The Ordinary Advanced Retinol 2%

It’s hard to beat The Ordinary when it comes to an affordable and non-irritating retinol serum. The formula was created without parabens, sulfates, or phthalates and uses two forms of retinol known to cause less redness and irritation.

Buy at Sephora $10

LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream Moisturizer

This budget-friendly cream is Amazon’s “most wished for” moisturizer, which really just means one thing — you need to get your hands on it STAT. And with no oily residue and the ability to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, there’s really no reason not to place an order.

Buy on Amazon $20

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

Cult-favorite millennial brand Drunk Elephant finally released a retinol cream and it was worth the wait. Along with gentle 1 percent vegan retinol it contains ingredients like passionfruit, apricot, marula and jojoba oils to nourish and moisturize skin while fighting fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage. 

Buy at Sephora $74

RoC Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Eye Cream Treatment

A roundup of retinol products really wouldn’t be complete without this drugstore staple. The RoC formula targets fine lines and wrinkles in the eye area and helps improve the appearance of dark circles and undereye puffiness in as little as four weeks.

Buy on Amazon $18

La Roche-Posay Redermic R Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

If you like the lightweight feel of a serum, then this retinol treatment might be the pick for you. The topical treatment also includes lipo-hydroxy acid which acts as an exfoliator and visibly reduces wrinkles, fine lines, and crow’s feet. One reviewer said she has noticed overall smoother skin and fewer breakouts after using the product for a month. She added: “I’ve had a record number of mornings in the last month where I’ve looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Yeah, I look good today.’”

Buy on Amazon $50

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11 Retinol Myths That Dermatologists Want You to Stop Believing

The discussion surrounding the ‘R’ word is a frenzied one. Retinoids (the umbrella term for retinol products) are powerful enough to improve skin texture, pigmentation, and tone in just a few drops of serum or dollops of cream. The transformative effects on your skin are due to very potent formulations, which have caused retinols to garner a lot of differing opinions — and even more questions. When should you use them (along with when should you definitely steer clear of them)? How do the formulas work? Are they compatible with sensitive skin? And even, how do you refer to them? Are they retinols? And what’s retin-A? These questions and more have confused many a skin-care fanatic.

Below are 11 myths about retinols and the truth behind them.

All these ingredients starting with ‘R’ (Retinol, Retinoic Acid) basically do the same thing.

Yes and no. Prescription formulas contain retinoic acid, the magic ingredient that fights visible aging; nonprescription alternatives need to be converted into retinoic acid by the skin at the cellular level. “In off-the-shelf formulas, the ingredient called retinol is the only derivative of vitamin A worth using,” says Dana Sachs, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “There’s a lot of literature showing that while retinol is more gentle than retinoic acid, biochemically it does exactly the same thing — it may just take longer to see results.” The same can’t be said for the derivatives called pro-retinols (aka, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate), which are the most gentle — but weaker, too. Of the formulas shown here, Retin-A requires a prescription, but the others are available over the counter: Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5 contains retinol, while Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream has retinyl propionate, a less irritating form of vitamin A.

Retinoids work by exfoliating your skin.

Honestly, we thought they swept away dead skin cells, too. “There’s often peeling and redness, but that’s a side effect of the irritation, not a true and even exfoliation like the one you get from an ingredient like glycolic acid,” says Sachs. “The peeling is certainly not why people start looking better. In fact, it’s why most people give it up.” Retinoids work at a much more profound level by affecting gene expression and causing enhanced collagen production, skin smoothing, and an evening of pigmentation.

You shouldn’t wear retinoids during the day because they increase your risk of sunburn.

Are you sitting down? “This is one of the biggest myths out there,” says Sachs. It’s true that retinoids break down in sunlight, which is why they are bottled in opaque packaging and are still best worn at night to make sure they aren’t rendered inactive. However, they do not make the skin more prone to sunburn. “This misconception came about because in some early studies, people described putting on a retinoid, walking into the sun, and immediately burning. But that redness is likely related to heat exposure,” says Sachs. “Clinical studies have shown pretty definitively that retinoids do not lower the MED — or minimal erythemal dos — of human skin, which is the amount of UV light you can take before the skin burns.”

You should always apply retinoids to dry skin.

Sometimes, even doctors break the rules: “I know the instructions on the box often recommend waiting until your face is completely dry before applying a retinoid,” says Sachs. “But there’s no evidence in the scientific literature I’ve seen that shows damp or wet skin exacerbates sensitivity.” And while we’re on the topic, applying a retinoid to damp skin doesn’t maximize its potency, either. “Nothing having to do with application decides how much of the retinol is converted into retinoic acid, the form of vitamin A that actually repairs skin,” Sachs says. “That’s solely related to your skin’s chemistry and retinoid receptors.”

You’ll need to wait four to six weeks for your retinoid to really work.

We wish. Turns out it’ll be double — or even triple — that amount of time, according to Gary Fisher, a professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Many over-the-counter formulas claim you’ll see results within weeks,” says Fisher. “But in my experience, it takes an average of 12 weeks for retinoic acid to produce noticeable changes in the skin. So stick with it for at least that long to see the benefits.”

Gentle retinoids can be just as effective as stronger ones.

“The words ‘sensitive skin’ on a label (such as on RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream shown here) are often code for a low concentration of active ingredients,” says Sachs. However, dermatologists still recommend them because these lower concentrations (and soothing supplemental ingredients) make them the perfect gateway retinoid. “Once a patient with sensitive skin has tolerated a tube of that over a period of several weeks, we can then graduate to a stronger retinoid knowing the skin cells are now better adapted to handle it,” says Jonathan Weiss, an Atlanta-based dermatologist.

You should stop applying retinoid if your skin gets irritated.

In the words of our high-school cross-country coach, push through it. Irritation that flares up after adding vitamin A to your regimen is “all part of the process,” says Weiss. “We’ve seen clinically that after two or three weeks the skin cells adapt to the retinoic acid and begin to tolerate the ingredient.” The caveat: We’re talking about reasonably flushed, drier-than-usual, lightly peeling skin. “If the discomfort is prolonged or very uncomfortable, use it once a week or switch to a weaker formula,” says Sachs.

You can’t take your retinoid on vacation.

“A change in climate won’t suddenly make your skin react to a retinoid you were tolerating a few days earlier at home,” says Weiss. Once skin cells have adapted to the strength of the retinoid you’re applying, any irritation (called retinoid dermatitis) generally stops. “It’s unlikely to flare up again until you switch to something stronger,” says Weiss. Still, if you’re jumping on a long-haul flight or going skiing, it’s a good idea to layer a heavier moisturizer over your retinoid to avoid dryness, which makes skin more susceptible to irritation in general.

OK, but you shouldn’t take it with you on your beach vacation.

We’re still processing the fact that retinoids don’t increase your risk of sunburn, too. But get this: Combining retinoids with island hopping may even be a good thing. They not only boost collagen production, but may also have the potential to stop photoaging before it starts. “They’ve been shown to prevent the rise of collagenase — the enzyme that breaks down collagen — after UV exposure,” says Sachs.

Don’t put retinoids around your eyes. The skin there is too sensitive.

Not only can you, you really should — that’s where most of the damage shows up, says Weiss. “Studies have shown that people who apply retinoids right up to the eyes get the best results.” And if you get it in your eye? “It may sting a little, but it won’t do any harm,” says Weiss, and the skin there is no more likely to get red or flaky than anywhere else on the face.

The skin-smoothing benefits of retinoids plateau after six months.

“Several clinical studies have shown that prescription retinoids will significantly improve skin for over a year,” says Weiss — and Johnson & Johnson recently completed a trial demonstrating that over-the-counter retinol smooths wrinkles and fades blotches over 12 months, too. OK, so what are you supposed to do after the year is up? The answer isn’t to rush off and embrace a new ingredient (peptides, anyone?). Your skin may just be ready for a stronger prescription retinoid, says Weiss.

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The Best The Ordinary Products Worth Your Money

Few brands have revolutionized the way we shop for skin care the way The Ordinary has. Before the Canadian brand burst onto the scene, accessibility to cheap high-quality products had mostly been restricted to makeup. Even with so much innovation among drugstore skin-care brands, few affordable options really rival what luxury serums and moisturizers have to offer.

That’s why buzz for the best The Ordinary products refuses to die down. The brand takes a clinical, science-based approach to skin care and specializes in single-ingredient-driven products that deliver targeted results. The best part? Nothing costs more than $20. In fact, the majority of it clocks in for less than $10. This is largely in part thanks to The Ordinary’s dedication to transparency, resulting in prices that aren’t significantly marked up.

But despite its low price point, the brand can be intimidating. Because the names of the products refer to skin-care ingredients–not results—they all sound like something out of an advanced medical textbook. Meaning you’re left trying to decipher what the hell ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (a vitamin C derivative) or epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside (an anti-inflammatory compound in green tea) does.

GLAMOUR editors went through hundreds of dollars of The Ordinary skin-care products to help explain the cryptic descriptions of each and narrow down what’s actually worth adding to our medicine cabinets. 

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

For true, deep moisture, you’re supposed to use a serum or acid that can penetrate deeper than your standard emollient. Enter hyaluronic acid. It provides a healthy glow, leaves the skin dewy but not oily.

$7 at Sephora

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Yes, part of this product’s appeal is that it looks like you’re doing an at-home blood facial, but the results are just as Instagrammable. The mix of AHAs and BHAs deeply exfoliates to clear up congestion, dead skin, and hyperpigmentation. The skin looks brighter and smoother after one use—with no irritation to sensitive skin.

$7.50 at SkinStore

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

Apply a pea-size dollop once every day for a week after washing the face. The moisturizer comes out with a sunscreen-like consistency, but it blends in with the skin in seconds. After a week of using it, the cheeks would be plump and flake-free, probably because it has hyaluronic acid, which helps skin cells retain moisture. With such noticeable results for a low-maintenance moisturizer, we can count on this for the winter months.

$7.70 at Sephora

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%

The mornings after use (preferably three times a week), the skin is brighter, glowier, and a smidge bouncier.

$6.80 at ULTA

The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer 

The first noticeable thing about The Ordinary’s High-Adherence Silicone Primer is its texture, which feels just like a creamy moisturizing lotion. Once applied, it makes the skin feel so soft that you almost don’t want to put on makeup for fear of losing the silkiness. The makeup goes on smooth and stays matte throughout the day.

$4.90 at Sephora

The Ordinary Pycnogenol 5%

Pycnogenol is an extract derived from pine trees that has the ability to boost collagen and elastin production in your skin. Plus, it’s a great hydrator. The skin looks and feels healthier after using it.

$11.90 at LookFantastic

The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil 

It’s great for moisturizing and nourishing the skin, yet it still feels lightweight. Using it in tandem with a retinol can significantly fade post-acne hyperpigmentation, and it definitely makes a difference in the glow factor. It has a slightly earthy smell.

$9.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution 

In reality, chemical exfoliants are much gentler and better than physical exfoliants, like face scrubs or loofas. This glycolic acid visibly resurfaces the skin, and it’s pretty gentle—though you shouldn’t use it more than every other night. Plus it’s affordable and lasts forever.

$8.70 at Sephora

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 

I’ve always been curious about azelaic acid, since I’ve heard it can treat both acne and dark spots while being safe enough to use even during pregnancy. The texture is super luxe and absorbs nicely, can provide an improvement on a stubborn breakout, and make post-acne dark spots look less opaque.

 $8.20 at LookFantastic

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG

While it doesn’t help with dark circles (sadly, not much will), the lightweight serum instantly de-puffs and smooths out any baggage. It brightens the eyes in seconds, and makes it look like you got a full eight hours of sleep.

$6.70 at Sephora

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion

This is an incredibly gentle retinol option. The serum is an almost milky consistency, and after a month of using it, users report that they’ve started to see a few lines on their foreheads fade. It’s also a wonder for smoothing out the texture of the skin.

$9.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%

Perfect for a pre-bedtime ritual, it’s is only $5; plus, it can be mixed with your other favourite serums to reduce its somewhat gritty texture. If you’re looking to fight wrinkles and even out your skin tone, this one is a great bet.

$5.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

Squalane is a fantastic hydrator—it’s nonsticky, fast-absorbing, and has humectant (meaning, moisture-drawing) properties that work in tandem to make your skin look crazy plump. The downside is that it’s traditionally derived from animals. But that’s not the case with this serum. Instead, it’s powered by plants, so you feel even better about using it when you see dewy, bouncy skin.

$8.20 at LookFantastic

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F

The name of this sounds insane (and impossible to pronounce), and I’ll admit that, going in, I had no idea what it did. After a little research and a test-drive, though, I’m sold. It’s basically a form of vitamin C (which helps brighten and even out your skin tone), while vitamin F is a fatty acid rich in omega-6 that helps maintain your skin barrier (when it’s disrupted, all kinds of things like acne and redness occur). You notice a major difference in the condition of the skin after just one use—it is noticeably smoother, firmer, and overall much brighter and more radiant.

$17.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

It’s lower-strength and delivered with squalane, so it’s a bit less irritating than other ones out there. Start by using it one to three times per week, use it only at night, and know that if you don’t wear sunscreen after using it, it will damage your skin.

$5.80 at ULTA

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

Mandelic acid is really slept on—and hard to find—so it’s exciting to see this hyperpigmentation-fighting superstar available at a lower price point. It’s super gentle yet has helped reduce some of the acne as well as the scars it leaves behind.

$6.80 at ULTA

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

This pocket-sized, super-affordable charcoal-colored mask is the only thing that’s been helping with my quarantine breakouts. I rate it highly for both skintertainment and effectiveness. It gives me a bright, exfoliated glow without irritating my skin. There is simply nothing more I want from a product.

$12 at ULTA

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