• Retinol is an effective OTC treatment for lines and some types of wrinkles
  • Comparatively, it’s not as effective for treating acne
  • Side effects of retinol include skin dryness, redness and irritation
  • If ineffective, a dermatologist can prescribe a stronger treatment

Retinol is an ingredient added to skin creams and serums to treat wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and other skin problems.

It attaches to cells that have been damaged by excessive exposure to the sun and other environmental factors helping them return to their normal function. Retinol enables cells to preserve collagen, which is key to preventing and treating wrinkles and other skin problems.


What Is Retinol?

Made from vitamin A, retinol is a compound included in skin creams and serums that boosts collagen production to reduce fine lines and wrinkles as well as improve skin tone.

Retinol vs Retinoid

Both retinol and retinoids fall under the broader category of retinoids. Both are made from vitamin A and encourage the turnover of skin cells. Moreover, both are proven to be effective in the treatment of skin problems reducing lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

The difference lies in the strength. Retinol only comes in non-prescription strength and therefore is less apt to irritate the skin. Retinoids come in both prescription strength, which has been shown to thicken the deeper layer of skin where wrinkles begin to form, and non-prescription strength.

Benefits of Retinol for Your Skin

Though not as strong as retinoids and other prescription-strength medications, retinol is still a very effective skin care ingredient, hence why it’s found in numerous skin care products.

Anti-aging

Retinol is an excellent anti-aging treatment. It helps the skin rid itself of dead cells and produce new cells. It also boosts collagen production. The result is smoother skin and an improvement in the appearance of lines and wrinkles.

It is important to note, however, that retinol does not help the skin create new elastin. Beware of products that make this claim.

Retinol for acne

The OTC-strength retinol present in topical skincare products isn’t effective for the treatment of acne. To treat acne you’ll need to ask your dermatologist to supply you with prescription-strength Retin-A, which is far stronger, or for another more potent combination treatment.

How to Choose Retinol Skin Care Products

A simple search online will turn up dozens of retinol creams and serums. With so many products on the market it can be difficult to choose the right one.

The most important consideration when selecting a retinol product is the skin problem you need to address. Some products are designed to combat lines and wrinkles while others are meant to address irregular skin tone, and so forth.

If you have sensitive skin, choose a product designed for sensitive skin or all skin types.

If you’re seeking an acne treatment, see a dermatologist. Acne is best treated with prescription-strength retinoids and other prescription-grade products.

Best Retinol Creams & Moisturizers

While retinol can do wonders for your skin, it can also cause dryness, redness and irritation. Retinol creams and moisturizers have hydrating properties to counter these effects.

There are numerous retinol creams and moisturizers available over the counter. A few of the most popular are:

Miracle Retinol Moisturizer

Miracle Retinol Moisturizer

A retinol moisturizer containing 2.5% Retinol Complex with immediate and long-term release to promote beautiful skin.

Check price
Pros
  • Reduces the appearance of wrinkles and brightens skin tone
  • Supports production of collagen
  • Safe for all skin types
  • No fragrances, dyes, or parabens
Cons
  • Does not contain SPF

Baebody Retinol Moisturizer

Baebody Retinol Moisturizer

A unique blend of retinol, vitamin E, vitamin B5, shea butter, green tea, and Jojoba oil to promote quality skin care.

Check price
Pros
  • Helps reduce appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Lightweight and fast-absorbing
  • Can be used day and night
Cons
  • Can irritate the skin and cause a temporary burning and/or stinging sensation.

InstaNatural Retinol Moisturizer

InstaNatural Retinol Moisturizer

A retinol moisturizer with green tea for antioxidant benefits and beautiful skin.

Check price
Pros
  • Antioxidant benefits
  • Treats hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles
  • Good for a variety of skin types
Cons
  • SPF must be applied during the day
  • Can only be shipped within the U.S. and to APO/FPO addresses

Retinol Cream

Retinol Cream

A retinol cream combined with natural protective moisturizers.

Check price
Pros
  • Provides for smooth, hydrated skin.
  • Nourishing benefits of vitamin A
  • Contains natural protective moisturizers for soft, smooth, younger-looking skin
Cons
  • None

LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream

LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream

A maximum strength retinol cream designed to minimize flaking and peeling.

Check price
Pros
  • Can be used day and night
  • Visible changes with fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Fades sun damage, spots, and stretch marks
Cons
  • May cause irritation or redness
  • May be unsuitable if you are pregnant or nursing

Best Retinol Serums

While retinol creams are generally geared toward dry skin and typically contain moisturizing ingredients such as petrolatum and mineral oil, serums are generally water-based and more appropriate for oily skin.

Popular retinol serums include the following:

TruSkin RETINOL Serum

TruSkin RETINOL Serum

A retinol serum formulated to be used with other skin care products.

Check price
Pros
  • Improves fine lines, wrinkles, skin tone, skin texture, color, pigmentation, and skin hydration
  • Specially developed to layer well under other skin care products
  • Gentle formulation is suitable for even the most sensitive skin types
Cons
  • May cause skin-irritation or breakouts in people with allergies
  • Patch test must be performed prior to use

ToLB Retinol Serum

ToLB Retinol Serum

A 72% Organic Retinol Serum that helps counter the effects of aging and gives skin a youthful shine.

Check price
Pros
  • Non-greasy
  • Goes on smoothly and leaves no residue
Cons
  • Powerful formulation, so it is important to allow your skin to adjust to its effects
  • May cause redness or irritation
  • Takes at least 30-60 days to reach full effectiveness

Amara Beauty Retinol Serum 2.5%

Amara Beauty Retinol Serum 2.5%

A 2.5% retinol with moisturizing hyaluronic acid and Jojoba.

Check price
Pros
  • Clinically proven to improve fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation in as little as 12 weeks
  • Unclogs pores to clear up and prevent breakouts
  • Stimulates collagen production
Cons
  • Sunscreen must be used daily
  • Must be applied every other night for the first few weeks until the skin adjusts

Optimized Retinol Serum 2.5%

Optimized Retinol Serum 2.5%

A professional at-home retinol serum developed with medical-grade ingredients.

Check price
Pros
  • Fights typical signs of aging such as wrinkles, fine lines, crow’s feet
  • Stimulates collagen production
  • Treats age spots, sun spots, pigmentation issues, and discoloration
Cons
  • Can only be used at night
  • Sunscreen is required

InstaNatural Retinol Serum

InstaNatural Retinol Serum

A retinol serum containing a carefully formulated blend of ingredients to address the most common concerns of aging.

Check price
Pros
  • Specifically formulated to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation
  • Vitamin C helps repair skin damage and aging on the body, face, and neck
Cons
  • May cause redness and irritation
  • Sunscreen is required

Retinol Application Routines

Your retinol application routine will depend on the product (make sure to follow the instructions closely) and the skin problem(s) you are looking to address.

That being said, here are a few general guidelines:

How to use retinol for wrinkles

Before applying your retinol product, wash and dry your face. Unlike non-retinol-containing creams and serums, retinol creams shouldn’t be applied to semi-damp skin. Doing so can lead to irritation because the retinol is absorbed deeper into the skin layers.

Next, take a small amount of the retinol product and use your fingers to apply it in upward, lateral movements.

The next step is to apply moisturizer to the skin.

Finally, don’t forget to wear sunscreen the day after applying retinol products.

How to apply retinol around the eyes

It’s obviously important to avoid getting retinol in your eyes. With this in mind, avoid applying retinol cream to the upper eyelids and apply sparingly to the lower eyelid area.

Also, because the skin around the eyes is extremely sensitive, it’s important to combine the application of your retinol product with a moisturizer to protect the area. Start with a low-grade retinol product and apply it no more than two to three times a week at first.

Retinol Side Effects

Retinol use can lead to skin sensitivity, redness, peeling, and flaking.

As mentioned above, it’s important to use your retinol product on an ongoing basis in order to achieve results that last. However, continued use also translates into a higher risk of experiencing negative side effects.

The good news is that retinol side effects often dissipate as time goes on. That being said, should you experience side effects, it’s important that you visit a dermatologist for an examination.

Takeaway

Retinol boosts the skin’s production of collagen and as such is an effective treatment for certain skin problems. This includes lines and wrinkles but not acne or scarring, which require stronger treatments or combination of treatments.

It may be a good idea to start with an over-the-counter retinol product and if it proves ineffective switch to a prescription-strength retinoid or another stronger treatment.

Find a Nearby Provider

To learn more, seek out a board-certified dermatologist or other specialist. Be sure to view before-and-after photos of patients who have had skin issues similar to your own, as well as reviews from other patients who have used retinol.

Our blog is reader-supported. If you click on or buy something via a link on this page, we may earn a commission.

References

  • Harvard Medical School. (n.d.) Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles? health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-retinoids-really-reduce-wrinkles
  • Bouloc, A. , Vergnanini, A. L. and Issa, M. C. (2015), A double‐blind randomized study comparing the association of Retinol and LR2412 with tretinoin 0.025% in photoaged skin. J Cosmet Dermatol, 14: 40-46. doi:10.1111/jocd.12131
  • LEVER, L. , KUMAR, P. and MARKS, R. (1990), Topical retinoic acid for treatment of solar damage. British Journal of Dermatology, 122: 91-98. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.1990.tb08244.x
  • Feneran, A. N., Kaufman, W. S., Dabade, T. S., & Feldman, S. R. (2011). Retinoid plus antimicrobial combination treatments for acne. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 4, 79–92. doi:10.2147/CCID.S13873
  • Mukherjee, S., Date, A., Patravale, V., Korting, H. C., Roeder, A., & Weindl, G. (2006). Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical interventions in aging, 1(4), 327–348. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699641/

» Show all

Questions & Answers

Patients ask » Doctors answer

What's Your Question?

With thousands of doctor answers and counting, our forum is the best place to get expert opinions on cosmetic treatments.

[startIndex]
[startIndex]
Close
OPEN
×
Start a private virtual
consultation now