The 14 Best Retinol Products of 2022

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream is a lightweight yet deeply moisturizing retinol-infused cream that evens out skin. texture.

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Best retinol products

Strivectin / Amazon / Sephora

Take a trip down the beauty aisle at your local pharmacy and you'll find that every cream, serum, and cleanser claims to be the product that will radicalize your at-home skin care regimen. It's a tall order for most, but when it comes to retinol, experts say it's actually quite true. "[Retinols] are among the most effective therapeutic topical products that really work, as opposed to lotions and potions that almost work," says Gerald Imber, M.D., a plastic surgeon and the director of New York-based Youth Corridor Clinic.

While retinol is primarily known for its anti-aging properties, it's also incredibly effective in treating other skin ailments, like uneven skin texture and acne, says esthetician and co-founder of Glo Spa, Aishe Balic. "As we age, our collagen begins to break down, and [retinol] encourages collagen production," she explains. "But it can also help people suffering from acne and clogged pores because it reduces oil production. Sun damage can also be brightened with retinol because it speeds up cell turnover."

As with any other skincare product, there are countless retinoids on the market. To cut through the clutter, we researched top-rated formulas and consulted with skincare experts to find the 14 best retinol products currently available. Out of all our picks, Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream came out on top for its gentle formula that addresses fine lines and wrinkles while also hydrating and plumping skin. 

Read on for the best over-the-counter retinol creams and serums to achieve clearer, brighter, and refreshed skin.

Best Overall: Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream

Nordstrom

What We Love: Aside from being effective at plumping up your skin, this comes in refillable packaging.

What We Don’t Love: Though a little goes a long way, the triple-digit price tag may be out of budget for some.

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream is just that: Magic. (And we wouldn't expect anything less from the legendary Charlotte Tilbury herself.) The formula manages to be thick but not heavy, moisturizing but not greasy, and it offers just enough plumping to hold you over until your next facial. It features a mix of retinol and castor seed oils — and, because the retinol in this formula is encapsulated, you won't run the risk of irritating your skin or causing flaking. I've gone through a whole tub of this cream, and experienced both short- and long-term benefits: My skin was plumper and more hydrated come morning, and my uneven texture looked better over time. Add this to your cart if you're really looking to treat your skin.

Price at time of publish: $145

Size: 1.6 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Fine lines and wrinkles, dryness, and dullness

Best Budget: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

 The Ordinary 

What We Love: This is great for improving scarring and dark spots.

What We Don’t Love: This may not be the best for sensitive skin types or retinol beginners.

Is it possible to find a budget retinol product that works just as well as its prestige counterparts? We think yes. This one from The Ordinary is anything but basic, featuring an advanced form of our star ingredient called granactive retinoid, which is said to be far more effective than any other over-the-counter retinoid out there. Think of this as a prescription retinoid that your derm would send you off with — but for a fraction of the price (and the ability to scoop up at major retailers). Creamier than your traditional serum yet more lightweight than a cream, this budget buy stands tall next to higher-end formulas and helps with lightening dark marks as well as improving the look of any parting gift your acne has left behind (read: Acne scars).

One piece of advice: this is a potent product, meaning it may cause peeling and flaking. Build up your tolerance with a gentler product first if you have sensitive skin.

Price at time of publish: $11

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Serum | Best for: Dullness, uneven texture, acne scars, and fine lines

Best Drugstore: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Moisturizer SPF 30

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Moisturizer SPF 30

Amazon

What We Love: This formula contains SPF 30, making it suitable to wear during the day.

What We Don’t Love: This is personal preference, but the scent may not be for everyone.

So, you want to be able to pick up a retinol product while shopping for paper towels? Scout this Neutrogena pick at your local drugstore and you'll start to see results 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. Typically, it isn't recommended to wear retinol products during the day, but this moisturizer contains SPF 30 to help minimize the risk of sensitivity to the sun. We appreciate that the formula plays well with makeup (and doesn't interfere with foundation application). Plus, the pump bottle ensures you never over-apply.

Price at time of publish: $20

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Fine lines, dullness, and dark spots

Best Splurge: Instytutum Superpacked X-Strength Retinol Serum

Instytutum Superpacked X-Strength Retinol Serum

Instytutum

What We Love: Though this contains an 8% retinoid complex, it's great for sensitive skin types.

What We Don’t Love: For $149, we'd like to see more luxe packaging.

High-dose retinol but without the flaking and peeling? That's exactly what this hefty serum brings to the table. This uses an eight percent retinoid complex that consists of granactive retinoid, retinoid-like blue-green algae, and peptide P3 — the result is more refined pores, less apparent wrinkles, and smoother skin texture. If you struggle with grease, this also helps regulate your skin's oil production (which, subsequently, will help ward off breakouts). To ensure skin doesn't dry out, this formula relies on plant-derived squalane, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and grapeseed oil, which are true heavy-hitters when it comes to keeping skin moisturized and plump.

Price at time of publish: $149

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Serum | Best for: Fine lines, pores, and hyperpigmentation

Best for Beginners: Obagi Medical Retinol 0.5

Obagi Retinol 0.5

Obagi

What We Love: This contains a low dosage of retinol, meaning it's less likely to cause irritation or dry out the skin.

What We Don’t Love: This is a small tube considering the price.

Wary about the side effects of retinol? Balic swears by this low dosage retinol cream that will smooth texture and refine the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles — all without irritating the skin. It's a great choice if you're just starting out because the low dosage allows you to "slowly get your skin acclimated with this vitamin, allowing you to build a tolerance safely without irritation," Balic explains. "From there you can gradually begin to increase the strength if you desire." 

What's more, this is one of the few retinol products that's good for all skin types, including oily (since it contains safflower seed oil to unclog pores and reduce acne-related inflammation) and dry skin (thanks to the shea butter that keeps skin moisturized). Pick this up if you're just getting your feet wet in the world of retinol — you won't regret it.

Price at time of publish: $73

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Fine lines, uneven texture, and dullness

Best for Oily Skin: LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream Moisturizer

LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream Moisturizer

Amazon

What We Love: This feels extremely lightweight on the skin.

What We Don’t Love: The pump could be better — it takes some work to disperse the right amount of product.

The key to an oily skin-friendly retinol product you'll actually want to use is finding one that's lightweight, doesn't pill underneath makeup, and won't leave behind a sticky, greasy residue. Cue the LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream, which checks all the boxes — and then some. 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. Many who are oily also suffer from breakouts, but this non-comedogenic formula gets to the root of the problem by balancing oil production and preventing acne, all without clogging up your pores. It also contains hyaluronic acid (to plump up the skin), green tea (for its anti-inflammatory benefits), and jojoba oil and shea butter to condition and smooth. Plus, it's just over $20. Need we say more?

Price at time of publish: $23

Size: 1.7 oz | Type: Cream | Best for: Restoring firmness, uneven texture, and wrinkles

Best for Dry Skin: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum

Amazon

What We Love: We like that this is fragrance-free, which minimizes the risk of irritation.

What We Don’t Love: This contains silicones, meaning it could be hard to rinse the formula out of your pores.

Formulated with a blend of vitamin B3 and retinol, this night serum works its magic as you catch some zzz's, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots, and enlarged pores to boot. Those with dry skin will appreciate that the formula keeps skin hydrated for 24 hours (hence the name), meaning you shouldn't feel the need to pop on a moisturizer come morning (though you should still always apply your SPF). It's nice to see a retinol serum that works equally as good for most skin types, but give yourself a good month before expecting to see results.

This goes on smoothly and applies like a dream, however it does contain silicones which means you'll have to put in extra effort when it comes time to cleanse your skin.

Price at time of publish: $30

Size: 1.3 oz. | Type: Serum | Best for: Dark spots, enlarged pores, and dullness

Best for Combination Skin: Glo Skin Beauty GlyPro Retinol Drops

Glo Skin Beauty GlyPro Retinol Drops

Glo Skin Beauty

What We Love: These drops are great for those who want one do-it-all product as it targets several skin issues.

What We Don’t Love: The brand recommends giving this a 30-minute absorption time before applying moisturizer, which may not be feasible for all routines.

Sometimes, your skin just can't make up its mind — is it oily? Dry? A mix of both? Turn to these retinol drops from Glo Skin Beauty. They're just what the doctor ordered, except you don't need a prescription to get your hands on them. Retinol mixes with glycolic and gallic acids along with botanical extracts to improve skin's radiance, refine pores, and minimize the look of fine lines. The formula is great for all skin types, particularly those with combination skin as it doesn't leave behind an oily residue. This has a high dosage of retinol, so steer clear if your skin is super sensitive. Also, the brand recommends allowing 30 minutes for it to fully sink into the skin, which can be inconvenient. 

Price at time of publish: $64

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Serum | Best for: Dullness, fine lines, and enlarged pores

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Moisturizer

Strivectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Moisturizer

StriVectin

What We Love: This contains a soothing complex that won't irritate skin or leave behind redness.

What We Don’t Love: If you have severely parched skin, this may not do a good enough job of moisturizing.

Acne-prone skin types walk a slippery slope when it comes to retinol products — they want something strong enough to clear their pores and send pimples packing, but don't want to risk irritating their skin in the process. Cue this gentle powerhouse from Strivectin, a yellow-hued moisturizer that combats deep set wrinkles just as well as dull-looking skin. You won't have to worry about an adjustment period with this formula (happy news for acne-prone folks) — the potent blend of retinol and retinal is balanced out with a soothing complex that this skin type will love. Two key standouts in the complex include willow bark extract (to reduce inflammation) and aloe leaf juice (to control acne-causing bacteria).

Price at time of publish: $79

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Deep set wrinkles, restoring firmness, and refining texture

Best for Aging Skin: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

4.5
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

Ulta

What We Love: This comes in a mini size, which is convenient for travel.

What We Don’t Love: The scent may be off-putting to some.

Cult-favorite millennial brand Drunk Elephant finally released a retinol cream back in 2018 — and it was worth the wait. Along with gentle 1% 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. The lightweight texture absorbs into the skin beautifully (read: you won't have to wait long before layering on your other products) — plus, a little goes a long way as you only need a pea-sized amount.

Price at time of publish: $74

Size: 1 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles, and dullness

Best Encapsulated : Stratia Night Shift

Stratia Night Shift

Amazon

What We Love: A little bit of this cream goes a long way — just one full pump will be enough for your entire face and neck.

What We Don’t Love: This may not be potent enough for experienced retinol users.

If you're looking to target fine lines and wrinkles but are prone to irritation, try this vegan retinol cream from Stratia. The formula is free of irritants like alcohol, fragrance, and essential oils, meaning those with sensitive skin can use it worry-free. Instead, it uses encapsulated retinol plus panthenol, marula oil, and ceramides for a healthy dose of moisture — plus, it helps combat redness and irritation with antioxidant-rich cica. This only contains 0.15% retinol, so scoop it up if you're not looking for the ingredient to be the main part of your routine or if you’re a new retinol user. 

Price at time of publish: $28

Size: 1.6 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Dullness, lack of firmness, and fine lines and wrinkles

Best for Nighttime: Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil

sunday-riley-luna-sleeping-night-oil

Sephora

What We Love: The oil is a deep blue color, which makes it easy to see where you've applied it.

What We Don’t Love: The formula has a strong scent.

If you're new to the retinol game, this is the perfect treatment to ease your skin into it. Blue Tansy and German chamomile soothe any redness so that even sensitive skin can build up a tolerance quickly, and you can fight fine lines and breakouts without dryness and irritation. With ingredients like squalane and marula oil, your skin will definitely get its hydration fix. This formula is great on its own, but if you're looking to add something extra, pair it with the brand's Retinoid Serum for elevated results.

Price at time of publish: $55

Size: 35 mL | Type: Oil | Best for: Redness, inflammation, and fine lines and wrinkles

Best for Body: Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Body Lotion

Versed Press Restart Retinol Body Lotion

Target

What We Love: This helps smooth out uneven skin texture, including keratosis pilaris.

What We Don’t Love: This is hydrating on its own, but we'd love to see it offered in a thicker body butter for cooler weather months.

Think retinol is just reserved for your face? Think twice. Dry knees, elbows, and feet don't stand a chance against this retinol body lotion from Versed. You get to reap the smoothing benefits of the vitamin A derivative along with the hydrating effects of cocoa butter, squalane, vitamin E, and jojoba. The vegan formula goes on silky and never feels greasy or sticky once it dries down. Even though it boasts a barely-there texture, it most definitely leaves dry skin feeling revived, though we do wish the formula came in a thicker texture for dry, winter months. 

Price at time of publish: $18

Size: 6 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Keratosis pilaris, lack of firmness, dullness

Best for Eyes: TonyMoly Plump-Kin Retinol Eye Cream

TonyMoly Plump-Kin Retinol Eye Cream

Amazon

What We Love: While this is an eye cream, it can be used on other areas of your face that are experiencing fine lines and wrinkles.

What We Don’t Love: We're huge fans of the packaging, but it may look odd on your vanity during seasons other than fall.

Like a mint garnish to signify there's mint in your cocktail, this pumpkin-shaped eye cream never lets you forget the 10,000ppm of pumpkin extract in its formula. If you're looking for a brightening and anti-aging eye cream you can use on more than just your under-eye area, this one might just be your new go-to. Inside you'll find pumpkin extract — which is chock-full of vitamins and antioxidants to plump up the skin — along with ginger extract to ward off inflammation and mask your all-nighter. The cream promotes cell turnover to diminish wrinkles and deep lines, and nips irritation in the butt with its use of turmeric and glycerin. And of course, let's not forget the packaging, which definitely wins for most creative.

Price at time of publish: $25

Size: 1.05 oz. | Type: Cream | Best for: Hydration and dullness

What to Keep In Mind

Strength

Most over-the-counter retinol formulas won't have a higher concentration than 1%, though you may see some with 2% or more, says Geeta Yadav, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology. "If you're just starting retinol use for the first time and/or are prone to sensitivity, I'd recommend using a formulation with a concentration of .25% or lower, applying once a week until you can work your way up to more regular application as skin gets acclimated." Once you feel like your skin has fully tolerated retinol and you can use it daily (or you've already been using retinol for a long time and are ready to take your treatment to the next level), you can bump up to a .5% application, says Dr. Yadav. Those who have more advanced signs of aging and skin that is not easily sensitized can try using 1%, slowly working their way up from once weekly application, Dr. Yadav adds. For beginners we recommend Obagi Medical Retinol 0.5, for its low retinol concentration. If you’re a seasoned retinol veteran, try Instytutum Superpacked X-Strength Retinol Serum.

Additional Ingredients

Retinol can be a finicky ingredient when it comes to side effects, so choosing a product that pairs retinol with other skin-nourishing ingredients is always a good idea. "Retinol can be harsh on the skin and, in particular, is best known for causing dryness and flaking," says Dr. Yadav. A product that contains both retinol and hyaluronic acid (like Neutrogena Rapid Repair Face & Neck Moisturizer), however, can help pull moisture into the skin, minimizing some of these side effects. If your skin is prone to inflammation, choose a retinol product that also makes use of niacinamide, as Dr. Yadav highlights its soothing, anti-inflammatory benefits. Ceramides (especially during the cooler months) are also something to look for to prevent moisture loss, according to Sarah Akram, celebrity esthetician and owner of Sarah Akram Skincare. Stratia Night Shift is full of ceramides to keep your skin hydrated and plump.

There are also some ingredients retinol should not be mixed with. For one, acids. "Alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids offer similar results to retinol, but work through different mechanisms — combining them could cause significant irritation to the skin," notes Dr. Yadav. "If you'd prefer not to lose AHAs and BHAs from your routine while still using retinol, space their application well apart on different days — for example, consider using your AHA and/or BHA on Sunday night, then waiting to use retinol on Wednesday night."

Your Questions, Answered 

How do you introduce retinol into your routine?

"Due to the possible side effects such as redness, irritation, dryness, peeling, and sensitivity, it's best to introduce a retinol into your skin care routine slowly to allow for the skin to adjust," says Georgetown-based SkinSpirit aesthetic nurse practitioner Erica Granteed. "Application of a pea size amount to both face and neck, one to three times a week, is an appropriate starting point, with adjustments to more or less frequent based on individual skin tolerance." And remember, because the skin repairs itself at night (and because retinol can cause sun sensitivity), it's best to use your retinol products at night, notes Granteed.

What skin types benefit from using retinol?

Almost all skin types benefit from using retinol. For oily skin types, "retinol is a proven ingredient to regulate oily skin and tighten pores, which results in less blackheads and blemishes," says Akram. 

Aging skin can also benefit greatly from retinol. "As we age our bodies produce less collagen which is responsible for the structure, strength and support in our skin," says Granteed. "We also begin to recognize the side effects of slower cellular turnover, which is responsible for replacing dead skin cells with new skin cells in the form of skin laxity, fine lines, and wrinkles." Retinol helps to increase cell turnover as well as boost collagen and elastin production.

As for those with acne, Akram explains that retinol can help with alleviating breakouts and removing dark spots and acne scarring. "It's known to unclog pores and lighten pigmentation marks while also refining skin texture on the surface," she adds. Finally, if you're dry, you can still reap the benefits of retinol — you'll just have to compensate with other hydrating products in your routine.

If you're pregnant, nursing, have highly sensitive skin, or are suffering from a skin condition such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, Granteed says you should avoid the use of retinoids.

Why Shop With Us

Michelle Rostamian is a freelance beauty, wellness, and lifestyle writer with nearly 10 years of experience in the beauty industry and bylines at PEOPLE, Byrdie, Real Simple, InStyle, and more. With help from writers Caroline Shannon Karasik and Tessa Petak, she interviewed five experts for this story: Plastic surgeon Gerald Imber, M.D., esthetician and co-founder of Glo Spa, Aishe Balic, board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, M.D., celebrity esthetician Sarah Akram, and SkinSpirit aesthetic nurse practitioner Erica Granteed for their recommendations and expertise.

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