The Best Retinol Products for Every Skin Type, According to Top Derms
In case you've been living under a rock: Retinol is a must-have ingredient that you really need to start using, stat. It's aesthetician Shani Darden's number-one skin-care tip for her celebrity clients. "Especially if you start in your early 20s, it makes a huge difference with decreasing fine lines and wrinkles and helping texture and pigmentation," she told us.
It's also the top ingredient dermatologists recommend for their patients and use on themselves. Why? When applied topically, retinol, a vitamin A derivative, stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, evens out complexion, and unclogs pores, making it great for those who suffer from acne, too. (For more deets, see: Everything You Need to Know About Retinol and Its Skin-Care Benefits)
But while it may seem like a secret sauce, retinol products—whether they be a serum, oil, gel, or and creams—aren't one-size-fits-all. Since there's such a wide variety of retinol products available, we tapped top dermatologists to weigh in and share which formulas they'd recommend for every skin type and concern.
Oily Skin: Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker Retinol + Superfood Oil Pads
"These pads are effective, but gentle enough to use several times a week," says Francesca Fusco, M.D., a dermatologist based in New York City. Not only does she like them for their ease of portability (you mix the serum with the pads only when you're ready to apply the treatment), but also because of the wonders the serum-and-pad combo works on oily skin. "Pores appear smaller, clogs break up, and superficial white heads dry quickly—it's an excellent for [banishing] bacne and butt acne, too," she says.
Wrinkle-Prone Skin: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
If you're looking to reduce deeper, more visible expression lines, this serum is your best bet. "It's good for mature skin because it also contains hyaluronic acid spheres, which attract moisture and plump aging skin, while swertia flower extract boosts firmness," explains Annie Chiu, M.D., a dermatologist at The Derm Institute in Manhattan Beach, CA. What separates this from the rest of the pack is that it's designed to work more quickly than other retinol; on average, skin changes after three months of use, but this formula promises visible results in two weeks' time thanks to three different types of retinol, including a fast-acting retinoid and a time-released one.
Mature Skin: NEOSTRATA Skin Active Retinol + NAG Complex
This retinol serum works wonders on dry, oily, or mature skin, providing the face with volume while lifting and firming, not to mention reducing the appearance of dark spots. That's thanks to ".5 percent pure, stabilized retinol and [antioxidant compound] of neo-glucosamine, a sugar that helps to diminish fine lines, spots, and wrinkles and also acts as a building block for hydration absorption," says Dr. Fusco. In other words, it provides a double dose of actives that address multiple needs of more mature skin.
Sensitive Skin: First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate
Dr. Fusco loves this serum for patients of all ages, but particularly for those with sensitive skin as the lower retinol concentrate—0.25 percent—doesn't inflame those with more delicate complexions. "I even recommend it to patients for use prior to certain lasers," she says, since it helps to prime skin and enhance the results of laser treatments, too.
Sensitive Skin: AcneFree Complexion Perfecting Cream
Although it's marketed for acne, this gentle retinol cream works wonders at reducing the signs of aging, too. "It contains humectants and moisturizers to help offset the dryness that can come from using a retinol, so even sensitive skin is likely to be able to tolerate it," says Hadley King, M.D., a dermatologist based in New York City. It's also a steal at just $27 for a 3-pack (or $9 per bottle), making it a very cost-effective way of including retinol in your skin-care regimen.
Dry Skin: SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream
Dr. Fusco loves this form of retinol that's well tolerated by dry skin since the molecules are bonded with lactic acid, a moisturizing but exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid. "It applies easily and addresses wrinkles, dullness, and pigmentation," she says.
Dry Skin: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream
With powerhouse moisturizers including hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and dimethicone, this drugstore buy is another great find for those with drier complexions. "The hyaluronic acid and glycerin are humectants that help to attract moisture and hydrate the skin, while the dimethicone is an emollient that helps to lock in moisture," explains Dr. King. Here, the retinol is micro-encapsulated, which protects your chemicals from air, heat, and light to avoid deterioration, while also preserving the retinol in the skin for a longer period of time, resulting in a more potent application.
Combination Skin: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream
If you're the type of girl who has dry skin but with oily patches, this retinol is the one you've been looking for—and for just $15, is a true steal. "RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream is a good choice for combination skin because it's oil-free and noncomedogenic, but still hydrating and moisturizing with glycerin, dimethicone, squalane, and shea butter," says Dr. King.
For Acne-Prone Skin: Differin Adapalene Gel
"Differin Adapalene Gel is the first FDA-approved acne-treating retinoid," says Dr. Chiu. Originally only available by prescription, this now-OTC formula was developed with sensitive and acne-prone skin types in mind. "It gently cleans out pores, which helps reduce acne," she adds. Because of its collagen-boosting benefits that make it ideal for smoothing wrinkles, derms also consider it among the best anti-aging night creams.
Combination Skin: Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum
No worries if you can't figure out which parts of your skin are oily and which are dry at any given time—these capsules take the guesswork out. "The capsule design protects the retinol and also gives you a pre-measured dose of how much (or how little) retinol to use, keeping you from irritating your skin," Dr. Chiu explains.
Oily Skin: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Review
"The oil-free, liquid formulation absorbs easily into the skin," says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a dermatologist based in Los Angeles. "And because it isn't too strong—it has a retinol percentage of 1.5 percent—it won't overly dry out skin, which can in turn trigger rebound greasiness."