Retinol is the answer to almost any skin issue — acne, fine lines, dark spots, drooping, dullness, dark circles, enlarged pores — you can think of. The best retinol cream can help address all of the above concerns and improve your skin’s appearance and texture with consistent use.
To help you sort the amazing products from their suspicious or just-average counterparts, keep scrolling for our favorite, dermatologist-approved retinol creams. At the bottom of this page, you’ll find frequently asked questions about all things retinol.
Our Top Picks:
- Best Overall: Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream, $79
- The Cocktail: Lancer Skincare Advanced Retinol Treatment, $95
- Best Intensive Formula: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream, $74
- Best Allure Award-Winner Under $60: La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Cream, $55
- Best Antioxidant Cream: Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream, $77
- Best Retinol Neck Cream: SkinCeuticals Tripeptide-R Neck Repair, $135
- Best Customizable Retinol: Fig.1 Retinol Night Cream, $42
- Best Moisturizer with SPF: CeraVe Skin Renewing Day Cream with Sunscreen, $26
- Best Retinol for All Skin Types: Verso Night Cream, $90
Best Overall: Eau Thermale Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream
Instead of retinol, Eau Thermale Avène’s RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream is formulated with its sibling, retinaldehyde, and the brand’s Thermal Spring Water, which soothes and calms the skin in the event of irritation. The brightening cream smooths and evens skin, leading to a more radiant glow. The brand recommends that users apply this product at nighttime and incorporate sunscreen into their daily routines. Mamina Turegano, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Orleans, Louisiana, deems this as a “good starter retinol for those with very sensitive and dry skin.”
The Retinol Cocktail: Lancer Skincare Advanced Retinol Treatment
Consider the Lancer Skincare Advanced Retinol Treatment as one of the most intensive retinol formulations on this list. This custardy formula combines the line-smoothing powers of retinol with its gentler cousin, bakuchiol to significantly improve skin elasticity, firmness, and tone. Though it contains mild bakuchiol, this highly-concentrated formula isn’t for sensitive skin types, considering that it contains a potent 1.25% concentration of retinol (cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson previously told Allure that the highest percentage of retinol recommended for an over-the-counter product is 1%). With that being said, those who aren’t highly sensitive to retinol won’t feel intense stinging or irritation, all thanks to the addition of moisturizing and soothing prickly pear extract.
Best Retinol for Acne-Prone Skin: Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment
The Allure Best of Beauty-winning Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment Serum goes above and beyond with the addition of exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids (lactic acid, to be exact), which reduce the appearance of fine lines while having the added benefit of unclogging pores and minimizing breakouts. It’s basically a two-in-one wrinkle and acne treatment that’ll refine your skin texture, so it’s especially great for acne-prone skin.
This formula is also gentle enough for senior news editor Nicola Dall’Asen, a self-described sensitive skin type, to use. “Most retinol formulas leave my skin red and aching the morning after application, but this one houses aloe vera, glycerin, and rosemary leaf extract to hydrate and soothe, leaving behind fresh-looking skin that’s not tight-feeling or itchy every single time I use it,” she says. However, sensitive skin types should still proceed with caution and patch test before applying to their faces, considering that the concentration percentage of retinol is not disclosed by the brand for this treatment.
Best Skin-Brightening Retinol: Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
What makes Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment so unique is its active ingredient combination of retinol and vitamin C, an antioxidant known for its brightening effects and hyperpigmentation-reducing properties. As this topical treats your skin with the line-diminishing benefits of retinol, it also addresses discoloration — and further firms the skin with the wonderful addition of peptides to its formula.
Best Intensive Retinol: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
New York-based board-certified dermatologist David Kim, MD, recommends A-Passioni Retinol Cream, which contains 1% retinol encased in nourishing oils like passionfruit, apricot, jojoba, and marula. It also happens to a Best of Beauty Award winner, in case that sways you. However, “it’s important to note that 1% retinol is a relatively high concentration and could be irritating to people with sensitive skin, especially patients with eczema or rosacea,” Dr. Kim cautions.
As we talked about earlier, the ideal frequency is different for everyone, so start slow and small (a pea-sized amount) in terms of dosage and build up over the course of a few weeks. “I typically recommend patients apply a moisturizer on top to alleviate any potential dryness,” Dr. Kim adds.
Best Allure Award-Winner Under $60: La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Cream
In as little as a month, La Roche-Posay Redermic R Retinol Cream — a winner of Allure‘s Best of Beauty Awards — can noticeably diminish wrinkles and soften skin. This particular cream’s smoothing benefits come from a combination of pure retinol and lipohydroxy acid. The thick white cream melts like butter to completely reform the skin’s look and feel. It’s also gentle enough to not cause major irritation to sensitive skin. Even so, treat it as you would any new retinol — start off gradually before increasing frequency in use.
Best Lightweight Moisturizer: Obagi Medical Retivance Skin Rejuvenating Complex
Dr. Turegano bills this lightweight moisturizer as a “gentle yet effective retinol.” Why you ask? This lightweight moisture stars retinaldehyde, a stable and less potent form of vitamin A that is better suited for more sensitive skin but still packs a punch in terms of improving elasticity and curbing the appearance of wrinkles. Furthermore, ingredients such as chamomile, shea butter, and vitamin E act as calming agents.
Best Retinol Neck Cream: SkinCeuticals Tripeptide-R Neck Repair
SkinCeuticals Tripeptide-R Neck Repair’s 0.2% pure, slow-release retinol (to boost cell turnover), 2.5% tripeptide concentrate, and 5% glaucine (derived from yellow poppy seed) complex is specifically designed to treat signs of aging in the neck. That includes smoothing out the appearance of neck lines, firming delicate neck skin, and reducing crepiness. Massage one to two pumps every other night in an upwards motion (up to the jawline) and steadily increase usage if/when your skin can tolerate it.