The Best Retinol Products That Dermatologists Highly Recommend

Differin and other over-the-counter anti-aging skin care are making things simpler.

What if you could get your skin to produce more collagen, improve blood flow, decrease pigmentation and reduce acne and the appearance of wrinkles? According to dermatologists and decades of research, using a retinol product can make your skin do all of that and more.

But shopping for retinols can leave you overwhelmed, and if your derm can prescribe you a stronger version, shouldn’t you just use that? The world of retinols can be confusing, but some products come more highly recommended than others.

Over-the-counter retinols come in gels, creams, oils and serums, ranging in strength from 0.01% up to 2%. Board-certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Michele Green told HuffPost it’s all about choosing the right strength and formula for your skin type.

“For fine lines you can use a product that contains 0.01% retinol if you have dry or sensitive skin. You want to see how your skin reacts to the product, so it’s best to start at a low percentage,” she said. “The product’s form does not make a difference; the patient’s skin type makes a difference. Most creams contain some moisturizing ingredients. These may clog pores, but if your skin is dry or sensitive, a retinol cream would be a better option. A serum retinol is better suited for people that have oily or acne-prone skin, as most serums are water-based.”

Also, pay attention to whether the product you’re interested in says it contains a retinol or retinoid.

“Retinol is a little weaker, but the advantage to using a retinol is it’s a lot more tolerable,” said Payam Saadat, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in Burbank, California, and on staff at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. “If someone has sensitive skin, it may be better to start with a retinol and graduate to a retinoid once their skin gets used to it. Prescription-strength tends to be 10 to 100 times stronger than OTC (over-the-counter) retinol.”

Kristen Stewart, a board-certified dermatologist at Total Dermatology Care Center in Jacksonville, Florida, added that you should only purchase retinol products that come in opaque, lightproof packaging. Be sure to snag some SPF while you’re at the store, too.

“The reason we use retinol at night is because it’s not photostable, so it needs to be packaged in lightproof aluminum packaging. Even check the opening to the tube. A pump would help the shelf life because it allows less oxidation, or a small size to the opening of the tube is also good,” she said. “For both anti-aging and acne, you need to pair it with sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. If you’re not using sunscreen, don’t spend your money on the retinol.”

Here are the products four dermatologists from around the country send their patients out to buy after their appointments, and where you can get your hands on them.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change.

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
What if you could get a prescription treatment without even seeing a doctor? Differin’s 0.1% retinol gel was once Rx-only, but is now available over the counter.

“If you’re going to go OTC, go Differin,” Saadat said. “The molecule, adapalene, has been around a while and will probably give people a much better result than other over-the-counter retinols. It’s the best bang for your buck.”

Get it for $12.26.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
Saadat also suggested trying the RoC retinol night cream, available at most drugstores and online, for an OTC anti-aging solution.

Get it for $25.31.
Piel MD Age-Defying Night Serum
Piel MD
“We sell this Age-Defying Night Serum, which has an elegant retinol with lots of antioxidants,” Saadat said. “If you want to use a retinol product, it’s important to also look at the other ingredients. We prefer retinols with antioxidants in them because they help overcome irritation. Look for a retinol with antioxidants, like green tea, that you can afford and tolerate.”

Get it for $85.
The Ordinary
Stewart recommended products that actually list the percentage of retinol on the packaging, specifically The Ordinary’s line, which ranges in strength from 2% to 5%.

“I really like products that will say there’s X amount of retinol in it so you can step up or step down. That’s very helpful for comparison so you know, ‘I did OK at this percentage, so I can move up.’”

Get it for $9.80 at Sephora.
Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Anti-Wrinkle Deep Wrinkle Night Moisturizer
This Neutrogena option handles multiple concerns in just one product. Bonus points for affordability.

“It uncovers vibrant, younger looking skin while softening and smoothing skin. It also reduces the appearance of fine lines, age spots and deep wrinkles. This product is also noncomedogenic,” Green said.

Get it for $15.40.
Colbert MD Illumino Face Oil
“This is also a good option, as it combines 0.3% retinyl palmitate — a retinol/vitamin A derivative — and vitamin C and E,” Perlmutter said. “It’s an especially nice option for winter months when skin is extra dry.”

Get it for $150.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
Perlmutter also likes Drunk Elephant’s 1% vegan retinol cream for a solid OTC option. It includes vitamin F and peptides to help soothe redness and dryness associated with using a retinol.

Get it for $74.

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