(Main Squeeze)

Retinol Serums That Smooth & Plump Skin Without Burning Or Stinging


best retinol serums 2024
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Join TZR editors for Main Squeeze, the series dedicated to sharing beloved beauty products — be they bold, effective, or simply fun — that make our week just a little bit better. Ahead, Team TZR spotlights their favorite retinol serums of the moment.

Skin care trends come and go at a dizzying rate, but certain ingredients like retinol defy social media algorithms. As an at-home option for topically treating a slew of common concerns such as fine lines, wrinkles, uneven texture, and hyperpigmentation, retinol is revered by dermatologists and aestheticians because it’s highly studied and delivers results. But for all of its benefits, the ingredient doesn’t come without its own set of downsides. The biggest issue being that vitamin A can be extremely irritating when you first start using it, resulting in side effects like redness, flaking, dryness, and tightness. There’s an art to incorporating it into your routine. Typically you start off slow, applying it a couple of times a week, working your way up to every night once your skin is able to tolerate it. If the process sounds like a headache, the best retinol serums are a safe bet because there’s minimal risk of experiencing the “retinol uglies” when using them.

Stacked with soothing, moisturizing ingredients that act like a protective cushion for your skin, these formulas are balanced so that your complexion doesn’t get ticked off with the introduction of retinol. Because there are so many options on the market, TZR editors are making finding your holy grail retinol a lot less stressful — and irritating, quite literally. Ahead, these serums offer the benefits of vitamin A without burning or stinging your skin.

"Shani Darden's retinol formulation is the only non-prescription one I've ever been truly wowed by. It's incredibly fast-acting, working to illuminate my skin, fade dark marks, and smooth out wrinkles with the first month of daily application. And even though my complexion is on the drier side, this didn't really exacerbate it — just my standard moisturizer was all I needed to avoid peeling or irritation." – Amanda Ross, beauty editor, TZR

“As a sensitive-skinned girlie, I have to be super careful with retinol products as I'm prone to irritation and rosacea flares. Although Sunday Riley's A+ has a high dose of retinol in it, it's super gentle and doesn't irritate my skin due to the calming ingredients it also contains, like Hawaiian white honey. The formula is a yummy, creamy serum that feels so lovely on my dry skin. I've been using this product a few times a week and have noticed a smoother, brighter complexion.” – Rebecca Iloulian, director, newsletter revenue and marketing

“This serum is unique because it combines retinol with bakuchiol and rambutan, two popular plant-based alternatives to the ingredient, for added brightening and smoothing benefits. When I first tried it out, I went all-in, applying the silky serum every night followed by a rich moisturizer without any issues. After a few weeks of including it my routine, I noticed my skin looked more even and smooth. The ease of use and visible results are why it’s one of my favorite retinol serums.” – Erin Lukas, deputy beauty editor, TZR

"We all know retinol can be irritating on the skin, so I generally proceed with caution. Of all the formulas I've tried, this one is the least reaction-inducing. Perhaps it's the calming effect of the Reishi mushrooms infused in the formula. Whatever botanical magic is involved, I'm sold on this hydrating treasure." — Angela Melero, executive editor, TZR

"I typically use a prescription retinol, but before my skin was able to handle the dosage, I started out with Kiehl's Micro-Dose Retinol Serum. My skin felt moisturized, never dry, flaky, or irritated, with the benefits of vitamin A — smoother and brighter skin. It was a seamless introduction to retinol. " – Kathy Lee, editor in chief, TZR

“A pea-sized amount of this powerful retinal serum is all you need in order to experience maximum results without experiencing discomfort. I’ve been using it twice a week for the past couple weeks without any road blocks and my skin looks noticably clearer. Plus, you really can’t beat the price point of The Ordinary’s products in terms of formula quality.” – Lukas

“Though I’ve only been using Olehenriksen’s Double Rewind Pro-Grade 0.3% Retinol Serum for two or three weeks, I’m already noticing a difference in my bumpy skin texture (caused by years of picking my acne in high school). So far, my face is much more smooth and bright. Not to mention, the gentle formula doesn’t irritate my skin. I apply it every other night and then slather on Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Water Cream — highly recommend.” — Kelsey Stewart, associate fashion editor, TZR