Shopping for a retinol isn't as simple as, say, picking out a new cleanser. There's a lot to take into consideration, especially if you've never used the ingredient before. For starters, you need to pick a percentage (most range from 0.01 to 1%). On top of that, you have the decision of choosing between different formulas, such as a serum, mask, or cream. To keep your stress at bay, TZR asked beauty editors their favorite retinol products on the market. No need to click through pages and pages of reviews, you can count on these experts for the best recommendations.
If you are new to retinol, you'll want to pick up a few tips from these knowledgeable editors. "I always suggest the low and slow model for any new product but especially a retinoid since the risk of irritation is higher," Hannah Baxter, Coveteur's Senior Beauty Editor, tells TZR. "I'd start with three days a week at night, and then to avoid any acids or harsh exfoliation during the use and the day before and after." Additionally, Baxter notes to keeps in mind that it can take a few months to see tangible results, so don't be afraid to stick with it.
When Kayla Greaves, Senior Beauty Editor at InStyle, is shopping for a retinol, she always looks at the concentration. "Each person’s skin is different and not everyone can handle high strength vitamin A products," the editor explains. She suggests starting with the lowest concentration (like a product with 0.01% retinol), and then work your way up. "I also pay attention to the other ingredients in the formula. Some of the most common side effects of using a retinol is dry, red, flaky skin." Therefore, Greaves says it's important to know if there are soothing ingredients (like vitamin E and aloe) alongside the active to aid in alleviating some of the potential irritation.
Last but certainly not least, Greaves says to make sure you only use your retinol product at night. "And while you should be wearing SPF every day anyways, it’s important to be extra diligent once retinol becomes a staple in your routine, since it can make the skin more sensitive to UV rays and thus more susceptible to sun damage," she adds.
To find 17 retinol products that these beauty editors love, keep scrolling below. You'll probably never have trouble shopping for the ingredient again.
We only include products that have been independently selected by The Zoe Report's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
Hannah Baxter: Senior Beauty Editor, Coveteur
Baxter has a few retinol products she adores for her combination to dry skin, including Protocol Oxidated Retinol Serum and Maelove Retinal Super Serum. "I've seen real results with both, as has my partner who I coerced into testing right along with me (sorry not sorry), and they have a decent shelf life without a ton of preservatives," Baxter tells TZR.
Kayla Greaves: Senior Beauty Editor, InStyle
Greaves' two go-to retinol products are Allies of Skin's 1A Retinal & Peptides Overnight Mask as well as La Roche Posay’s Retinol B3 Serum. "The Allies of Skin product is a retinal, which is still a derivative of vitamin A, but tends to work faster than a retinol," she says. "What I like about this one is it also features peptides along with organic argan oil and arctic cranberry seed oil to boost hydration. As for La Roche Posay, it is super gentle and the formula also includes niacinamide, which is like an all-in-one ingredient for even toned, smooth skin."
Jennifer Hussein: Beauty Editor, Bestproducts.com
For Jennifer Hussein, high-strength retinol isn't her skin's BFF. "I tend to opt for the lowest dose of retinol to appease my sensitive skin since anything above 0.5% causes hellfire on my complexion," she notes. "If your skin can't handle that, try looking into bakuchiol, a natural retinol alternative that's much easier on the skin."
One of Hussein's all-time favorite retinol products is Glow Recipe's Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Face Mask. "It's a thick, creamy and dreamy mask to slather on right before you go to bed, and sensitive skin types won't have to worry about Freddy Krueger-like skin when they wake up in the morning since it subs harsher retinols for a gentler encapsulated retinol alternative," she says.
Additionally, the editor notes that the mask has mild polyhydroxy acids (a newcomer in the exfoliating acids scene), to gently exfoliate the skin overnight, plus avocado extracts to soothe and nourish. "Pair this with their Avocado Melt Retinol Eye Sleeping Mask, which has all of the delicious benefits of the original face mask plus coffee berry to de-puff and brighten under-eyes, and you have yourself a retinol cocktail that's gentle enough for anyone to enjoy" Hussein says. "I use the face mask twice a week, and the sleeping mask nightly (seriously, it's that gentle)."
Theresa Massony: Senior Style Editor, Elite Daily
Since Theresa Massony, Senior Style Editor at Elite Daily, has sensitive skin, she almost always looks for a retinol that's formulated with hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or squalane.
The editor says she can't get enough of IT Cosmetics' new Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream"It's a serum-moisturizer combination, so it eliminates a step in your routine," Massony explains. "It's formulated with encapsulated retinol, which reaches into deep skin layers, as well as antioxidant vitamin E, which soothes and calms skin, and vitamin B5, which moisturizes."
Massony has also seen great results using Kate Somerville's +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer. "The formula includes pure retinol along with vitamin C to completely refine your skin's texture and brightness," she says. "Add in the hyaluronic acid and the ultra creamy consistency, and the end result is just chef's kiss."
And as of late, the editor has been loving L'Oréal Paris' Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum with 0.3% Pure Retinol"Another one formulated with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, this serum has given me softer, more radiant skin after only a few uses. Not to mention, it retails for under $40, and the texture feels heavenly."
Rhea Cartwright: Freelance Beauty Writer
"For me, formulation is always key and although my skin can tolerate pretty much anything, I look for retinols that combine reparative or soothing ingredients that can help mitigate any possible irritation that is often associated with a vitamin A," Rhea Cartwright a freelance beauty editor and writer, tells TZR.
The writer says French pharmacy brands are great for no-frills products that work. For example, Cartwright notes that La Roche-Posay's Redermic R Retinol Cream, a 0.3% treatment, is an excellent entry-point retinol at a reasonable price. "For my heavy hitters, I always go for 'clinical' brands such as NeoStrata, AlumierMD, or ZO by Obagi, which I typically use during the colder months," she says. "I’m currently using this one [the R-Retinonate Intense] from Medik8, who are the retinol experts and have one for everybody. Although formulated with a powerful strength retinol, they’ve combined it with ceramides and skin soothers so I’ve experience zero dryness."
Cartwright is very partial to a retinol oil because she loves both the corrective and nourishing nature of them. For this, British brand Votary is one of her favorites. "Combining a gentle yet effective retinoid with botanical oils, this is more of a “marathon not a sprint” product but delivers beautiful results," she says about the brand's Intense Night Oil.
Alix Tunell: Deputy Editor, Real Self
Alix Tunell, says all of Perriocne MD's products work great on her normal (but on the dry side) skin, and its Acne Relief Retinol Treatment & Moisturizer is one of her go-to retinols (even though she doesn't have acne). "The first time I used it, I woke up absolutely glowing; after a couple months, it's helped even out some texture issues on my cheeks and brighten my overall tone," she tells TZR.
When Tunell is taking her skin care routine seriously and wants the most heavy duty retinol, she reaches for Sobel Skin Rx's 4.5% Retinol Night Treatment. "It's the highest retinol percentage you'll find, but the delivery system keeps it from being too irritating," she explains. "I notice real results in terms of softening fine lines and lightening the melasma above my cheekbones, but it's crucial to start slow and build up your tolerance."
Hana Hong: Associate Editor, Real Simple
Since her skin is very sensitive and eczema-prone, Real Simple's Associate Editor Hana Hong is always on the lookout for gentler retinol products. "To help counteract any flareups, I always hunt for a formula that’s blended with moisturizing ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, hydrating oils, or calming botanicals," she tells TZR.
"The sticker shock is a bit steeper with this one, but trust when I say a little goes a long, long way," Hong says about StriVectin's S.T.A.R. Light Retinol Night Oil. "Despite its oily consistency, my thirsty pores drink this stuff up. It’s comprised of naturally derived biomimetic retinol, which mimics your skin's natural processes to better receive retinol’s benefits (sans redness and irritation)."
Serum wise, Hong advocates for Herbivore's Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum. "The uniquely bouncy, jelly-textured water-based serum fades my hyperpigmentation and improves skin texture (we’re talking baby bottom territory here) without leaving behind a destructive aftermath," she explains. "Even with a month of consistent application, I don’t experience any of the telltale irritation that I get from retinol after just a few days."
And when it comes to moisturizing, she reaches for Neutrogena's Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Regenerating Anti-Aging Face Cream. "Jennifer Garner sung such high praises about this cream when I interviewed her a couple years ago, so I decided to give it a whirl," the associate editor explains. "True to her word, the cream is pretty great. The formula is combined with hyaluronic acid so it’s a little more gentle than other retinols and doesn’t trigger my eczema even with daily use."