The Best Retinol Formulas to Buy at the Drugstore, According to Dermatologists

You’ll find retinol in many prestige skincare formulas but, for quite some time, it was harder to track down more affordable options. Thankfully, more and more drugstore brands are making the miracle ingredient accessible to the masses. A host of products — even entire lines — boast retinol as part of their DNA.

Read on as dermatologists share some of their favorite retinol-spiked serums, gels, and lotions to help you start reaping the benefits as soon as possible. (Be sure to consult your own derm should you have questions about which retinol solution is right for your individual needs.)

Best Retinol Face Cream According To Dermatologists 

Tree of Life Vitamin C, Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Tree of Life Vitamin C, Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid serum for Brightening, Firming, & Hydrating for Face - 3 Ct x 1 Fl Oz - Total Skin Reset, Anti Aging, Dark Spot Correcting - Skin Care Set
  • THE ULTIMATE BRIGHTENING, FIRMING & HYDRATING POWER TRIO: Use the Vitamin C Serum followed by the Hyaluronic Acid Serum in the morning to visibly brighten, reduce dark spots, smooth, and hydrate the skin. Reach for the Retinol Serum followed by the Hyaluronic Acid Serum in the evening to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, fade the look of age spots, support elasticity, and soothe the skin.
  • INSTRUCTIONS: Apply Vitamin C Serum in the morning followed by Hyaluronic Acid Serum. Apply Retinol Serum in the evening followed by Hyaluronic Acid Serum. Apply 3-5 drops to clean, dry skin on face, neck, and décolleté. Use sunscreen daily, as retinol increase sun sensitivity. For best results, follow serums with a moisturizer.

Tree of Life Vitamin C, Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid Serum says it’s important to remember that consistency is key when it comes to retinol. Unfortunately, consistency can be difficult when retinol increases flakiness, redness, and peeling as your skin gets used to it — an ordinary side effect of retinol.

RoC® Retinol Correxion® Deep Wrinkle Night Face Cream

RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream, Daily Face Moisturizer with Shea Butter, Glycolic Acid and Squalane, Skin Care Treatment, 1 Ounces
  • DEEP WRINKLE NIGHT CREAM: This anti-aging hydrating cream with glycerin works through the night when skin is believed to be most receptive. Wake up to revitalized skin for a smoother, more radiant appearance! Clinically proven to make skin look 10 years younger*.
  • FOR DAILY USE: Powered by Retinol & our exclusive mineral complex, this non-greasy, non-comedogenic formula helps reduce the appearance of deep wrinkles by up to 50% while lifting & firming skin*. Made for dramatic results but gentle enough for daily use by men and women!

“Ideally, retinol should be moisturizing enough to be used seven days a week, 365 days a year,” she says, citing RoC® Retinol Correxion® Deep Wrinkle Night Face Cream ($15) as an option. “The more hydrating the formula, the more likely patients are to be compliant with its use.”

Differin® Gel

Differin Acne Treatment Gel, 30 Day Supply, Retinoid Treatment for Face with 0.1% Adapalene, Gentle Skin Care for Acne Prone Sensitive Skin, 15g Tube
  • Clears breakouts where they start (Deep in pores) and prevents new acne from forming, which ultimately restores skin's texture and tone
  • Differin works differently than other Acne treatments by normalizing skin cell turnover and effectively targets two primary causes of Acne, clogged pores and inflammation

Previously only available with a prescription, Differin® Gel ($13) is one of the most lauded formulas for acne treatment. Dr. Jenny Sobera, FAAD, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of FaceMD+TM, has been recommending the product to patients for years. “With regular use, you can typically expect to see improvement when it comes to clearing acne, as well as improved texture.”

Neutrogena® Rapid Wrinkle Repair® Face and Neck Moisturizer with SPF 30 

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Face Moisturizer with SPF 30 Sunscreen, Daily Anti-Aging Face Cream with Retinol & Hyaluronic Acid to Fight Fine Lines, Wrinkles, & Dark Spots, 1 fl. oz
  • 1-fluid ounce pump bottle of Neutrogena Visible Repair Retinol Face & Neck Cream Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 30, retinol & hyaluronic acid. Your Rapid Wrinkle Repair anti-aging moisturizer got a makeover, a new look with the same efficacy
  • Anti-wrinkle face & neck moisturizer with retinol intended for beginners has been dermatologist-tested & has proven to smooth skin & improve skin clarity in one week & in just four weeks, reduce the look of fine lines & dark spots

For a less intense retinol formula, Dr. Sobera recommends the Neutrogena® Rapid Wrinkle Repair® Face and Neck Moisturizer with SPF 30 ($18). “Not only does it offer a low dose of retinol, but it also contains hydrating and calming hyaluronic acid and protective SPF 30,” she says. For these reasons, the product is worth a shot if you have sensitive skin. According to the brand, you can expect to see results — including a reduction in the appearance of fine crow’s feet and cheek wrinkles — in as little as one week. That said, retinoids can take months of consistent use before showing any visible improvement.

MD CompleteTM Retinol Vitamin C Concentrate

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Dr. Hal Weitzbuch, MS, FAAD, Director at the Calabasas Dermatology CenterTM, loves the MD CompleteTM Retinol Vitamin C Concentrate ($29) for its antioxidant benefits. “In addition to containing retinol, the formula is packed with vitamins C and E, pomegranate, cumin, and coconut oil,” he says. Unlike many products containing vitamin C, this one should be applied at night before moisturizer, he notes, as retinol can degrade when exposed to sunlight.

The Ordinary Retinol Serum 1% in Squalane

Eva Naturals Anti-Aging 1% Retinol Serum For Face - Granactive Retinoid with Squalane Dark Spots, Fine Lines & Wrinkles - Collagen Boosting Moisturizer - Pure Retinol Night Serum for Face (2 Oz)
  • Powerful Retinol 1% Formula - Instantly notice a more youthful & restored complexion when using the Eva Naturals gentle and effective retinol 1% face serum in your skin care routine! With a simple yet powerful combination of granative retinol and squalene oil, this anti-aging formula works to reduce the look of fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots and hyperpigmentation while visibly firming the skin!
  • Deeply Hydrating With Squalene - This advanced Eva Naturals retinol-complex squalane moisturizer features the powerful anti-aging plant-derived sugarcane ingredient, squalene. With gentle and well-tolerated retinol, antioxidants, and hydrating ingredients, this squalene serum acts to replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier while providing long lasting hydration for a soft and healthy glow all day long.

The Ordinary® has set skincare lovers abuzz, and it turns out that derms are also loving the brand. “[The brand has] great products that are sold at unbeatable prices,” Dr. Weitzbuch says. He particularly loves The Ordinary Retinol Serum 1% in Squalane ($7)“Vegan and cruelty free, this retinol serum is a great complement to any skincare regimen,” he says. “Like most serums, it should be applied after cleansing before moisturizing.” In addition to retinol, the product is also laced with squalane, a skin-softening superhero. (Read more about squalane here.)

Olay® Regenerist® Intensive Repair Treatment

Olay Smooth & Renew Retinol Face Moisturizer, 2 oz Fragrance Free Night Cream for Fine Lines and Wrinkles with Retinoid Complex, Recyclable Eco Jar Packaging, Value Size
  • NIGHTTIME SKIN CARE: Apply before bedtime to wake up to smooth, younger-looking and brighter skin
  • POWERFUL INGREDIENTS: Features Olay's Niacinamide + Retinoid Complex, plus Amino Peptides

Dr. Howard Sobel, a dermatologist and Founder of Sobel Skin, recommends the Olay® Regenerist® Intensive Repair Treatment ($19) for sensitive skin types. “The retinyl propionate found in this product is a more tolerable form of vitamin A. It also has niacinamide and dimethicone, which [may] decrease the risk of [redness and dryness],” he explains.  Additionally, it contains vitamin B3 to help retain skin’s moisture content.

For best results, Dr. Sobel recommends applying the treatment daily to cleansed skin, with a focus on areas particularly prone to aging (such as the area around the eyes and on the forehead). “Follow with your usual facial moisturizer,” he adds.

La Roche-Posay® Redermic RTM Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3. Anti Aging Face Serum for Lines, Wrinkles & Premature Sun Damage to Resurface & Hydrate. Suitable for Sensitive Skin, 1.0 Fl. Oz
  • This anti-aging pure retinol face and neck serum leaves skin feeling smoother, hydrated, and renewed
  • As a result, the look of lines, wrinkles and premature sun damage is reduced. This retinol serum combines concentrated pure retinol and vitamin B3 for optimal effectiveness while also being suitable for sensitive skin

The La Roche-Posay® Redermic RTM Anti-Aging Retinol Serum ($57) offers major moisture with a lightweight gel formula, says Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, a celebrity dermatologist and Medical Director of Mudgil DermatologyTM. “It feels refreshing and elegant to the touch, and contains lipo hydroxy acid — a derivative of salicylic acid — to help exfoliate skin and increase cell turnover. It also won’t dry out your skin [as much as salicylic acid] with regular use,” he explains.

CeraVe® Skin Renewing Retinol Day Cream with SPF 30

CeraVe Anti Aging Retinol Serum | Cream Serum for Smoothing Fine Lines and Skin Brightening | With Retinol, Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, and Ceramides | 1 Ounce
  • [ RETINOL SERUM FOR FACE ] Anti-aging facial serum with Retinol to help improve skin’s texture including visible signs of aging for more radiant skin and Hyaluronic Acid to help retain skin’s natural moisture, and Niacinamide to help calm skin.
  • [ SMOOTH TEXTURE ] Lightweight serum with a gel texture and a non-greasy feel. If layering with an eye cream or facial moisturizer, apply Skin Renew Retinol Serum in a thin layer and allow to fully absorb into skin before applying additional products.

The CeraVe® Skin Renewing Retinol Day Cream with SPF 30 ($15) is another good option for sensitive and/or dry skin types. Not only is the formula fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, but it also contains barrier-supporting ceramides to strengthen and repair fragile skin, notes Dr. Shari Marchbein, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the NYU School of MedicineTM. Additionally, the product itself is non-irritating.

“[It’s] an encapsulated retinol for a slow release,” Marchbein says. She also notes that it contains SPF for protection against UVA/UVB rays. Apply the formula liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply at least every two hours. (Note: retinol can make skin more sensitive to sun, so it’s absolutely crucial to use SPF when you’re using the ingredient.)

Product prices may vary from the time this article was written.

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