The golden age of skincare has well and truly arrived, with more and more people investing in multi-step regimens to boost their complexion.
When creating a skincare routine, it all comes down to a few key active ingredients that work overtime to create that sought-after youthful glow – and one that’s creating quite a buzz is retinol.
WHAT IS RETINOL?
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative, also known as vitamin A₁. It’s actually one type of a larger class of potent chemical compounds frequently used in skincare called retinoids. As active ingredients, they increase both collagen production and skin cell turnover, resulting in a more even complexion with minimised fine lines and wrinkles, less visible pores, and reduced sebum (which contributes to oiliness).
BEST RETINOL SERUMS AND VITAMIN A CREAMS
If you’re after a singular serum to take years off your face, retinol should be your new go-to – so we’ve rounded up our top picks of the internet’s favourites, all backed by hundreds of glowing (pun intended) reviews — like this “spectacular” serum from Sephora that leaves skin “plump and firm”.
CeraVe is popular with shoppers for good reason — not only is it affordable, but its no fuss formulas are developed with dermatologists.
This retinol is specifically designed to treat acne marks and improve skin texture, containing encapsulated retinol, niacinamide and CeraVe’s signature three essential ceramides to restore and look after the skin barrier.
Did we mention it has more than 14,000 five star reviews on Amazon?
“CeraVe retinol is a really good choice if you’re just starting to use retinol as part of your routine,” one five star review reads.
“I’ve experienced zero irritation so far and even though it’s a small bottle it’s lasting me for quite a while. I bought it mainly for anti-ageing but it’s helped a lot with breakouts from wearing a mask all day. Definitely will repurchase.”
This popular retinol based serum is actually the top-selling retinol in the United States, which is huge considering how saturated the skincare market is there.
Youth Renewal Serum stands out because it’s suitable for all ages and skin types. Murad claims it is able to target wrinkles and lines while boosting skin radiance after just two weeks of use.
It manages to be both effective and gentle, with extra ingredients like hydrating hyaluronic acid and swertia flower extract to firm skin.
Powered by a fast-acting retinoid, a time-released retinol and a retinol booster, it’s a powerhouse serum.
This serum contains 0.15 per cent stabilised retinaldehyde, the strongest non-prescription retinol you can buy. Other skin-loving ingredients include five per cent niacinamide, three essential ceramides to improve skin barrier and ashwagandha.
Five star reviews say it is “very gentle and effective” while giving “spectacular” results.
“I’ve seen amazing results in just under a month of use. Fine lines are disappearing, my face feels plump and firm, and the tone is bright and even,” one five star review reads.
BEST RETINOL SERUM FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
La Roche-Posay Redermic Retinol B3 Serum 30ml, Amazon Australia, $48.59
Designed to target fine lines and wrinkles, improve moisture retention and the appearance of uneven skin texture, La Roche-Posay’s Retinol Serum claims to provide visible results within a week. Added vitamin B3 soothes and softens skin and restores the skin’s natural moisture barrier, too.
On the brand’s website, well over 300 people have awarded the serum five stars, with one writing, “This product is beautiful. Been using it for over a week and my skin is smoother, softer and brighter. My foundation (when I wear it) glides on and doesn’t cake. I am so impressed with the products overall … being 53 years old with breakouts is not cool. My skin is now under control”.
BEST AFFORDABLE RETINOL SERUM
One of iHerb’s best-selling retinol products this has skin loving ingredients like green tea, aloe vera and glycerine.
Using encapsulated retinol this serum works to support skin against ageing and fine lines, with over 8000 five star reviews.
Shoppers who wrote five star reviews say it is a “great product with an affordable price” but warned it sells out frequently.
“This retinol serum is the best! The bottle is big for a little price, it has a milky texture that’s easily absorbed by the skin. I have oily skin it suits me perfectly, I use it in my night routine I wake up in the morning with plump soft skin,” one five star review reads.
This cruelty-free and vegan solution from The Ordinary contains a powerful one per cent of pure retinol, to reduce the appearance of fine lines, photo damage, and general skin ageing. As a high-strength formula, it’s a good choice if you’ve tried lower strength retinol (like the brand’s 0.2% formulation) first to let your skin become accustomed.
Over 100 reviewers have given it a five-star rating, with one commenting, “I love this product and the difference it has made to the overall texture of my skin. Definitely use SPF when using this treatment at night as it makes skin more sensitive but improves hormonal breakouts massively”.
With a 0.25 per cent strength retinol formulation, this serum creates smoother skin and promotes cell renewal. It stimulates collagen and elastin production to create younger-looking skin, reduces uneven distribution of melanin to prevent unwanted pigmentation, assists in the reduction of sebum production, and corrects sun damage and premature ageing.
It has over 360 five-star reviews, with one person noting that if you avoid sensitive areas of skin, you’ll love it, adding, “This serum has huge bang for its buck. I’ve never used a more potent retinol serum that’s had excellent results. It’s well on its way to getting rid of all my mask acne”.
BEST HYDRATING RETINOL SERUM
This unique oil and retinol hybrid product is a great option for those concerned about the potential drying effects of retinol.
Made using two per cent vegan retinol, this oil is enriched with rice bran extract and botanical oils like sunflower, soybean, chia and rosehip to leave skin seriously hydrated.
“I can’t say enough good things about this product. I have extremely sensitive skin, and I’ve tried soooo many retinol products,” one five star review reads.
“This is the first one that doesn’t irritate or break out my skin. It even feels great going on at night.”
Featuring stable retinol with a mid-strength 0.1 per cent concentration, this Paula’s Choice Serum also contains vitamins C and E to brighten skin, and squalane to hydrate, leaving your face looking younger and glowy.
One of the hundreds of five-star reviewers called it a “holy grail”, adding, “I’ve been using this for a week and I’m kicking myself I didn’t find it earlier. I use after PC BHA Exfoliant and my skin has never looked better. It absorbs into the skin quickly and leaves it soft, plump and glowy without appearing greasy. My skin is super sensitive and this doesn’t irritate it at all, which never happens for me with products containing retinol. Highly recommend!”.
Containing 30 capsules that are individually sealed for optimal freshness and potency, Elizabeth Arden’s formulation contains wrinkle-smoothing retinol and moisture-boosting ceramides. Each capsule contains just enough to cover your face, neck and décolletage. With a 4.7-star average rating from over 500 reviews, you can expect serious results.
“This Retinol Ceramide Capsules did more in a week than my last serum [did] in five months!” wrote one reviewer. “Among many benefits this has really softened my crow’s-feet lines and faded the dark circles under my eyes! It also got rid of the redness. My skin texture overall is improving. It just looks healthier and a lot less dull.”
This retinol is lovely and lightweight and includes vitamin E to help keep skin hydrated, as well as stabilising the 0.3 per cent pure retinol.
This retinol is ideal for beginners and is fast absorbing, with five star viewers praising its non-greasy formula.
“This is one of my favourite serums, my skin absorbs it really well and the next morning I can see it looking healthy and happier for it,” one shopper wrote.
BEST PREMIUM RETINOL SERUM
This rejuvenating night serum may not come cheap, but with a close to five-star average rating from over 90 reviews, it’s worth your spend. Containing retinol to increase collagen production, reduce sebum production, and improve skin texture and tone, it also features tomato seed extract to reduce redness, and squalane, evening primrose, and macadamia seed oil to hydrate.
“I’ve used this product every other night for about a month now and I noticed that my breakouts have healed faster and I also don’t breakout as much. My skin feels so smooth the next day and less oily,” wrote one five-star reviewer.
This serum has over 600 reviews, with an average rating just shy of a full five stars – which makes its high price tag a lot less scary. Its advanced combination of 1.5 per cent retinol along with vitamins E and C encourage the skin’s renewal process, improving tone, texture, collagen production, and moisture.
One reviewer noted that its inclusion of hydrating oil saves you an extra purchase, writing, “This retinol is extremely non-irritating and effective (which is hard to find). If you’re starting to see some signs of ageing (30s, 40s or 50s) I highly recommend it. All of my fine lines fade to almost non existent and people think I look about 10 years younger than my age. I’ve tried other retinols, and they always irritate my skin. But not this one”.
If you’ve ever wondered what Trinny Woodall has been doing since iconic 2000s TV show What Not To Wear ended, then you’re about to find out.
Turns out she’s been busy creating beauty brand Trinny London, which launched in 2017 and has achievable cult status, thanks in part to its stackable makeup pots.
The newly released Overnight Sensation contains anti-flaking retinal+ and granactive retinoid® to target the appearance of wrinkles and firm skin.
Five star reviews say it is a “game changer” that makes wrinkles “definitely less noticeable”.
BEST VITAMIN A CREAM
If you prefer your skincare routine to be as simple as possible then this night cream from L’Oreal will be right up your alley.
Key ingredients include anti-ageing holy grails retinol, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to intensely hydrate the skin.
One of the coolest features about this night cream is its push-down dispenser which gives the product in an even single dose and is more hygienic.
This rich and rejuvenating night cream is an all-in-one moisturiser and serum designed to fight visible signs of ageing. It strengthens and repairs skin while you sleep, thanks to the 0.2 per cent retinol, so that each morning you wake up with smoother, more radiant skin.
One five-star reviewer wrote, “I have sensitive skin and I am still relatively new to the retinol game so I found this cream gentle but still gives me results without any irritation or drying. It is a very nourishing cream with a nice scent. I’ve been using this for two weeks and can see improvements in my fine lines and texture on my face”.
BEST VITAMIN A RETINOL ALTERNATIVE
While retinol is one of the most clinically proven skincare ingredients for anti-ageing, it isn’t for everyone.
It can be too harsh for sensitive skin types and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, will need to be avoided.
This hardworking facial oil is ideal if you’re looking for an overnight treatment to support skin transformation.
Ingredients include bakuchiol (a natural ingredient used to treat fine lines and pigmentation that gets likened to retinol), vitamin C, INCA oil, jojoba seed oil and vitamin E. This oil promises to help protect your skin barrier while improving your skin tone and fine lines — it’s one of the few face oils I’ll use on my skin.
This skin oil from JSHealth contains bakuchiol, a natural antioxidant that’s widely considered an alternative to retinol (although you should check with a medical professional if you’re unsure about use).
It also contains nourishing natural ingredients like vitamin A rich buriti oil, pomegranate for antioxidants and marula oil.
Five star reviewers say it leaves skin “so dewy and hydrated”, with one shopper writing: “My skin has never looked so radiant. I’m obsessed!”
If you can’t use retinol, this vitamin A cream is a great gentle option from a cult French beauty brand.
It contains two forms of stable vitamin A which target uneven texture and pigmentation, while the addition of squalane helps to hydrate your skin.
It also contains Propolis Cera Water Extract which has natural antimicrobial properties. 100 per cent of Adore Beauty customers who purchased the cream would recommend it, with one five star review describing it as a “fabulous product that does what it says”.
ARE RETINOL AND VITAMIN A THE SAME THING?
Not quite – retinol is a type of retinoid, which in turn is one form of vitamin A. The other forms of vitamin A are called carotenoids, which are antioxidants.
CAN I USE RETINOL EVERY DAY?
Retinol is a potent ingredient, so it will take some time for your skin to get used to it – and that means that you have to build up to being able to use it every day. Check the instructions on the specific retinol product you buy for details, but generally, you’ll want to start with a lower-concentrated formula (say, 0.2 per cent) one to three times a week.
Apply it after water-based serums and before moisturisers and oils to allow it to absorb properly. You may notice your skin looking worse, initially, but don’t stress – this is known as a ‘purging’ phase, and it occurs almost any time you introduce a new active ingredient into your skin regimen.
If you’re consistent and patient, however, you’ll likely be rewarded with much healthier looking skin in as little as three weeks, and once your skin has become accustomed to the retinol, you can gradually increase the frequency with which you use it.
Find more skincare tips in the Best Of Beauty section, where we round up hydrating eye creams for every decade and the best anti-ageing moisturisers. Plus, we try the LED mask that rivals pricey competitors and the beauty device that saves you hundreds.
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