11 Retinol and Retinoid Products to Treat Acne, Wrinkles, and More

We asked dermatologists everything you should know about retinol and retinoids. Whether you struggle with acne or want to prevent wrinkles and visible signs of aging, retinol can be a skin-care ingredient in your nighttime routine.

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that can help with several common skin concerns and has become a popular ingredient in creams, serums, and more.
Retinol, a subset of retinoids, is a "powerful anti-aging agent and skin transformant," says Dr. Linda Honet, board-certified dermatologist and president of Honet Dermatology/Cosmetics.

To help you decide if retinol may be beneficial for your skin care needs, we asked dermatologists everything you should know about retinol, including tips on how to use it.
We've also got experts' favorite retinol creams and serums, as well as some of the top-rated products based on their recommendations.

What is retinol? Derived from vitamin A, retinol is an active ingredient in skin care that "has been shown to increase skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen (the building blocks of skin), making it ideal for anti-aging and skin rejuvenation," Dr. .Caren Campbell is a California Board Certified Dermatologist.
In 1971, the FDA approved retinoids (a class of vitamin A derivatives to which retinol belongs) as a topical treatment for acne. Subsequent studies have shown that retinol can improve wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and more. (More on retinoids vs. retinol below.)

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Cindy Tolowski. Retinoids can increase collagen production and reduce collagen breakdown, which "helps eliminate fine lines and wrinkles" and scars. Retinoids inhibit the production and transfer of melanin preventing the appearance of age spots over time" and helping to fade existing age and sun spots. Retinoids help clear clogged pores and minimize their appearance. Retinoids increase skin cell turnover, helping to replace dead skin cells with younger, healthier cells for a radiant complexion.
"Retinol is the most important topical agent for acne control because it exfoliates the top layer of skin that clogs pores, reduces oil production, kills acne-causing bacteria, and has anti-inflammatory properties," adds Campbell.

"[It] also helps with hyperpigmentation, skin discoloration, and some skin scarring because it increases skin cell turnover and collagen production." Dermatologist Recommended and Top Rated Retinoid Products
Most retinol products are touted as having anti-aging benefits but not acne-fighting benefits. Why? "Companies cannot legally make medical claims ('treat acne') unless specific studies have been conducted to back up those claims,"

Trosky explained, noting that these studies "can cost millions of dollars." Research aside, "it's accurate to say that any product that contains retinoids will inherently help reduce acne tendencies," she says.
"Companies can't say that, but any dermatologist will attest to that fact." (Virtually all the dermatologists we spoke to agreed.) Below, we highlight top-rated retinol creams and serums and retinoid gels as well as some expert-recommended options — experts we spoke to say retinol creams and serums work for most people is a good starting point, although retinoid gel is a better choice for problems like cystic acne.

All of the retinoid gels we recommend are adapalene – a retinoid usually available in concentrations of 0.1% and 0.3% and used to treat mild to moderate acne – as it’s the only over-the-counter version currently available Topical retinoids.
Retinol products. RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Facial Serum. Honet says this retinol serum from RoC is a great "proven" choice—the brand says its retinol has passed more than 100 clinical trials and more than 75 safety studies.

According to RoC, the formula contains a mineral complex that hydrates the skin and boosts the effectiveness of retinol. Neutrogena Rapid Anti-Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Retinol Cream Honet highlights Neutrogena's Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Cream as a good and relatively affordable retinol cream.
The brand says its patented accelerating formula uses retinol, glucose complex and hyaluronic acid to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, leaving skin looking smoother without irritating it.

Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion Night Serum: Honet is a fan of Peter Thomas Roth's "impressive" and "clinically effective" products, and singled out the brand's Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum for praise. This serum contains sustained-release 1.
According to the brand, they contain 5% retinol—retinol products have slightly more—as well as vitamins C and E and squalane to keep skin hydrated. "Some dermatologists even use this nighttime serum," says Honnett.

Alastin Skin Care Renewal Retinol. Alastin Skincare's updated retinol is formulated with oat extract, hydroxymethoxyphenyldecanone and tremella fungus to soothe and hydrate skin, according to the brand. The retinol in the product is encapsulated in lipids, which helps the retinol be delivered to the skin slowly and carefully.
Commonly used retinol 0.5% This retinol solution from The Ordinary is a great option for anyone who has ever used retinoid products. In addition to 0.5% retinol, this product also contains squalane, an emollient that locks in moisture, as we explain in our guide to moisturizers for dry skin.

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate This serum from First Aid Beauty contains 0.25% retinol, making it a great option for those new to retinoids. Other ingredients in the serum include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and colloidal oatmeal.
According to dermatologists, they both help moisturize the skin and strengthen the skin barrier. Alpha-H Vitamin A Serum with 0.5% Retinol According to the brand, in addition to 0.5% retinol, this serum from Alpha-H also contains evening primrose oil and jojoba seed oil to maintain skin's moisture levels, as well as tomato fruit extract, which can Improves collagen levels.

Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5 According to Skinceuticals, this night cream contains 0.5% retinol to fight discoloration, acne, and signs of aging.
In addition to retinol, it also contains bisabolol and boswellia serrata extracts to soothe skin, the brand says. Other retinoid products Differin Gel In 2016, the FDA approved Differin Gel for the over-the-counter treatment of acne based on numerous successful clinical trials.

Campbell says Differin (containing 0.1% adapalene) is a good over-the-counter retinol option for those looking for something stronger than retinol.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Adapalene Gel, another adapalene gel recommended by Campbell, also contains 0.1% adapalene to unclog pores and fight blackheads and whiteheads, according to the brand.

Although all over-the-counter adapalene products provide similar results, people who have compared Differin Gel and La Roche-Posay Adapalene Gel have found that La Roche-Posay's gel is slightly milder and more hydrating.
Acne Free Adapalene Gel 0.1% AcneFree also makes 0.1% adapalene gel, which is the cheapest option on this list. AcneFree also makes some of our favorite blackhead treatments and skin care products for oily skin.

What is the difference between retinol and retinoids? Retinol and retinoids are both forms of vitamin A, but they are not the same thing. Retinoids are a class of chemicals, and retinols are derivatives of this class of chemicals.
All retinols are retinoids, but not all retinoids are retinols. Retinol is a retinoid commonly found in over-the-counter skin care products. Tolowski explains that retinol is not as effective as retinoic acid because it must be metabolized into retinaldehyde, which is then converted into retinoic acid and absorbed into the skin.

Campbell said retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives that are often "more effective" in fighting problems like acne. Effective products that dermatologists prescribe for acne sufferers often contain retinoids, such as tretinoin, also known as retinoic acid, or tazarotene and adapalene, two synthetic retinoids that work No previous conversion to retinoic acid is required.
Tolowski said retinoids are "the only vitamin approved by the FDA for anti-aging use," noting that "clinical studies have demonstrated that the changes we see in the skin are clinically relevant." Retinyl esters are the weakest and mildest type of retinoids.

"Most people tolerate [retinyl esters]," but they have "the lowest clinical outcomes," Tolowski said. Prescription retinoids (which come in the form of retinoic acid or synthetic retinoids) are often more effective than over-the-counter retinoids (usually retinol or retinyl esters), notes Tolowski, if you really It's impossible to compare the two: it depends on how much retinoid is in each product.
Simply put, retinoic acid and synthetic retinoids are stronger than retinol and retinyl esters, which means you don’t need much to achieve similar results. Whether you use a retinol cream or a retinoic acid gel, a higher ratio of retinoids isn't always necessary, especially since retinoids can irritate and dry out the skin.

"It's about finding the balance between effectiveness and tolerability," Tolowski explains. However, some conditions require stronger retinols: If you have cystic acne, Hornett says over-the-counter retinols "may not be as clinically effective" and recommends consulting your dermatologist for one. More effective prescription options.

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