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The Best Retinols for Sensitive Skin of 2023, Tested by Dermatologists and Beauty Editors


The Best Retinols for Sensitive Skin of 2023, Tested by Dermatologists and Beauty Editors
Is there anything retinol can’t do? Walk into a dermatologist's office and ask them about almost any skin concern you can think of, and chances are they'll talk to you about retinol. Retinol, a retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A, "is a rock star ingredient," says board-certified dermatologist David Kim, MD. "It helps speed up cell turnover so you always have fresh skin cells." This increased cell turnover can help treat acne (and acne scars), dark spots and hyperpigmentation, reduced collagen production, and more.


However, if most things in life sound too good to be true, they probably are. The downside to retinol is that it can cause irritation, especially the first time you use it. This can be a recipe for disaster if you have sensitive skin to begin with, as retinol, an already irritating ingredient, can drive your skin crazy. But all is not lost! Retinol can actually be used on sensitive skin, you just need to use the right product in the right way. Look for formulas that also contain hydrating and soothing ingredients to minimize irritation, dryness, and flaking. Apply only at night, and apply sunscreen every day regardless of your skin type. "Retinol can cause sun sensitivity, so it's important to use sunscreen every day with (at least) SPF 30 and broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection," says board-certified dermatologist Anthony Rossi, MD. Read on to learn what to choose from.


1. SkinMedica Anti-Aging Retinol Complex

The best part about this high-quality retinol lotion is not only that it also contains skin-strengthening ingredients like niacinamide and ceramides (not to mention a powerful antioxidant complex), but also that it “has 0.25%, 0.5 % and 1 type” You can choose the right product according to your skin type. "Gold. "It's very gentle, hydrating, and well tolerated even by people with sensitive skin. "

Test Notes: When it comes to retinol products, this lotion is more of a very thick serum. It glides effortlessly onto your face, quickly smoothing the entire area without leaving any residue. In our tests, we found it to be one of the most elegant to use, not to mention one of the most effective even at lower concentrations. We particularly like the buildable option, which allows you to increase your retinol dose when needed without having to switch products.


2. Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream
PhD. Zeichner recommends this rich night cream for those with sensitive skin because "it combines the powerful antioxidants CoQ10 and retinyl esters to strengthen and smooth skin." Since it's non-irritating, it can be used on all skin types, The same goes for sensitive people. "

Test Notes: The best thing about this thick cream is that there is no need to add additional moisturizer. It's incredibly rich and creamy, especially for a cream in this price range. So if you have dry skin, this is a no-brainer. Using it at night ensures that the retinol has time to work, and when we use it, we wake up with hydrated, plump skin without a hint of dryness.
3. Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Revolution® Treatment Serum

While the product doesn't specify how much retinol is in the formula, "it's gentle and a great option for people who are worried about starting to use retinol due to sensitive or dry skin," says Dr. gold.

Test Notes: Without knowing for sure how much retinol is in this product, we found that it's still non-irritating, although we assume the percentage is slightly higher than other products on this list. It’s also a good idea to add exfoliating lactic acid, which can help make your skin tone smoother and more even, in addition to the effects of retinol. While we haven't had any irritation issues with it, we recommend that people with particularly sensitive skin or those who have never used retinol before start using it extra slowly, just in case.
4. RoC Derm Correxion Fill + Treat Advanced Retinol Serum

"This serum combines stabilized forms of retinol and hyaluronic acid," says Dr. Illustrator. “They complement each other by moisturizing and plumping skin—providing immediate and long-term benefits through consistent use of retinol.”

Test Notes: This retinol is called a "wrinkle filler," which is a bit misleading. Of course, since the formula contains retinol, it helps smooth lines and wrinkles, and since it contains high amounts of hyaluronic acid, it can have a slight plumping effect on the skin, but these effects are cumulative rather than immediate. of. However, when used correctly, it actually does what it says on the package – which is to reduce the appearance of signs of aging. What we love most about it is that for the price, it's actually reliable.


5. Press "Versed" to "Restart Gentle Retinol Serum".
This innovative night serum combines encapsulated retinol with bakuchiol, a botanical ingredient with retinol-like properties, to release retinol more slowly into the skin to limit irritation. This combination means high effectiveness with low irritation.

Test Notes: The thing about retinol is that sometimes it can smell a little, well, not great unless fragrance is added (which is good for sensitive skin). We admit that this serum doesn't smell particularly great, but that's a small price to pay for a product that works so well. It's very gentle—our testers didn't experience any signs of irritation while using it—and because it also contains bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative, it enhances the gentle vibe without affect efficacy.This is a great option, especially for retinol beginners.
6. Kiehl’s Microdose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

Just because Kiehl's serum is extremely gentle, doesn't mean its effectiveness has to be compromised. It contains smaller doses of pure retinol to achieve the desired results with minimal irritation, ceramides to help strengthen the skin's protective barrier, and peptides to strengthen the skin's protective barrier.

Test Notes: Again, the actual percentage of retinol in this product isn't disclosed, which is a bit of a shame, but since it's advertised as "microdosing," our testers didn't experience any irritation, including those who did, because We have never experienced any irritation using retinol and we assume its value is very low. Even though the amount of retinol may be very small, our testers noticed effects after a few weeks, which shows that it really works.
7. Olay Regenerating Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer

The rich, hydrating texture of this anti-aging cream is meant for dry, sensitive skin, but this miracle product takes it up a notch. First, it's fragrance-free, making it perfect for sensitive skin that may react to other fragrances. Second, it not only contains retinol, but also retinyl propionate, a milder form of retinol that delivers the desired results without irritation.

Test Notes: Since you really only use retinol at night, we'll always be fans of combo products like this that combine retinol with a night cream. Some say adding retinol to a face cream reduces its effectiveness (the jury is still out on this, by the way), but if you have sensitive skin and are already using the sandwich method (see FAQ below), then you It's not necessary for this rich cream. It's hydrating enough to keep very dry skin hydrated overnight, reducing potential irritation while still delivering the results you'd expect from a retinol product.

8. First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum

If you don't usually pay attention to ingredient concentration, you should use retinol because more isn't always better. Concentrated as low as 0.25% (more commonly found in 0.5 and 1%), this serum is perfect for beginners and sensitive skin. The formula also contains soothing ingredients like aloe vera, colloidal oatmeal, and allantoin to further curb irritation.

Test Notes: In terms of actual product, this is one of the best low-dose retinol serums on the market. Our testers found it to be gentle and non-irritating, even for retinol newbies, and the slightly creamy texture spreads easily onto your face without leaving a harsh, filmy residue. You still need to add moisturizer after use, but it's so gentle that many of our testers felt they didn't need to reapply it in between. We also have to say that while the pump isn't in great condition and the packaging isn't as easy to use as some of the other products on this list, we don't find them as annoying as some reviewers.

9. Neutrogena Rapid Anti-Wrinkle Repair Retinol Essence Capsules
This fragrance-free serum contains powerful retinol and vitamin E, but is not only gentle on skin, but also comes pre-packaged in biodegradable capsules to ensure you never overdose. Open one, apply it to your face, and you're good to go.

Test Notes: Unlike other formats on this list, we found these single-use capsules take the guesswork out of how much retinol to use. When we first opened it, we thought a pea-sized amount wasn't enough to apply to our face, but once we smoothed it out, it was more than enough (just goes to show how easy it is to apply too much product). . The formula is thick and viscous but doesn't leave a greasy film on the face. If you travel a lot, these capsules are a lifesaver and eliminate the need to pack bulky serum bottles.

10. CeraVe Anti-Aging Retinol Serum

Yes, sure, this lightweight gel serum contains the retinol you need to smooth lines and wrinkles, improve skin texture, and more, but what makes it especially great for dry skin are the other skin ingredients in the formula Element. Hydrating hyaluronic acid, protective niacinamide, and skin barrier-strengthening ceramides ensure your skin remains balanced and hydrated while retinol works its magic.
Test Notes: For a retinol product with so many ingredients, this lotion is shockingly simple. It spreads easily on the face and absorbs immediately, which surprised many of our testers since the formula is a bit thicker than you might expect. It's specifically designed for people with dry and/or sensitive skin, and it shows. There's no added fragrance, and the formula feels intensely hydrating even without the addition of other moisturizers (although you should still do that).
What does retinol do?
A more appropriate question is: What can't retinol do? "Retinol is probably our most researched ingredient for fighting signs of skin aging," says Dr. Illustrator. "It stimulates the production of collagen, elastin and even hyaluronic acid, which strengthens the skin and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol also stimulates cell turnover and helps the skin shed dead cells. In this way, it also It improves radiance, evens skin tone and skin texture." It is a cell renewal factor, which also makes it a valuable ingredient in the fight against acne, breakouts and dark spots caused by hyperpigmentation.

Why does retinol irritate sensitive skin?
While retinol can significantly improve a variety of skin concerns, it's also very potent, which means it can irritate a variety of skin types. Not just for sensitive skin. Dr. says irritation is especially likely to occur "within the first 2-4 weeks of use." Illustrator. "This period, called retinitis, is a period of several weeks during which the skin becomes accustomed to the use of retinol. It can cause redness, dryness, and irritation." If your skin is already prone to this condition, it may Flavonoids can actually make the situation worse, even long after the retinization phase has ended. It's best to err on the side of caution, especially if this is your first time incorporating retinol into your routine. For all skin types using retinol, it can make the skin more sensitive to the sun, says Dr. Zeichner continued, which means daily use of sunscreen is essential, especially if you have sensitive skin.

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