Adding retinol to your skincare routine is a rite of passage. It’s a product we eschew for years until our dermatologist or esthetician finally harasses us enough to consider, and we realize that it’s not just for dealing with wrinkles. In reality, retinol has a ton of other benefits that make it a great addition to a skincare routine at any age. Whether you’re trying to smooth skin texture from breakouts in the past or you’re trying to quell breakouts today, retinol is a powerful skincare tool to keep in your armory.
Sounds great, sure — but what is retinol anyway? Retinol is just the fancy name for vitamin A. Yep, that’s right. All along, we’ve just been talking about using this antioxidant on our faces, not some intense chemical potion. Vitamin A is our skin’s best friend. Our skin welcomes it with open arms, and vitamin A gets to work, increasing the production of collagen (reducing fine lines), producing new blood vessels (fading discoloration), and exfoliating.
There are two forms of vitamin A used in skincare — retinol, where your skin must first breakdown the compound into retinoic acid, is available in drugstores. The prescription derivative of vitamin A is more powerful and has a higher concentration of the already broken down compound retinoic acid, so you get results faster. That doesn’t mean it’s better than the drugstore formulas by any means.
Retinoic acid is potent and will likely irritate your skin for a week or two even when you begin with the smallest dose. Starting with drugstore retinol is recommended to build your skin’s tolerance to the product and eventually move to the more potent prescription retinoids.
If you’re ready to start your retinol journey, here are six excellent drugstore retinol products to choose from.
Differin Acne Treatment: This formula is a fan favorite, proven to help reduce acne in only a few weeks. It uses prescription-strength retinol (as opposed to retinoid), so while it’s strong, it still won’t wreak havoc on your skin.
Retinol 0.5% in Squalane from The Ordinary: If you’re looking for effective and affordable, look no further than The Ordinary. This is an excellent percentage of retinol, to begin with, and it’s paired with ultra-hydrating squalane to help reduce irritation. The brand also has a lower percentage and a higher percentage you can choose from.
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules: This brand has been in the over-the-counter retinol game for a long, long time so you can trust this brand of retinol packs the punch you’re looking for. This product uses capsules, as retinol is known to immediately break down on exposure to oxygen, so this preserves the retinol until you’re ready to use it.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Moisturizer SPF 30: If you’re looking for retinol that will double as a daytime moisturizer, this product from Neutrogena includes SPF 30.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum: CeraVe is a brand long recommended by dermatologists everywhere for being an excellent match for sensitive skin. This retinol serum is no different.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Facial Serum with Retinol: Yes, another product from RoC — they’re that good. This retinol formula forgoes the capsules but offers just as much strength.