The Best Retinol Products for Your Skin Type

June 11th 2020, 7:00 pm

Finding the best retinol for your skin type can be confusing! We've made it easier by highlighting the top-rated retinol creams and serums—as rated by you!—including top picks (and expert advice) from Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, chief dermatologist at Hudson Dermatology and Laser Surgery and founder of Skin Medicinals.

Tazorac Gel

4.1

(236 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Oily

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "If I had to name ONE product that I thought was most beneficial to my skin, this would be it (for acne and wrinkles/elasticity/aging/texture, etc.). If I use it under my eyes, I can see a dramatic improvement in the wrinkles/tightness, and it makes my skin look SO MUCH BETTER, in every way...."

TAKEAWAY TIP: Tazorac is a prescription-strength retinoid that is used to treat acne and is great for diminishing fine lines and wrinkles. (Retinols are the less potent over-the-counter version of retinoids). "Retinoids are stronger. They are a vitamin A derivative and are commonly used in derm offices for issues like acne, pigmentation problems, enlarged pores, scars, and also help improve collagen stimulation. [They] reduce oil secretion, so tolerability can sometimes be an issue due to dryness," explains Dr. Bhanusali. "It's best to start slow (use a pea-size amount, every other night) and work your way up." He also recommends stop using other products except for a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer with sunscreen when you first start. Once your skin has adapted to the retinoid and it is tolerating it well, you can then add antioxidants, like vitamin C, to protect your skin from UV and environmental damage. And because retinoids and retinols increase your sun-sensitivity, suncreen is a must.

SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Cream

4.0

(76 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Oily

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "This little tube is a great investment... It is quite strong and a pea sized amount is sufficient for my entire face. Expect to peel a few days after you use it for the first few times. I use once a week. Always wear a good sunblock. "

TAKEAWAY TIP: According to Dr. Bhanusali this formulation from SkinCeuticals is stronger on the retinol spectrum compared to most on the market. So incorporating a rich but lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer into your regimen is highly advised.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream

4.3

(7 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Dry

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "So far I’m loving this cream! My first ever retinol product and I am sold! I don’t have a ton of wrinkles but my skin was so dry from the below zero extreme temps we’ve had! I can honestly say my skin has never felt so good and this is the only difference in my routine! I only use a pea size amount and at first I started every other day applications. I also only apply at night. Wow, I am blown away at what that little bit did to my skin. My pores are smaller, my skin is more radiant, and I don’t have to use my Clarisonic as often as before!"

TAKEAWAY TIP: Dr. Bhanusali recommends this moisturizing cream because it contains hyaluronic acid to counterbalance the drying effects of the retinol.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

4.2

(9 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Dry

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "When I first used the retinol 1% in squalane, I did feel a bit tight and dry, which I liked because I could tell it was working. After a week, it stopped irritating my skin (and I have sensitive skin, most others probably wont even notice). I have used prescription retinoids before and think that this product is on par and equal to the straight up retinoids out of the metal prescription squeeze tubes. I use 6-8 drops (a lot, I know) for my face and neck. I apply every inch of my skin, including under eye and eyelids. I apply this every night. People are always shocked when I tell them my age, as being diligent with skincare and sunscreen have helped me retain, to the best of my ability, to stop time in regards to the appearance of my facial skin. "

TAKEAWAY TIP: Squalane, a moisturizing ingredient similar to our bodies' own natural lipids, helps counter the drying effects of the retinol. Still, those with sensitive skin should slowly build up their tolerance level: use twice a week and then build up frequency from there. Or, try The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion; it's a gentler retinol with less irritation.

Differin Gel

4.0

(235 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Combination

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "Differin has worked really well for me so far. I used Tazorac .1% gel for 11 years, through my late twenties and thirties, and it helped with my hormonal acne as well as anti-aging. It became too expensive for me to continue, however, as I turned 35 and was no longer able to get it covered as a primarily anti-acne treatment. For about a year I decided to stop all retinoids and see how my skin would react, but I eventually started breaking out again in stubborn acne on my chin, jawline and neck... Additionally, I noticed my skin was looking overall less fresh and plump. I finally resolved to try Differin as an affordable, over-the-counter solution and by week 5 I have noticed a dramatic difference in brightening, tightening, and overall tone. Even though adapalene has not been studied extensively for anti-aging, I have so far been impressed with the results. My skin is smoother and tighter. "

TAKEAWAY TIP: For those with combo skin, Dr. Bhanusali favors Differin, the former prescription-only retinoid (adapalene) that is now available over the counter. It's more tolerable for your skin than other retinoids. Not only does it help regulate cell turnover and smooths out skin texture and tone but it also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Retin-A Cream

4.1

(547 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Combination

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "The best anti-aging product out there...I don’t do Botox, no peels, no fillers, but I have been using Retin-A for almost 5 years..I am super happy with it. I am 58 years old. I started [out by] using the low-strength and am now on the 0.1 strength...I wouldn’t want to be without it. My skin looks plump, healthy, and for my age really good...I never had issues with dryness. My skin does good with it— looks great. I will use it for the next 20 years till they find something better!! I know it isn’t for everybody—you have to be perseverant; it isn’t like a miracle product. But if you use it the right way, it will take years off your face..like I am not interested in ever getting a face lift, but Retin-A is easy to use, and so far, the best topical anti-aging product "

TAKEAWAY TIP: Tretinoin, a type of retinoid, is the gold standard when it comes to combatting fine lines and wrinkles (as well as acne). The powerful exfoliant amps up cell turnover by chemically sloughing away the top layers of your skin while helping unclog pores, and is roughly about 20 times more potent than OTC retinols. Because of its potency, it can irritate most skin types (redness, dryness and flakiness are common). Most derms suggest gradually implementing it into your evening skincare routine, by using it every other night and when tolerable increasing the frequency to daily usage. Dr. Bhanusali often prescribes Retin-A, or other precription-strength tretinoins, at lower strengths to his patients. Pregnant women and those who have rosacea or hyper-sensitive skin should avoid using tretinoin at all cost.

The Inkey List Retinol

4.8

(4 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Sensitive

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "This has granactive retinoids in it, which are only available by prescription in Canada. This works as well as a mild prescription retinoid, and it's so cheap. It's not irritating, and a little goes a long way. If you have sensitive skin, this is the retinoid for you..."

TAKEAWAY TIP: Its slow release formula helps minimize the risk of irritation. Plus, it boasts squalane, a hydrating and soothing natural ingredient.

Avène Retrinal 0.1 Cream

4.2

(35 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: Sensitive

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "My skin cannot handle Retin-A, micro or regular, even with the lowest strength, especially as I have gotten older. My skin has become extremely sensitive, redness prone, and is slow to recover from moisture barrier damage. Retinaldehyde is the active ingredient in this product and is right underneath Retin-A for benefits/results. This product is a god-send for me. No irritation and all the benefits. My skin looks and feels great...exfoliates, reduces pores, smoothes. I [now] use less foundation and my foundation looks flawless..."

TAKEAWAY TIP: Avène's healing thermal spring water aids in calming and soothing your complexion, while antioxidants prop up the effectiveness of the retinol and provide free radical protection.

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Serum

4.0

(1 Review)

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SKIN TYPE: All skin types, especially sensitive

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "...I tried this new serum by Olay, whilst I have been self-isolating, just in case I had adverse skin irritation. Well, I am very pleased to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised. My skin is glowing with clarity, I suspect by the copious amount of niacinamide and the retinol propionate all with no sting or breakouts. This is a science-backed product by Olay which is a super-gentle version of OTC retinol that due to the complex delivery system is more likely to enter skin instead of sitting on the surface and doing nothing, plus formulated with many do-skin-good ingredients in an all-in-one. "

TAKEAWAY TIP: This lightweight serum is enriched with niacinamide (aka vitamin B3). "Niacinamide is a good anti-inflammatory," explains Dr. Bhanusali, so it's great for those with extra-temperamental skin. Another benefit of vitamin B3: it's great at keeping skin seriously hydrated.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

4.2

(104 Reviews)

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SKIN TYPE: All skin types, especially sensitive

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN:  "Milky lightweight emulsion. Absorbs quickly. Don't be fooled into thinking that this won't pack a punch, it does! I was a little over-enthusiastic when I first used it and the next morning, my skin was noticeably dry in places. Lesson learned and a couple of drops is sufficient. I've used Retin-A in the past, but the price point and effectiveness of this product is enough that I wouldn't buy Retin-A again."

TAKEAWAY TIP: This encapsulated retinoid formula is considered to be less irritating to the skin than The Ordinary's other stronger retinol formulations, but still try not be overzealous when using.

The Inkey List Bakuchiol

5

(1 Review)

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SKIN TYPE: All skin types, especially sensitive

MUA COMMUNITY COSIGN: "I love this product! I'm surprised that there aren't any reviews on this one. I guess partly because Bakuchiol has only recently garnered some attention for being a natural alternative to retinol. I love the benefits of using retinol but not so much the side effects and Bakuchiol does not come with the side effects at all. The cream is very hydrating and light, and absorbs into my skin very nicely. After using it, I noticed my skin feeling plumper, especially when I mix it with The Ordinary L-ascrobic acid powder. This is like an antioxidant cocktail that my skin is absolutely thanking me for. I wake up with plumper and visibly brighter skin after using this."

TAKEAWAY TIP: Bakuchiol is a natural, plant-derived active ingredient that is similar to retinol. It increases skin cell turnover but is much gentler and less irritating than retinol. And because it's not photosensitive, you can slather it on the mornings without worry. (But that's no excuse to skip the SPF!)


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