Top Over-the-Counter Retinol Products

Retinol is having a renaissance, and for good reason. It works both as a preventative measure for wrinkles, to mitigate acne, and to reduce signs of aging. Many of them are marketed as "deep wrinkle creams," giving the impression they exist only to treat women with established lines. But retinol creams aren't just that. Start using them before you hit 30 to see effects, but ultimately it's your 60-something self who will thank you. 

First Aid Beauty, FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate, $58

FAB'S Retinol Serum
 Courtesy of First Aid Beauty

​ A starter retinol, First Aid Beauty's FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum is great for people who haven't used the product before and might be a bit apprehensive. It's not scary to use, and feels like you can easily portion it out yourself without overdoing it. It's only 0.25% retinol, and even the formulas on this list can go up to 6.5% or more. Retinol can feel mysterious or like a dangerous endeavor, and this is the best serum to ease yourself in. Start out twice a week and work up from there.

Peter Thomas Roth, Retinol Fusion PM, $65

Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM 1
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM 1. Courtesy of Amazon.com

One of the most beloved retinol creams is Peter Thomas Roth's Retinol Fusion PM. It contains 1% retinol plus a host of extras, which is always great when buying a retinol. 

Those extras include shea butter for hydration (since we know by now that retinol can be drying to the skin) and vitamins A, C and E. There's also caffeine to help with puffiness. 

This product gets rave reviews from all of the top review sites. The biggest con is that the company tests on animals. 

Neocutis, Nouvelle+ Retinol Correction Cream, $150

Neocutis Nouvelle
Neocutis Nouvelle. Courtesy of Amazon.com

This is an excellent product for most skin types because it contains not only a good dose of retinol but a nice mixture of antioxidants (vitamins C and E) and it does not include added fragrance.

Because it contains .6% retinol, it's not for sensitive skin. If you suffer from redness or rosacea you likely shouldn't be using retinols anyway because it will simply be too harsh on your already super sensitive skin. 

The only con is the price, which is more expensive than many others on this list. But yes, the price is worth it. 

Drunk Elephant, A-Passioni Retinol Cream, $74

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
Courtesy of Drunk Elephant

 Leave it to clean beauty brand Drunk Elephant to develop a vegan retinol that ends up winning awards. As with any retinol, start slow, but people seemingly tend to have less of a bad initial reaction with A-Passioni than to many other formulas. The ease of use is great, too—it's a squeeze tube, which means you can dose out however much you want. Mix it with a moisturizer and it works like a charm, with little-to-no irritation to boot.

RoC, Retinol Correxion Max Wrinkle Resurfacing System, $29

Roc Retino Correxion Wrinkle Resurfacing System
Roc Retino Correxion Wrinkle Resurfacing System. Courtesy of Amazon.com

RoC was the brand my dermatologist recommended when I told her my super dry skin could no longer tolerate prescription-strength Retin-A, which can be very drying. 

This set gets rave reviews because it includes a retinol cream and a serum. The two together are incredibly hydrating and effective. After weeks of use, users report seeing noticeable results. 

Algenist, Elevate Advanced Retinol Firming Serum, $98

Algenist
Algenist. Courtesy of Amazon.com

This product is chock full of antioxidants and peptides along with the retinol that's necessary for cell turnover in skin. While pricey, the added benefits and the fact that a few drops per night is all you need, make this a great buy. 

Skin Design London, Retexturising Serum, $125

Skin Design London Retexturising Serum
 Courtesy of Neiman Marcus

 If you saw the word "retexturising" and went "that sounds dangerous," it's fine—retinol is supposed to retexturize. (It does take a few weeks for your face to get adjusted though; know that the dry skin you have right after you start using it isn't forever.) Still, it's a good thing. It means the cell turnover in your face has increased, which helps get rid of wrinkles and acne and is generally retinol's job. But because of that, you'll need an extra boost of anti-inflammatory, which this gives you in the form of arnica. There are also ingredients that promote skin rejuvenation, which makes this serum a sensible choice for anyone just getting into retinol.

Sunday Riley, A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum, $85

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
Courtesy of Sunday Riley 

While plenty of skincare brands seem to rush their product production in order to come out with the newest and trendiest products, Sunday Riley isn't one of them. Instead, they have managed to keep a strong reputation by keeping their line small but efficacious. Still, that doesn't mean they don't ever use buzzy ingredients—their A+ Retinoid Serum is an absolute treat. It's made with a 6.5% retinol blend, which is a high dose for retinol, but it's actually quite mild on the skin. That doesn't mean use it every day, but once every two days is doable. Keep in mind, still, that everyone's skin is different.

Shiseido, Pure Retinol Express Smoothing Eye Mask, $68

Benefiance WrinkleResist24 Pure Retinol Express Smoothing Eye Mask
 Courtesy of Shiseido

People swear by these eye masks despite the hefty price tag. The reviews on Sephora are cult-like. Reviewers swear they leave their under-eye areas much brighter. You have to apply and leave them on for 20 minutes and for this reason (along with the price) many people use them only for special occasions, such as before a wedding or event. 

It's not clear how much retinol is in the formula. Another con is that these have been tested on animals.

OZ Naturals, Super Youth Retinol Moisturizer. $16

Oz Naturals Super Youth
 Courtesy of Amazon

This moisturizer is packed with amazing ingredients, including 2.5% retinol, Hyaluronic Acid, and Vitamin E. All of these in combination increase cell turnover and plump up the skin. I like that the ingredients are all-natural and cruelty-free. This is a beloved and fantastic OTC retinol product and at under $30, it's well-priced, too.

(Updated by Carolyn Hanson)