8 of the best retinols for your skin type

Retinol is hailed by dermatologists as the gold standard in anti-aging – and with good reason. SUZANNE SCOTT uncovers the best retinols for your skin


The word retinol has become a blanket term for a handful of vitamin-A derivatives (including retinoids), which, when it comes to softening lines and improving skin tone and firmness, dermatologists agree are the most hard-working anti-aging ingredients at our disposal. But which one is the best retinol for your skin type?


Using retinol while you sleep makes sense. In fact, we now know this is the sweet spot for skin repair, so adding this anti-ager to your night-time arsenal will only help boost cell turnover. What we love most about this glow enhancer is that it combines 0.3% of retinol, antioxidants and cosseting oils, such as rosehip, vitamin E and coconut oil – so you get all the benefits of retinol without the dryness. The result? Brighter, rested-looking skin come morning.


Sun is good for the soul, but less so our skin, as too much UV can result in patches of unwanted pigmentation. Add this lightweight serum to your night-time skincare routine (one pump for your face and a further pump for your neck and décolletage) every evening for four weeks. The retinol starts to break down excess pigmentation and helps to prevent new clusters from forming. Follow it with a high-factor SPF for day.

BEST RETINOL FOR SOFTENING LINES Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum

The best retinol has been shown to boost collagen production and improve hydration over time, which equals less-obvious lines and wrinkles. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare has teamed retinol with ferulic acid and niacinamide to strengthen the skin and plump it up so that wrinkles become shallower. It’s a winning combination. Pat a pump or two onto cleansed skin twice a day – don’t forget your eye area, where crow’s feet are likely to lurk – and follow with your best moisturizer.

BEST RETINOL FOR REDUCING THE APPEARANCE OF PORES Zelens Power A Retexturising & Renewing Treatment

With encapsulated retinol and two types of retinoids, this oil formulation really packs a punch. Applied daily to cleansed skin, it helps to accelerate cell renewal, helping to keep skin looking and feeling plump, while working to reduces the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Thanks to its impact on cell renewal, this is an excellent option if you have enlarged and visible pores, as it helps to keep them clear and compact, making them less noticeable.

BEST RETINOL FOR SENSITIVE SKIN Paula’s Choice Clinical Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturizer

The retinol in this clever moisturizer has been combined with ceramides, which are renowned for boosting moisture and strengthening your skin’s protective barrier. So if you are someone who has found integrating retinol a challenge in the past, due to dryness and irritation, this may well be the solution. Additionally, you’ll find vitamin C skincare present, too, which will also help with brightness and bringing about a glow.


At 1% pure retinol, this oil is not for beginners. It is ideal if you have used retinol previously, so have built up a level of resistance, and if you’re starting to see more pronounced signs of aging. It’s potent for an over-the-counter product, which means it’s very effective at softening lines and wrinkles and reducing the appearance of age spots. It has also been formulated in a way that allows it to penetrate further into the skin and so have more of an effect. The retinol has been combined with calming vitamin E, Omega-3 and Omega-6, so you shouldn’t see the kind of irritation associated with a strong retinol.


Dark spots have an unwelcome habit of appearing on the tops of hands, around the hairline, the upper lip and neck area and, while partly down to genetics, they are almost certainly made worse by UV exposure. Treat them with this retinol, which has been combined with antioxidant vitamins C and E to help repair skin damage and neutralize free radicals brought about by UV rays and aging. Use this best-selling cream twice a day for two weeks to kickstart your new glowing complexion.

BEST RETINOL FOR REDUCING DARK CIRCLES Kate Somerville + Retinol Firming Eye Cream

Dark under-eye circles can be difficult to treat, as their cause is often hereditary. So, while the best retinol is unlikely to completely fade them, it can make them lighter and less noticeable. Treat yours with this cooling eye cream. It has been formulated with bio-retinols, which work in the same way as retinol but without any irritation. This is crucial when you’re treating the delicate skin around your eyes. Apply straight to your skin with the cooling tip, after applying your serums and before moisturizer.

What is retinol?

Retinol is the strongest retinoid you can buy over the counter and without a prescription from your doctor or dermatologist. Essentially, retinols (and retinoids overall) are molecules that prompt retinoid receptors, or proteins, in the skin to trigger collagen production.

What are the benefits of retinol?

Because retinol helps your skin produce more collagen, it can reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, sunspots and patches of unwanted pigmentation. While it does this, the surface of your skin naturally becomes smoother, brighter and more even. Additionally, the best retinol helps to speed up cell turnover, which is something that naturally slows the older we get – and one of the reasons skin starts to look less youthful. Faster cell turnover equals fresher, brighter, smoother skin – plus, it helps to fade accumulated patches of pigmentation.

What is the difference between retinol and retinoid?

Retinol is a retinoid – and all retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A, which prompt the skin to produce collagen and increase cell turnover. So retinoid is the name given to all such vitamin-A derivatives, which include retinol, but also others like tretinoin, a retinoic acid also known as Retin-A. The real difference lies in their strengths. Retinols sit on the milder side, so they are used in skincare products, while Retin-A is very strong and can therefore only be prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist for specific skin conditions.

How to use retinol

The trick is to work retinol into your routine gradually. Begin by using it once a week and, if your skin responds well, go up to twice a week. Do this until you’re using it most nights. If your skin feels irritated, go back to one night a week and allow it to acclimatize before starting to increase usage again.

It’s preferable to use retinols at night, because they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Then follow up with an SPF the next morning.

Only ever use one retinol product at a time. If you’re using a retinol serum before bed, don’t be tempted to use a retinol-based mask earlier in the day, too. You won’t see better results for using more; you’ll just create irritation and sensitivity.

If you’re using a retinol serum or oil in your evening skincare routine, the time to apply it is after cleansing – on dry-ish skin. And that’s it. Don’t layer it with other serums and definitely don’t use it alongside an exfoliating acid such as glycolic, lactic or kojic.

If your skin feels sensitive, or you find the initial stages of using a retinol particularly drying, massage a generous amount of a very hydrating moisturizer over the top; a favorite of mine is La Mer’s Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream.


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