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Retinol for men: What to know and what to buy

Check out this list of top products for men

Man checking his skin in the mirror
goodluz / Adobe Stock

If you are over 18 and trying to elevate your age-defying skincare routine, then consider retinol for men as one of your potential new best friends. What is retinol? Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that was stumbled upon by scientists who were working on developing the best severe acne treatment.

Today, retinol has been developed and refined into one of the best grooming products for men, one that actually helps reverse wrinkles. It also helps to smooth texture, diminish acne scarring, and lighten hyperpigmentation of the skin. In simpler terms, it’s an essential tool for preventing and reversing skin damage. In other words, the answer to the question, “is retinol good for men’s skin?” is yes.

Shot of a young man looking in the mirror while applying moisturizer to his face. - Yuri A/ / Shutterstock

How does retinol work?

So how does this amazing substance work to reduce the effects of aging on men’s skin? When you use it, retinol gets under your skin, literally. Instead of staying on the surface and removing dead skin cells like other products, retinol gets under the upper layer of skin, known as the epidermis to the layer of skin below, known as the dermis. Once there, it works to help increase the production of collagen, which makes the skin more elastic and creates a plumper look, which reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol also exfoliates your skin and works to unclog your pores.

A man applying skincare products in the bathroom
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What do I need to know before trying retinol for men?

Warning: Although retinol does all the wonders mentioned above, it should be taken with caution. It is not advisable to use retinol products regularly as it may result in:

  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Sun sensitivity

Why? Retinol brings fresher, newer skin to the surface. Unless your dermatologist recommends it, stick to products containing 1% retinol or less to help avoid skin irritation. Products like face moisturizers with SPF also help out big time. The dryness and redness usually go away over time, but the ongoing vulnerability may actually make your skin more sensitive to environmental stressors that cause aging and cause you to end up worse than when you started. And applying a daily SPF might help prevent that.

The painful part about retinol treatment? Retinol products can be expensive. We’re not talking about missing rent or not making the car payment, but it might mean skipping takeout one night or buying a cheaper bottle of wine. Sure you’ll find cheap alternatives just by doing an online search, but do you really want to trust your face to a no-name brand? Spend a little more: The results are worth it. We did a deep dive into the best retinol for men’s skin to find at least one product that doesn’t break the bank and several that have some more specific applications to address your personal problem areas.

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
Drunk Elephant

The best retinol products for men

Best retinol overall: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

Drunk Elephant is vegan, and this cream includes 1% retinol, as well as a triple peptide blend. We’re going to start sounding like your supplement guy at the health food store here: Peptides are specific combinations of amino acids that form proteins that help firm and strengthen skin, boosting the efficacy of retinol. Added vitamin F, an essential fatty acid that our body can’t make on its own, works to improve the skin’s texture and suppleness, as well as to calm any signs of sensitivity. Apply after cleansing with your best face wash, use this once or twice a week to start.

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

Best retinol for sensitive skin: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

We found that because of retinol’s skin resurfacing powers, it can be aggravating for guys with sensitive skin. Enter Murad’s night cream for men, which we found to be less irritating than other similar products, and that also contains wrinkle-fighting ingredients like algae extract, which helps boost skin elasticity.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Eye Serum
Dr. Dennis

Best retinol for crow’s feet: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Eye Serum

If you’re at a point where you’re really just concerned with fine wrinkles forming around your eyes (which is one of the first places we get them due to squinting at our phone screens and not remembering to wear sunglasses), try Dr. Gross’s Eye Serum. It not only has our wonder ingredient, but it also includes ferulic acid to firm skin around the eyes, reduce wrinkles, restore firmness and elasticity, and most importantly, work on those dark circles and droopy eyelids. Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant that — like that glass of red wine you’ve been drinking every night — helps protect against damage from free radicals.

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Cream

Best value retinol: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 night cream

Olay, the purveyor of quality drugstore skincare products, also has an impressive retinol cream that works for hours on end. And while other retinol products contain heavy fragrances, Olay’s is odorless.

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
Sunday Riley

Other retinol products we love

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum

Sunday Riley goes high-test, combing a 5% retinoid ester blend with a 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol blend (a system that makes sure the retinol gets to lower skin levels where it can be most effective), as well as a small number of blue-green algae with its own retinoid-alternative activity. Added antioxidants help to improve the appearance of aging or damaged skin, while a bunch of other natural extracts balance and soothe skin. The maker recommends trying it for two days on, two days off if you’re new to using retinol, and eventually working your way up to every day.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream

If you’ve already slid into that “handsome older gentleman” phase, Neutrogena may be able to help out. This product promises to regenerate younger-looking skin in a week. It’s a moisturizing cream that not only packs in “accelerated retinol,” but also contains hyaluronic acid. The cream soaks deep into the skin’s surface, smoothing fine lines and plumping things up — something we hope isn’t also happening to your Dad-bod belly. It’s an effective treatment for crow’s feet, a common complaint from men of a certain age.

Chantecaille Body Treatment

Chantecaille Retinol Body Treatment

Get the goodness all over your body. Chantecaille’s body cream is infused with encapsulated retinol for smoother and firmer-looking skin. Its botanicals help moisturize where you’re dry while the retinol firms up skin wherever it’s needed. Saccharide isomerase helps bind and attract water to the skin, so apply after a shower for the best effect. Edelweiss extract adds antioxidant properties.

A small bottle of Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum on a white background.
Peter Thomas Roth

Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum

If your morning routine is already action-packed just trying to shower, shave, dress, and out of the house, go for something designed for night-time use. This skin-concern fixing serum regenerates and renews skin for a more vibrant complexion, incorporating microencapsulated retinol with Vitamin C and E for maximum benefit. Apply it every night after cleansing to see visible results in your skin’s tone and texture, rest assured.

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalene
The Ordinary

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalene

A huge round of applause for The Ordinary — a brand dedicated to creating effective yet affordable skincare. Formulated with 0.5% pure retinol, this water-free solution works to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and sun damage. Don’t forget to patch test!

Editors' Recommendations

John Jones
John Jones is a Jersey City, New Jersey-based writer who enjoys covering design in all its forms, from fashion to…
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