For any human beyond college age, retinol is your best friend. It’s basically a vitamin A derivative that was stumbled over by scientists working to develop a product to fight severe acne. The researchers knew a good thing when they found it, and now it’s been developed into a skincare product that actually helps reverse wrinkles. It also smooths out the skin’s texture, diminishes acne scarring, and lightens hyper-pigmentation. In short, it’s a powerful tool for preventing and reversing skin damage.
An important note of caution: Using a retinol product regularly may result in dryness, redness, and sun sensitivity because it brings fresher, newer skin to the surface. Also, unless your dermatologist recommends it, stick to products containing 1% retinol or less to help prevent skin irritation. The dryness and redness typically go away over time, but the ongoing vulnerability means a daily sunscreen is a must. If you don’t wear it, you may actually make your skin more sensitive to environmental stressors that cause aging and end up worse than when you started.
The other painful part of all this? Retinol products are not priced for the faint of heart. We’re not talking about not making the car payment or forgoing Christmas this year, but it might mean skipping a dinner out or buying a cheaper bottle of wine. The results, however, are worth it. We did a deep dive 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.
Best Retinol Overall: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
Drunk Elephant is vegan and includes 1% retinol as well as a triple peptide blend. We’re gonna 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 the 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 a little to your face, once or twice a week to start, after cleansing.
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, which we found to be less irritating than other similar products, and that also contains wrinkle-fighting ingredients like like algae extract, which helps boost skin elasticity.
Best Retinol for Crow’s Feet: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Eye Serum
If you’re at a point where you’re really still 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.
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.
Other Retinols 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 amount of blue-green algae with its own retinoid-alternative activity. Added CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10) helps 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, working your way up to every day.
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 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.
Perricone MD Day to Night Face Lift Duo
Some things are just better together. The dynamic duo. Whiskey and soda. Hobbs and Shaw (well…). Here the Brightening Amine Face Lift—a wrinkle serum featuring glycolic acid for exfoliation, Vitamin C Ester (Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, a stable, oil-soluble form of Vitamin C, used for its ability to increase collagen levels and reduce melanin production), and copper complex help improve firmness, starting your day off right. Then Firming Evening Repair steps in with alpha lipoic acid — another antioxidant — and retinol for an anti-aging treatment that’ll give you sweet dreams throughout the night (assuming you’re not binge-watching Fast and Furious movies, that is.)
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum
If your morning routine is already action-packed just trying to shower, shave, and get dressed and out of the house, go for something designed for night-time use. This serum regenerates and renews skin for a more vibrant complexion, incorporating micro-encapsulated 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.
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