A form of vitamin A, it’s the only ingredient that has been proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and has a whole host of other benefits too, like stimulating collagen production, helping to clear blemishes and evening out skin texture.
So the best retinol creams and serums really are a must for your skincare routine.
At what age should you start using retinol?
The general consensus is that retinol should be used from around the age of 25 (when collagen levels begin to deplete) or when the first signs of ageing appear. But really, it’s never ‘too late’ and if you’re keen to start using it past this age, go for it!
How to use retinol for beginners
If you’re new to this ingredient, it’s best to start with a lower concentration of 0.1% or 0.3%, with over-the-counter-formulas generally tending to stop at the 1% mark. You should also build up use gradually, starting by applying it two nights a week and increasing from there.
Is retinol safe?
Retinol isn’t safe for use in pregnancy and does have the potential to cause irritation, so if you know that your skin is sensitive, look for a lower concentration and always do a patch test.
Unless the product has been carefully formulated to include multiple powerful actives, it’s also best not to use alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids at the same time, as you’ll likely overload your skin and can cause irritation.
When is the best time to use retinol?
Want to learn more about retinol? Read Eliza Explains Retinol for an in-depth look into the ingredient, and browse skincare columnist Dr Kemi’s tips for getting through the initial retinisation period.
6 of the best retinol creams and serums to shop now
On that note, let me get stuck into the best retinol buys…
L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Laser Retinol + Niacinamide Pressed Cream, £29.99
L’Oréal Paris is a high street giant when it comes to skincare, and it’s retinol cream is a real powerhouse formula.
Working to counter the dryness associated with retinol use, the Revitalift Laser cream also contains soothing niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, a great hydrating ingredient that can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water and draw moisture into the skin.
The texture is lovely – think a light and slightly silky cream – and it absorbs very easily with the pump delivering the perfect dose every time, so you’ll never over- or underuse.
The concentration of retinol isn’t specified on the packaging, but my skin can tolerate it and I tend to stick to lower concentrations.
The Ordinary Retinol Serum 0.2% in Squalane, £6.90
Because it’s an unstable ingredient and can be tricky to formulate, retinol often tends to be expensive. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money for results, as this buy from The Ordinary proves, by being one of the masses’ favourites.
Here, retinol is suspended in a moisturising squalane formula to help keep its potentially irritating effects at bay.
There are two higher concentrations to work your way up to as well (0.5% and 1%) for the real heavyweights.
With such a bargain price tag for a retinoid, it’s a good place to start if you don’t want to splurge on a more expensive cream just yet.
Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Retinoid Eye Cream, £18
Many retinol creams and serums should not be taken up to the delicate eye area as they are far too potent. So if you do want to reap the ingredient’s wrinkle-reducing benefits around the eye, you’ll need a specially formulated product.
I’ve been really impressed by vegan brand Pacifica’s not-too-pricey eye treatment, which when used overnight makes me look well-rested the following morning.
The other benefits are great too; melatonin, the sleep hormone, helps to fight off the signs of ageing while mushroom extract de-puffs.
La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum, £45
Dermatologists absolutely love La Roche-Posay, and that’s about as good an endorsement as you can get in the skincare world.
As one of the go-to brands for sensitive skin, you can trust that its retinol serum won’t irritate your skin too much, while still helping to get those all important results.
This serum is very light – almost water-like in texture – and sinks into the skin brilliantly, whether you layer it with other serums or just a moisturiser.
Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1, £45
*Technically* this is a retinal which means, without getting into too much detail, it requires fewer conversions than retinol to turn into the form of vitamin A our skin uses. This means you see results in your skin quicker, and Medik8’s Crystal Retinal is an incredible science-backed formula that the brand says works up to 11 times faster than retinol.
There are four different strengths to choose from (1, 3, 6 and 10), but if you’re brand new to the vitamin A game we recommend starting off with a nice level 1.
One of my favourite skincare products of all time.
Kiehl’s Retinol Skin-Renewing Micro Dose Serum, £70
Kiehl’s is one of those well-loved brands that people trust, so its retinol was always going to fly off the shelves when it launched.
As one of the more expensive retinols in my guide, this is definitely more of an investment buy, but boy is it a good one.
Encapsulated retinol sits alongside ceramides and peptides – two skin-loving ingredients that are great for supporting barrier function, plumping and staving off the signs of ageing – for a formula that’s designed for even sensitive skin types.
It doesn’t feel at all potent when you apply it, soaking into the skin and leaving it feeling nice and soft, and you will look fresh and youthful with continued use.