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The Best Retinol Products You Can Buy Over the Counter

They aren't prescription grade, but they deliver major results.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

In the field of skin care, sunscreen and the powerful vitamin A derivative retinol are arguably the two most important components in anti-aging formulations. Retinoids operate by enhancing cell turnover and raising collagen synthesis, which helps to diminish, improve, and prevent fine lines and wrinkles, reduce discoloration and sun spots, and brighten skin, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, who is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Retinols, the gold standard component, not only accelerate enzymes, but they also aid in the treatment of existing acne and the prevention of future breakouts (particularly those pesky blackheads and whiteheads!). "Retinols and vitamin A derivatives are chemical exfoliants, and their qualities are great for hyper-pigmentation," says board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. DiAnne Davis of North Dallas Dermatology Associates.

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It's better to begin utilizing retinol in your mid- to late-20s so you don't have to play catch up. Preventative care, notes Dr. Zubritsky, has far better effects and outcomes, so it's time to get a head start. And if you detect acne or changes in your hormones as you age, you should begin using it sooner rather than later. "That doesn't mean you can't use a retinol if you don't get acne," Dr. Davis says, "but if you do start to notice outbreaks on your skin, the sooner you get it under control, the better."

Dr. Tiffany Libby, a board-certified dermatologist and MOHS surgeon, recommends including retinol in your skin care routine for a clear, blemish-free, vibrant, and healthy complexion, affirming that "retinols are absolutely safe to use on any skin type." It all comes down to formulation: If you have eczema or sensitive skin, for example, look for a cream that contains niacinamide, "which has been shown to reduce retinol sensitivity," she says. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or attempting to conceive, however, should avoid using retinol. And while some retinoids are mild and gentle, others are potent and can cause skin irritation. If you do experience sensitivity, Davis recommends consulting a board-certified dermatologist, who can advise you on the optimal retinol for your skin—whether it's over-the-counter or prescription strength. While you'll need to head to your dermatologist for the latter, we have you covered on the former.

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Moisturizer
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Olay Regenerist "Retinol24" Night Moisturizer

Dr. Zubritsky recommends this formula if you're looking for a low-cost solution that's readily available at the drugstore. "The nicest thing about this product is that it actually works. It's a retinol that's been combined with a powerful moisturizer to give the skin more hydration (retinoids can be irritating). This is an excellent choice for individuals who are new to retinol," she says.

Shop Now: Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Moisturizer, $38.99, ulta.com.

Exuviance Pure Retinol Correcting Peel
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Exuviance Pure Retinol Correcting Peel

"I adore this intensive corrective peel; it's quite effective," adds Dr. Zibritsky of this formula, which boasts a 0.3-percent concentration of retinol. Dark spots from aging and sun damage become less evident with weekly use, and the skin becomes more even in tone.

Shop Now: Exuviance Pure Retinol Correcting Peel, $72, ulta.com.

It Cosmetics "Hello Results" Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream
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It Cosmetics "Hello Results" Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream

This product is multi-functional and can be used in a variety of ways. It contains both free and encapsulated retinols, according to Dr. Zubritsky, making it suitable for daily usage. "It combines an anti-aging serum with a cream, so it truly is the best of both worlds."

Shop Now: It Cosmetics "Hello Results" Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream, $69, sephora.com.

Mele Dark Spot Control Serum
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Mele Dark Spot Control Serum

"I love Mele's Dark Spot Control Serum," Dr. Davis says. It's a thin, liquid serum with pro-retinol and hexylresorcinol; both help to reduce the appearance of dark spots and brighten.

 Shop Now: Mele Dark Spot Control Serum, $25.99, ulta.com.

SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream
Credit: Courtesy of SkinBetter

SkinBetter Science AlphaRET Overnight Cream

Dr. Davis claims that this retinol causes minimal to no inflammation. The AlphaRET Overnight cream from SkinBetter Science comprises a retinoid and an alpha hydroxy acid that ultimately moisturizes the skin. According to Dr. Libby—who also loves this formula—the combination of lactic acid helps to lock in moisture, brighten, and exfoliate.

Shop Now: SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream $125, store.skinbetter.com.

Avene Retrinal
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Avene Retrinal 0.1 Cream

This hero product is on Dr. Libby's favorites list. It contains retinaldehyde, a powerful over-the-counter retinoid, as well as the antioxidant vitamin E. Thermal spring water soothes, softens, and calms.

Shop Now: Avene Retrinal, $70, dermstore.com.

Dr. Loretta Concentrated Firming Serum
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Dr. Loretta Concentrated Firming Serum

This medical-grade serum is formulated with retinol and lipids. It works wonders on enlarged pores, conceals dark spots, and reduces the appearance of fine lines.

Shop Now: Dr. Loretta Concentrated Firming Serum, $80, dermstore.com.

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3
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SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

This is a great option for a first-time retinol user. It's enhanced with the latest stabilization and delivery technologies to ensure a steady, even release. Best of all, it is formulated with soothing bisabolol to minimize irritation and specially packaged to preserve its potency. 

Shop Now: SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3, $67, dermstore.com.

CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum
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CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum

To help rebuild the skin's barrier, this encapsulated product is enriched with hyaluronic acid, soothing niacinamide, and three dermis-supporting ceramides. This retinol serum also includes proprietary time-release MVE Delivery Technology.

Shop Now: CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum, $18.99, ulta.com.

SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex
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SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex

This product's algae extract keeps skin smooth, moisturized, and free from free radicals.

Shop Now: SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex, $78, dermstore.com.