The Best Retinol Products You Can Buy Over the Counter
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.
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.