The world of skincare is one that is ever changing. There is a steady stream of new face products, active ingredients, and innovative cosmetic technology that promise to transform the way we see skincare and the health of our skin. One common ingredient that has been consistent in the skincare conversation for years is retinol. Retinol creams are skincare products that contain the vitamin A derivative retinol. They are typically formulated for the face. Milder formulations are available for use around the eyes. Serums usually contain higher concentrations of actives and are easier to penetrate into the skin. What are the best retinol creams? Read on to find out or scroll to the bottom of the page.
To put it simply, retinol is a type of retinoid that works to get deep into pores to clear them of dirt and bacteria and is known for accelerating skin renewal. When infused into a cream base, a retinol cream works to slow down the visible signs of age in the skin by reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, stimulating skin cell regeneration, and smoothing the texture of the skin. It’s countless benefits and super powers on the skin are why retinol creams have been popping up across the beauty space and making their way into the routines and shelves of women of all ages.
However, it’s important to understand that skin care professionals will often use a variety of terms to describe retinol. Some will call it retinoid, and others will call it vitamin A. This can lead to a lot of confusion.
Today, we’re focusing on over the counter retinol products.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is another name for vitamin A. Like other vitamins, vitamin A is found naturally in the body and is primarily connected with keeping the eyes healthy. However, scientists began to synthesize the vitamin in the late 1940s and it was discovered that its topical applications were beneficial for the skin, especially skin that was prone to acne.
To better understand retinol products, it’s important to first understand their history and how they came be. Before retinol creams, there was simply, retinoid. A retinoid is a chemical compound of the vitamin A family. The very first FDA approved retinoid, tretinoin (more familiarly known as Retin-A), hit the market over 40 years ago and was—and still is—available by prescription only. This retinoid was praised by dermatologists and skin experts for dramatically transforming the appearance of the skin helping it to look smoother, brighter, and more even toned.
With the success of the prescription grade retinoid, retinol creams were introduced to the general market. Unlike retinoids which are only accessible via a prescription, retinol creams are available over-the-counter and work in the same fashion of helping to improve the appearance of the skin. The main difference between a retinoid and a retinol cream is, inside the cream, retinol is slowly converted into retinoic acid making it less harsh but still just as effective.
Retinol Serum vs. Retinol Cream
Some consumers wonder whether a retinol serum is better than a cream with this ingredient. It’s a good question, because the answer depends on your skin condition and other products in your skin care routine.
For example, if you suffer from very dry skin, then a moisturizing retinol cream may be a better choice as compared to a serum. A cream can carry more hydrating ingredients and can create a thicker moisture barrier after application. If dry skin is a problem, you may even want to consider a highly moisturizing night cream instead of a retinol serum.
On the other hand, if you’re dealing with clogged pores and acne, a retinol serum may be a better choice, because it’s less likely to clog pores. Serums are designed to be very light on the skin, and to be absorbed quickly.
How Retinol Creams Work
If you’re familiar how a traditional prescription grade retinoid works, you’d be surprised to learn that a retinol cream essentially works the same way. Retinol creams work to smooth the skin, even the skin tone, and stimulate collagen production. Once the retinol cream is applied to the skin, the gradual process of transforming into retinoic acid begins which is what gives the retinol cream all of its benefits.
Oftentimes, there is a misconception that retinol creams work as a gentle exfoliation method, however, this is not the case. When applied, retinol creams can cause some peeling and redness that can appear similar to exfoliation, however, this can not be considered true exfoliation, instead, it’s simply a side effect of a retinol cream.
We’ve briefly discussed some of the skincare benefits that retinol cream provides but that’s just the surface.
So what does retinol do? The main retinol cream benefit is, of course, working to stimulate collagen and elastin production. These are the two essential proteins that allow the skin to retain its firmness, elasticity, and strength. With an increase of collagen and elastin, the normal signs of age are visibly reduced like smoothing fine lines and firming wrinkles.
Retinol creams also help to stimulate skin cell regeneration. This increased cell turnover helps to improve the appearance of skin including fading dark spots and reducing hyperpigmentation. In this same way, retinol creams are great for healing scars, sun spots, and even more stubborn wrinkles and skin imperfections.
If it the first time you’re using a retinol cream, your skin will look smoother after a few days of use.
At this point, retinol creams have become a staple in skincare. People across ages have found multiple ways to incorporate retinol creams into their routines. It’s important to note that while many of the retinol cream benefits focus on skin concerns related to age, you can reap the many benefits that retinol creams provide as early as your twenties.
The most common retinol cream use is simply as a supporting skincare product. You’ll find that many people who don’t necessarily have concerns about their skin have incorporated a retinol cream for more preventative skincare measures. Next, the most recognized retinol cream use is for its anti-aging benefits. Those with mature or aging skin add a retinol cream to their skincare routine to help combat the signs of age in the skin.
Retinol is combined with ingredients like kojic acid and hydroquinone to lighten hyperpigmentation. While retinol does not lighten the skin, it does cause the skin to renew itself at a faster rate.
Common Retinol Cream Side Effects and Concerns
As many positive benefits that come along with using retinol creams in your skincare routine, there are many valid concerns floating around about how they can affect your skin. Some of these retinol cream concerns are valid and can be managed with proper precautions, while others are simply misunderstood. We’ll discuss each of the main retinol cream concerns to put your mind at ease and help you get a better understanding of how to manage the effects of using a retinol cream.
Retinol creams are sun-sensitive. This means that it loses it effectiveness and stability when exposed to sunlight. For proper retinol cream use, you should only be applying it in the evenings when you won’t be heading outdoors.
Retinol creams are also known for causing the skin to become dry and irritated. This is an extremely common—almost definitive—side effect and typically clears after ongoing use. However, because of this, people with extremely sensitive skin or people who have diagnosed sensitive skin conditions, retinol creams may simply be too strong to use and should inevitably be avoided.
Additionally, there are a few other precautions you should take if you are incorporating a retinol cream into your skincare routine. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid retinol creams due to studies that retinoids can be harmful to infants and unborn children. For people who can use retinol creams without concern, it’s important to be aware of products that may cause interference with the cream like benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acids. If you’re using a retinol cream, avoid products that include those ingredients.
How to Use a Retinol Cream
Once you’re ready to begin using a retinol cream in your skincare routine, be sure to ease gradually into using it. You want to start by using a pea-sized amount once a week to begin. Take note of how your skin reacts. If there is excessive peeling and irritation you may want to scale back or try another lower dose retinol cream. If all is well, aside from the minimal irritation and dryness to be expected, you can slowly increase the frequency of using a retinol cream. Work your way up to a daily or every other day application ensuring to include nourishing treatments and moisturizing serums as part of your retinol cream application.
Remember, retinol creams should only be applied at night. Use just that small amount to apply to your face and down to your neck. You’ll find that there are many retinol creams that promise quick and easy results, however, it generally takes four months to experience visible changes. You’ll have to stick with the retinol through the dryness, irritation, and seemingly stagnant phases to experience results.
Serums should be applied before applying creams. If you use multiple serums, always apply the thinnest product first.
Avoid using retinol products prior to undergoing laser treatments as it can increase the risks.
Always wear sunscreen the next morning when using retinol based products as it can increase photo sensitivity.
Best Retinol Cream to Use
We recommend Advanced Dermatology Encapsulated Retinol Cream. It is the most advanced retinol serum yet.