Given the widespread availability of OTC retinol creams, it’s never been easier to give one a try. But, trying a bunch of products and finding the best retinol cream for you are two different things. If you want to make sure you’re using a retinol cream that will work for you and your skin, it’s important to know what the experts have to say about this incredibly versatile, pore-refining, skin-care ingredient.
If you aren’t already familiar with retinols and retinoids, they’re both vitamin A derivatives known for their near-panacean ability to smooth and reduce the appearance of fine lines, brighten and even out skin texture, and make skin look clearer overall. This is due to the fact that they expedite skin-cell turnover, which gets rid of dull, dead skin faster, while preventing collagen breakdown (and you need collagen to maintain your skin’s structure and elasticity). Where retinols differ is their potency: Although both retinol and retinoid products come in a range of concentrations, retinols are generally regarded as weaker, while many retinoids are only available through a prescription.
Most dermatologists recommend retinols with surprisingly few caveats. Linda C. Chung Honet, M.D., F.A.A.D., tells SELF that, with patience, commitment, and the right skin-care routine, people of all skin types could benefit from using a retinol. Meanwhile, Jerome Potozkin, M.D., says retinols may be of particular interest to anyone embarking on a “skin rejuvenation journey,” in which they’re seeking to dark spots, reduce sun damage and fine lines, or prevent future signs of wrinkles. Keep in mind that you should always wear sunscreen while using a retinol, as retinols can have irritating side effects including redness, dryness, itching, and increased photosensitivity. This also means that your skin will probably need an adjustment period before you see results. If you have dry skin or it skews toward the sensitive end of the spectrum, this is important to remember—and it’s a very good reason why a retinol cream, as opposed to a retinol serum or gel, may be a better fit for you.
“Creams tend to be thicker and better for more dry or mature skin,” Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, M.D., explains. Dr. Potozkin echoes this recommendation, adding that the specific product you use will naturally come down to personal preference, but ones that come in cream form will be less irritating for sensitive skin types overall and, with time, still deliver the kind of results you hope to see with a retinol. (For the record, it could take anywhere from three to 12 months of regular retinol use to start seeing changes in your skin.)
With all of that in mind, we asked Dr. Honet, Dr. Potozkin, and Dr. Houshmand what they consider to be the best retinol cream on the market now—and they had several highly-regarded recommendations to share, including products from RoC, SkinCeuticals, and Vichy. Read on to find the retinol product that will jumpstart your own rejuvenation journey.