Best Retinol – 21 Top Creams, Oils, Serums And Moisturisers


If you’re old enough to remember Friends the first time around, it’s time to get acquainted with retinol – aka the most effective skin-plumper out there.

Chances are, you’ve already heard of retinol – it’s famed for helping with an unbelievable number of skin issues. A dermatologist-approved derivative of vitamin A, clinical trials have repeatedly shown retinol to improve skin cell turnover and minimise the breakdown of collagen (which leads to fine lines). And that’s not all: retinol has also been shown to help with skin concerns such as acne, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, dryness, rough skin texture, blemishes – we could go on forever.

But before you dive straight in with a skincare innovation this advanced, you’re going to need some tips on using it correctly. We turned to expert dermatologist Dr. Sam Bunting for her tips on using retinol, the right way:

‘A good kick-off plan is to start slowly, every other night, using a pea-sized amount if you’re a first-timer doing this at home. Build up to nightly use after a couple of weeks, as tolerance improves.

‘If you’re nervous (a lot of people are!) it can be helpful to start a retinoid under a physician’s guidance so that you have a structured plan and someone to check things with, as the first 6 weeks can be a bit up and down, especially if you have acne. But in the long run, the effort is usually worthwhile.’Always use at night as UV exposure deactivates most retinoids, rendering them useless.

Always partner a retinoid with daytime broad-spectrum sunscreen use. This should be everyone’s first anti-ageing step as at least 80% of why we age is due to environmental aggressors and is preventable. Retinoids can make skin more sensitive, initially so extra UV protection is essential.’So, now you’re all clued up, it’s time to dive into our verdict on the very best retinols out there – there’s one for sensitive skin, one for serious dark spots, and even one for using around your eyes.

Shop The Best Retinol Skincare


Best retinol for… dark spots

Redermic [R] Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Treatment

When it comes to skincare you can’t go wrong with La Roche-Posay. Whether your’e an experienced retinol pro or a beginner, this 0.3% retinol treatment uses an exclusive Retinol Booster Complex to do the job without irritating sensitive skin.


Best retinol for… affordability

Retinol Serum

Quality retinol doesn’t get more affordable than The Inkey List’s serum. Coming in at just £10.99, this lightweight formula combines 1% stable retinol with a slightly stronger 0.5% granactive retinoid to encourage skin cell turnover and reveal the glow below.


Best retinol for… daily usage

Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum

Precisely formulated with the perfect amount of retinol for your skin to use each and every day without causing irritation or redness, Kiehl’s genius micro-dose serum also draws on the skin-soothing powers of ceramides to promote a stronger skin barrier.


Best retinol for… masking

Retinol Corrective Mask

The Organic Pharmacy


Retinol in a mask? Yup, it’s a thing. Formulated with 3% encapsulated retinol, this skin-smoothing face mask slowly releases its active ingredients into your skin – simply apply, leave on for 15 minutes and let it do its wrinkle-busting work.


Best retinol for… beginners

Universal Pro-Retinol – £30


Any skincare boffin knows that, when it comes to retinol, it pays to start small. This gentle serum is formulated with 0.5% retinol – an ideal level for beginners. Plus, it’s blended with nourishing sunflower seed fatty acids to counteract any less than welcome retinol side effects like dryness or irritation.


Best retinol for… a retinol alternative

Bio Retinoid Youth Serum

REN Clean Skincare


First there was retinol, then there were retinol alternatives. Ideal for sensitive skin sufferers or if you’re pregnant (retinol isn’t tested on pregnant women so results are inconclusive), REN’s plant-based bio retinoid replacement is just as effective as the original.


Best retinol for… your lips

Ageless Phyto-Retinol Lip Mask

You might think, ‘Retinol causes dryness so why would I put it on my lips?’, and in the past you might have been right. But, bareMinerals ultra gentle phyto-retinol alternative is ideal for hitting parched lips with a wave of hydration whilst smoothing out any pesky pout lines minus the dodgy side effects.


Best retinol for… tanning

Sleep Mask Face with Retinol

Love tanning? Love smooth skin? Why not combine the two with James Read’s retinol sleep mask that gives you a holiday glow overnight. A dose of hyaluronic acid keep skin hydrated whilst the DHA (the ingredient that gives you a tan) and retinol, which can both be drying, work their magic.


Best retinol for… adding to your moisturiser

1% Retinol Booster

Give your go-to night cream a retinol boost with Paula’s Choice’s genius serum. Formulated with a gentle 1% retinol, this is the ideal way to ease your skincare routine into Vitamin A, a few drops at a time.


Best retinol for… sun damage

Night Switch Retinol

Turn the clocks bag on pigmentation and sun damage with Lixir’s dinky pump that packs a serious retinol punch (minus the irritation or redness). A well-balanced 1% retinol formula boosts protein production and target signs of sun damage to leave your skin firmer and more even after just one week of use.


Best retinol for… natural beauty lovers

Plantscription™ Retinol Night Moisturiser with Alpine Flower

Origins’ retinol cream combines the genius of nature with the latest lab technology for a gentle formula that actually works. Plant extracts of Alpine Flower and Anogeissus team up with vitamin A to target fine lines and speed up cell renewal. The result? Younger, plumper looking skin minus the parabens and sulphates.


Best retinol for… doing what it says on the tin

Retinol Youth Renewal Serum

Powered by techy sounding Tri-Active technology (a combo of three different types of retinol) this super lightweight serum feels weightless whilst rapidly transforming your skin. The idea? To achieve the benefits of retinol without the annoying side effects. Apply to your neck as well to make the most of this wrinkle-zapping retinol.


Best retinol for… sustainable beauty

Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum

Formulated with bakuchiol (a plant-based retinol alternative), Biossance’s serum is ideal for sustainable beauty lovers. Bakuchiol helps to boost your skin’s natural collagen whilst reducing pigmentation and smoothing. Vegan and cruelty-free, this is the ideal way to love your skin and the environment.


Best retinol for… sensitive skin

Retinol 0.3% + Vitamin B3 Serum

Yup, you can use retinol if you have sensitive skin, you just have to find the right one and remain cautious. La Roche Posay’s lower concentration (0.3%) means sensitive skin is less irritated but the benefits are no less effective – a much more sensible route for retinol beginners.


Best retinol for… night time

Flawless Nightly Serum

This dermatologist-approved night serum is the ultimate overnight treatment. ‘I like Granactive Retinoid, which is in our Nightly Serum as its very gentle yet extremely effective,’ says Dr. Sam Bunting. ‘It also combines well with other Actives like Niacinamide and Azelaic Acid.’


Best retinol for…all skin types

A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum

If you’ve tried (and loved) Sunday Riley’s Luna oil, this is the next step up. It combines 1% encapsulated, stabilised retinol with (less potent) retinol ester, plus humectant white honey to counteract the drying effects. Retinoid first-timers should use the ‘two days on, two days off’ schedule, while seasoned users can apply nightly, following with a hydrating oil (the brand’s soothing Juno is the perfect match).


Best retinol for…portion control

Ceramide Retinol Capsules

Elizabeth Arden’s genius portion-size capsules mean you get the perfect amount of retinol serum for each application. Formulated to visibly reduce lines and wrinkles without drying skin, these are the ultimate entry-level option. The capsules are biodegradable as well – huzzah!


Best retinol for…value for money

Super Retinol High Dose Booster Treatment

If you’ve blacklisted retinol because of irritation, give this game-changer a go. It’s an encapsulated form of the stuff, which means it’s only delivered to the cells that need it the most. It’s also suspended in a handful of other ingredients such as hyaluronic acid to turn on your skin’s internal water tap, dead skin-sloughing lactic acid and cell-building, skin-plumping ceramides, which all help cushion the blow. And if all that isn’t impressive enough, you can bag a bottle for the grand price of £13.75 with a Beauty Pie membership.


Best retinol for… potency and strength

R-Retinoate Intense

Dubbed by the founders as ‘their best formulation ever’, Medik8’s latest launch deserves serious attention. It’s one of the first ever products to combine vitamin A derivatives retinyl retinoate and retinaldehyde (the new, non-irritating kid on the block), resulting in one of the most potent retinol creams that money can buy. Said to be eight times stronger than your average retinol (and 11 times faster acting), this is not one for beginners. (Even seasoned users should limit to twice a week, before building up to nightly use.) But that’s not to say you’ll need to brace yourself for weeks of peeling and dryness – the creamy, apricot-coloured serum is surprisingly gentle, thanks to the barrier-restoring ceramides and peptides inside.


Best retinol for… a brightening boost

+Retinol Vitamin C Moisturiser

Many brands shy away from combining vitamin C and retinol, as they typically require different pH environments to work optimally.Kate Somerville has side-stepped the issue in this creamy, orange-scented moisturiser, which sees the vitamin C encapsulated in volcanic soil, keeping both ingredients as active as possible until the moment they hit your skin.


Best retinol for…hyperpigmentation

Dark Spot Fix

When it comes to fading acne scars and hyperpigmentation, this incredibly potent spot treatment is your best ally. It combines the brand’s signature retinol compound with skin-clearing niacinamide and a redness-reducing turmeric extract. Apply it nightly, be patient, and expect dark spots to lighten within a few weeks.

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