A little scared of retinol? There’s no need to be.
Fact: retinol is the most effective and most extensively studied skincare ingredient on the planet. Also fact: retinol is the scariest skincare ingredient, period, which brings us to this timely guide to the best retinols for beginners.
The skincare ingredient is the most commonly talked about member of the retinoid family. This happy clan of vitamin A derivatives go by different names according to their strengths, with retinol being the most popular one available over-the-counter. Touted to transform skin texture, diminish blemishes, improve cell turnover and stave away visible ageing, retinol is the pinnacle of skincare goodness, but people always approach with caution as when it gets ugly, it gets really ugly.
When used improperly, it can cause your skin to go the way of a chemical peel from hell, i.e. you begin to flake hardcore, and your skin gets extra, extra sensitive. This is a massive barrier to entry for retinol newbies, as this frightening prospect, next to the heavy amount of literature one has to parse to come to terms with what is best to use.
The answer, of course, is individual. While we’re here today to recommend the best retinols for beginners, it is important to know that beginners must always approach this inclusion as training for a marathon. You don’t run 42km overnight, you train your body to get there with low, slow doses.
Similarly for retinol, you want to start with small concentrations (0.25 or 0.5 percent) used two to three times a week, maximum, and only a pea-sized amount at a time. Your skin will show results after a couple of weeks to three months, so not seeing a dramatic change is not an excuse to heap on more product, but play the waiting game.
Also, do not forget to use SPF after as your skin becomes hypersensitive to sun exposure upon application. There is really little point to using retinol if you’re just going to let sunlight’s ageing prowess wreck your complexion once you’re out the door.
8 best retinols for beginners to get started with:
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- Dr. Dennis Gross' Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum
- CeraVe's Skin Renewing Retinol Serum
- Kiehl's Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum
- First Aid Beauty Skin Lab's Retinol Serum 0.25%
- Paula's Choice's Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
- Skinceuticals' Correct Retinol 0.3 Anti-Aging Night Cream
- SkinMedica's Retinol 0.25 Complex
- The Inkey List Retinol
Dr. Dennis Gross’ latest is one of the best options for beginners. This potent but gentle product works to provide all the benefits of Vitamin A sans the irritation, thanks to its mix of retinol, its natural alternative bakuchiol, rambutan and ferulic acid. The latter is an antioxidant that counteracts the irritating effects of retinol while reducing sun damage simultaneously, so you can expect smoother and plumper skin without dealing with all the usual redness and dryness that it brings. Use with the other products in the range, such as the Overnight Wrinkle Treatment and Triple Correction Eye Serum to complete your anti-ageing routine.
This gentle daily retinol serum is formulated with ingredients like hydrating hyaluronic acid, soothing niacinamide and three essential ceramides that lock in moisture and help restore your skin’s protective barrier. The formulation also includes MVE Technology, which encapsulates the ceramides to ensure efficient delivery within your skin’s barrier over time, so your skin is protected even long after you’ve applied it.
Inspired by the science of “micro-dosing,” this retinol by Kiehl’s is formulated in a precise daily dosage that promises to deliver just the right potency for anti-ageing benefits without the side effects. The innovation is then combined with the healing benefits of ceramides and peptides to help fortify the skin’s barrier, which besides preventing dryness also aids in increasing the skin’s tolerance to the vitamin from the get-go. It’s even gentle enough to be used on parts where retinol is often advised to not be used on, such as the eye area, neck, décolleté and back of hands.
First Aid Beauty is known for being an amazing product line for people with sensitive skin, so you can be assured that its retinol is as gentle as can be. 0.25 percent of pure retinol combines with peptides and a low-irritation formula to deliver a dose of anti-ageing goodness to your skin, sharing space with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid for brightness and hydration.
One percent retinol is as intense as it gets without a prescription, and while beginners may find it daunting to jump right into the motherlode, there are benefits to going big when done in moderation. Ease your skin into Paula’s Choice’s 1% Retinol Treatment by using a pea-sized amount once a week across the whole face, gradually increasing the frequency every two weeks as you monitor your skin’s reaction.
Skinceuticals’ retinol products are some of the most trusted in the market, especially for anti-ageing purposes. Pure retinol is used to accelerate cell turnover, but with minimal irritation, all packaged in an airless tube that ensures the product stays stable and safe to use for a very long time.
Another retinol favourite is the Skinmedica complex, which combines pure retinol with other skin loving ingredients, such as vitamin E, ceramides, niacinamide and squalene. This nourishing combination doesn’t detract from the benefits of the retinol in the slightest, but enhances them.
One of the best budget retinols on the market comes from cult skincare brand, The Inkey List. This bestselling product uses a combination of squalene and a low dose of a retinol complex to better your skin, all for the low, low price of HK$120. This is not pure retinol, mind, but a combination of oils and vitamins with the vitamin A derivative. Great for first-timers afraid of retinol at its most intense.