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Night Creams | How to choose a Retinol

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

Nighttime is the best opportunity to help your skin repair itself from the damage it sees during the day from UV rays and free radicals and renew itself. Choosing a retinol can be a daunting task when faced with so many options. Read more...



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Why does the night matter for skincare?

Nighttime is the best opportunity to help your skin repair itself from the damage it sees during the day from UV rays and free radicals and renew itself.

Which ingredient should I consider integrating into my nighttime routine for my skin?

Retinol is an important ingredient to consider when you are looking to address the signs of premature aging of the skin. It can be challenging to find a retinol that suits your skin without irritating or inflaming it. Over-the-counter retinol is not as potent as prescription-strength tretinoin or other retinoids but can still trigger skin irritation in those sensitive to its use.

Can retinol be used for acne vulgaris?

Acne vulgaris is a medical diagnosis that can have a significant psychosocial impact on those affected by it. I do not recommend the use of over-the-counter retinols to treat acne vulgaris unless under the care of a Board Certified Dermatologist. There may be cases where it can be indicated however given its minimal potency and lack of studies supporting its independent use in the treatment and management of a condition that has several extremely effective options with relatively predictable results, I recommend only treating acne vulgaris with the guidance of your Dermatologist. I have seen too many pediatric patients over the past 2 decades that have dealt with a lack of results and continued struggles with their skin only to find out they were guided by videos and recommendations that were not indicated for their skin. Likewise, I have seen too many adult patients who have miscategorized themselves as having acne (remember not every pimple is acne), and used over-the-counter remedies not indicated for their skin.

How should I shop for retinols? There are so many retinol products on the market, that I can’t figure out which one to get.

If you are just starting on a retinol product, I recommend starting with brands found at the drugstore. The reason is simple. These products do not tend to be “complicated” and do not tend to contain a lot of excess ingredients that can sometimes contribute to further irritation from the product.

In terms of which product to start with, if you are starting with retinol in your 20s, consider trying a retinol product such as CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Cream. These brands tend to be affordable and apply nicely. Neither of these products appears to disclose the percentage of retinol they contain. If you are starting in your late 30s consider trying Roc Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum or Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max Night Moisturizer. Again, neither of these products appear to disclose the percentage of retinol they contain; however, they tend to be well tolerated and well received by my patients over the years.

What if I am looking for more results out of my retinol?

The challenge with many over-the-counter retinol products is that they simply do not reveal the concentration of retinol in the product. This information is very helpful however in attempting to work through the wide array of products available. Retinol concentrations, when disclosed, are listed from 0.2% to 1%. Retinol over the counter is available in concentrations as low as 0.01% to 3%. There are no standards to determine the exact conversion of strength between over-the-counter retinol and prescription tretinoin. However, in studies I have come across there appears to be about a conversion of retinol as 10x to 20X less potent than tretinoin. This would appear to mean that a prescription of tretinoin 0.025% should be somewhat similar to a retinol of 0.25%. The challenge however is simply that retinol is inactive when applied and it relies on our skin to activate it. This ability varies from person to person. It is reasonable to try over-the-counter retinol products to address various challenges our skin faces from premature aging as they can be better tolerated than prescription products.

The best way to approach the process of navigating over-the-counter products is to seek out retinol products that disclose their retinol concentration.

For retinol, 0.2% concentration, consider VICHY | Liftactiv Retinol Specialist Serum.

retinol choosing 0.2% vichy

For retinol 0.25%, consider FIRST AID BEAUTY | Fab Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate.

For retinol 0.3%, consider NO7 | Pure Retinol 0.3% Night Concentrate, L'OREAL PARIS | Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum with 0.3% Pure Retinol, CLINIQUE | Smart Night Clinical MD Multi-Dimensional Repair Treatment - Retinol, or NEUTROGENA | Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil.

For retinol 0.5%, consider THE ORDINARY | Retinol 0.5% in Squalane, PROVENCE BEAUTY | Immortal Nightmilk Youth Restore Facial Serum, NEUTROGENA | Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum, or DERMA E | Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Concentrated Serum.

For retinol 0.6%, consider BOSCIA | 0.6% Pro-Retinol Repair+Renew Waterless Advanced Treatment.

For retinol 1%, consider GOOD MOLECULES | 1% Retinol Night Oil, NO7 | Pure Retinol 1% Night Concentrate, DRUNK ELEPHANT | A-Passioni Retinol Cream, or THE INKEY LIST | SuperSolutions 1% Retinol Serum.

Which retinol is best for dry skin?

For my patients with dry skin, I tend to favor the Cerave line of products. The Cerave Skin Renewing Cream Serum is an excellent combination of retinol for anti-aging with ceramides to hydrate the skin. It’s a nice balance to strike when you want to have the benefits of retinol for anti-aging but struggle with excess dryness these products can cause.

Which retinol is best for oily skin?

Roc Deep Wrinkle Serum works so well with oily skin that I sometimes switch my younger acne patients to this product when they are looking to maintain skin clearance without prescription products.

Which retinol is best for combination skin?

Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker multi-rejuvenating retinol and superfood oil and pads is a great product for combination skin because of the pads used as a delivery method to the skin. This retinol product is applied to the face evenly with the pads but can also be applied selectively if you so choose.

Which retinol is best for sensitive skin?

Olehenriksen Goodnight Glow Retin-alt Sleeping Crème uses bakuchiol. This is a retinol alternative. It’s a functional analog of retinol meaning it actually has the exact same effect as retinol topically in studies with one huge advantage- it’s less irritating because it’s also an anti-inflammatory agent. This is an excellent option for our sensitive skin patients.

Which retinol is good for acne-prone skin?

For acne prone skin, if seeking an over-the-counter option, adapalene is likely a better option.

choosing retinol adapalene acne

Which retinol is best for mature skin?

Anti-aging, thinning of the skin, discoloration, tissue paper-like wrinkling of the skin—there are so many factors to address that choosing the right product to multitask as much as possible is important. For mature skin, an evolution by a Dermatologist and consideration for a prescription retinoid may be best.

choosing retinol


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