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The Best Retinol Creams, According to a Dermatologist

If you consider yourself a skincare fanatic, you know that retinol is the active ingredient of the moment. You can find it in everything from highly active prescription creams to mild herbal products. This popular vitamin A-derived ingredient is often touted as a go-to skin savior and has absolutely flooded the beauty market. This can make it difficult to distinguish between products that are actually effective and safe and those that are marketing gimmicks.

To find out which options are the real deal, HuffPost spoke with Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a cosmetic dermatologist board-certified by Union Square Laser Dermatology. She shared vital information about retinol, including the best creams available over-the-counter.

She told us that retinoids, which include retinol and retinoic acid, are vitamin A derivatives that have been widely used to treat aging skin. Retinol is a type of retinoid, a precursor to retinoic acid which is converted to retinoic acid in the skin.

Since retinol creams can be used to help prevent and treat skin aging, they can be used as early as your 20s and 30s. “REtinol creams can help increase epidermal thickening, promote collagen synthesis, and reduce collagen breakdown in photo-aged skin,” Change said. “By doing so, retinols can help prevent and soften wrinkles, smooth uneven skin texture, and improve skin tone.”

Clinical studies have shown that retinol can improve the visible signs of skin aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and mottled pigmentation, while being associated with fewer signs of skin irritation and redness compared to retinoic acid. However, people with sensitive skin are recommended to start using retinols slowly and with moisturizer to reduce the risk of irritation. For example, most people should start using it once every few days until they are sure their skin can handle it, gradually moving to daily or every other day use. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use retinols.

Keep reading for Chang’s recommendations for the best retinol face creams. They include a range of prices and different strength levels and formulations at retailers like Sephora and Amazon, so you can choose the one that’s best for your skin.

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Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Moisturizer

This is a great option for retinol beginners. Formulated for daytime use, Neutrogena’s Retinol Moisturizer features SPF 30, which is imperative when using potent ingredients like retinol. It fights fine lines, dullness, wrinkles, dark spots and more while hyaluronic acid adds much-needed plumping hydration, so the moisture barrier stays healthy.

Kate Somerville + Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer

Those with sensitive skin may want to take it easy with this potent blend of powerful active ingredients, as it may cause irritation. The combination of Retinol and Vitamin C helps brighten and replenish skin while improving skin texture and fine lines. It’s a rich, nourishing cream that protects against free radicals while working hard to hydrate and repair the skin.

AlphaRet Skin Better Science Intensive Night Cream

This powerful cream is ideal for anyone who wants to up their retinol game but doesn’t want to go to prescription strength. Just be sure to be diligent about using sunscreen. Formulated with both retinol and AHAs to improve the visible appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone, Skin Better Science’s Night Cream is a powerful addition to any skincare regimen. A higher concentration of glycolic acids helps improve skin texture and feel.

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream

If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly and incredibly effective vegan alternative, this one’s for you. Just be sure to go slow if you’re new to retinol. Made with a vegan 1% form of retinol with peptides and niacinamide, Drunk Elephant Night Cream contains a powerful combination of anti-aging ingredients and soothing botanical extracts. It’s the best of both worlds for those looking for a powerful plant-based retinol that delivers results.

CeraVe Skin Replenishing Retinol Serum

Ideal for most skin types, beginners, and sensitive skin, CeraVe’s offering includes time-released encapsulated retinol along with hydrating and skin-repairing ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. it has a gentle yet effective formula that won’t cause irritation and helps smooth and brighten the skin.

SkinMedica Anti-Aging Retinol Complex

This option is best for those who know their skin can tolerate high levels of active ingredients. SkinMedica’s Night Lotion is formulated with several different concentrations of retinol to help rejuvenate the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Seaweed extract keeps skin soft, hydrated and protected against free radical damage.

Alastine Renewal Retinol

Alastin’s Retinol Cream comes in two strengths, 0.25 and 0.5, so you can start with the lighter strength if needed. Those willing to try a higher percentage of retinol should do so slowly, so your skin can get used to it even if you’ve been using active ingredients for a long time. It is formulated with encapsulated retinol to diminish the appearance of fine lines and smooth skin texture. It includes oat extract and antioxidants to help calm and soothe skin while protecting against dehydration with powerful moisturizers.

Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Treatment with Peptides and Vitamin C

Retinol beginners and veterans alike can reap the benefits of this effective cream. This high-strength formula from Paula’s Choice absorbs quickly into the skin, smoothing, strengthening and brightening the complexion. Potent antioxidants like vitamins C and E work in tandem with hydrating hyaluronic acid and skin-firming, nourishing peptides to deliver safe results.

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