These Expert-Approved Retinol Creams Pump the Brakes on Visible Signs of Aging

As a beauty editor, I can't go a day without my inbox being flooded with introductions to new retinoid products promising fast-acting anti-aging properties for women of all ages. But let's get real—aging is natural, and despite the best efforts of cutting-edge products and technology, there will always be signs of it. Rather than fighting against the throes of times, I've decided to embrace the natural aging process whi1le balancing its effects with high-performing products that help combat what I can control. (Hyperpigmentation and acne scarring from my early 20s have become the bane of my existence.)

There's absolutely nothing wrong with accepting how your body changes with time, but it can be extremely helpful to know which products can help prevent future skin damage while minimizing the appearance of past damage. Luckily for you, the best version of your skin can be one click away. With the help of two board-certified dermatologists, I've identified the best retinol creams on the market that are key to revitalizing your skin, underscored by expert recommendations and thousands of glowing five-star reviews. If that sounds enticing, keep on reading!

Tennille Murphy Best Retinol Creams

(Image credit: @thetennillelife_)

What Is Retinol Cream?

"Retinoids function to make the skin less 'sticky,' keep the pores 'clean' and free of debris and buildup. This allows the oil to exit the follicle and to keep the inflammatory factors at bay," begins Ashley Magovern, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Dermstore. "It prevents acne, and that is the key to keeping the skin clear. They accelerate or stimulate cell turnover, which leads to cell renewal and brighter, smoother skin." They also stimulate collagen production, helping the skin remain firm, prevent laxity, and lessen the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Overall, incorporating a retinoic acid product into your skincare routine is essential to any daily regimen.

Sheila Farhang, MD, cosmetic and Mohns surgeon and founder of Avant Dermatology and Aesthetics, offers a similar take on the vitamin A derivative. "It is commonly found in over-the-counter skincare products, as it is milder than prescription-form retinoic acid (aka tretinoin)," says Farhang. "Retinoids including retinols are considered the gold standard for an anti-aging skincare routine because they help promote collagen production and accelerate cell renewal." When selecting a retinoid cream, both Farhang and Magovern pay special attention to how the product is formulated and what can be paired with it for the ideal outcome.

Which Retinol Cream Should I Use for My Skin Type?

And now, the million-dollar question: How do you know which retinol cream to try? Your answer depends entirely on your skin type and its specific needs. If you're noticing the presence of pigmentation, sun damage, fine lines, and wrinkles, it may be time to start looking for a retinol cream. "For sensitive skin, start with a low concentration of retinol and look for soothing ingredients like niacinamide, aloe, and ceramides," Magovern shares. "If you are trying to reverse deeper lines and wrinkles, then I would try to use a more potent retinol cream." 

Those with acne, clogged pores, and very oily skin may benefit from a stronger retinol prescription. However, it should be noted that the process of skin adjusting to strong retinoids can often lead to redness, irritation, and flaking in the beginning.

How Do I Use Retinol Cream, and When Should It Be Used?

According to Farhang, keeping an eye on how your skin reacts to the introduction of the product largely determines how much and how often it can be used. "For those who are just starting a retinol, I usually recommend using one pea-size amount twice a week the first two weeks, then increasing to every other night for a couple of weeks, then eventually every night as tolerated," she says. If your skin can tolerate more, consider upping the dosage. If possible, avoid using potentially irritating exfoliating products like glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide (since this can cause skin irritation, redness, and scaling) or using the "slugging" method, as it increases the penetration of retinol.

Retinol creams come in many forms and with game-changing formulas that can be used on different parts of the body or times of day. While some retinol creams are geared toward night use, allowing the skin to undergo an overnight transformation, others can be used as daily moisturizers.

Retinoid cream shouldn't be used on its own, and Magovern recommends pairing soothing products like aloe and pumpkin-seed oil and using a vitamin C serum or cream for two active ingredients on the skin at the same time. For anyone on the hunt for retinol-based products with anti-aging properties, both experts recommend introducing retinol in partnership with a hydrating moisturizer. And don't forget to keep up with your sunscreen application in the meantime! "I love products that have pure and stabilized retinol so I can ensure that the product is effective. Additionally, it is important to know the strength of the retinol and if it is more than 0.25%, as that may be a little more irritating initially," enthuses Farhang.

If you're ready to see which retinol cream products dermatologists recommend, keep on scrolling!

Overall Best Retinol Cream: SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream

Best Drugstore Retinol Cream: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream

Best Retinol Cream for Sensitive Skin: SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

Best Retinol Cream for Dry Skin: SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex

Best Retinol Cream for Oily Skin: Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Best Retinol Cream for Combination Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Advanced Retinol and Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream

Best Retinol Cream for Milia: Obagi Medical Retinol 1.0 Cream

Best Retinol Cream for Psoriasis: Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment

Best Retinol Night Cream: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

Best Retinol Day Cream: RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Max Hydration Cream

Best Retinol Eye Cream: RoC Retinol Correxion Anti-Wrinkle and Firming Eye Cream

Best Retinol Body Cream: Versed Press Restart Gently Retinol Body Lotion

Best Retinol Moisturizer: Bliss Prevent-4 and Pure Retinol Deep Hydration Moisturizer

This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated.

Maya Thomas
Assistant Beauty Editor
Maya Thomas is Who What Wear's assistant beauty editor based just outside of Seattle, Washington. Her strong love for all things beauty and fashion stems from a strong childhood interest in the fine arts. During a gap year spent in Paris studying the history of French fashion, she shifted her focus to English literature and journalism as a student at Loyola Marymount University with the goal of one day pursuing a career in fashion. After graduating in May 2021, Maya began freelancing for as a contributing commerce writer while also building a following on her lifestyle blog, When she's not writing, Maya spends her free time catching up on reading, perusing art galleries, and enjoying a night out at the ballet every now and then.