We love retinol, plain and simple. It's one of the most beloved skincare ingredients recommended by derms and estheticians alike for its youth-enhancing properties, but we also now know it to be the reigning champion of acne fighters.
With so many different types of formulas out there, it's such a relief to know there's one single ingredient that can decrease fine lines and wrinkles while also catering to one of the most common skincare struggles both teens and adults face. If you're curious about how retinol performs such sorcery, esteemed dermatologist Macrene Alexiades (founder of Macrene Actives) has the full rundown for you. "Retinol impacts cell turnover to the skin," she shares. "It reduces sebum activity, therefore working against acne. It also results in a peeling of the skin, causing a resurfacing effect that reduces wrinkles."
Although those with sensitive skin should use caution with ingredients like retinol, those with blemish-prone or oily skin are in luck. Alexiades says you're the perfect candidate for this powerhouse active. For anyone with enlarged pores looking for a way to reduce their appearance, you'll also majorly benefit. Ahead, take a look at a few of Alexiades's recommendations and a full range of the all-time best retinol creams for acne.
1. Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform
Shani Darden's cult-favorite retinol improves radiance and the look of blemishes without over drying.
2. SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0
C E Ferulic isn't the only A-1 product from SkinCeuticals. The brand's retinol is a powerful night cream that works overnight to reduce the appearance of fine lines, blemishes, and dark spots. It also alleviates inflammation and redness.
3. Obagi Medical Retinol 1.0
Obagi is loved and revered by derms for its potent yet gentle formulas. It also contains jojoba oil to offset some of the dryness that can come with using a retinol cream.
4. The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum
The Inkey List's retinol serum is a slow-releasing formula that delivers results with less irritation. It's a great option for sensitive skin and won't break the bank.
5. Paula's Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
This treatment has an almost-perfect five-star review for a reason. In addition to a hefty dose of retinol (1%), it contains vitamin C and a quadruple peptide blend to promote even brighter, firmer skin.
6. Renée Rouleau Advanced Resurfacing Serum
Formulated by celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, this pure retinol serum works well for sensitive skin and helps repair sun damage. It contains 0.4% retinol, so it's easier on skin that can't tolerate a prescription-strength product.
7. Sunday Riley A + High Dose Retinol Serum
For a more advanced retinoid, try Sunday Riley's cult-loved A + serum. Hawaiian white honey helps hydrate and offset any dryness that can occur with a higher dose retinoid.
8. IS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advanced Plus
IS Clinical's powerful healing serum contains retinol, vitamin C, kojic acid, and a blend of botanicals to neutralize free radicals and reduce inflamed blemishes.
9. Alpha-H Beauty Sleep Power Peel With 14% Glycolic Acid and 0.5% Retinol
Alpha-H's Power Peel contains both glycolic acid (another buzzy resurfacing ingredient) and retinol for the ultimate overnight skin renewal.
10. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum
This texture-renewing and acne-fighting serum contains retinol and another botanical active called bakuchiol that works in a similar way. That means you're getting a double dose of acne-fighting ingredients without any added dryness.
11. Dermalogica Retinol Acne Clearing Oil
Dermalogica has managed to create the perfect acne-fighting cocktail with this clearing oil. It features both retinol and salicylic acid, which penetrate deep into the pores to target breakouts at the source.
12. CeraVe Retinol Serum
CeraVe is another dermatologist favorite for its effective formulas that come at a drugstore price. This specific formula is great for both blemishes and the scarring it can leave behind.
13. Naturium Vitamin C Super Serum Plus Retinol
Supercharged with vitamin C, retinol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and salicylic acid, this serum is perfect for fighting acne, wrinkles, and free radical damage.
14. TruSkin Tea Tree Clear Skin Super Serum
Tea tree oil is another well-known acne-fighting ingredient, and this retinol serum happens to be loaded with it. Rounding out the formula are vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to form just the right skin-smoothing recipe.
15. PCA Skin Intensive Clarity Treatment
This clarifying treatment from PCA skin targets acne, inflammation, and hyperpigmentation with oil-control ingredients like witch hazel and retinol.
16. Perricone MD Acne Relief Retinol Treatment Moisturizer
For a moisturizer that gets in on the retinol action, try Perricone MD's. It combines retinol with citrulline and niacinamide to unclog pores and exfoliate the skin at a faster rate.
17. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Topical Retinoid Acne Treatment
For just a straight-up no-nonsense gel, try La Roche-Posay's 0.1% retinoid treatment. It's formulated for especially oily skin types.
18. Differin Acne Treatment Gel
Alexiades loves this classic retinol gel from Differin for acne treatment. It clears breakouts at the source (deep within the pores) and prevents new acne from forming.
19. RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream
Alexiades also recommends this night cream that's noncomedogenic and contains a hydrating mineral complex.
20. Avène Retrinal 0.1 Intensive Cream
Sensitive folks can opt for Alexiades's other favorite retinol cream from Avène. It contains the addition of vitamin E to protect against free radicals and sun damage.
Shawna Hudson has worked in editorial for over six years, with experience covering entertainment, fashion, culture, celebrities, and her favorite topic of all, beauty. She graduated from California State University, Fullerton, with a degree in journalism and has written for other publications such as Bustle, The Zoe Report, Byrdie, Elite Daily, Mane Addicts, and more. She is currently an associate beauty editor at Who What Wear and hopes to continue feeding her (completely out-of-control) beauty obsession as long as she can. Stay up to date on her latest finds on Instagram @shawnasimonee.
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