This Holy-Grail Product Treats Everything From Acne to Wrinkles

Despite being one of the most popular skincare ingredients on the market right now, retinol can still feel like a somewhat daunting addition to your skincare routine if you've never used it before. Tackling clogged pores, uneven skin tone, wrinkles, dullness and more, the skin-resurfacing ingredient is something of a superhero in skincare terms. And from the flurry of retinol-infused serums and eye creams hitting the shelves each week, it's clear to see that retinol is definitely having a moment.

But where should you start if you're totally new to this potent ingredient? As someone who has experienced the unwanted side effects of using a particularly strong retinol in the past—dryness, peeling and irritation—moisturisers would be my personal recommendation for your first foray into retinol skincare. Turns out, the experts agree.

"Unlike serums, moisturisers create a skin barrier that prevents moisture loss, making them ideal for those with dry and dehydrated skin," explains Osman Bashir Tahir, MBBS, MS, MRCS, MSc. "Retinol moisturisers are also great for all other skin types as the moisturising ingredients they contain help to combat potential dryness and flaking caused by retinol." 

However, Tiina Meder points out that using retinol should come with limitations. "All kinds of retinoids are sensitising and couldn't be used by people with sensitive skin on a daily basis," Meder explains. "Daily skincare with products containing retinoids increase the skin's sensitivity to UV rays which makes protecting your skin efficiently problematic. The best way to protect your skin from sun when using retinol is to avoid it."


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But how do you know which is the best retinol cream to choose? Ahead, two dermatologists spills the beans on what to look out for when shopping for your new cream as well as which ingredients you should avoid using at the same time as retinol. Plus, keep scrolling for 15 of the best retinol moisturisers to try now according to the skin experts.

What should we look out for when choosing a retinol cream?


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"With so many different forms of vitamin A [retinol] on the market it can be difficult to know where to start," agrees Tahir. "When you look at clinical trials, the least effective topical retinoids are retinyl acetate, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl propionate. The most effective, and most aggressive, is retinol itself and retinoic acid. Both demonstrate clinical improvement of fine wrinkles and elasticity within just a few weeks of treatment."

"If you're new to retinol, opt for a moisturiser with a low percentage of retinol to reduce irritation, and allow your skin time to adjust before moving up to a higher percentage. Plus, retinol choice aside, be sure to choose a cream with superior hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerine, or vitamin E. Hydrating ingredients are essential for counteracting retinol's possible drying effects." 

Which skincare ingredients should we avoid when using a retinol moisturiser?


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"I recommend avoiding the use of any products containing AHAs or salicylic acid at the same time as using retinol or retinol derivatives," advises Meder. "This combination could make skin extremely sensitive and lead to dryness, irritation, constant redness, lack of barrier function and pigmentation troubles. Also, I do not recommend using peptide-based products at the same time as retinol because of the fragility of peptides. Active forms of retinol or acids could decrease the efficiency of peptide-based solutions."

Now that we know which ingredients to avoid when using a retinol, now is the perfect time to shout out the main ingredient that we should be using every single day: SPF. Sunscreen should form a core part of our daily skincare routines anyway but as retinol can leave skin extra-sensitive to the sun it's imperative that you apply a good SPF each morning to prevent sun damage. 

Are there any good alternative to retinol creams?


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"If you suffer from sensitive skin, try bakuchiol, a natural alternative to retinol," advises Tahir. "Bakuchiol has been shown to significantly improve fine lines and wrinkles, elasticity, and other age-related skin changes. It carries similar benefits to retinol without producing the irritating side effects."

Shop the best retinol creams ahead

Mica Ricketts