10 best retinol products that tackle ageing, acne and hyperpigmentation
These creams and serums contain vitamin A, which works wonders on sun damage, wrinkles and dark spots
Retinol is one of the few anti-ageing ingredients that actually has a fair chunk of science behind it. It is derived from vitamin A which can increase cell turnover and encourage the production of collagen, improving the appearance of sun damage, lines, acne, scars and dark spots, while evening out tone and texture.
Be careful, though, because overuse can cause dryness and irritation, particularly for more sensitive skin types. If your skin can cope with it, however, you can use a retinol every day – vary your usage to see what works for you.
And they're not only suitable for mature skin: we recommend catching signs of ageing early and starting with regular retinol use in your late 20s or early 30s. It can also make skin more sensitive to sunlight, so it's best use at night. Make sure you follow up with your usual SPF in the morning.
Each of our favourites has been tested for at least two weeks on a range of skin types and ages, looking for visible reduction in fine lines and tone, smoother skin texture and any adverse effects.
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Indeed Labs retinol reface skin serum: £16.66, Amazon
Indeed Labs’ offering is fragrance-free and thin in consistency, so it doesn’t have the nourishing feel of many, but, as often with the brand, it gives results that match products five times the price. This is a great place to start if you’re new to retinol and want a fair-price, good-results entry product.
La Roche-Posay redermic anti-ageing concentrate intense: £24, Feel Unique
Compared to a lot of retinol products, which are notoriously expensive, La Roche-Posay’s delivers great results without the matching price tag. Our tester’s skin was having a small crisis – dehydrated, rough and breaking out – but this "sorted it right out” within three weeks of daily use, with zero irritation.
Murad Retinol youth renewal night cream: £65, John Lewis & Partners
There is not a single dud product in the extensive Retinol range from the US dermatological brand. This is a night cream that isn’t super heavy or oily, and skin is left feeling silky, fresh and well-rested in the morning. Plus, our tester’s usually sensitive skin didn’t show any signs of redness or irritation.
REN bio retinoid anti-ageing cream: £45, Look Fantastic
REN’s bio retinoid (a moisturiser rather than a serum or oil) is a winning combo of mid-range price, minimal fuss and very good results. Our tester’s mature skin felt firmer and brighter and she saw a marked improvement in the lines around her brow and mouth.
Zelens power A high potency vitamin A treatment drops: £120, John Lewis & Partners
Our tester found that this smelt fantastic – lightly fragranced and not at all overpowering – and the pipette is easy to control to dispense the small amount necessary, cutting out waste. Skin was smoother and pronounced lines were reduced, but everyday use caused irritation after a couple of weeks, so we recommend limiting use to three times a week.
Sunday Riley A+ dose retinol serum: £70, Cult Beauty
Sunday Riley’s A+ dose retinol is very strong, containing a 6.5 per cent retinoid blend, but it’s incredibly effective in reducing redness and scarring, and our tester (who is a seasoned retinol user) experienced no irritation. It’s a wonder product for improving the appearance of acne scars, and general brightening and tightening.
Holy Grail retinol repair skin creme: £23.99, Holy Grail
Holy Grail’s line is minimalist in both packaging and products – it features just four essentials. It’s retinol cream is a lightweight moisturiser with one per cent retinol, plus hyaluronic acid and aloe vera. We particularly love it for sensitive skin, but it’s price point will appeal to all.
Dr Dennis Gross ferulic + retinol wrinkle recovery overnight serum: £88, Dr Dennis Gross
This, from the New York dermatologist brand, may be pricey but its results are undeniable: texture and elasticity was noticeably improved after using for just a week on mature skin. As well as retinol, it contains ferulic acid, which both boosts the powers of the retinol and protects skin against further environmental free-radical damage.
Elizabeth Arden retinol ceramide capsules line erasing night serum: £42, Elizabeth Arden
To guarantee the product you’re using is at utmost potency (many ingredients degrade from bottles being opened and closed regularly, or housed in clear containers), Elizabeth Arden’s retinol comes in individual, biodegradable capsules that you tear into each use.
It claims to be 76 per cent more potent than non-encapsulated retinol, but while we can't be quite so exacting in our testing, we found that it had a lovely velvety texture on application, skin was noticeably plumper immediately after use and texture noticeably improved after a week.
Estee Lauder perfectionist pro rapid renewal retinol treatment: £63, Feel Unique
Apart from being suckers for its oh-so-shiny silver tube, we also love rapid renewal retinol’s quick smoothing and brightening effects, and the speed with which it set to work on long-established lines around our tester’s forehead and mouth. It also contains plumping hyaluronic acid and antioxidants to protect against environmental damage.
The verdict: Retinol products
If you’re coming to retinol with no previous experience, start with Indeed Labs – it scores highly across the board and comes at a give-it-a-go-friendly price, too.
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