You don’t need to break the bank to give your skin the numerous anti-aging benefits of retinol. These 12 retinol-infused products—everything from oil to night cream—all ring in at less than $40 and are beloved by dermatologists, aestheticians and beauty editors alike.
“This is my top recommendation for drugstore retinol. Although the brand is very accessible price-wise, it stands up to the much pricier retinol options on the market. I love the glass bottle that it comes in, making it feel luxe, and the formula is very impressive. Sometimes retinol can be drying to our skin, but this product also contains squalane to hydrate and mimic the oil our own skin produces.”
—Joie Tavernise, medical aesthetician and founder of JTAV Clinical Skincare
“This serum is formulated with a lower concentration of retinol and antioxidants and is a great product for beginners. Retinol can be harsh initially if never used before, so it’s recommended to start with lower concentrations. But despite its lower retinol concentration, this product still produces visible anti-aging and resurfacing effects after consistent use.”
—Mila Davis, aesthetician at Skin to Smile
“Retinols are true skin game changers that can make skin look radiant and rosy overnight. One drugstore retinol I’ve tried and really like is this one from Naturium that is clean, paraben- and cruelty-free and does not contain synthetic fragrances. It’s formulated with a photostable, synergistic blend of encapsulated retinol, a natural bio-retinol, and bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative that nourishes skin while diminishing the look of fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and uneven texture.”
—Celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar
“La Roche-Posay is the ultimate classic drugstore brand. This FDA-approved prescription-strength retinoid acne treatment is great for acne and really helps to clear blackheads, whiteheads, clogged pores, and acne blemishes. This is the perfect product for someone who is interested in a prescription-strength treatment and wants to start off gradually. Just remember to always wear sunscreen when using a retinol product.”
Retinol is also one of the most commonly recommended ingredients for acne-prone skin, as it helps increase skin cell turnover to keep pores decongested. For those with post-acne marks and large pores, this serum is a must-try. The mix of encapsulated retinol, the brand’s signature ceramide blend and niacinamide allows for gentle resurfacing without aggravating the skin barrier. It can be used daily, but if you have dry skin, layer a good moisturizer on top (preferably a noncomedogenic formula that won’t clog pores), and always use sunscreen.
“This moisturizer contains both retinol and retinyl propionate for a more potent treatment. It firms, smooths, brightens and hydrates skin.”
—Dr. Adrienne O’Connell, medical director and president of Laguna Beach Aesthetics
“Another great drugstore retinol find is the this multitasking serum that has an array of enhanced ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, vitamins C and E, and aloe vera, along with its 2.5-percent retinol. With the beautiful combination of these ingredients one will see an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles and rejuvenated skin that’s brighter, tighter and firmer. It can also be used under the eye area to treat eye bags and sagging skin.”
Rich and creamy, but not greasy, this fragrance-free night cream marries two of skin-care’s most popular ingredients, retinol and niacinamide, for one heavy-hitting anti-aging treatment while you sleep. The brand’s first fresh-pressed jar also keeps the formula more stable and dispenses the perfect amount for your face—use another pump for your neck and chest if you want to “take your skin-care down,” as the pros always recommend. With each use—start with just twice a week—skin looks brighter, smoother and more even.
“This oil has a fabulous feel to it. The product absorbs quickly, which is nice for applying before you to bed since you don’t have to worry about getting oil on your pillow. Although I have oily skin, I always love a good oil that is gentle and feels luxurious. Applying oil to oily skin may seem counterintuitive, but it actually help to keep your oil in your skin in balance. Peptides and ceramides firm, revitalize and provide time-released moisture throughout the day so your skin doesn’t feel dehydrated.”
This nighttime cream-serum not only provides the line-smoothing benefits of retinol (in a nonirritating, slow-release formula), but also the firming benefits of Matrixyl 3000+, the most widely used peptide in the beauty industry that is clinically proven to help stimulate collagen production.
The actual percentage of pure retinol isn’t 1.5 percent (that would be way too strong!), but rather 0.3 percent. The 1.5 percent describes the entire Retinol Complex, which includes 1-percent retinol optimizer (where the slow-release system comes in) and 0.2-percent Retinol Soother, which is how the serum can treat with minimal to no irritation.
“This oil is noncomedogenic and budget-friendly. It contains a substantial percentage of retinol, but is blended with squalene and jojoba oil to minimize dryness.”
—Dr. Adrienne O’Connell
Boasting some big claims—Neutrogena has performed more than 100 clinical studies on 5,000 patients—this lightweight cream from the brand’s best-selling Rapid Wrinkle Repair collection is clinically proven to deliver smoother-looking skin in just one day and reduce the look of fine lines in one week and deep wrinkles in four weeks. Plus, the formula mixes retinol with hydrating hyaluronic acid to cut back on possible irritation.
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