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13 Doctors Reveal the Best Retinols to Buy for Younger-Looking Skin

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13 Doctors Reveal the Best Retinols to Buy for Younger-Looking Skin featured image

Retinol is a power player in the skin-care space. Very few ingredients have the same ability to address so many skin concerns at once. From smoothing fine lines and wrinkles to reducing acne, retinol is the answer to almost any skin woe. Using retinol religiously is sure to help give you younger, brighter, plumper-looking skin. However, selecting the best formula can be overwhelming as the retinol industry continues to grow. To cut through the clutter, we asked experts for their favorite picks, ranging from over-the-counter options to prescription-strength gels you can find at the drugstore.

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“My favorite retinol is AlphaRet by SkinBetter Science ($130). It contains a combination of a retinoid and an alpha hydroxy acid (lactic acid), which addresses photodamage (fines lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation). As a dermatologist, I am always concerned with skin irritation, and this product is well-tolerated and suitable for all skin types.”

-Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD

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“Recently, Altreno lotion was approved. Altreno combines clinical-strength tretinoin with skin-friendly hyaluronic acid, natural collagen, and glycerin in a lightweight and hydrating lotion formula that minimizes irritation, dryness, and other side effects. It appears to be as effective as RetinA, which I have been successfully using for my acne and aging skin patients for over 36 years.”

-Saddle Brooke, NJ dermatologist Dr. Fredric Haberman

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“My favorite retinol is Skin Medica Retinol Complex ($62-$93). It comes in three strengths and contains encapsulated Phytoshield complex, an antioxidant to enhance skin texture and minimize irritation.”

-Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD

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“My favorite retinol is our PSD Enhanced Retinol Serum 2.5x which improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration and uneven skin tone for an overall smoother, rejuvenated look.”

-New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD

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“The good news is that there are now several terrific topical retinols available over the counter. Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment ($16) is great for acne-prone skin that is not sensitive.”

-Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD

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“I love the SkinCeuticals 0.3 Retinol ($67). I use it and so does my wife, who has super sensitive skin and can barely tolerate anything. You’ll see noticeable results in skin and texture four to six weeks after use. I have all my laser-resurfacing patients on it afterward to maintain their results.”

Miami facial plastic surgeon Miguel Mascaró, MD

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“I feel strongly that retinol should be from a physician-directed line and overseen by a professional. In my practice, we prefer the SkinMedica line of retinols ($62–$93) as they come in three strengths: .25 percent, .5 percent, and 1.0 percent so we can customize to an individual’s skin. We also prefer these because they are ‘micro sponged’ for a more gentle delivery to the skin, which helps greatly with dryness, irritation, and flaking that can occur with a retinol. Because many will stop using a traditional retinol because of the irritation, a micro sponged delivery better ensures a patient’s commitment to the product.”

–Denver facial plastic surgeon Brent Smith, MD

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“We carry a few great retinols in my office. SkinMedica Retinol Complex ($62–93) has been proven to have the same efficacy as prescription-strength tretinoin without peeling, redness or flaking. SkinBetter Science AlphaRet ($125) is proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles in as little as four weeks and combines a retinoid and lactic acid, two gold standards in skin rejuvenation.

Revision Skincare D·E·J Night Face Cream ($150) is an intensive nighttime moisturizer formulated to work while you sleep with time-released .25-percent retinol combined with bakuchiol, DEJ (dermal-epidermal junction) and prebiotic technology to balance and diversify the skin’s microbiome to comprehensively address the visible signs of aging overnight.”

New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD

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“I like prescription-strength retinoids such as Renova, which is a low dose of retinol. Once patients build up a tolerance and can use it daily, I bump them up to a stronger dose. Retinols are perfect for any anti-aging regimen. They stimulate collagen to help with fine lines and wrinkles and are also beneficial for hyperpigmentation.” 

– Wayne, NJ facial plastic surgeon Jeffrey Wise, MD

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Replenix All Transretinol 3x Smoothing Serum ($77) is effective because it has a slow-release delivery system to ensure less irritation. The formula is wrapped in green tea polyphenols, caffeine and hyaluronic acid to soothe skin, and patients with sensitive skin can tolerate the formula. This retinol product leads to softer, smoother, firmer and more evenly toned skin.”

–Wayzata, MN plastic surgeon John Ness, MD

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ZO Skin Health Growth Factor Serum Plus ($148) is one of my favorite products because not only does it contain retinol, which allows for an even cell-by-cell exfoliation, but the use of plant growth factors also helps increase collagen production and encourage healthy skin cell renewal. This is a great ‘starter’ retinol for patients not acclimated to any form of vitamin A. Patients find their skin tone looking more even and a noticeable softening of fine lines.” 

Wyomissing, PA plastic surgeon Benjamin Schlecter, MD


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“The benefit of using medical-grade retinol is that the percentage of active ingredients is usually higher than what you can purchase over the counter, which will produce faster and greater benefits. I recommend Avène RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream ($70) to many of my patients. It gently softens fine lines, evens out skin tone and texture and restores vibrancy to the skin without redness or irritation.” 

Ypsilanti, MI plastic surgeon Daniel Sherick, MD


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“Establishing a skin-care routine with effective, clinically proven ingredients is paramount in maintaining healthy, youthful skin and does not have to be overly complicated to achieve results. I recommend applying a retinol every night, such as my favorite, SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex ($93). I prefer it not only because it is clinically proven to be as effective as prescription-strength retinoids, but because it is encapsulated with their PhytoShield Complex, an antioxidant complex, that works to stabilize and target the delivery of active ingredients while minimizing irritation, hydrating the skin and protecting it against free-radical damage. Retinoids have long been considered the gold standard for anti-aging and are a simple and effective way to improve the appearance of your skin.”

–Smithtown, NY facial plastic surgeon James C. Marotta, MD

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