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

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

“Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and works by increasing the rate at which skin cells turn over and regenerate,” explains Smithtown, NY facial plastic surgeon James C. Marotta, MD. “In addition, it promotes collagen production and thickens the skin, improving overall skin texture while minimizing fine lines and wrinkles.”

The bottom line: Using retinol every night (or every other night if your skin is more on the sensitive side), is a must for younger, brighter, more plump-looking skin, but choosing the right formula can be overwhelming. To cut through the clutter, we asked 8 experts for their favorite picks, ranging from over-the-counter-options to prescription-strength gels.

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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 afterwards 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 patients commitment to the product. Of course, a high-quality sunscreen is imperative when using a retinol as our skin becomes photo sensitive with retinol use.”

–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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“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.”

Dr. Marotta

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“I like prescription-strength retinoids. I start patients on Renova, which is a low dose of retinol. Once they 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 Ossential 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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