Hard-Working Retinols That Are Great for Sensitive Skin, According to Dermatologists

Photo Credits: Product images courtesy of brands

These gold-standard, derm-approved picks perfect skin—minus the problems. 

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Photo Credits: Avène

The Gentle Giant: Avène (and more than one!)

“[The ones from] Avène are my favorite.” —Prospect, KY dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD

“One retinol that I would recommend for people who have sensitive skin is Avène RetrinAL 0.1% Intensive Cream ($70). It’s not the same as a prescription retinoid, but it’s a viable and very gentle alternative.” —New York dermatologist Jennifer Kitchin, MD


Photo Credits: ReFissa

The Rx: ReFissa

“As a dermatologist, I go for the more effective forms of retinoids. Tretinoin is a prescription, but when it's used properly and the correct formulation is prescribed, it is usually well-tolerated. It’s 10 times stronger than retinol, which is over-the-counter. The strongest anti-aging prescription form is ReFissa .05. I love it!” —Beverly Hills, CA dermatologist Rhonda Rand, MD 


Photo Credits: ScientificRx

The Derm-Developed: ScientificRx Retinol

“I love my product ScientificRx Lifting Serum ($118) because the retinol is in a formulation that helps the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It is non-irritating and works well.” —West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD


Photo Credits: Biopelle

The HA-Infused Option: Biopelle Retriderm Serum 

“My favorite retinoid for sensitive skin is Biopelle’s Retriderm Serum Mild 0.5 ($84). The inclusion of solubilized collagen, hyaluronic acid and natural oils allow this retinol to be used on even sensitive skin.” —Austin, TX dermatologist Ted Lain, MD


Photo Credits: SkinBetter Science

The Crowd Favorite: SkinBetter AlphaRet 

“Hands down, SkinBetter AlphaRet ($120). I have rosacea and very sensitive skin and I’ve tried about 30 different kinds. This is my only success! —Georgetown, TX dermatologist Sarah Gee, MD

“Agree with SkinBetter AlphaRet. I usually only love the prescription retinoids and found retinols to either be too weak but alpharet does a great job similar to prescription retinoids.” —Oklahoma City dermatologist Kimberly Jerdan, MD

“SkinBetter AlphaRet is my go-to retinoid for sensitive skin. It combines alphahydroxy acids with a retinoid, so you get gentle exfoliation and a boost to collagenesis. This product also contains niacinamide to decrease inflammation in the skin and ceramides, squalene and fatty acid to layer in moisture. It’s definitely a multitasking anti-aging product.” —Columbus, GA dermatologist Tanda Lane, MD

“I have sensitive skin and can tolerate SkinBetter Science AlphaRet.” —Cherry Hill, NJ dermatologist Sandra Kopp, MD

"SkinBetter AlphaRet is perfect for a tolerable retinoid for sensitive skin!" —New York dermatologist Lilly-Rose Paraskevas, MD

"Agree with SkinBetter Science AlphaRet. Another gentle retinoid is Tony Nuara’s Foundation Skincare Night Renewal cream that contains hydroxypinacolone retinoate.” —Orange County, CA dermatologist Daniel Chang, MD


Photo Credits: RoC

The Drugstore Do: RoC Retinol Correxion

RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream ($24) is an easy-to-find, drugstore option that contains a mild retinol and hyaluronic acid, which helps to restore moisture and provide hydration for the skin, minimizing irritation.” —New York dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD 


Photo Credits: Altreno

The New-to-the-Market Prescription: Altreno

"A prescription retinoid that is great for sensitive skin is Altreno, which takes a well-known ingredient, tretinoin, and delivers it in a lotion form, without leaving the skin dry or irritated.” —New York dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD

"I absolutely love Altreno lotion, which is a prescription retinoid. It contains sodium hyaluronate, a form of hyaluronic acid that helps to hydrate the skin to prevent dryness and irritation, which are common side effects of any retinoid or retinol products. My skin is sensitive with eczema and I always test facial products on myself before recommending to my patients. If I can tolerate it, then I feel comfortable recommending this to some of my sensitive skin patients if they have a need or desires a prescription-strength retinoid." —Bethpage, NY dermatologist Dr. Winifred Chu


Photo Credits: essopi

The Off-the-Radar Recommendation: Essopi

Essopi has two wonderful retinol serums that are great for more sensitive skin.” —Aspen, CO dermatologist Dr. Brooke Walls


Photo Credits: Alastin Skincare

The Game-Changer: Alastin Renewal Retinol

“For a ‘Spend,’ I love Alastin Renewal Retinol ($55) for sensitive skin. The gel base of the Alastin products is a true winner in the skin-care game.” —Greensboro, NC dermatologist Christina Haverstock, MD


Photo Credits: Courtesy of brands

The Easy-to-Find Duo: Neutrogena and Differin

“For a ‘Save,’ a nice OTC option available at most stores is either Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair ($22.50) or Differin Gel 0.1% ($13), which is a very tolerable retinoid with prescription strength at an amazing price.” —Dr. Haverstock 


Photo Credits: Replenix

The Antioxidant Powerhouse: Replenix

“I love Replenix Retinol with green tea (prices vary). And, if you're looking for something over the counter, then ROC retinol.” —Blacksburg, VA dermatologist Dr. Aleksandra Brown


Photo Credits: SkinCeuticals

The Choose-Your-Own Percentage: Skinceuticals

"Personally, I like the retinols from Skinceuticals (prices vary by strength), as they have a good range of percentages that patients can progressively work up to. They are also formulated with special chemistry to enhance delivery and minimize irritation. It's the retinol our clinic gets the most positive feedback with—and hence, it is our go-to product." —Ontario, Canada dermatologist Dusan Sajic, MD


Photo Credits: ISDIN

The Skin Brightener: ISDIN Melatonik

"I have sensitive skin and I’m really enjoying Melatonik by ISDIN ($160). It has three agents that help brighten the skin, one of which is melatonin. My colleagues at UAB were studying the positive effects of melatonin on the skin so I’m happy to see it in products now because if its antioxidant properties. It also has a plant-based retinol bakuchiol and vitamin C." —Birmingham, AL dermatologist Holly Gunn, MD


Photo Credits: MDSolarSciences

The Post-Menopausal Must: MDSolarSciences Evening Facial Repair Serum

"MDSolarSciences Evening Facial Repair Serum ($92) is the perfect retinol for dry or sensitive skin types and my go-to for post-menopausal women who can’t tolerate a prescription retinoid. It even has a nice lavender scent." —Miami dermatologist Dr. Marcy Alvarez-Pinsly


Photo Credits: PCA Skin

The Even-Suitable-for-Rosacea Solution: PCA 

"PCA Skin Retinol Treatment for Sensitive Skin ($110) is awesome for my rosacea and sensitive-skin patients." —Vienna, VA dermatologist Brenda Dintiman, MD


Photo Credits: Senté

The Slow-Release Retinol: Sente Biocomplete Serum

"My favorite is Senté Bio Complete Serum ($110). It contains a slow-release retinol leading to better tolerability. It also contains heparan sulfate analog, which helps strengthen the dermis." —West Hollywood, CA dermatologist Nancy Samolitis, MD