Best retinol cream for beginners in 2023
There are many retinol creams and serums on the market- so it is confusing for beginners. Many articles talk about the best dermatologist recommended retinol products, but there is not one best retinol cream or serum that works for everyone. Your skin is unique- so let’s talk about how to find the best retinol cream for YOU. If you do not know what a retinol or retinoid is- you can click here to learn more.
Retinol is the most potent form of retinoid available without a prescription. There is not a prescription strength retinol. Retinol is designated by the FDA as a cosmetic which means it does not have to undergo the rigorous testing required of prescription retinoids like tretinoin, tazarotene and trifarotene. This is why it is very important to educate yourself before starting a retinol so that you buy the best retinol to begin treating your skin concerns.
Retinol is a great way to begin using a retinoid because it is easily accessible, effective, affordable and comes in low strengths that are less irritating than prescription retinoids. However, the things to consider when choosing which retinol is best for beginners goes beyond brand. This blog will discuss the things our dermatologists consider when putting a patient on a retinol for the first time.
All retinols will work better on acne, dark spots, and wrinkles and have fewer side effects when used in a compete and correct skin care routine that is matched to your Baumann Skin Type (there are 16!).
5 best creams and serums for retinol beginners
The chart above compares retinol creams and serums for you to use when you are adding a retinol to your skin care routine for the first time.
Here are some of my reviews as a dermatologist of the 5 best retinol products for beginners. Notice they are all low strength and none are prescription.
- Alastin Renewal Retinol .25% - This retinol is a low strength 0.25% retinol and has the correct form of retinol in it (not esters). It has several anti-inflammatory ingredients in it that help you adjust to the retinol which can trigger inflammation when you are beginning retinol. These anti-redness ingredients are niacinamide, bisabolol, and oat kernel extract. The Alastin Renewal Retinol also has coenzyme Q10 (also called ubiquinol) which gives skin cells energy to make more collagen and perform other antiaging functions. Although this product contains ceramide 3, it does not have the correct lipids to repair the skin barrier and should be paired with the right moisturizer for your Baumann Skin Type. The Alastin Renewal Retinol retinol is a good choice if you have sensitive skin or rosacea and want to begin a retinol for the first time.
2. Essopi Retinol Treatment 3x - Essopi Retinol 3x is slightly stronger than the others on this list, but is still low strength enough even if you have sensitive skin. It is tolerated by retinol newbies because it has soothing ingredients like green tea and caffeine to help reduce skin redness that often occurs after beginning retinol. Green tea is also an antioxidant. Essopi Retinol 3x is the best clean retinol serum that meets the criteria for clean beauty. It does not contain triethanolamine or phenoxyethanol that are on the "not clean ingredient list" and are found in many retinol creams and serums. This is the strongest starter retinol on our list. Not only is it a higher percent of retinol but it also has hyaluronic acid in it which helps it absorb into the skin.
3. La Roche-Posay Redermic [R] -This retinol contains the retinyl ester retinyl linoleate,. This means it is probably less strong than the other 0.25% starter retinols listed here. La Roche-Posay Redermic has salicylic acid so it is good for oily skin types, acne-prone skin, and to clear clogged pores. This may be too drying for very dry skin types. If you want a "clean retinol"- this is not for you because it contain triethanolamine and phenoxyethanol although these are present in "acceptable levels'" in this product. The La Roche-Posay Redermic is a good retinol serum to start with because it is the most affordable and the weakest on this list of starter retinols. It is the best gentle low strength retinols for beginners.
4. Medature Encapsulated Retinol Serum -This serum contains the correct form of retinol, however it also contains retinyl palmitate which means that it is likely a lower strength than 0.25%. This product should not be used in sunlight unless you are wearing SPF. (However, retinols should be used in the evening skin care routine.) Medature Encapsulated Retinol Serum has tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate in it. This is a form of Vitamin C that can help treat hyperpigmentation. This is a good retinol to buy if you need antiaging benefits and skin lightening.
5. Replenix Retinol 2x Regenerate Dry serum - This was previously called Replenix Retinol Forte Treatment Serum 2X. It has pure retinol with no retinoid esters. It contains polyphenols such as green tea. This is beneficial because polyphenols are antioxidants. They help prevent inflammation and aging. Replenix Retinol 2x Regenerate is a favorite of dermatologists because it is clean. It does not contain triethanolamine and phenoxyethanol. It has anti-redness ingredients, antioxidants, and caffeine so it can be used if you have rosacea if you use an entire correct skin care routine for your rosacea skin type.
Best Natural Retinol for Beginners
There are some natural products on the market. These usually contain beta carotene, lutein, carrots or another vitamin A derived ingredient that is a retinoid that cannot penetrate into the skin --so it is useless! There are no good organic retinol products so don’t waste your money. You can learn more about natural retinoids and the Vitamin A family of retinoid compounds here.
Bakuchiol is not technically a retinoid because it is not in the Vitamin A family but it is often found in natural "retinoid- like" skincare products. It has actions simialr to retinol. It works best when cobines with retinol as in Derma Made Retinol+ Bakuchiol Serum which comes in different strengths.
Other brands of retinol to start with in a new skin care routine should be low strength.
What to look for when buying retinol?
There are many brands of retinol so it can be hard to choose which to start with. Here are some things you need to know before choosing which retinol to use.
Choose a serum because they absorb more rapidly into the skin.
Start with a 0.25% strength retinol which may be called 2x or 3x.
An ester form like retinyl linoleate or retinyl palmitate will not be as strong straight retinol so the % is misleading.
Hyaluronic acid makes retinol absorb more which can increase side effects in sensitive skin types.
Find a retinol that has ingredients to target your other skin issues such as dark spots, acne, fine lines or sensitvie skin.
Niacinamide and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are skin lighteners found in retinol products
Which retinol serum to start with depends on many factors such as:
Your Baumann Skin Type
The strength of your skin barrier
If you have inflammation
Your skin is unique! So - let our dermatologists and skin care specialists help find the best retinol serum for your skin type.
Knowing and shopping by your Baumann Skin Type will help you choose a retinol skin care product that will pamper your skin.
How to Begin Retinol
It is very important to consider your Baumann Skin Type® when choosing a retinoid to begin treating acne or wrinkles. There are 16 different Baumann Skin Types and each needs a different skin care routine. (Retinol is not right for all skin types!). We highly recommend that you take the quiz and let us tell you exactly which retinol products are best for your skin type so that you do not have to guess.
- Choose the best retinol for your skin type. You can read more about this below or take the quiz and we will give you a list of good options.
- Start with the lowest strength retinol
- Make sure that every product in your skin care regimen will work together with retinol because other products can increase the incidence of side effects.
- Choose the best moisturizers and cleanser to use with retinol
- Know what step in the skin care routine to use retinol. The order that you layer products on your skin matters. The biggest mistake when beginning retinol is not using the correct skin care routine order. The order is determined by your skin type and what other products are in your skin care regimen
- Follow the instructions found at this link to begin slowly to help your skin adjust gently to the retinol.
Dermatologist's advice for when you start using retinol for the first time
Retinoids have great evidence-based research trials and science to justify their use for treating acne, dark spots and wrinkles. This is why dermatologists recommend them often, but you must use them properly, especially when you are a retinol novice.
Retinol is the weakest and most tolerated of the effective types of retinoids.
It is a great way to begin using a retinoid because it:
Is effective to treat acne, hyperpigmentation and aging
Is easily accessible
Comes in gentle and strong strengths
The best way to find the right retinol for you is to find a dermatologist or specially trained or medical provider near you to diagnose your Baumann Skin Type or take the quiz and see our dermatologist's recommendations and get a skin care routine for your skin type.
These are the most important things to know before you start using one:
shop for retinols using your Baumann Skin Type
combine with the other recommended products in your custom regimen
13 things to learn before starting a new retinol cream so you will have fewer side effects and better results.
It is very important to educate yourself before starting a retinol so that you will not waste time and money buying the wrong retinol for your skin type. Here are some links and information to guide you:
- Retinol and adapalene are the most potent forms of retinoid available without a prescription.
- Retinol is a type of retinoid. You can click here to learn more about the Vitamin A family of retinoids.
- There is not one best brand of retinol!
- There is not a prescription strength retinol.
- Retinol is designated by the FDA as a cosmetic.
- Retinol skin care products do not have to undergo the rigorous testing required of prescription retinoids like tretinoin, tazarotene and trifarotene.
- Is retinol dangerous? Can I use it when pregnant?
- How long does it take to work?
- What happens when you stop using retinol?
- Does retinol make me sun sensitive?
- What do I do if I have a skin reaction to retinol?
- How long does a retinol bottle last once it is open?
- Can I use retinol, niacinamide, and Vitamin C together?
How to Choose A Retinol for Beginners
Not all retinol products are created equal. In fact, there are many bad retinol products on the market because they are commonly formulated, manufactured, bottled or stored incorrectly. Many retinol products do not have the amount of retinol in them that they say they do. Also, many have retinyl esters or retinal which are not as strong as other retinoids.
Air and light inactive them so they should be used at night and kept in airtight packaging.
Never buy a retinol product in a jar, too much air gets in
There are many “retinol” products on the market that do not contain enough retinol or are not formulated properly so they are ineffective.
There are many expired, old or counterfeit retinol products sold on the internet.
Retinol Cream vs Retinol Serum
In general, creams are for dry skin types and serums are for oily skin types. If you cannot decide, choose the cream retinol because retinoids tend to make skin feel dry.
Assuming the brands and strengths are the same- gels are stronger than serums. Creams are the weakest.
However- even the weak gentle retinols cause problems when not used correctly, when used by the wrong skin type, or when used with the wrong products.
What Retinol Strength Is Best When Starting a Retinoid?
If you are a sensitive skin type, you must begin with the low strength retinol.
Dry skin types should begin with a low strength retinol.
If you are a resistant or oily Baumann Skin Type, you should also begin with a low strength retinoid but you will be able to progress to a mid strength and high strength retinol cream much faster.
A low strength retinol is such as 0.025% is the best retinol strength or percentage for beginners This is sometimes called a 2X strength. Note that .025% retinol is not the same strength as 2.5% retinol.
Retinol .25% is not equivalent to tretinoin 0.025%- they are different molecules- its like comparing apples to oranges. Retinol 0.25% is much weaker than tretinoin 0.025%.
Resistant and oily Baumann Skin Types (there are 8 of these skin types) can begin with a retinol 0.05% (also called 5X) strength on top of their moisturizer.
Mkae sure you know your skin type before you buy a retinol.
How To Start Using Retinol?
How many side effects you will get when beginning a retinol depends upon:
How much you apply
The retinol strength
Retinol cream vs gel vs serum (gels are the strongest, then serums and last creams)
Which other products are in your regimen- especially cleansers and moisturizers
Please read these instructions before beginning any retinoids, whether they are prescription or nonprescription.
If you do not begin retinol properly- you will most likely experience side effects known as retinoid dermatitis.
Let our dermatologists recommend the best retinol products for when you are starting a new skin care routine. Our advice is free.
Once you know your Baumann Skin Type, will give you a list of the best retinols for you so you can choose based on your budget, preferences, and beliefs.
We can guide you and help you get on the right path.