Retinol is one of the few over-the-counter drugstore anti-aging skincare ingredients that can provide the most consistent and visual improvement in the skin.
By improvement, I mean brighter, clearer skin, improved skin texture, and reduced pore size. Over time, retinol can also help with hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, and even acne.
Today the drugstore has an expansive selection of effective retinol treatments, some of which rival their more expensive luxury counterparts.
Before we get into all of the retinol goodness that the affordable brands offer in this drugstore retinol guide, let’s take a look at what retinol is and how it works.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. Retinol is a type of retinoid, the umbrella term used for vitamin A derivatives.
Although discovered in 1909, retinol wasn’t formulated until 1947. As a supplement, it is used to treat vitamin A deficiency, but we love it for other reasons, especially its topical use as an anti-aging treatment.
Retinol effectively treats photoaging, increases skin cell turnover and collagen production, smoothes the skin, reduces hyperpigmentation, prevents wrinkles, improves acne, improves skin texture and radiance, and even affects gene expression.
That’s quite an impressive list. But before you go to the drugstore and pick up the first retinol you come across, it’s important to understand the difference between retinoid products.
The Different Types of Retinoids
There are so many different variations of retinoids. This makes it quite confusing when trying to decide which one to try.
Remember that all retinoids need to be converted into retinoic acid at the cellular level to be used by the skin.
Let’s take a quick look at the main retinoids from weakest to strongest:
- Retinyl palmitate must be broken down into retinol, then retinaldehyde, and finally retinoic acid before becoming available for your skin to use.
- Retinol must be converted into retinaldehyde and then retinoic acid before becoming available for your skin to use.
- Retinaldehyde gets converted into retinoic acid and then is available in its active form. This is a step up from retinol and stronger too.
- Adapalene (known under the brand name Differin and now also available from La Roche-Posay and a few other brands) is the most potent over-the-counter retinoid and a newer-generation retinoid that has primarily been used to treat acne. It’s fat-soluble, making it less irritating than prescription retinoids.
- Prescription retinoids (i.e., the strongest) such as tretinoin or tazarotene contain retinoic acid. They are best for those who have been using retinoids for a while and have built up their tolerance to more potent retinoids. It could take several months or even a year to build your tolerance to more potent retinoids.
Clearly, using retinoids is not a quick anti-aging fix. Note that prescription retinoids will work quicker than over-the-counter retinoids. As a result, you should see improvements in your skin faster.
In fact, while prescription retinoids may be seen in as little as 4-6 weeks, over-the-counter retinoids may take around three months to start seeing benefits.
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How to Use Drugstore Retinoids
Depending on your skin’s sensitivity, you can add a retinoid serum into the treatment step of your skincare routine. Apply after cleansing and toning but before a moisturizer.
Avoid using more than one retinoid product in the same routine. Also, avoid using retinoids and potent actives (i.e., direct acids, vitamin C, or benzoyl peroxide) in the same routine.
If you have particularly sensitive skin, you may want to apply a retinoid near the end of your skincare routine, even after a moisturizer. This will dilute the strength of the retinoid and make it slightly gentler on your skin.
If you are new to retinoids, you can slowly introduce over-the-counter retinoids to your evening skincare routine by following this easy-to-remember rule of thumb:
- 1x a week for 1 week
- 2x a week for 2 weeks
- Gradually increasing your application depending on how your skin reacts
If you have excessive redness and peeling, take a step back and evaluate whether or not you need a gentler retinoid or if your skin is currently too sensitive to use retinoids at all.
Or you can continue to use a retinoid at 1x a week until your skin acclimates and move up from there.
Related Post: Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Skincare Review
Retinoids for Sensitive Skin
These days you’ll find many retinoids advertised for sensitive skin. In this type of formula, retinoids are included in lower amounts. Therefore you should experience fewer side effects. These are the perfect introductory retinoid products.
I’ve learned that the longer you use these products, the better your skin adapts. So as time goes on, you can slowly increase the strength of the retinoid you use.
If you have particularly sensitive skin, you may even want to apply the retinoid as the last step of your skincare routine, after a moisturizer, to lessen the potency of the retinoid.
Retinoid Use – Sun Exposure and Pregnancy
Since retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, be sure to use sunscreen while using retinol or any type of retinoid and for a week after.
Actually, you should use sunscreen every day, but be extra careful when using retinoids.
If you are pregnant or nursing, be sure to speak to your physician/obstetrician before starting a retinoid regimen.
Related: The Best Drugstore Mineral Sunscreens
Retinol & Retinoid Packaging
TIP: Heat, light, and air can compromise the effectiveness of retinoids and cause them to degrade and lose efficacy, so look for products packaged in dark or opaque packaging and preferably air-restrictive containers.
Cosmetics companies continually develop new formulations and packaging to keep their products stable.
Case in point: For their Retinol 24 products, Olay encapsulates their retinoids in micro-droplets of an oil blend in a water
The Best Drugstore Retinol & Retinoids
Several brands offer drugstore formulations of retinol and retinoids in their product lines.
It’s difficult to cover every brand, but by breaking it up into product types, this guide should give you some solid retinoid options for your whole face, all at drugstore prices.
New retinoid treatments are introduced frequently, so while this list will give you several options to consider, please note that it is not all-inclusive, but some of the best options out there.
Let’s take a look at some of the best drugstore retinol products:
Best Drugstore Retinol Serums
Retinol serums are my favorite way to use retinoids. Treatment serums should usually be one of the first products applied after cleansing and toning.
As a result, they will penetrate the skin the best. A few of the serums below are gentle enough for sensitive skin to use as a first treatment step, while a few stronger options are also provided.
The best drugstore retinol serum for you is the one that works best for your skin type and skin concerns.
Here are some of the best drugstore retinol serums:
The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum
The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum contains RetiStar Stabilized Retinol at 1% (combining retinol with sodium ascorbate and tocopherol for maximum stability) and Granactive Retinoid at 0.5% (a next-generation low irritation ester of all-trans direct retinoic acid) in a slow-release formula.
It also contains squalane for its lightweight moisturizing properties.
This cream is GENTLE. Unfortunately, I can’t help but wonder how strong a cream is when it doesn’t irritate my skin, but I know that I need to change my thinking.
Today’s next-generation retinoids can deliver results without the irritation, redness, and sometimes burning and peeling that we’ve come to expect from retinoids.
For more on this retinol serum, please see my The Inkey List Retinol review.
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2%
One of The Ordinary’s many retinoid formulas, The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, also contains Granactive Retinoid at 2%. (This is one of my favorite gentle over-the-counter retinoids.)
It is a white milky liquid consistency that absorbs quickly without any irritation. Over time I have noticed a refinement in my skin’s texture and pore size. And you can’t beat the low price of this retinoid!
For more details on my experience with this retinoid, please see The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion Review.
If you are ready to move on to more potent retinoid treatments from The Ordinary, you have additional options.
They also formulate Granactive Retinoids in Squalane at 2% and 5% and Retinol in Squalane at 0.2%, 0.5%, and 1%.
PLEASE NOTE: This retinoid
- A Complete Guide to The Ordinary Retinol and Retinoid Products
- The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% In Squalane Review
Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum
I am so impressed by Olay Retinol 24 products, especially the night retinol serum.
Of all the drugstore retinol serums I’ve tried, I’ve probably seen the best results with Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Serum.
This serum is potent. Unfortunately, my skin has not yet acclimated enough to use it daily.
When you hear that retinol improves skin texture, it’s evident with this product, which combines retinol and retinyl propionate. Plus, my pores appear smaller.
For more on Olay Retinol 24, check out this post on the Olay Retinol 24 collection of products, which I’ve updated to discuss their Retinol 24 MAX products.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum
CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum uses MVE Technology (MultiVesicular
Encapsulated retinol smoothes the look of wrinkles and fine lines and improves cell turnover for more radiant skin.
This CeraVe retinol serum also contains three essential ceramides (1, 3, 6-II) to help to restore the protective skin barrier.
Niacinamide calms redness and irritation, balances sebum production, reduces the look of pores (making it excellent for oily skin), improves the appearance of wrinkles, and helps reduce hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.
Sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) improves skin surface hydration.
This was the first over-the-counter retinol product I tried that did not irritate my skin. For a while, I was devoted to using this as a serum, often every night of the week.
I’ve since moved on to what I consider more potent over-the-counter (OTC) retinols, but this serum may just be the ideal introduction to OTC retinol if you have sensitive skin.
CeraVe recently introduced CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum (see below) to help reduce the appearance of post-acne marks and pores.
It contains encapsulated retinol and licorice root extract to help brighten and resurface the skin and three ceramides to restore the skin barrier.
- CeraVe Retinol Resurfacing vs Renewing Retinol Serum
- Olay Retinol 24 vs CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate
This highly anticipated retinol night concentrate is now available in the US. No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate combines No7’s next-generation retinol complex with Matrixyl 3000+, a peptide technology, to address the signs of aging.
These ingredients target skin tone and texture to refine pores while brightening the skin, all with minimal irritation.
1.5% Retinol Complex
As noted in the title of this retinol product, this night concentrate contains No7’s 1.5% Retinol Complex. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is 1.5% retinol. Instead, it includes the following:
- 0.3% Pure Retinol (.3%) – reboots and renews skin for a younger-looking complexion
- 1% Retinol Optimizer – slow-release system for optimal delivery throughout the night
- 0.2% Retinol Soother – to minimize irritation and calm the skin
I’m not sure why they didn’t just name this 0.3% Retinol since that’s the actual amount of retinol in the product.
Regarding the soothing ingredient in this product, this concentrate contains bisabolol, a compound from chamomile that offers anti-inflammatory benefits.
Please note that there is silicone in this product to give it slip and a smoother feel on your skin.
Also in this formula is Matrixyl 3000+. Matrixyl 3000+ uses matrikine peptide technology that contains two peptides to support the skin’s collagen production, improve skin tone, and reduce deep wrinkles.
This is a trademarked peptide by Sederma, Inc., a French cosmetics company.
How to Use No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex Night Concentrate
No7 suggests starting with this concentrate on one or two non-consecutive nights a week. They say it is customary to take four weeks to reach nightly use.
You should apply this concentrate before anti-aging serums and night creams and avoid the eye and lip areas.
You should not use this with other products containing retinoids, alpha hydroxy acids, or beta hydroxy acids, as it may irritate the skin.
While I’ve been using this product for about a month, I am still at the stage of using it twice a week. After my first use, I noticed that my skin was a little flaky and dry, so I took it very slowly.
I make sure to use a rich night cream on nights that I use this concentrate, and I sometimes add in a light oil at the end of my skin care routine, like this rosehip seed oil or squalane, to lock in moisture.
My skin is super smooth in the mornings after using this, and I look forward to slowly increasing the number of days per week that I use it to see optimal results.
I love the fact that there is not only a decent percentage of retinol in this product but there are also peptides that have been proven to address the signs of aging.
This night concentrate is a little pricer than other drugstore options, but I think the combination of anti-agers makes it worth it.
Pacifica Clean Shot – Granactive Retinoids
Pacifica recently introduced their Clean Shots line, a skin care collection of pure and potent serums containing clinical ingredients and clean formulas.
You can add these actives to your skincare routine anytime your skincare routine needs them. Layer them based on your skin concerns.
I couldn’t wait to try the two following Pacifica Clean Shots serums that contain granactive retinoids. These retinoid serums are formulated without parabens, phthalates, petroleum, SLS, or mineral oil.
Related Post: Pacifica Clean Shot Serums: Better Than The Ordinary?
Pacifica Clean Shot Granactive Retinoid 5% in Seawater
Pacifica Clean Shot Granactive Retinoid 5% in Seawater is Pacifica’s max-strength concentrated solution containing Granactive, their advanced petroleum-free retinoid complex.
This type of retinoid is typically less irritating than retinol while providing just as good results.
This serum is formulated to address multiple signs of aging and skin texture without other ingredients that impede performance. It targets fine lines and wrinkles, and uneven skin texture.
The serum also contains jasmine oil, which provides a lovely light floral scent upon application. It has a pale yellow gel-like consistency.
The serum sinks in quickly and leaves the slightest bit of tingling on my somewhat sensitive skin. It doesn’t last long, only a few minutes.
After trying other granactive retinoids, I am convinced of the effectiveness of this type of retinoid, as I can also see overnight improvements in my skin after using this product.
This serum is formulated for all skin types. While you can use it either morning or evening, Pacifica recommends applying it as part of your PM routine, as retinoids make your skin more sensitive to UV rays during the day.
Pacifica Clean Shot Retinoid + Bakuchiol 3% in Seawater
Pacifica Clean Shot Retinoid + Bakuchiol 3% in Seawater contains Pacifica’s proprietary Granactive, an advanced petroleum-free retinoid complex.
Granactive retinoids can be less irritating than retinol but will provide similar results.
This retinoid serum is blended with bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative, for an extra dose of actives to target the signs of aging.
Bakuchiol is ideal for sensitive skin who still want an effective product to help reduce wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven skin tone and texture.
The serum also contains jasmine oil, which provides a lovely light floral scent upon application.
It is formulated for all skin types. While you can use it either morning or evening, Pacifica recommends applying it as part of your PM routine, as retinoids make your skin more sensitive to UV rays.
This serum is gentler than the 5% Granactive Clean Shot serum. I didn’t notice an immediate change in my skin after using this product, but I saw more clarity in my skin the morning after using it in my evening skincare routine.
In my experience, this is typical of bakuchiol products as they typically don’t irritate my skin like retinol but work a little slower than retinol.
Beauty Pie Super Retinol Ceramide-Boost Anti-Aging Face Serum
Beauty Pie Super Retinol Ceramide-Boost Anti-Aging Face Serum is a gentle encapsulated retinol serum. It also contains lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, plus a concentrated ceramide blend.
This blend of ceramides is formulated to repair the skin barrier, soothe, protect, hydrate, brighten, and smooth fine lines.
The serum contains a 3% encapsulated Retinol complex, which works on the skin at 0.09% pure Retinol. This serum comes from a leading Swiss skincare lab.
They formulated this retinol by encapsulating it, which increases its stability and improves skin delivery. It’s a slow-release formula, which helps to maximize efficacy and minimize irritation.
I am so thrilled to find this, as this serum is effective and does not irritate my skin at all. My skin is more refined and brighter after using it without the dryness that often comes along with retinoids.
The low price makes it a no-brainer, although you must have a subscription to purchase from Beauty Pie (I currently pay $10/month).
You can read all about Beauty Pie’s fantastic skincare products in this post.
L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum with 0.3% Pure Retinol
L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum with 0.3% Pure Retinol is L’Oreal’s highest concentration of retinol in any of the brand’s products. This fragrance-free, silicone-free, and paraben-free serum contains pure retinol at 0.3%.
It uses L’Oreal’s international patent-pending technology, Retinol Guard, to ensure that its potency and stability are not compromised.
This serum also contains glycerin to soothe the skin and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin, which balances out the drying effects of retinol.
The optimal concentration of retinol refines skin texture, and over time, wrinkles and fine lines are reduced (including forehead wrinkles).
This quick-absorbing serum will also help to brighten the skin and help the skin appear smoother. Plus, it won’t clog pores as it’s non-comedogenic.
This is another OTC retinol that has really produced great results for my skin. It has a nice texture, and the hyaluronic acid in the serum helps keep my skin from drying out.
The serum does not irritate my skin at all (yay!). It brightens and smooths with a respectable amount (0.3%) of retinol.
RoC Retinol Correction Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules
RoC Retinol Correction Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules come in an interesting form of packaging: a capsule that twists to open and dispense a premeasured amount of serum.
Retinol breaks down after prolonged exposure to light and air, so these little capsules take care of those issues while delivering the same amount of retinol every use.
It is formulated to be used on both your face and décolleté.
The retinol serum capsules are formulated with pure RoC Retinol and a bio-derived antioxidant to improve the appearance of the signs of aging without irritation. In fact, there are only eight ingredients in each capsule.
The capsules are vegetable-based and 100% biodegradable.
Retinol smoothes and firms the skin. Dimethylmethoxy Chromanol is known to be a very potent antioxidant that protects the skin.
Ceramide NP helps with hydration and supports the skin barrier. Glycine Soja Oil is an emollient and moisturizing plant oil. This oil is rich in linoleic acid, which helps with skin barrier repair.
I like the consistency of this RoC serum. It leaves my skin silky smooth with no irritation, redness, or dryness. After using it in the evening, I wake up in the morning with bright and clear skin with improved texture.
Even though the serum is in an oil base, it sinks in quickly without any greasiness.
I think this is one of the best drugstore retinol products for travel, as you can just pack the number of capsules needed, and you’re done.
No need to pack a full-size bottle or jar!
NOTE: RoC has multiple retinol products, so if you prefer a traditional serum or cream format, see below for more details on RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Daily Serum and a RoC retinol cream: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream.
Related Post: RoC Vitamin C Skincare Review
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Daily Serum
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Daily Serum targets pores, wrinkles, fine lines, and skin firmness. In a formula that stays active for up to 12 hours, potent retinol is balanced with moisturizing squalane, shea butter, and soothing ashwagandha.
The list of actives in this serum doesn’t stop there. Anti-inflammatory adenosine supports the skin barrier, and humectants glycerin and sodium PCA moisturize the skin.
Sodium hyaluronate, the salt form of hyaluronic acid, hydrates and helps the skin retain moisture. Panthenol (pro-vitamin B5) and aloe soothe, protect and offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
The list of moisturizing and emollient ingredients in this serum is quite impressive. Skin is brighter and fresher in the morning after using this at night.
Wrinkles are softened, and the look of pores is minimized. Please note that there is added fragrance in this serum.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum combines Retinol SA, Glucose Complex, and hyaluronic acid to increase cell turnover, hydrate, and renew the skin.
It works to reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines, hyperpigmentation and dark spots, discoloration, and uneven skin tone over time.
You can even use this lightweight serum around the delicate eye area. It combats pesky crow’s feet and brightens dark circles under your eyes.
Neutrogena does not disclose the amount of retinol in their products, but retinol is listed as ingredient 24 of 30. Ingredients are listed in order of concentration, so the amount of retinol in this Neutrogena serum is probably not very high.
The serum also contains Ascorbyl Glucoside, a vitamin C derivative that is more stable than pure vitamin C and offers many of the same antioxidant benefits. It helps to fade hyperpigmentation and stimulate collagen production.
Please note that there is fragrance in this serum, which may be an issue for those with sensitive skin.
Naturium Retinol Complex Serum
Naturium Retinol Complex Serum is formulated with encapsulated retinol, bakuchiol, and Bidens pilosa extract, a natural plant extract that provides a retinol-like effect, to target the signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, loss of skin elasticity, and uneven skin tone and texture.
Encapsulating retinol helps to stabilize the ingredient and slow its release into the skin, which reduces the chance of irritation.
Bakuchiol is a plant-based ingredient that has been shown in studies to be as effective as retinol in treating signs of aging but without the typical irritation.
This gentle retinol serum is a good option for those with more sensitive skin types who want to try retinol but can’t tolerate traditional, more potent retinoids.
The serum also contains vitamin E, a potent antioxidant, to help soothe and protect the skin from free radical damage.
Sodium hyaluronate, the salt form of hyaluronic acid, is added to the formula to help hydrate and plump the skin.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
If you struggle with post-acne marks (acne scars/post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and you are looking for drugstore retinol for acne, then CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum is the drugstore retinol serum to try.
After acne and breakouts have healed, you may have acne scars and uneven skin tone. This retinol serum helps to reduce the look of post-acne marks and pores without affecting your delicate skin barrier.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum contains encapsulated retinol to deliver a slow release of retinol over time, along with licorice root extract to brighten skin.
Niacinamide works to calm the skin and help reduce inflammation while balancing sebum (oil) production.
CeraVe’s proprietary three essential ceramides help restore and maintain the skin’s protective barrier. Sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) helps attract and hold moisture within the skin.
The serum also uses CeraVe MVE Technology to help deliver moisturizing ingredients for continuous and extended daily nourishment.
This is another gentle retinol serum and an excellent choice for those just starting out with retinol.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum is a highly potent retinol serum formulated to reduce the look of dark spots and deep wrinkles with Neutrogena’s highest concentration of retinol: 0.5% pure retinol.
As this is one of the stronger OTC retinol serums, you should see an improvement in the look of wrinkles and fine lines in two weeks.
Skin will be firmer and smoother with improved clarity.
Please note that Neutrogena does not recommend Retinol Pro+ Serum for beginners due to the higher retinol concentration. Also, the serum contains added fragrance.
The Inkey List Scar, Mark and Wrinkle Solution 1% Retinol Serum
The Inkey List Scar, Mark and Wrinkle Solution is a powerful 1% retinol serum designed to minimize the appearance of post-acne scars and wrinkles.
This potent formula reduces the size, depth, and discoloration of acne scars while smoothing out fine lines.
Enriched with 5% apricot kernel oil, the serum helps keep skin hydrated and nourished.
A 2% squalane concentration strengthens the skin’s natural moisture barrier. Avocado oil adds extra moisture and a dose of suppleness.
The serum has a creamy yellow nourishing consistency and absorbs quickly, leaving skin moisturized without any greasy or sticky residue.
The result is a smoother, more youthful-looking complexion.
Naturium Retinaldehyde Cream Serum 0.05%
Naturium Retinaldehyde Cream Serum 0.05% is a high-performance anti-aging serum formulated with 0.05% sustained-release retinaldehyde.
Retinaldehyde, also called retinal, is a form of vitamin A and is considered one of the most effective over-the-counter retinoids available.
Retinaldehyde needs only one conversion step within the skin to become active retinoic acid, which helps accelerate cell turnover and stimulate collagen production.
It targets uneven skin tone and texture and reduces the appearance of wrinkles while improving skin elasticity and firmness.
The cream serum also contains bio-fermented oligopeptide to improve skin texture and radiance.
Naturium’s Retinaldehyde Cream Serum has an elegant creamy texture and doesn’t irritate my skin as long as I limit usage to a few times a week.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum Capsules
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum Capsules are the ideal solution for on-the-go anti-aging skin care.
The full-size bottle contains 30 fresh doses (the 7-day travel-size bottle is shown above).
The seaweed capsule design is water-biodegradable, making it an eco-friendly choice for your skin care routine.
Each capsule contains a precisely measured dose of retinol in a lightweight serum, making them ideal for travel or busy lifestyles.
The formula is simple yet effective, containing only seven ingredients, including the over-the-counter gold standard of anti-agers, retinol, known for its ability to smooth fine lines and improve skin elasticity and firmness.
In addition to retinol, the capsules contain the nourishing antioxidant vitamin E and soybean oil as the carrier oil.
The serum is formulated without alcohol, mineral oil, parabens, or silicones and is also fragrance-free.
More Drugstore Retinoid Serums…
Honest Beauty Honestly Pure Retinol Serum contains a blend of retinol and hyaluronic acid. It is formulated with tapioca-encapsulated time-released retinol.
Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Concentrate Retinol Serum is a lightweight serum with hyaluronic acid for plumper, smoother skin. When I use this serum, its smooth consistency leaves my skin soft and my pores less visible.
Drugstore Retinol Eye Creams
You may think that you should avoid retinol around the eyes. Yet, the eyes are one of the first places on your face that begin to show the signs of aging.
Retinol can be extra effective around the eyes for brightening and smoothing the orbital area.
Olay Retinol 24 Night Eye Cream
Olay Retinol 24 Night Eye Cream is formulated with Vitamin B3 + Retinol Complex to hydrate, smooth, and brighten the delicate under-eye area.
It targets crow’s feet and fine lines while hydrating the skin for up to 24 hours. The fragrance-free retinol eye cream is safe to use nightly.
This retinol eye cream is gentle yet effective and leaves your eye area hydrated and silky smooth.
RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream
RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream targets dark circles, wrinkles, and puffiness with pure RoC Retinol & RoC’s exclusive mineral complex.
It is formulated to reduce eye wrinkles by up to 50% without the irritation associated with retinol. Within four weeks, it visibly reduces dark circles and puffiness.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Eye Cream is formulated with Neutrogena’s retinol SA (Sustained Action), glucose complex, and hyaluronic acid to reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines, dark circles under the eyes, dark spots, and crow’s feet.
This combination of actives is supposed to speed up results while protecting your skin’s natural moisture barrier.
It even contains ascorbic acid (i.e., pure vitamin C) to help boost collagen production and brighten the under-eye area. This fragrance-free eye cream is lightweight and sinks in quickly.
NOTE: Retinol is listed as ingredient 28 of 29 total ingredients in this eye cream. Ingredients are listed in order of concentration, so there probably is only a small amount of retinol in this eye cream.
More Drugstore Retinol Eye Creams…
La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes Retinol Eye Cream is an award-winning eye cream formulated with pure retinol, caffeine, and La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water.
Suitable for sensitive eyes, this cream has a visible lifting effect.
Drugstore Retinol Moisturizers
The nice thing about drugstore retinol face creams and moisturizers is that many not only have retinol in them but also contain soothing and hydrating ingredients to offset retinol’s irritating ways.
Olay Retinol 24 Moisturizer
Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer contains Olay’s Retinol complex (which combines retinol and retinyl propionate) plus vitamin B3 for 24 hours of hydration without the typical irritation that comes along with retinol.
This cream is potent. It noticeably brightens and refines the texture of my skin.
If you want a stronger night retinol cream, Olay offers Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Max Moisturizer, which contains 20% more Retinol 24 Hydrating Complex than the original Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer.
RoC Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Crème
RoC Retinol Correxion Max Daily Hydration Crème works to reduce the look of wrinkles and fine lines while hydrating and moisturizing skin for up to 24 hours.
This oil-free, non-comedogenic retinol cream contains retinol to help speed up the turnover of dead skin cells to reveal brighter, more luminous skin.
The cream also contains moisturizing glycerin and sodium hyaluronate, which hydrates and helps the skin retain moisture.
RoC does not disclose the amount of retinol in the formula.
Retinol is ingredient 25 out of 31 total ingredients, so the concentration may not be too high since ingredients are listed in order of concentration.
Even so, it does a good job of smoothing and renewing skin overnight.
While you can use this retinol cream daily, RoC notes that you may want to apply it every other day for the first two weeks until your skin gets used to the formula.
Good Molecules Gentle Retinol Cream
Good Molecules Gentle Retinol Cream is formulated with 0.11% retinol plus 0.3% bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative that won’t cause the skin irritation that often comes along with retinol.
The lightweight cream is formulated with grape seed oil and glycerin to moisturize and plump skin while targeting the visible signs of aging.
This gentle, fragrance-free retinol cream is also enriched with antioxidant vitamin E, which helps soothe and protect skin from free radical damage. Allantoin further helps to calm and soothe the skin.
If you are new to retinoids and prefer a moisturizing cream instead of a serum, this Good Molecules retinol cream is my pick for the best retinol cream for beginners, as I think it is the perfect affordable starter retinol.
It targets wrinkles, fine lines, and lack of skin elasticity and contains ingredients to soothe and minimize irritation and dryness. Plus, you can’t beat the low price.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream is formulated with retinol to target wrinkles, fine lines, dullness, and dark spots.
Hyaluronic acid in the form of sodium hyaluronate hydrates and plumps the skin for improved moisture retention.
Neutrogena’s Accelerated Retinol SA is a technology designed to provide rapid results without the typical irritation that comes with retinol.
It combines retinol SA (Sustained Action), glucose complex, and hyaluronic acid to speed up performance and improve the skin’s moisture barrier.
It helps fade the appearance of forehead and cheek wrinkles and crow’s feet while brightening skin tone.
Related Post: Olay Retinol 24 vs Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair
More Drugstore Retinol Moisturizers…
L’Oreal Revitalift Moisturizer combines the anti-aging properties of their Pro-Retinol formula with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.
Plus, L’Oreal’s patented Pro-Xylane, a sugar molecule derived from the beechwood tree, helps improve skin elasticity and firmness.
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream targets lines and wrinkles and accelerates the turnover of skin cells while you sleep.
This Roc night cream is formulated with pure RoC Retinol and a mineral complex to support the efficacy of retinol and for added hydration.
It also contains glycolic acid to exfoliate dead skin cells, squalane for lightweight moisture, and shea butter to soothe and enrich the skin.
Drugstore Retinol Body Moisturizer
It’s so great to see drugstore brands coming out with affordable retinol body lotions! I’ll add to this list as I test more body lotions!
Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Body Lotion
Versed Retinol Body Lotion is a nourishing body lotion formulated with 0.10% encapsulated retinol to help boost collagen production and improve cell renewal and skin texture.
Encapsulated retinol is formulated in a protective outer layer that disintegrates over time, delivering retinol below the skin’s surface.
This limits the irritation, flakiness, and dryness that come with retinol, making it a great choice for sensitive skin.
This body lotion is also enriched with 2.5% cocoa butter, 1.0% squalane, and 0.01% vitamin E to moisturize, nourish and protect the skin.
The lotion firms your skin, brightens dull and discolored areas and smooths skin texture. This retinol lotion also treats body breakouts and the resulting post-acne scars/dark spots.
It’s also ideal for creepy skin on your chest, knees, and rough elbows.
The non-greasy formula absorbs quickly, leaving skin feeling silky soft and smooth.
Adapalene Drugstore Treatment
If your skin is not sensitive and if you are ready for a stronger drugstore retinoid, you may want to consider Differin Gel (Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment), which is now over the counter in the US.
While it is FDA-approved to treat acne, you can also reap the anti-aging benefits from this retinoid.
This Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment is a topical retinoid that reduces breakouts and clogged pores, prevents pimples, regulates cell turnover, and reduces inflammation.
I quickly gave up on Differin as it was too strong for my skin. I experienced significant peeling and irritation. Now I know that you must slowly build up to more potent retinoids like these.
Drugstore Retinol Oil
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil contains Neutrogena’s Retinol SA (Sustained Action). This skincare ingredient works throughout the day to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and dark spots.
This Neutrogena retinol oil is a lightweight oil that contains 0.3% retinol. It is formulated to reduce the look of dark spots, age spots, and deep wrinkles.
Neutrogena recommends applying four to five drops on clean skin and following with a face cream. Neutrogena suggests pairing this oil with their Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream for 2X the wrinkle-fighting power.
Drugstore Retinol Toner
Pixi Retinol Toner
While alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid toners are common, Pixi Retinol Toner is the first drugstore-based retinol toner I’ve come across.
This no-rinse toner is formulated with peptides to boost collagen production.
It also contains Jasmine Flower to heal and balance the skin and time-release retinol to smooth the skin and reduce fine lines. Apply after or in place of your regular toner.
My Retinol Journey
For the longest time, retinol was not my friend. I would spend countless dollars on drugstore retinol products only to have my aging skin rebel after the first use resulting in redness, itchy, and peeling skin.
In hindsight, I needed to give these treatments a bit more time or perhaps layer them over other skincare products to reduce their strength.
Take Neutrogena, for instance. Years ago, their Rapid Wrinkle Repair line was one of the most popular retinol lines in the drugstore.
I purchased both the serum and face cream from this line, only to be disappointed by the side effects my skin could not withstand.
While the formulas have changed and are much less irritating today, I should have reduced the frequency of application before I gave up on retinol.
The moral of the story is that I was doing my skin a disservice when I gave up after one or two uses. It can take weeks for your skin to adjust to retinoids. So it is important to give it some time.
I don’t worry so much about the side effects of drugstore retinoids as their formulations are improving not only in effectiveness but also in gentleness.
When my skin feels dry and irritated and fine lines look even more pronounced after starting a drugstore retinoid, I simply reduce the frequency to see if my skin can adjust.
Concluding Thoughts on Drugstore Retinol
Drugstore retinols and all retinoids have come a long way.
Drugstore brands are finally offering next-generation retinoids with little to no side effects like redness, peeling, itchy and irritated skin that you typically associate with retinoids.
When you are starting out with retinoids, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which products to use, especially with all of the marketing aimed at their quick ability to fight the signs of aging.
How your skin reacts will help you determine which products will work best for you.
I am currently strictly using over-the-counter retinoids. I hope to one day increase retinoid strength to the point where I can consider prescription-strength retinoids.
Until then, I am very happy with the results that I am seeing. I have brighter skin, more refined skin texture, clearer skin, and the minimization of fine lines and wrinkles.
All thanks to drugstore retinoids. They really are amazing anti-aging superstars!
A Final Tip for Sensitive Skin
Don’t forget about bakuchiol, a retinol alternative sourced from plants! This 2018 study on bakuchiol determined that bakuchiol is just as effective as retinol without the irritation!
I like to use bakuchiol serums alongside over-the-counter retinoids for a double dose of anti-aging goodness.
While I’ve seen great results with bakuchiol, in my experience, they seem to work a little slower than retinoids.
Related: The Benefits of Bakuchiol in Skincare: A Plant-Derived Retinol Alternative
Ultimately, the best drugstore retinol for you will work with your skin type and skin concerns. It may take some trial and error until you find the one that works best for your complexion.
What is your favorite over-the-counter drugstore retinol treatment? I’d love to know!
Tuesday 29th of March 2022
Excellent article thank you! Strangely enough I get no reaction from differin and I have always had sensitive skin.(It isn't really anymore It ends up no one really has sensitive skin it's usually a food allergy or one ingredient. When I was a kid they stopped dairy eczema went away tried a new diet mostly abstaining from gluten skin's not sensitive anymore) I just started using Neutrogena intensive night moisturizer.
It's almost like winburn it felt raw for a few days This is clearing up and I guess I had a lot of dry skin LOL. Anyhow I feel like this is stronger than the differin although I doubt it I think it's the protective emoliant in the differin. I'm going to ask my regular GP for a higher strength prescription type differin,. Because it's much cheaper with insurance than the OTC. I did learn so much more about all of the new deep moisture ingredients
Thank you much Cin
Friday 11th of June 2021
I have slowly been introducing Adapalene into my routine over the last 8 weeks. I have sensitive redness prone skin, so I started off using it once weekly under moisturizer and after slowly adding it to 3 times a week I am now applying it before my moisturizer and have had no irritation... Just amazing results!!
Sunday 13th of June 2021
It's great to hear you are getting good results with Adapalene!
Saturday 20th of March 2021
I really like your product reviews - you include all the relevant information - very helpful. I’ve been using tretinoin off and on (mostly on) for about 15 years (I’m nearly 66). The last two years I’ve used .025% and then graduated to .05% and finally got to nightly application. But my skin still flakes, gets irritated and red sometimes. Although it’s definitely bright and clear, I’ve seen no improvement in wrinkles. I wonder if there are just diminishing returns at this point. Ha! I don’t expect it to look like I’m 30, but I would have thought there might be more improvement. I have somewhat sensitive, fair skin also. I just started using Olay Regenerist Collagen 24. Maybe that along with using tretinoin only 4/5 days a week might work better. I do wonder if Olay’s combination of niacinamide/peptides/retinol might have produced the same results without the flaky irritated skin.
Sunday 21st of March 2021
Thanks for your comment! Your experience with tretinoin is very interesting. Perhaps a dermatologist could provide some insight as to why you are not seeing the reduction in wrinkles that you would have hoped to see. It's supposed to be the gold standard, so it should be improving the appearance of wrinkles. Niacinamide may be able to strengthen your skin barrier and help a bit with redness/irritation. I'm not sure if you've tried Olay's Retinol 24 line, but I've had great results. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Thursday 14th of January 2021
Great article. I do not have sensitive skin. I’m 51. Which product would you recommend for evening out skin tone? I’ve got lots of skin spots and of course some wrinkles.
Friday 15th of January 2021
Any of these drugstore retinoids will increase cell turnover and will eventually help to fade dark spots and uneven skin tone. Olay Retinol 24 products are a great option. Choose from the serum or moisturizer. (Olay does not recommend using both the Retinol 24 serum and moisturizer at the same time.) There are a few additional ingredients that help with dark spots and the signs of aging. You might consider adding into your skincare routine (not on the same nights that you use retinoids) a product that contains an exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid, such as glycolic acid or lactic acid. These alpha hydroxy acids will help to remove dead skin cells and reveal a brighter and more even skin tone. Also, using a product that contains antioxidant vitamin C in your AM skincare routine will help brighten your skin tone and also reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Tuesday 7th of July 2020
Great in depth article and info.... Thanks!!
Tuesday 25th of August 2020
Thanks very rewarding and short
Wednesday 8th of July 2020
Thanks so much!