Retinoids are a class of anti-ageing skincare ingredients that increase skin cell turnover and promote collagen growth. They can be used to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve blemishes, minimise hyperpigmentation, and erase sun damage. The most well-known retinol is tretinoin, which can only be bought with a prescription from your doctor or dermatologist (see our guide to buying tretinoin). Other over-the-counter options use less-strength ingredients, but can still deliver impressive results.
The key to using a retinol product is to build up your tolerance, so start with a low concentration product. This La Roche-Posay serum has a pea-size amount of 0.3% retinol that won’t cause redness, but it’s also free from all the other stuff you don’t need – it’s hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, and contains nourishing glycerin and brightening vitamin C. Our testers loved it and said they noticed a difference after just eight weeks of daily application.
British brand Medik8’s innovative retinol cream has a ‘powder chamber’ that dissolves fresh doses of Crystal Retinal 1, a gentle yet effective formula that’s suitable for sensitive skin. It’s been boosted with niacinamide, which helps to calm and brighten the complexion, while an extract blend of passionfruit, apricot, and kale supports skin renewal. The overnight treatment works hard to reduce dark spots and areas of hyperpigmentation, smooth rough skin, and plump up fine lines. It’s ideal for those who can’t tolerate higher concentrations of retinol and has an excellent reputation among beauty lovers, with 221 reviews on RealSelf.
The Ordinary’s cult-favourite serum is another low-cost option that our testers loved, thanks to its high level of efficacy. This one harnesses granactive retinoid, a 4th generation ingredient that improves hyperpigmentation, fine lines and rough texture, and is gentler than the prescription-strength tretinoin on offer in the UK. It’s also free from irritating ingredients like drying alcohols, SLS, and fragrance, as well as sulfates, essential oils, and chemical screens.
If you’re looking for a more potent retinol, try this luxe offering from Skinceuticals. The nighttime serum contains a 1% concentration of Crystal Retinal and is packed with skin-nourishing peptides. It’s infused with frankincense to soothe irritation, and it’s clinically proven to reduce wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and rough skin after just eight weeks of nightly usage. retin a cream uk