Ever wish you could just copy/paste the virtual carts of the experts who really know what they’re doing when it comes to shopping for beauty products? Well, we leaned into that nosiness and started a series dedicated to the shopping lists of some of the country’s top beauty experts. This week, we’re doing a deep dive on retinols.
You’ve probably heard about retinols—the vitamin A derivative. a type of retinoid, is an anti-aging rockstar that tackles everything from dark spots and wrinkles to acne, so it’s no wonder that derms recommend it on the reg.
“Retinoids are a workhorse ingredient that are really the backbone of any good anti-aging skincare routine,” explains board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at NYU School of Medicine Dr. Shari Marchbein. “As we get older, not only do we stop producing collagen, which can lead to fine lines and wrinkles, but the epidermis also turns over much slower,” she says. In your 20s, your skin cells turn over every 30 days, versus in your 40s to 50s, when that happens every six to 12 weeks. This can lead to dull, dry, lackluster skin.
Even though many consider retinols to be a miracle in a jar (or tube), it’s important to start your application process slowly because some skin types are sensitive to them. “Apply a small pea-sized amount 30 minutes after washing your face,” says Dr. Marchbein. “Start with three times per week, like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, since dryness or peeling can be expected for the first four to six weeks.”
Below, Dr. Marchbein shares her top picks for everyone from retinol newbies to seasoned users.
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The Retinol for Your Neck
Tripeptide-R Neck Repair
“We often forget about the delicate skin on our neck and chest,” says Dr. Marchbein, but she points out that it’s one of the first places on our body show signs of aging.
This new cream designed specifically for the fragile skin on your neck combines 0.2% retinol and a 2.5% tripeptide concentrate to help minimize the crepiness, fine lines, and loss of firmness the neck experiences with age.
The Retinol If You’re Dealing with Dark Marks
Age Defense Retinol Complex 1.0
If you’ve been spending too much time in the sun (sans sunscreen) you might want to reach for this powerful cream. SkinMedica’s Age Defense Retinol Complex 1.0 features its patented PhytoShield™ Complex, which provides powerful antioxidants along with retinol and peptides. “Together, these help boost collagen production, improve skin elasticity, and minimize the appearance of age spots and wrinkles,” says Marchbein.
The Retinol That Hydrates
Retinol Complete® 1.0
Dr. Marchbein is a fan of this hydrating serum because it combines retinol and squalane with one of her favorite ingredients: bakuchiol, a retinol alternative. “I’m obsessed with it because it’s a very powerful botanical that gives comparable improvement to retinoids but is more gentle.”Why use them together? Additional skin benefits without additional irritation.
Other ingredients, like ubiquinone and a high concentration of vitamin C, may improve hyperpigmentation, while isosorbide dicaprylate can help improve hydration and epidermal barrier function. Finally, ophiopogon japonicus root extract acts as a humectant. “This combo helps improve texture and quality of the skin, as well as fine lines and hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Marchbein adds.
The Retinol That Enhances Collagen Production
Bio Complete Serum
Consider this retinol-based serum designed for nighttime use like beauty rest 2.0. This formula mixes retinol with vitamin C and peptides alongside vitamin B5, hyaluronic acid, and heparin sulfate analog, which Dr. Marchbein considers an “incredible combination to enhance elastin and collagen production.” TL;DR: bouncy, plump-looking skin will make you appear more refreshed and youthful.
The Retinoid That Fights Acne
Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Retinoid Acne Treatment
According to Dr. Marchbein, retinoids are often the treatment of choice for mild to moderate acne. This FDA-approved prescription-strength retinoid acne treatment is a great place to start if you’re acne-prone and haven’t incorporated one into your routine just yet. The non-comedogenic, oil- and fragrance-free treatment uses adapalene gel once only available as an Rx through your derm.
“Adapalene is the most powerful over the counter retinoid to treat acne,” explains Dr. Marchbein. It enhances skin cell turnover, she explains, while unclogging pores, which means it can both help treat active acne lesions and prevent new ones from forming.
The Retinol for Your Eye Area
Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream
Did you know that the eyelid skin is the thinnest on the body and is often the first to show signs of aging, including fine lines, crepiness, and hyperpigmentation? Dr. Marchbein adds NeoStrata’s Comprehensive Retinol Eye Cream to her must-have list because it includes 0.05% retinol and peptides to help support collagen and elastin production, bisabolol to soothe the delicate under eye skin, glycerin and dimethicone to hydrate, and NeoGlucosamine aka N-acetyl-glucosamin to gently exfoliate the skin.
The Retinol That Calms Inflammation
Pro-Heal Serum Advance Plus
Dr. Marchbein applauds this botanical-rich serum for combining retinols along with antioxidants like vitamin C and E, and zinc sulfate to help counter redness and inflammation in the skin. She recommends this as a great pick for people with sensitive skin who still want to get in the retinol game.
Additional ingredients like polyporus umbellatus (a.k.a. mushroom extract, and the source of kojic acid) is a tyrosinase inhibitor, a powerful brightening agent often used in response to hyperpigmentation. Finally, olive leaf extract is also an anti-inflammatory agent.
The Retinol That Helps to Brighten and Protect
Intensive Brightening Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night
Formulated as a dark-spot corrector, this treatment uses a patented delivery system to slowly distribute retinol into your skin with the aim of minimizing fine lines and wrinkles. Plus it also includes niacinamide, or vitamin B3, which Marchbein calls “one of my favorite antioxidants to help improve redness, hyperpigmentation, and inflammation in the skin.”
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