A Derm's Guide To Using Retinol — Plus The 4 Best Serums To Try


If you're reading this article, you're likely already familiar with the unparalleled benefits of retinol when it comes to achieving smooth, clear, radiant-looking skin. Since serums are so highly concentrated, they're typically the way to go if you really want to reap the benefits of retinol — but with so many formulas on the market, narrowing down the best retinol serums can be tough. That's why I did the research for you, and compiled a handful of the best over-the-counter formulas, ahead. I even got in touch with two experts — Zain Husain, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, and Gary Linkov, MD, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of City Facial Plastics — to find out how to use retinol safely and effectively.

Because retinol can cause irritation at first, start by only using a small amount of serum once a week, says Dr. Linkov. “Less is more with retinol, and one should only need a pea-size amount for the entire face." Wait 30 minutes after cleansing your skin before applying your retinol, Dr. Husain adds, and follow up with a layer of non-comedogenic moisturizer. Retinol serums should only be used at night, because, “retinol becomes inactivated when it interacts with UV light from the sun, decreasing its efficacy. It also makes you more photosensitive and prone to sunburns. This occurs because retinol products exfoliate the skin and reduce the thickness of the stratum corneum of the skin.” Therefore, it’s crucial that you use a broad spectrum sunscreen during the day. Equally important to note is that retinol serums should not be used by people who are pregnant, nursing, or considering pregnancy.

And now, scroll on the shop four of the best over-the-counter retinol serums on the market right now.


The Overall Best Retinol Serum

This highly rated retinol serum from derm-favorite brand, La Roche-Posay, contains 0.3% retinol, as well as lipo-hydroxy acid to further exfoliate skin. Also included in the formula are glycerin and sodium hyaluronate to counteract the retinol and LHA's potentially drying effects. With consistent use, it will help improve your skin's texture, tone, and clarity over time. And, at $50, it comes at a relatively fair price point.


The Best Budget Retinol Serum

For something a bit more affordable, try the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum. It smooths out skin and reduces the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, while improving clarity, texture, and tone. In addition to retinol, the formula contains licorice root extract to brighten skin, ceramides to strengthen your skin's natural protective barrier, and niacinamide (another popular ingredient to know, which kind of does everything), making it a great choice for most skin types.


The Best Luxury Retinol Serum

If you love all things luxury beauty, you've probably heard of the Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum (along with the brand's equally popular Luna Sleeping Night Oil), which provides a potent dose (6.5%, to be exact) of retinol blends and extracts for fast, effective results. The addition of honey, cactus extract, and ginger, along with other botanical ingredients, offer even more skin-boosting, smoothing, and softening benefits. This probably shouldn't be your first-ever retinol product due to its high concentration, but if you like what retinols do for your skin and want more of it, pick up this serum ASAP.


The Best Retinol Serum For Your Eyes

If you're particularly interested in targeting your eye area, pick up Murad's Retinol Youth Renewal Eye Serum, which can be gently and carefully dabbed around your eye contour area. It impressively brightens up skin, then continues to provide hydrating and plumping benefits all night long. After continued use, the skin around your eyes should look smoother, and you'll see a more even-looking tone, too.

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently of Bustle's editorial and sales departments.


Zain Husain, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist.

Gary Linkov, MD, board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of City Facial Plastics.