We’ve all heard horror stories about Retinol, here are some forms of Vitamin A (lowest strength to the strongest), Retinyl Palmitate, Retinol Propionate, Retinyl Linoleate, Retinol, Retinaldehyde, Adapalene, Tretinoin, Isotretinoin, and Tazarotene. The prescription strength retinol treatment has Retinoid acid. Basically a derivative of retinol which is super effective.
There is common misconception that retinols exfoliate the skin, in fact they go deeper into skin, enhance collagen production, aid with skin smoothing, evening out of pigmentation, helps with spots and future prevention of spots and addresses skin blotchiness.
Today there are three prescription-strength retinoids:
- Tretinoin (brands include Atralin, Avita, Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Renova),
- Tazarotene (Avage, Tazorac), and
- Adapalene (Differin).
Many dermatologists find tazarotene stronger (and potentially more irritating) than tretinoin; adapalene is the gentlest but may be less effective.
In this post, I will not be delving into prescription products, instead will be covering various products and brands that offer retinol solutions without any dryness irritation and some added benefits of other ingredients.
La Roche Posay Redermic R ($57) My first array in Retinol, and it was instant love. Enriched with Retinol and Retinyl Linoleate (15th and 16th ingredient in formulation) with a cream textured gel like consistency in a metal tube, with no exposure to air or light. Due to its mild strength and addition of Glycerin, Sodium Hyaluronate, it doesn’t dry out skin and gradually does its job. I’d say if you’re starting with retinols I think LRP option is a safe bet as it’s gentler on skin and comparatively lower price point.
Auspect Clinical Pro A Serum is an Australian skincare brand. The formulation is enriched with Fireweed extract, Retinol, Lactic Acid, Kakadu Plum (one of my fav Aussie ingredient) housed in an opaque twist up pump action bottle designed to address skin resurfacing, even tone and firmer skin. I’ve used it multiple times, and it left my skin firm, under control (as far as spots are concerned), even toned and overall skin appeared wonderful. Did not experience any dryness or tightness or sensitivities (obviously wore sunscreen).
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65) is the only Retinol solution I’ve come across with the least possible ingredient listing. The brand claims to have 1.5% retinol (third listed ingredient after Cyclopentasiloxane and Squalane) however I did not experience any dryness or flakiness. Slightly silicony texture but absorbs beautifully in the skin. Excellent for calming angry skin, and resurfacing skin tone and texture. Packaging is poor with see through glass bottle and pipette.
Kate Somerville RetAsphere Micro Peel – Retinol Glycolic Treatment ($90) is a treatment peel in combination with Glycolic Acid (AHA). The formulation has Glycolic Acid listed as second ingredient with additions of Lactose, Glycerin, Arbutin, Plankton Extract, Opuntia Ficus-indica (Napol Cactus) Fruit Extract, Soybean Extract, Kelp Extract, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Adenosine, Licorice Root Extract. Whilst all these are great additions, Retinol is listed as third last ingredient. I think the title of product is misleading in that the third last ingredient is prominently advertised. Nothing wrong with Glycolic peel but don’t shift focus by calling it Retinol and charging extra moolah for that. That aside, in my experience this product works better as stand alone after toning. If layered under an oil or moisturizer it does roll off the skin. Major kudos for packaging in a white opaque tube with a pump.
Hylamide SubQ Eyes ($35) is a unique one, in that, on application I experience a slight tingle. Now I’m all for tingle on skin however near eyes it makes me uncomfortable (just personal preference). This is much raved eye serum however for me, this is my least preferred eye serum. Not impressed with inci list, not impressed with feel on skin and not impressed with results either.
In my experience, my absolute favourite and most reliable products for retinol are Dr Dennis Gross’s Ferulic + Retinol range. Started my journey with their Brightening solution but soon fell in love with rest of the range.
Dr Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid & Retinol Brightening Solution ($88) Repurchased this product for its effectiveness with acne scars (including any extraction scars), dark spots, and sun damage. Jam-packed with Ferulic Acid, Retinol, Licorice Root Extract, Bearberry Extract, Arbutin, Mulberry Leaf Extract, Willow Bark Extract, Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, among others.
I have a detailed post comparing the Brightening Solution and Overnight Serum (click on link) where I take deeper dive with ingredients and expected outcomes. As for the Wrinkle Recovery Pads, are wonderful weekly or bi-weekly boosted treatment for the skin.
Some say its best to dive into prescription strength retinols, I beg to differ unless you have a serious skin concern which warrants that. Over the counter skincare products do a fine job at daily maintenance with added benefits of other ingredients. However it can argued both ways and not one is right or wrong. It’s what works best for you and your skin. Now that’s just my two cents on the topic.
Thank you for your indepth review on various Retinols. I’ve been wanting to try Retinols for ages but didn’t know where to start and now you’ve helped me! Thanks xx
You’re welcome, I’m glad you found this helpful. Also thank you for taking the time to read xx
Thank you for the comprehensive article! I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while and follow you on Instagram as well. ❤
I'm a fan of retinol products, but so far I've found it hard to find more information on the different forms of Vitamin A, strengths and differences between prescription strength and regular ones. I've asked at least 4 different pharmacists, but nobody had any answers to me.. I'd love to read more about the retinol forms, as I'd like to write a blogpost of the products I've tried and tested.
I've heard so many people rave about Dr Dennis Gross eye cream, it's definitely on my wish list! I'm still working through my Verso one, which is promising.
xx Laura – http://lauraloukola.net/blog
Thank you so much Laura, for taking the time to read and for your continued support for blog and IG, means the world to me😘
Your post comes at the right time Binita, I’m thinking of starting to use retinols later this autumn. I’m only 21 but I think retinols could improve the texture of my skin, especially on my cheeks where a have many acne scars. Do you think I’m too young for it?
I’m glad you put together this list of products because for me it’s difficult to find them, as I’ve never really been interested in them. I need to try something from Dennis Gross and I will for sure, once I’ve saved up enough money.
have a good day! xx
Silvia I don’t believe age is a factor in determining use of Retinol, if the skin condition calls for it then use it. Dr Dennis Gross and La Roche Posay Redermic R are great starting points to start your Retinol journey. Enjoy your evening love xx
Amazing overview! I’ve just started to dabble into retinols – I tried something before that was too strong for me but now I’m using an Avene product which is much milder and it’s been great. I’m currently using Paula’s Choice Resist C15 Super Booster which contains ferulic acid and vitamin C. I’m interested in adding a retinol.
I’ve heard great things about Dr. Dennis Gross’ range – I’ll have to look into it.
How do you like Avene, I think it has mineral oil in it so I steered away from it as it congests my skin. As for Ferulic acid, I cannot go much further than DrDG range, give that a go xx
I like the Avene, it’s very gentle and I’m seeing good results. I think it’s probably a “baby” type of retinol and not strong enough for some people! I haven’t had any trouble with mineral oil but I know many people steer clear of it. It’s not my favourite ingredient but I don’t avoid products with it.
You’re lucky it doesn’t congest your skin xx
I love the comparison among all the eye creams. I had the same underwhelming, stinging experience with SubQ Eyes! I’m eager to try some of the well reviewed ones on your list. –Angela
Angela to me it seemed overrated and hyped eye serum and when I used it, it felt mehh. In saying so, everyone’s skin and experience is different. But DrDG eye cream, serum and Cane Austin eye cream are all wonderful. Budget option La Roche Posay Redermic R hasn’t failed me at all xx
Do you know any product thats a little bit cheaper than the ones youve mentioned here? My biggest issue is acne scarring and i want to try retinols and see if they give me better results than just relying on chem exfoliators but im a broke college student with pcos ><
Kirsten, the cheaper serum is from The Ordinary line but performance wise it doesnt stand next to these.