Retinol is the MVP in the skin-care routines of many, and it’s no surprise considering the numerous benefits the ingredient offers, from fading dark spots, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and improving tone and texture. But as you may have already noticed, retinol products can be pricey.
If you have your eye on a retinol cream that has a higher price tag attached to it, it can be helpful to know which expensive retinol creams are worth it. So we asked dermatologists to give us the scoop on their favorites. While you don’t need high-end products to have a solid skin-care routine, there are definitely some amazing luxury products that you should know more about, especially when it comes to an ingredient like retinol.
“First introduced to treat skin conditions like psoriasis, retinoids have been a gold standard in skin care for the past several decades,” explains Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills. “It is a power player in anti-aging with several superpowers that engage our cellular ability to turn back time by literally acting younger.” When you use retinol on your skin, it speeds up the body’s skin cell turnover rate, increases collagen production and elasticity, exfoliating the skin, and reduces sebum production, which helps to unclog pores and prevent breakouts.
How to add a retinol cream to your routine
If you’ve heard stories about retinol being harsh when you first use it, there’s no need to worry, according to Dr. Shamban. “While it can be an irritating experience for most of us, and there is an adjustment which can include dryness, peeling, irritation, tightness, redness, and even bring up blemishes or acne, mitigating the issues is possible,” she says.
All you have to do is pay attention to “a few strategic golden skin retinol rules.” One is using a pea-sized amount for the entire face and neck for the first weeks to help skin acclimate. Use it once a week for two weeks, then increase to twice a week for another two, then three times. By the fifth or sixth week, she says you should be able to use it nightly. “Just give it time,” advises Dr. Shamban. “Slow and steady wins here.” You’ll also want to avoid other aggressors at this time, including benzoyl peroxide [AHAs and BHAs], glycolic acid, and salicylic acid.
“In my opinion, everyone should use a retinol unless you are pregnant (or planning), breastfeeding, suffering from rosacea or sensitive skin,” says Dr. Lian Mack, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. “Because sunlight deactivates retinol, apply it at night, followed by a moisturizer.”
Retinol also makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so make sure your sunscreen routine is solid. Dr. Jeremy Brauer, a NY-based dermatologist and Founder and Director of NY's Spectrum Skin and Laser, recommends having a sunblock in some formula that you will easily use and reapply throughout the day. ISDIN’s Mineral Brush is a great on-the-go mineral powder that you can throw into your bag and use throughout the day to protect your skin from environmental damage from the sun, pollution, and more,” he says. “Similarly, Skinbetter Science’s Sunbetter compacts offer a high level of sun and blue light protection in a weightless, silky formula that is easy to carry around and reapply throughout.”
Keep scrolling to find out which expensive retinol creams are worth the cash, according to our experts.
The best worth-it luxe retinol creams
Dr. Shamban says this cream from Murad incorporates a retinol tri-active to work against lines and wrinkles, resurfacing and boosting radiance. It gets balanced with niacinamide and picolinamide so it’s a “well-rounded and a less irritating night cream.” This formula is great for all skin types, and it delivers results pretty quickly. It’s one of our shopping editor’s favorite night creams, since it smooths her fine lines and leaves her complexion brighter by the time she wakes up in the morning.
Dr. Mack loves this retinol because it comes in three different strengths, and offers a tip for using them: “Ideally, one should start with the 0.3 to acclimate their skin and then work their way up to the 1.0. There is also a 0.5 intermediate strength. The 0.3 is the perfect concentration for new retinol users and sensitive skinned patients,” says Dr. Mack.
Keep this piece of retinol advice in mind: “Typically when the packaging of a retinol does not have the strength or concentration written on it, it usually means that the strength is less than .25.” (Dr. Susan Van Dyke, a board-certified dermatologist in Arizona, is also a fan of this night cream.)
“This is a triple-threat treatment,” says Dr. Shamban, because it combines a retinol and a botanical bakuchiol with rambutan, another key botanical active that supports skin elasticity. In addition, she says that shea butter, squalane, evening primrose oil, sweet almond oil and jojoba, sunflower, soybean oil, phospholipids and Sodium Hyaluronate all help to counteract and calm the effects of retinol. “It blends well with the antioxidant ferulic acid, boosting the effects of other antioxidants and protecting overall skin integrity,” she adds.
Not only does this moisturizer have retinol, but even more powerful ingredients. “It doubles down on a key combination of retinol and vitamin C in the stable, more adaptable form of ascorbic acid to firm, tighten, tone, smooth, and brighten,” says Dr. Shamban. “It adds in hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate while it fights off fine lines and wrinkles.”
According to Dr. Shamban, this includes a low dose of retinol and a retinyl palmitate so your skin will experience a less severe adjustment period. “It is about 20 percent less potent than a pure retinol,” she says. “It also features red-algae and castor seed oil, both of which will help to buffer, moisturize, and soften skin.”
If you’re hesitant about retinols due to the possibility of being too harsh, consider this recommendation from Dr. Shamban. “It offers up to 100 percent less retinol discomfort due a patented encapsulated retinol, powerful active antioxidants, and Pro-SkinCalmingTM complex,” she says, adding that it also “protects skin against toxins and provides powerful cellular renewal resulting in firmer and smoother skin.”
If you’re interested in using a retinol cream specifically for the neck, Dr, Susan Van Dyke likes this one from Crépe Erase. “It utilizes encapsulation of the active ingredient, allowing for precise delivery to the targeted tissues: lines and deep set wrinkles of the neck,” she says.
This nighttime retinol cream helps improve the appearance of lines, wrinkles, uneven tone and texture, and is recommended by Dr. Van Dyke and Dr. Mack, as well as Dr. Brauer, who says it’s unique because it’s a combination of a retinoid with an alpha hydroxy acid allowing it to provide visible skin rejuvenation with little-to-no irritation.
“I often recommend that my patients pair it with the AlphaRet Exfoliating Pads a few times a week to increase the exfoliating power and really brighten and smooth their skin. These peeling pads are a personal favorite of mine as they are individually wrapped and easy to keep in a travel bag so you do not forget your retinol routine when you are on a trip.” Dr. Mack also points out that Skin Better Science’s cruelty free products are dermatologist-tested, and free from parabens, fragrances, and dyes.
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