How Retinol Creams for the Face Work

The secret to the most effective ingredient in your skin routine is that it plays well with others.

man looking at himself in the mirror
Lookin’ good, dude!Andrea Piacquadio

Retinol is the ultimate age fighter. But everything from its concentration (usually somewhere between .25% and 1% when it’s over the counter) to its co-stars—hyaluronic acid, vitamin F, vitamin B₃—are what make certain products best for some complexions, others better for others. One thing is for sure: If you’re a retinol newbie, start slow (e.g. applying only at night), then work up to more frequent use. Retinol is effective because it’s strong, which means your skin could get irritated. What’s waiting on the other side of that irritation is the skin of your dreams, so go gradually and get ready for greatness.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Regenerating Anti-Aging Face Cream & Hyaluronic Acid; Anti-Wrinkle Retinol Moisturizer & Neck Cream, with Hyaluronic Acid & Retinol, 1.7 oz
A combination of ingredients including glucose complex and HA plump the skin to reduce the look of lines and spots while giving it a healthy dose of hydration.Neutrogena

Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, works by enhancing collagen production (which starts to slow in our 20s) and triggering cell turnover. Exfoliation is a byproduct: You shed your old skin as it makes way for a smooth new layer. How very snakelike (and cool)!

Olay Regenerist Retinol Moisturizer, Retinol 24 Night Face Cream, 1.7oz + Whip Face Moisturizer Travel/Trial Size Bundle
Vitamin B₃, or niacinamide, in this product firms skin; minimizes redness, hyperpigmentation and pore appearance; and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Bonus: You get a free mini to pop in your overnight bag.Olay

When you apply a retinol, your skin first needs to convert it to retinoic acid to work. The addition of vitamin B₃ gives that process a boost, helping skin turn over faster.

LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream for Face - Retinol Cream, Anti Aging Cream, Retinol Moisturizer for Face, Wrinkle Cream for Face, 2.5% Retinol Complex - 1.7oz
Aloe leaf juice, sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil and shea butter are among the many botanicals in this all-skin-types option, which promises all the benefits of its competitors with no artificial colors or fragrances.LilyAna Naturals

Hyaluronic acid is a frequent companion of retinol. Contrary to what its name may suggest, this acid is seriously moisturizing. While retinol is doing its cell-turnover thing, HA is keeping the skin plump and hydrated. Together, they’re a lean, mean, wrinkle-fighting machine.

Also Consider:

Anti Aging Retinol Moisturizer Cream: for Face, Neck & Décolleté with 2.5% Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid. Best Day and Night Anti Wrinkle Cream for Men and Women - Results in 5 Weeks
A light yet rich, non-sticky, non-greasy formulation provides up to 72 hours of hydration. Plus, it’s perfect to layer under other products, like sunscreen.Kleem Organics
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Cream. Brightening, Restorative and Vegan Face Cream with Vitamin F. 1 Ounce.
Essential fatty acids in this pick support the skin barrier to keep your complexion strong, smooth, protected from pollution—you name it, this does it.Drunk Elephant
Belei by Amazon: Retinol Vitamin A Refining Moisturizer, Fragrance Free, Paraben Free, 1.7 Fluid Ounce (50 mL)
Includes hyaluronic acid for extra skin-quenching. No sulfates or phthalates.Belei