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.

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.

Plumping Action

A combination of ingredients including glucose complex and HA reduce the look of lines and spots while giving skin a healthy dose of hydration. Neutrogena

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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)!

Works While You Sleep

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 bag. Olay

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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.

Good for All Skin Types

Aloe leaf juice, sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil and shea butter are among the many botanicals in this option, which promises all the benefits of its competitors with no artificial colors or fragrances. LilyAna Naturals

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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:

Increases Firmness & Elasticity

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

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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

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All Natural

Includes hyaluronic acid for extra skin-quenching. No sulfates or phthalates. Belei

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