- Retinol is notoriously drying, but formulas that combine the powerful antiaging ingredient with moisturizer can mitigate the irritating effects.
- Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream is our top pick because it contains a high concentration of retinol as well as peptides, vitamins, and oils to hydrate and nourish skin.
Retinol is a mixed blessing — the antiaging, acne-fighting effects are real, but so is the sensitivity and redness. Even if you’re not super sensitive, retinol can make your skin itchy and flaky if you’re using too much too fast, or using it in the a.m. as it can make your skin photosensitive.
There are several ways to mitigate the negative side-effects of retinol while still getting all the benefits.
I have mild rosacea and I find that applying over-the-counter retinol every other night instead of nightly works well. Another tip is to combine retinol with moisturizer — you can mix the two products together, layer retinol on top of moisturizer, or just use a moisturizer with retinol.
These creams and moisturizers often include hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to nourish skin while the retinol works its wrinkle- and acne-fighting magic. There’s a host of incredible formulas on the market, from the drugstore to higher-end retailers.
Here are the best retinol creams and moisturizers you can buy:
- Best retinol cream overall: Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream
- Best drugstore retinol moisturizer: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream
- Best high-strength retinol cream: SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream
- Best retinol moisturizer with antioxidants: StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer
- Best retinol cream for sensitive skin: Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream with Calming Colloidal Oatmeal
The best retinol cream overall
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream boasts the Clean at Sephora seal, and has peptides, vitamins, and oils to calm and nourish skin.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream is one of the newer products from this clean-beauty brand, and it already has more than 600 glowing reviews on Sephora and an average 4.3-star rating.
The Clean at Sephora seal means this product is formulated without potentially undesirable ingredients like essential oils, silicones, and synthetic fragrances that can irritate skin. Instead, A-Passioni is made with 1% retinol, moisturizing and firming peptides, calming vitamin F, and hydrating jojoba, avocado, olive oils.
The formula is housed in a metal tube to protect it from light and air, which can break down the active ingredients — not something you want to happen to a $74 product.
The 1% concentration is very powerful, so according to some shoppers, you may experience flaking when you first start using. The brand recommends starting out once or twice a week, and gradually increasing as your skin becomes more used to the formula. If you find it’s still drying you out, top off with another cream or serum, like Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra serum.
"I wear this gentle cream […] during the day with sunscreen on top. It doesn’t irritate at all and is lightweight," Health’s Heather Muir says. Town & Country and Cosmopolitan also recommend A-Passioni.
"I have really bad acne I haven’t found anything to control. I had heard about retinol and was really hesitant to use it since I’m 21 but I decided to give it a go […] Only about 2 weeks in my skin is not only clearing up from acne but my scarring as well," writes a Sephora shopper.
Pros: Clean at Sephora seal, strong and effective, vegan, housed in metal tube to protect formula from breaking down
Cons: Need to start slow, may cause peeling, not as hydrating as other creams
The best drugstore retinol moisturizer
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream is a dermatologist-approved moisturizer and retinol combo that’s affordable and effective.
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream is a powerful yet affordable antiaging product.
It has hyaluronic acid to balance the effects of the potent retinol, which fills in deep wrinkles and works to even out skin texture. It promises results in just one week of consistent use, though everyone’s results will vary.
This is a gentle formula that can be used nightly, but if you’ve never used retinol before, it’s a good idea to start every other night.
"This cream makes my skin feel luxurious and thoroughly moisturized. My dentist thought I had gotten Botox on my forehead as I had no wrinkles. I am 50. This cream miraculously faded the large deep wrinkles I had there, which I never expected a cream could do," writes one Target shopper.
The product has an average 3.7 rating on Amazon based on more than 700 reviews. It’s been featured on Harper’s Bazaar and Prevention, which also give the product high marks, and shoppers on the product review site Influenster give it 4.3 stars based on more than 140 reviews.
Pros: Affordable, effective, contains moisturizing hyaluronic acid
Cons: Not as potent retinol content as other options
The best high-strength retinol cream
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream is powerful stuff, but it utilizes a blend of soothing ingredients to make sure your skin stays happy.
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream blends a high concentration of 1% retinol with soothing ingredients like chamomile-derived bisabolol and frankincense-derived boswellia serrata extract to cut down on skin sensitivity.
The air-tight metal tube packaging is designed to keep the ingredients potent and fresh for as long as possible. It’s also non-comedogenic and fragrance-free, and is ideal for slightly sensitive skin that has already adjusted to a lower-strength retinol.
"Biggest bang for your buck as far as addressing cell turnover, brightening skin and refining pore size. Non- irritating but start with 0.5 before 1.0," writes one Dermstore shopper.
The product has a perfect 5 out of 5 rating on Dermstore based on 300 reviews.
Pros: Strong OTC retinol, contains soothing ingredients, air-tight packaging
Cons: Expensive, can be irritating if your skin is not used to retinol
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