How to Find the Best Retinol Night Cream for You, According to Dermatologists

Smoother skin, right this way

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best retinol night cream: a collage of night creams for your face
Paula Boudes for PureWow

When it comes to skincare, one size seldom, if ever, fits all. But if we were to pick just one ingredient that comes closest to benefiting most people, it would be retinol in all its forms. As dermatologist Dr. Tiffany J. Libby explains, “Retinol is a type of vitamin A that’s used to improve the quality of the skin. It is one of the most well-studied skincare ingredients for anti-aging. The benefits list is long: It decreases wrinkles, improves dark spots and boosts collagen.”

Given that there are so many retinols to choose from, we asked a trio of board-certified dermatologists to explain what to look for when shopping for one. Keep reading for the best retinol night creams, including the fan favorite Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Face Moisturizer and dermatologist favorite SkinMedica Retinol 1.0 (and scroll down to find the answers to some frequently asked questions about all things vitamin A).

The Best Retinol Night Creams at a Glance


Best Overall

SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream

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Best Fragrance-Free

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer

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Best for Sensitive Skin

Cetaphil Healthy Renew Night Cream

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Dermatologist Pick

SkinMedica Retinol 0

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Best Retinol with Hyaluronic Acid

RoC Retinol Correxion Max Hydration Cream

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Meet the Experts

  • Dr. Tiffany Jow Libby, MD, is a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and the Director of Mohs Micrographic and Dermatologic Surgery at Brown Dermatology in Rhode Island.
  • Dr. Dylan Greeney, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic, medical and surgical dermatology. Dr. Greeney received his Medical Degree from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, where he graduated Alpha Omega Alpha, and he completed his dermatology residency at Indiana University.
  • Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City. Dr. Engelman received a B.S. from the Medical University of South Carolina, completed her residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in Dermatology and her Mohs fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina.

How We Chose the Best Retinol Night Creams

We asked dermatologists and editors to share their top picks for the best retinol night cream. We also scoured the internet to see what brands and retinol night creams were trending and/or highly reviewed. From there, we looked at specific ingredients and considered other features like the texture, scent, finish, packaging and price of each product to bring you this comprehensive list of the ten best retinol night creams.

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Best Overall

1. SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream

What We Like:

  • has lactic acid
  • pump applicator
  • well-tolerated

What We Dislike:

  • pricey


For a well-rounded retinol, Skinbetter’s AlphaRet is a solid choice that’s  known for being well-tolerated by most skin types. The rich cream is formulated with a retinoid and lactic acid to tackle discoloration, even out skin tone and rev up collagen production without causing the usual irritation. That’s because each active ingredient is individually encapsulated and gradually released into the skin. (The addition of niacinamide, ceramides and fatty acids add to the moisturizing quotient.)

Best Fragrance-Free

2. Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer

What We Like:

  • fragrance-free
  • non-sticky texture

What We Dislike:

  • some reviewers mention the lid comes off easily


This fragrance-free night cream is enhanced with Olay’s proprietary Retinoid Complex and vitamin B3 (niacinamide) to smooth fine lines and leave skin feeling hydrated and replenished. The formula also visibly evens out skin tone and minimizes the look of pores over time. As PureWow’s Director of Branded Content and Cohost of the Royally Obsessed podcast, Roberta Fiorito, shares, “My face looked brighter, felt softer and firmer and my pores were just tiny little pinpricks.”

Best for Sensitive Skin

3. Cetaphil Healthy Renew Night Cream

What We Like:

  • gentle retinol alternative
  • has vitamins B3 and B5

What We Dislike:

  • some reviewers claimed it's a bit heavy


Dr. Engelman frequently recommends this gentler retinol alternative for her patients with sensitive skin. "Aging skin is a particular point of frustration for my sensitive skin patients due to increased risks of irritation and an already compromised skin barrier,” she says. “Active ingredients like retinol are especially not well-tolerated for them, so I'm thrilled to share gentle, but still efficacious options with them that can help combat the early signs of aging.” In place of retinol, Cetaphil’s night cream uses purified peptides, plus vitamins B3 (niacinamide) and B5 (panthenol) to help hydrate and repair the skin barrier, while targeting visible dullness and uneven skin tone.

Dermatologist Pick

4. SkinMedica Retinol 1.0

What We Like:

  • dermatologist approved
  • reviewers reported a reduction in fine lines

What We Dislike:

  • pricey
  • might be too strong for some


Dr. Libby calls SkinMedica’s Retinol 1.0 one of her favorites. “It’s their strongest over the counter retinol, but it’s paired with hydrating and skin barrier-supporting ingredients like glycerin, squalene and niacinamide to improve tolerability on skin,” she explains Still, given that it’s a stronger formula, we’d recommend this one for more experienced retinol users and/or those with hearty skin that’s not easily irritated.

Best Retinol with Hyaluronic Acid

5. RoC Retinol Correxion Max Hydration Cream

What We Like:

  • very hydrating
  • has glycerin and hyaluronic acid
  • non-comedogenic

What We Dislike:

  • some reviewers say it's a little greasy


A fan favorite with over 9,000 5-star reviews on Amazon alone, this cream uses time-released retinol to slowly and continually introduce the ingredient to your skin for up to 12 hours, thereby minimizing irritation. On that note, it also has hyaluronic acid and glycerin to add back some moisture. As one reviewer shares, “This moisturizer isn't just about fighting wrinkles. It's also a hydration powerhouse. Hyaluronic acid attracts and retains moisture, leaving my skin feeling soft, supple and dewy all day long, even in the harsh winter months.”

Most Moisturizing

6. Palmer’s Moisture Rich Night Cream

What We Like:

  • moisturizing
  • has vitamin E
  • affordable

What We Dislike:

  • might be too heavy for some


Palmer’s is perhaps best known for their cocoa butter products for stretch marks and scars, but one of their sleeper hits is their retinol night cream. Packed with the brand’s core ingredient, it also has retinol and vitamin E to moisturize skin sufficiently, while promoting skin cell turnover. Note that though this night cream is non-comedogenic, it might be a touch too heavy for those with naturally oily skin.

Best for Face and Body

7. Gold Bond Age Renew Retinol Overnight Body and Face Lotion

What We Like:

  • generously sized bottle
  • can be used all over

What We Dislike:

  • some reviewers say the pump top is finicky

Gold Bond

Per Dr. Greeney, Gold Bond’s Age Renew Lotion “is gentle and well tolerated” and “an excellent option for your entire face and body.” It features a stabilized form of retinol and moisturizing ingredients like niacinamide, vitamin E and shea butter to minimize the risk of dryness or irritation. And priced at $15 for a generously sized 7-ounce tube, it’s a steal.

Best for Acne

8. Differin Gel

What We Like:

  • fragrance-free
  • non-greasy texture

What We Dislike:

  • might be drying for some


Though this isn’t technically a night cream, we had to include it because there are few over-the-counter treatments that are more effective at clearing up acne than Differin gel. Previously only available via prescription, the treatment contains 0.1 percent adapalene, which is a retinoid that helps regulate cell turnover to keep pores from clogging, effectively targeting acne before it even starts. One Amazon reviewer says, “I can put this on a breakout before it even surfaces and it either takes care of it, or greatly lessens the size/duration. I really wish I knew about this when I was in high school. Please help someone out and spread the word.”

Best Drugstore

9. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Face Moisturizer

What We Like:

  • lightweight texture
  • has hyaluronic acid

What We Dislike:

  • some reviewers didn't like the jar packaging


This drugstore classic is beloved for its lightweight texture, fragrance-free formula and long-term results that include smoother, brighter skin, thanks to retinol and hyaluronic acid. “[This is an] oldie but goodie. I know this product is not new, but people need to be talking about it. Anytime I use this, I go to bed and wake up with visibly improved skin. Less texture, more hydrated, supple and plump, dewy really does everything. I cannot stress enough how much you need to try this,” says one reviewer.

Best for Beginners

10. innisfree Retinol Cica Moisture Recovery Serum

What We Like:

  • lightweight texture
  • gentle formula

What We Dislike:

  • some reviewers reported that it's a bit runny


For those who are just starting their retinol journey, we’d point you to this milder retinol serum. Lightweight and hydrating, it has retinol, but also niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, ceramides and cica to deliver the brightening and firming effects of the star ingredient with less chances of dryness or irritation.

One Amazon reviewer sums it up nicely: "This is a very well tolerated intro to retinol. I just finished my first bottle. I used it nightly. I had no drying or peeling. I can see visible reduction in my fine lines and hyperpigmentation. Overall a great product."

What Are the Differences Between Retinols, Retinoids and Retinoic Acids?

As Dr. Greeney explains, “It’s most helpful to think of these on a spectrum. Retinol goes through a conversion within our skin from retinol to retinoic acid. While retinol is the most forgiving in tolerability, it is the least active. Retinoic acid is the most active form but also the most irritating. Retinol is an excellent choice because it is widely tolerated on most people’s skin!”

Frequently Asked Questions

What Brand of Retinol Is Most Effective?

“Generally, the most effective retinoids are available by prescription only, with one exception, adapalene 0.1 percent (found in Differin), which is available over the counter,” says Dr. Libby.

Should I Use Retinol Every Night?

Both Dr. Libby and Dr. Greeney agree that ideally, retinol should be used nightly for maximum results. However, it’s important to start slow and steady. “Start using it every other night and build up to nightly use as tolerated,” advises Dr. Greeney. He also cautions against using too much retinol at once. “Using more retinol won’t get you faster results and it can also irritate your skin.” TL;DR: Apply only as directed, which is usually a pea-sized amount for the entire face.

Will Retinol Irritate My Skin?

It can. “Retinol is a common culprit in irritating skin often leading to redness, flaking, burning and other irritations,” says Dr. Libby. “However, when paired with gentle, skin barrier nourishing ingredients like niacinamide, some of the side effects can be tempered, making it more tolerable on the skin.” Dr. Libby also suggests using a sandwich technique: Apply a thin layer of moisturizer first, then your retinol, followed by another thin layer of moisturizer on top to lessen the chances of irritation.

How Effective Are Retinol Alternatives?

Retinol alternatives can be effective, but in general, it will take longer to see results and alternatives are less effective than the biologically active retinoid acid or prescription-strength retinoid, says Dr. Libby. Dr. Greeney adds, “Popular alternatives like bakuchiol can be helpful for those who can’t tolerate or use retinol. The only issue is that these alternatives don’t have as much research and data showing their benefits.”

Is There Anyone Who Should Not Use Retinol?

According to Dr. Libby, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid retinols and retinoids, as there is some evidence to suggest that high doses of it may pose risks to a developing fetus or breastfeeding infant. Dr. Greeney also notes that people with a damaged skin barrier should avoid retinol. “For those with damaged, compromised or irritated skin, retinol will likely make things worse. You want to get your skin healthy first, and then, slowly integrate retinol to keep your skin healthy for the long run,” he says.

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Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...