The 25 Best Retinol Serums for Every Skin Type and Concern

If you’re even remotely interested in skincare, chances are that you’ve heard of retinol. As one of the most studied and oft touted ingredients by dermatologists, aestheticians and beauty editors alike, retinol has a reputation of being “the gold standard of anti-aging” because of its ability to tackle a wide range of skin concerns, from acne to fine lines and collagen breakdown.

While retinol is often used as a catchall term for any products containing the ingredient, there are many variants of it (i.e., retinoic acid, tretinoin, retinyl palmitate, retinyl linoleate and retinyl acetate), which all come in varying degrees of strength.

Retinol is a great addition to many people’s skincare routines because it can be found in over-the-counter products (meaning you can buy them without a prescription) and because it contains a lower concentration of the active ingredient than prescription-strength formulas, it's typically more tolerable for more skin types.

Ahead, we’ve picked 25 tried-and-true retinol serums, creams and even capsules for every skin type and concern.

Best Retinol Serums At a Glance:

6 Skincare Products You Should Own by the Time You’re 40

1. Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Serum

Best Overall

Whether you’re looking to clear up a spot of acne or soften some fine lines on your forehead, we’d recommend this gentle serum. It’s lightweight, fragrance-free and absorbs quickly, so you can easily add it to your existing routine. Just remember that the serum will gradually brighten and firm skin over time, so progress will be slow and steady.

2. The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% In Squalane

Best Value

This two percent concentration of retinoid features a complex of “solubilized hydroxypinacolone retinoate,” which is a nightmare to spell, but has been shown to deliver the skin smoothing and firming benefits of the potent ingredient without the common drawbacks (namely irritation and dryness) associated with using it. The budget-friendly price tag makes it that much better.

3. Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3

Best for Beginners

Made with 0.3 percent pure encapsulated retinol, this formula is ideal for first-time retinol users (and those with sensitive skin) thanks to its addition of soothing bisabolol, which helps minimize irritation. Start by using it once to twice a week and gradually increase use as your skin gets acclimated.

4. Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Best for Dull Skin

A go-to for Kelly Rowland, who calls it “magic in a bottle,” this cult-favorite serum features 2.2 percent encapsulated retinol and lactic acid, which is an exfoliating ingredient, to clear up and brighten your complexion with each use. Fans love its lightweight and pillow-friendly texture, as well as the soft glow it delivers over time.

5. Dermalogica Age Smart Overnight Repair Buffer Cream

Best for Combination Skin

Got an oily forehead and dry cheeks? Or skin that seems to change its mind with the weather? This 0.5 percent retinol comes with a moisturizing buffer cream so you can easily customize the formula to your needs whenever you use it. So if your skin feels especially tight one night, you can mix a drop of the retinol with a squeeze of buffer cream before applying it, and on days when your T-zone is greasier than usual, you can skip the cream and just use the retinol.

6. First Aid Beauty Fab Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate

Best for Sensitive Skin

With just enough retinol for glow-inducing results but with plenty of hyaluronic acid, colloidal oatmeal, allantoin and ceramides to soothe, nourish and calm at the same time, this gentle serum is a safe bet for people who are prone to irritation.

7. Differin Acne Treatment Gel With Pump

Best for Acne

If you’re dealing with a case of clogged pores, whiteheads and blackheads, first of all, we feel you. Second, you may want to give this prescription-strength (but thankfully over-the-counter) treatment a try. Adapalene, which is the main active ingredient in the formula, reduces inflammation while speeding up cell turnover, so it clears up existing spots and prevents new ones from popping up.

8. Mele Even Dark Spot Control Facial Serum For Melanin Rich Skin

Best for Dark Spots

This drugstore brand was meticulously developed by a collective of dermatologists and scientists of color to care for the most common concerns of melanin-rich skin such as sun damage, dark spots and uneven skin tone. A standout from the curated collection? This bi-phase serum that gently exfoliates dead skin cells to give you an instant glow, while retinol and vitamin C get to work on any dark spots leftover from past acne and sun damage.

9. L’oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum

Best for Wrinkles

For those who are already familiar with retinol and are looking for a slightly stronger serum to add to their arsenal, give this potent pick a try. Packed with 0.3 percent pure retinol, fans praise it for delivering noticeable results. As one reviewer shares: “After the first month, the fine lines under my eyes were basically gone and even the deep wrinkle on my forehead from years of sunburns was shallower.”

10. Marie Veronique Gentle Retinol Night Serum

Best Clean Option

The brainchild of a chemist and an aesthetician, this nontoxic formula uses encapsulated retinol for a timed release of the ingredient (so it's less irritating) and includes soothing ingredients like green tea, vitamin E and ceramides to balance everything out. Oh, and it also has vitamin C, which adds to the glowing cocktail.

11. No. 7 Restore & Renew Multi Action Serum

Best for Your Neck

Fact: The skin on your neck and chest is thinner and therefore more sensitive than other areas. As such, you want to exercise a bit more caution with the products you use in these spots. This silky serum combines retinol with peptides and calcium amino acids to gently but effectively target signs of aging on your face and neck.

12. Strivectin Super-c Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum

Best with Vitamin C

This hydrating serum combines the skin-brightening powers of vitamin C with the slew of benefits of retinol to give you a covetable glow. Plus, the lightweight texture quickly soaks into your skin without leaving a tacky residue behind, making it easy to layer under moisturizer and sunscreen.

13. Peace Out Retinol Eye Stick

Best for Eyes

See ya, crow’s feet. This solid serum stick contains a creamy blend of retinol, peptides and antioxidants to fight fine lines and wrinkles in a few swipes. The twist-up tube is a welcome alternative to repeat dips into those impossibly small jars of eye cream.

14. Chantecaille Retinol Intense+

Best for Mature Skin

Fans of the brand’s Retinol Intense will love this supercharged formula that’s boosted with twice the amount of retinol for when you’re ready to level up your regimen. Bonus: Its base of pure rosewater, evening primrose oil and magnolia bark extract soothes, reduces redness and moisturizes skin.

15. Drunk Elephant A-passioni Retinol Cream

Best for Texture

For bumpy skin and enlarged pores, this retexturizing serum helps to gradually smooth things over without the flaking and irritation that would typically scare you from trying a retinol in the first place. As one rave reviewer explains, “I have super sensitive skin and rosacea, so it’s really tricky to find products that don’t irritate my face and make me break out. I tried this out despite my concerns it would be too strong for my troubled skin to handle. NOPE! I started slow as instructed and definitely had some noticeable peeling after the first few uses, but now my skin looks 10 years younger. [It] totally changed the texture, which is now dewy and smooth.”

16. Is Clinical Pro-heal Serum Advance Plus

Best for Inflammation

Speaking of rosacea, it is possible to reap the benefits of retinol when you aren’t experiencing a flare up. When you’re ready to give it a try, this antioxidant-rich serum is your best bet because in addition to retinol, it also has soothing ingredients like zinc sulfate, vitamin E and olive leaf extract to reduce inflammation and any accompanying redness.

17. Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum

Best Vegan Formula

Let us count the ways we love this animal- and skin-friendly serum. It’s creamy and gentle, while still packing a punch with microencapsulated retinol and natural retinol alternatives like bakuchiol. The fact that it’s also fragrance-, paraben- and cruelty-free and costs just over 20 bucks seals its spot in our permanent collection.

18. Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil

Best for Dry Skin

This Internet darling is a bedtime staple for many because it takes the skin-brightening and smoothing powers of retinol and combines it with a super-hydrating face oil. (Honestly, we’re not mad at the pop of calming blue it adds to our shelfies either.)

19. Skinbetter Alpharet Overnight Cream

The Derm Pick

This cream is a top recommendation from many of our derm pals because it combines both retinol and glycolic acid and provides all of the effects of a potent retinol without the irritation. (It’s a PureWow100 pick for that exact reason; plus, it’s extra hydrating thanks to niacinamide, ceramides, and fatty acids in the formula.)

20. Ole Henriksen Goodnight Glow Retin-alt Sleeping Crème

Best for Hyperpigmentation

While it's technically made from bakuchiol, a plant-derived, retinol alternative, it's just as effective at erasing fine lines and dark spots, while also providing some much-needed moisture. Edelweiss stem cell helps improve firmness and elasticity, and glycolic and lactic acids gently resurface.

21. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum Capsules

Best for Travel

These biodegradable and seaweed-derived capsules contain 30 pre-portioned doses of retinol to treat visible signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles and dullness. We appreciate the non-greasy texture and fragrance-free formula as well.

22. Perricone Md Retinol Treatment & Moisturizer

Best for Oily Skin

For those who are prone to breaking out, this moisturizing treatment can help regulate excess oils (a main culprit of clogged pores), while shortening the lifespan of existing blemishes. Because the retinol is cushioned with citrulline, glycerin and niacinamide, it exfoliates your skin without being overly drying.

23. Vichy Liftactiv Retinol Ha Concentrate

Best for Easily Irritated Skin

This derm-approved formula features a concentrated retinol, but it also includes hyaluronic acid and volcanic water, which is packed with 15 minerals to help with the dryness and irritation that often comes with retinol use (especially in the beginning).

24. Common Heir 0.2% Retinol Serum

Best Newcomer

Gentle but mighty is how we'd describe this 0.2% retinol serum. The formula was specifically developed with melanin-rich and sensitive skin in mind. As such, it features a potent trio of soothing botanicals to boost the efficacy of the retinol, plus squalane and algae to keep skin moisturized and calm. The fact that the serum comes in biodegradable capsules and fully recyclable packaging is just the icing on the cake.

25. Alastin Renewal Retinol

Best for Retinol Pros

If you're ready to graduate to something a bit stronger, we'd point you to this medical-grade retinol from Alastin. You can choose between 0.25 or 0.50 percent strength formulas depending on how well your skin tolerates the ingredient. It also contains humectants, oat extract and silver mushroom to help with said tolerance.

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

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...