If there’s one skincare ingredient that’s been in the spotlight the past few years, it’s retinol. The vitamin A derivative has long been a major force in the beauty industry, but it seems more and more retinol-based products are hitting the market these days. And for very good reason: Retinol is a proven skin savior, with an unmatched ability to exfoliate the skin, diminish acne and dark spots, and soften fine lines.
“Retinol is one of the most important ingredients for attaining smooth, camera-ready skin,” says Dr. Michelle Henry, M.D., NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “And while it’s gentler than prescription retinoid creams, you should still start slowly: Begin by applying a retinol product once per week, just to avoid any irritation. Then you can build up to daily use.”
Despite its skin-changing capabilities, retinol does take time to work its magic, so Dr. Henry suggests you begin incorporating it into your beauty routine at least three months in advance of your big day. (You’ll see the best results after six months of use.)
Ready to get started? Continuing scrolling for the top retinol products to try before your wedding.
Joanna Vargas Supernova Serum
"This retinol is clinical strength," says Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Joanna Vargas Skincare. "The difference between my Super Nova Serum formula and others is that I tried to combine it with soothing anti-inflammatory ingredients that support the skin, so it won't get too red or dry." She suggests, "Go to bed with clean skin and apply the retinol so you can stimulate some cell turnover and collagen productions while you are sleeping."
SHOP NOW: Nordstrom, $295
Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil
This product is a cult-favorite for a reason. The potent retinol is balanced with blue tansy and German chamomile essential oils to calm and soothe the skin, and keep it from drying out. After just four weeks of slumbering with this serum on their skin, 96% of women felt their complexion looked brighter and more radiant, 92% saw a calmer, and more even skin tone, and 85% said their fine lines faded. Apply after cleansing for luminous, plump, even-toned skin when you awaken.
SHOP NOW: Sephora, $55
Shani Darden Retinol Reform
Shani Darden is one of Hollywood’s go-to facialists and, thanks to her retinol serum, you too can get smooth, glowing skin à la her clients Chrissy Teigen, Jessica Alba, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Retinol Reform—which has earned holy grail status from just about everyone who has tried it—is a lightweight formula that reduces the appearance of fine lines, refines skin texture, and fades discoloration with a thoughtful blend of retinol and lactic acid. Trust us, it lives up to the hype.
SHOP NOW: Shani Darden, $95
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate
While pure retinol is the star ingredient in this creamy serum, we’d be remiss not to mention First Aid Beauty’s proprietary Skin Savior Complex: a soothing blend of hyaluronic acid, aloe, antioxidants, colloidal oatmeal, and ceramides that balances out the hard-working retinol. With consistent use, you’ll notice fine lines will start to soften and your skin will be smoother and more even toned.
SHOP NOW: Sephora, $58
Renee Rouleau Advanced Resurfacing Serum
A-list aesthetician Renee Rouleau is the queen of targeted serums; she has more than half a dozen in her namesake line and each one was painstakingly formulated to tackle an array of skin issues. The Advanced Resurfacing Serum is Renee’s take on retinol: It’s just as effective as a prescription treatment for resurfacing the skin, but it doesn’t come with any of the harsh, drying side effects.
SHOP NOW: Renee Rouleau, $86.50
Environ Skin EssentiA AVST 1
This results-driven South African skincare line can be a bit challenging to track down (it’s available at select spas, doctor’s offices, and wellness centers) but it’s absolutely worth the effort. The AVST collection is a must-try for retinol newbies: It’s a step-up system of five silky creams, each one boasting increased levels of vitamins A and C and powerful antioxidants. By slowly introducing your skin to these active ingredients, it reduces the chance of irritation—especially for those with sensitive complexions.
SHOP NOW: Concept Skincare, $63.99
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Peel
It doesn’t get any easier to incorporate retinol into your skincare routine than with Dr. Dennis Gross’s prepackaged peels. Plus, they perform double duty: Retinol exfoliates dead skin cells and melts fine lines while ferulic acid, a powerful antioxidant, protects the skin against free radicals. If you’re a fan of the brand’s alpha beta peels (which are a must-try), scoop these up ASAP.
SHOP NOW: Dr. Dennis Gross, $88
Clark’s Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream
What’s not to love about a hydrating, healing face cream that works wonders while you sleep? Founder Francesco Clark took time and care to design a formula that mimics the body’s natural reparative process; the result is a potent treatment rich in time-release retinol (which means the active ingredients are delivered deep into your skin all night long). With the addition of colloidal oatmeal, vitamin C, and jasmine extract, this fast-absorbing cream not only increases cell turnover but it brightens skin, improves elasticity, and calms inflammation too.
SHOP NOW: Dermstore, $98
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion
For avid retinol users who are looking to try something new, the Ordinary is the way to go. They have a variety of products to choose from, but we’re partial to the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion: The milky serum uses two next-generation retinoid actives to reduce the appearance of fine lines, clear hyperpigmentation, and improve skin texture. Bonus: The Ordinary is now available at Sephora.
SHOP NOW: Amazon, $24.98