Free shipping on all domestic orders over $39

Over the counter retinol creams

March 11, 2013 Reviewed by Marta 6 Comments

Vitamin A itself does not have a direct effect on skin, but is only effective after specialized enzymes in the skin cells convert Vitamin A into retinoic acid (tretinoin). Retinoic acid facilitates communication between cells, encouraging aging cells to continue their renewal process, and regenerate collagen and elastin to prevent the appearance of aging skin, wrinkles and fine lines. It is also effective at producing new, healthy skin cells to replace skin previously damaged by acne. However, retinol cannot communicate with a cell until it has been broken down into Retinoic Acid. Once this breakdown has occurred, communication begins and the cells’ turnover rate increases, increasing the production of collagen at a higher rate.

Arcona Vitamin A Complex Repair ($68). Arcona has reformulated its retinol serum, streamlining it to an unadulterated dose of the key actives. There is retinol, a vitamin A derivative that exfoliates the skin and helps to diminish wrinkles, plus retinyl palmitate, which is easily absorbed by the skin and once it is there is converted into Retinol. Retinyl palmitate is gentler for sensitive skins than retinol, making this a good combination. The exfoliating force of these retinoids is given a further boost by glycolic acid. Fructooligosaccharides is a favorite ingredient of Arcona and it helps build collagen and retain moisture. Glucosamine HCI assists in maintaining the elasticity and integrity of the connective tissue and is an anti-inflammatory.

BRAD Biophotonic Ultra Elastin Lift ($210). If you want retinol as part of a comprehensive anti-aging serum, then look no further than this high-quality multitasker. BRAD believes in keeping beauty routines simple and this complex formula does it all. Ultra Elastin Lift firms the skin while improving skin tone. Retinyl palmitate gives a boost to glycolic acid and lactic acid. Borage and flax will tone down redness and a ton of hydrating ingredients counteract dryness, such as avocado, sodium hyaluronate, cocoa butter and tamanu. Read the full review.

Osmosis Correct ($46). An excellent and effective product that fades wrinkles and smooths the skin whilst being relatively gentle. The secret is that niacinamide backs up the action of trans retinal. Plus there are anti-aging heavy hitters such as copper peptides and epidermal growth factor that repair wrinkles, as well as R-Lipoic acid. A great product at any price and very good value at less than 50 bucks. Read the full review.

Skinfinite Platinum PM Cream 1% Retinol ($79 in the shop). Truth In Aging reviewer, Mark, said: “I didn’t experience any redness, irritation or flaking (as I did initially with retin-A, even with cautious use) and I do attribute that to gradual use, and most likely the improvement in the delivery system of the product.  It left my skin smooth and even toned. Interestingly, instead of drying my skin out, it actually hydrated it thanks to several moisturizing ingredients such as shea butter, almond oil, beta-glucan (D), and ceramide-2.” Skinfinite says its retinol is entrapped in molecular microsponges that enhances skin penetration in a time-release delivery system. Another reviewer, found it too strong to use more than once a week. Read the full review.

Prana Reverse A ($48 in the shop). An excellent retinol that does a great job of bringing down sun-damaged skin. If you have stubborn areas of aging skin or hyperpigmentation and want a relatively effective over-the-counter retinal, then Prana Reverse A is worth trying out. Reverse A gets my vote for its natural ingredients and slew of anti-agers. Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant and produces energy in cells and I especially like l-Carnosine, which flushes toxins from the body and may extend the Hayflick Limit (the number of times cells reproduce themselves). NaPCA crops up in a few of Prana’s products and sounds a little like hyaluronic acid (which is also here) in that it Na-PCA it pulls water out of the air to moisturize the skin.  With botanical sage, horsetail and chamomile, Reverse A also has calming effects and may help with broken capillaries. The vitamin A is rounded out with Vitamin B5, E and C. Read the full review.

Don't overdo any retinol cream. Although it has many proven benefits, the Cosmetics Database rates retinol as a moderate hazard ingredient. It warns of potential side effects including cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, violations, restrictions and warnings, cellular level changes, and organ system toxicity. Retinol has been shown to produces excess reactive oxygen species that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, and lead to cell death. See our article, Tretinoin and retinoids - toxicity and safety

See also:

  • April 7, 2011

    by Noel

    Hello Marta, I've been intensely following this website recently since I'm literally obsessed over skincare and have read many of your columns. I have noticed on a few occasions, that you mentioned that retinol thins the skin over time. How did you arrive at this conclusion? I'm asking because any dermatologist/bio-chemist would disagree. On a very basic level, metaphorically stating that excessive deep exfoliation would lead to thinning is scientifically incorrect since the skin is a dynamic organ, reactive just like the heart, lungs etc. Exfoliation essentially is superficially damaging the skin, which causes the skin to react by strengthening itself via producing more collagen, which in turn firms and thickens the skin. Aerobic exercise forces the heart to work harder, superficially damaging it, therefor reacting by strengthening itself, hence why exercise is beneficial. To state that excessive exfoliation leads to skin thinning would basically be stating that aerobics is bad for the heart. Additionally, I'm interested in your findings since a couple good friends of mine are aestheticians here in NYC and ALL of them have been trained to make the same comments to their clients by the skincare lines that their spas carry, specifically the ones that tout and promote peptides. I won't mention names but 3 lines that are all based on peptides, not retinol include in their training seminars they hold at stores/spas that carry their lines SPECIFICALLY state to mention your thinning statement, which IMO is one of the attributes of the war of peptides vs retinol.

    Sorry for the long post but your columns consist of very strong scientific data so I am very curious about this. Thanks!

  • March 27, 2011

    by Sunday

    I also recently stopped using my Retinol product, so this is very reassuring information ~ Thank You Marta and Gloria for the comments ~ I think with my regular Clarisonic brushing I will forgo all Retinols and after reading the article you highlighted...well I guess I'll use the rest of the bottle on my elbows and knees. ;-)

  • March 27, 2011

    by Gloria

    Thank you Marta. I will try that. I have learned so much from your website about the toxins in certain products. I do have very sensitive skin and I definitely love the Reluma. The fact that a little goes a long way is awesome. I did use the Skin Media TNS Essential Serum for a while, but the $250 price tag is just too much for the amount you get. I also have the Aurora. How many times a week should I be using it? Is it okay for daily use? Thank you and everyone who contributes to this awesome website!

  • March 26, 2011

    by marta

    Hi Gloria, I am not a fan of retinol based products at all. They are very drying and you are exacerbating that with the vitamin C. Retinol is a harsh exfoliator - if you can bear to go through the process, your skin will look better initally, but after prolonged use (of constant exfoliation) your skin will become thin and dull. You can read more about retinols in our background articles. As you will see, there are concerns about toxicity:
    Personally, I would ditch the Tri Retinol and stick with ReLuma (possibly with a light moisturizer over it - I am using YBF's Restore).

  • March 26, 2011

    by Gloria

    I have a question about retinol.I had started using Skin Medica, Tri Retinol complex in the PM, and also use 10% vitamin C serum by Obagi in the AM.I now have a constant flaking and I am contemplating stop using the products. I did order the Aurora and the Reluma, and just got them a few days ago. I want to know your take on using these products. I have sensitive skin and my face was literally a mess when I first started using the retinol and c but now it is so flaky I cannot tell what it is. Any help would be appreciated. I want to get the most out of the Reluma and Aurora.

  • January 12, 2010

    by Chris

    I've used Green Cream for a number of years and I think it's really made a difference.

Join the discussion! Leave a comment below.

My Comment

Add a comment...

-or- Cancel Comment
* Required Fields
truth in aging's five best

Truth In Aging's Five Best

The very best to choose from for your skin concerns.

Read More

truth in aging videos

Truth In Aging Videos

Helpful how-tos and reviews from Marta and friends.

Watch Now

meet our contributors

Meet Our Contributors

The TIA community consists of our trusted reviewers.

Meet Them

be inspired

Be Inspired

Inspiring thoughts and women who are aging gracefully.

Read More