Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is known to speed cell turnover and boost the production of collagen. For many, however, it also known to cause irritation and sensitivity. Once a skeptic, I have become a convert to retinol in the past year or so. I have come to appreciate its powerful impact on wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and regard it as a necessary weapon in my anti-aging arsenal.
Having said that, I look for the very best formulations. You might be surprised to see that these don’t necessarily mean those with high concentrations — quite the opposite actually. These days, the percentage of retinol (or, if you prefer, retinal) is almost immaterial. With good buffering agents, encapsulation techniques and penetration enhancers, a good formula does its job incredibly well while still being gentle enough for all. I have made some great finds in the retinol department and am finally ready to offer my Five Best.
Ao Skincare Rewind Retinal
Ao Skincare Rewind Retinal ($119.95 in the shop). This was awarded our Best of 2016 Night Treatment and is more than worthy of inclusion here. Note that it uses retinal. Because retinal has an indirect conversion process, compared to retinol or other retinoids, it is less likely to cause skin irritation and flaking. I find this gentle enough for use every day. I even use it on my lip lines and it is making a real impact. A good addition to the formula is bakuchiol, a natural antioxidant from the plant psoralea corylifolia. Ao makers maintain that bakuchiol excels when combined with topical retinoids, because it not only boosts collagen production, it helps protect the retiniod from oxidative damage.
Sciote Advanced Retinol Crème
Sciote Advanced Retinol Crème ($64 in the shop). The founder of Sciote, one of the Truth In Aging community’s favorite brands, told us how he uses the buffering approach: “Our Retinol Crème was designed so that you never feel the ‘burn.’ It does contain two percent retinol, but because it is formulated with organic aloe as the first ingredient, green tea and propolis, it is really buffered. Hence the reason it feels so silky on the skin and never stings or burn.” In addition, two hydrating ingredients, phospholipids and Hyalurosmooth, help counteract retinol’s drying tendencies.
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic & Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Peel
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic & Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Peel ($88 in the shop). Dr. Dennis Gross has so many really good retinol products that it is difficult to pick just one. However, the Wrinkle Recovery Peel is a really good choice if you want to incorporate a powerful hit of retinol into your regimen two or three times week. As always, DDG buffers with ferulic acid, a powerful antioxidant that prevents the ingredient’s oxidation and protects the skin from sunlight (a very good thing since retinol makes the skin more sun sensitive). These saturated pads are well-balanced with moisturizing ingredients. An interesting ingredient is the botanical extract, rehmannia glutinosa root, which is credited with regulating the growth factor, TGF-beta1, as well as type IV collagen.
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic & Retinol Eye Cream
Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic & Retinol Eye Cream ($68 in the shop). DDG more than deserves another Five Best for creating such an effective eye cream with the classic combo of ferulic and retinol. It might be a stretch to say that this has it all, but not a big one. There’s a good peptide tetrapeptide-21, for reinforcing the skin’s structure and DDG favorites like elegiac and gallic acids. It’s a firming eye cream that smooths crepey skin, brightens, and helps with dark circles while remaining gentle enough for the delicate area. Light deflecting mica gives a bit of instant gratification.
Prana Reverse A
Prana Reverse A ($48 in the shop). This comfortably priced serum has been popular with the Truth In Aging community for years now. While not the most innovative retinol formula, it does what it says on the can. I also really like the inclusion of vitamin B5, vitamin E, DMAE, gotu kola and grape seed extract.