Editor’s Picks: The 40+ Best Retinol Serums (and How to Choose the Right One for Your Skin)

Lightweight treatments for every skin type.
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Best retinol serum

If you're seeking a powerful but lightweight treatment for fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots or acne, consider a retinol serum.

Unlike retinol creams, they have a fast-absorbing, fluid texture, and can be worn alone (if you tend to be oilier) or layered under your favourite night cream (if you're on the dry side).

What's more, their smaller molecular structure can allow for a higher concentration of active ingredients. Over-the-counter, you'll find not only retinol, but also other vitamin A derivatives, including retinyl propionate, retinaldehyde and retinoic acid esters.

But with dozens of formulas on the market, how do you pick the right one for your skin?

This guide can help! I've narrowed down the best retinol serums available, in a range of strengths, with options for every skin type. (If you prefer a more moisturizing texture, see my guide to the best retinol creams instead!)

Before we get into the products, here's what to look for in a retinol serum.

How to Choose a Retinol Serum

First, make sure your serum comes in an opaque or dark glass bottle or tube, to protect the retinol from light and air—which will make it oxidize quickly and lose potency.

Then, scan the ingredients for retinol and/or the other retinoids below. (I discuss each type in more detail in my retinoid vs retinol tutorial.)

  • Retinyl propionate: It belongs to the mildest category of retinoids, retinol esters. Benefits are modest, but it can be a good ingredient for beginners and sensitive skin. (One brand does use it in a higher concentration, five percent, where it offers more dramatic results.)
  • Retinol: The most proven, "gold standard" over-the-counter retinoid. In general, 0.3 percent or lower is a good place to start. As your skin becomes more tolerant, move up to 0.5 to one percent or higher. Note: In Canada, one percent is the maximum concentration allowed.
  • Retinaldehyde (retinal): As a precursor of retinoic acid (the active form of vitamin A), it is said to be 20 times more potent than retinol but less irritating. In serums, it can range from 0.01 percent (mild) to 0.1 percent (strong).
  • Retinyl retinoate: This is a newer type of retinoid, a retinoic acid ester, which is less irritating than retinol but eight times more active.
  • Hydroxypinacolone retinoate: It's known as HPR for short, and you're probably familiar with it as part of "granactive retinoid"—a complex containing HPR and the solvent dimethyl isosorbide. This is another retinoic acid ester that shows similar activity to pure retinoic acid, but with virtually no irritation. Note: You can no longer find it in Canada, as it is now classified as a tretinoin derivative.

You may also want to think about...

  • Fragrance: Whether synthetic or natural, it is commonly associated with skin irritation.
  • PUFAs: Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids are quick to oxidize (go rancid) and generate the damaging free radicals that we are trying to avoid. My rule of thumb is to avoid products with PUFA oils in the first five ingredients, which typically represent about 80 percent of the formula. 
  • Silicones: While they're not dangerous, these film-forming ingredients may hinder your progress by causing acne or dehydration. They can also block the penetration of retinoids and other actives. I avoid products with silicones in the first five ingredients.
  • Parabens: Preservatives are essential in any water-based formula, but you may choose to limit parabens since they exert weak estrogenic activity. (Fortunately, every product in this guide is paraben-free!)
  • Dyes: Sensitive skin may find that artificial colourants are irritating. 
  • Cruelty-free status: All the brands below are cruelty-free with the exception of Biopelle and Lixirskin, which have not shared an animal testing policy.

Just like we saw with the retinol creams, you may not find the "perfect" retinol serum that ticks off every single box here. Sometimes, it's a matter of prioritizing the features most important to you (like the strength of the retinoid, for example), and compromising on others (like small amounts of fragrance). It just depends on your goals, your budget and what your skin can tolerate.

The Best Retinol Serums, from A to Z

Alpha-H Vitamin A

✓Retinol ✓Retinyl propionate ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Alpha-H Vitamin A

Alpha-H Vitamin A

  • Details: Alpha-H Vitamin A contains 0.25 percent retinol and 0.25 percent retinol propionate. That means it's one of the milder options, and a good "entry level" retinoid. Other ingredients include glycerin, squalane and jojoba oil.
  • Best for: All skin.

Arcona Advanced “A” Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Arcona Advanced A Serum

Arcona Advanced "A" Serum

  • Details: Arcona Advanced "A" Serum contains retinaldehyde, which helps to treat not only the signs of aging but also acne. The brand doesn't disclose how much, but it's combined with lactic acid to exfoliate and enhance penetration, and three peptides for additional anti-aging benefits. Glycerin, emulsifying wax and cloudberry seed oil are among the other ingredients.
  • Best for: All skin, especially acne-prone skin.

Asarai Sleepercell Retinol/Botanical Corrective Serum

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Asarai Sleepercell Retinol/Botanical Corrective Serum

Asarai Sleepercell Retinol/Botanical Corrective Serum

  • Details: Asarai Sleepercell Retinol/Botanical Corrective Serum is touted as a non-irritating retinol product. Based on that, and where the active appears in the ingredients list, I would assume the concentration is under 0.3 percent. It also contains seaweed extract, fatty alcohol, hyaluronic acid, squalane and jojoba oil.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and sensitive skin.

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Max 1% Retinol

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free 

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Max 1% Retinol

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Max 1% Retinol

  • Details: Biopelle Retriderm Serum Max 1% Retinol offers the brand's highest retinol concentration of one percent. It also includes glycerin, soluble collagen and hyaluronic acid to help bind moisture without the need for any oils.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users and sun-damaged skin. (Otherwise, the brand recommends starting out with Mild 0.5% or Plus 0.75% first.)

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Mild 0.5% Retinol

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free 

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Mild 0.5 Retinol

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Mild 0.5% Retinol

  • Details: Biopelle Retriderm Serum Mild 0.5% Retinol is the brand's starter retinoid with 0.5 percent retinol—which is still stronger than most formulas on the market! Like the Max 1%, it also includes glycerin, soluble collagen and hyaluronic acid, and is oil-free.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and sensitive skin.

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Plus 0.75% Retinol

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free 

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Plus 0.75 Retinol

Biopelle Retriderm Serum Plus 0.75% Retinol

  • Details: Biopelle Retriderm Serum Plus 0.75% Retinol is the brand's "medium-strength" option, with 0.75 percent retinol. Again, glycerin, soluble collagen and hyaluronic acid are the main hydrating ingredients (and no oils).
  • Best for: All skin except sensitive. (The brand recommends moving up to this strength if the Mild 0.5% was well-tolerated.)

CosMedix Clarity Skin-Clarifying Serum

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

CosMedix Clarity Skin-Clarifying Serum

CosMedix Clarity Skin-Clarifying Serum

  • Details: CosMedix Clarity Skin-Clarifying Serum targets clogged pores with encapsulated retinol, retinyl acetate (a less effective type of retinol ester) and salicylic acid. We don't know the percentage of each ingredient, but they're paired with alcohol to enhance penetration. (So just follow up with a good hydrator to counteract the drying effects.)
  • Best for: Acne-prone skin.

CosMedix Elite Refine RX Retinol Resurfacing Serum

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

CosMedix Elite Refine RX Retinol Resurfacing Serum

CosMedix Elite Refine RX Retinol Resurfacing Serum

  • Details: CosMedix Elite Refine RX Retinol Resurfacing Serum contains a potent 12 percent "retinol AGP complex" of retinol, amino acids and humectants. The brand doesn't disclose the exact concentration of retinol alone, but it's probably around one percent. The encapsulation technology helps to reduce its irritating effects. Other ingredients include alcohol to aid penetration, and glycerin and squalane to restore moisture.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users with oily or acne-prone skin. (The brand recommends using Refine Plus for 60 to 90 days first.)

CosMedix Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing Treatment

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

CosMedix Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing Treatment

CosMedix Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing Treatment

  • Details: CosMedix Refine Plus High-Potency Refinishing Treatment has eight percent of the "retinol AGP complex," making it a medium-strength option. Again, the retinol concentration is unknown, but I would guess that it is around 0.5 percent. Glycerin, squalane and hyaluronic acid help to replenish lost moisture.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users with oily or acne-prone skin. (The brand recommends starting out with Refine for 60 to 90 days first.)

CosMedix Refine Refinishing Treatment

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

CosMedix Refine Refinishing Treatment

CosMedix Refine Refinishing Treatment

  • Details: CosMedix Refine Refinishing Treatment also contains the brand's "retinol AGP complex," but in a lower concentration (they don't say how much). I would guess that it has around 0.3 percent retinol. The alcohol acts as a penetration enhancer, with glycerin, sunflower seed oil and hyaluronic acid delivering hydration.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners with oily, acne-prone skin.

CyberDerm Retin+Erase

✓Hydroxypinacolone retinoate ✓Fragrance-free ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

CyberDerm Retin+Erase

CyberDerm Retin+Erase

  • Details: CyberDerm Retin+Erase is powered by the highest possible concentration of hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR), one percent. Even still, it is said to produce little to no irritation or dryness while producing results comparable to a prescription product. And it's made with only four ingredients in total!
  • Best for: All skin.

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Brightening Solution

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Retinol Brightening Solution

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Brightening Solution

  • Details: Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Brightening Solution brightens with an unknown amount of retinol, probably in the 0.3 to 0.5 percent range. It has an even higher concentration of ferulic acid for added antioxidant protection. Lightweight humectants give it a thin, liquid texture.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and skin with minor discolourations or dullness.

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum

  • Details: Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum targets wrinkles with retinol—but again, the brand does not disclose the percentage. So my guess is that it's in the 0.3 to 0.5 percent range, max. It also has ferulic acid and niacinamide to fight free radicals, fade pigmentation and support the skin barrier.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and all skin except sensitive.

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum

  • Details: First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum is one of the gentler retinol options, with 0.25 percent. It also features an array of soothing ingredients to reduce irritation, including avocado oil, colloidal oatmeal, ceramides and allantoin.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and sensitive skin.

Glo Skin Beauty Renew Serum

✓Retinol ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Glo Skin Beauty Renew Serum

Glo Skin Beauty Renew Serum

  • Details: Glo Skin Beauty Super Serum is a mild starter retinol, probably around 0.3 percent in concentration. Along with glycolic and salicylic acids, it gently exfoliates to smooth skin texture and minimize the look of pores (with alcohol included to enhance penetration). It also has skin soothers such as panthenol and allantoin.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and all skin except sensitive.

Glowbiotics MD Ultimate Youth Restoring Serum

✓Retinol ✓Glyceryl diretinoate ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Glowbiotics MD Ultimate Youth Restoring Serum

Glowbiotics MD Ultimate Youth Restoring Serum

  • Details: Glowbiotics MD Ultimate Youth Restoring Serum is a blend of 0.3 percent retinol plus 0.1 percent glyceryl diretinoate (GDR). As a patented retinoic acid ester, the latter is exclusive to the brand, but we don't have studies on it yet (unlike other retinoic acid esters, such as HPR). Here, it's combined with a vitamin C derivative, skin-firming peptides and anti-inflammatory probiotics for a multi-faceted approach to anti-aging.
  • Best for: All skin.

Glowbiotics Retinol Anti-Aging + Brightening Treatment

✓Retinol ✓Hydroxypinacolone retinoate ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Glowbiotics Retinol Anti-Aging Brightening Treatment

Glowbiotics Retinol Anti-Aging + Brightening Treatment

  • Details: Glowbiotics Retinol Anti-Aging + Brightening Treatment is a blend of retinol and hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR), plus the plant-derived retinol alternative bakuchiol. We don't know how much of each one is in the formula—I'm guessing it's a milder strength—but it also features niacinamide for brightening and the brand's signature probiotic complex for improving skin health.
  • Best for: All skin.

Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Honestly Pure Retinol

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Honestly Pure Retinol

Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Honestly Pure Retinol

  • Details: Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Honestly Pure Retinol clears and prevents breakouts with 0.5 percent salicylic acid and an unknown level of retinol (probably 0.3 percent or lower). Instead of a spot treatment, it's meant to be applied all over, and has glycerin, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid for lightweight moisture.
  • Best for: Acne-prone skin.

Honest Beauty Honestly Pure Retinol Serum

✓Retinol ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Honest Beauty Honestly Pure Retinol Serum

Honest Beauty Honestly Pure Retinol Serum

  • Details: Honest Beauty Honestly Pure Retinol Serum fights the signs of aging with retinol, although we aren't told how much. (It's likely 0.3 percent or less.) The formula also features hyaluronic acid in a base of squalane oil, fatty alcohol and glycerin.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and sensitive skin.

January Labs Triple Active Reclaiming Serum

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

January Labs Triple Active Reclaiming Serum

January Labs Triple Active Reclaiming Serum

  • Details: January Labs Triple Active Reclaiming Serum is an ultra-gentle blend of three actives: retinol, niacinamide and vitamin C (sodium ascorbyl phosphate). The retinol is in the form of RetiStar, which is a complex comprised of retinol, coconut fatty acids, sodium ascorbate and vitamin E. So, with 0.5 percent RetiStar, the actual retinol content in here is low, only 0.025 percent. For that reason, I would only suggest it as a starter product for very intolerant skin. To get the real benefits of retinol, you should try moving up to a higher strength as soon as you finish the bottle.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners with extremely sensitive skin.

Joanna Vargas Super Nova Serum

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Joanna Vargas Super Nova Serum

Joanna Vargas Super Nova Serum

  • Details: Joanna Vargas Super Nova Serum uses retinol and retinyl palmitate (a less effective retinol ester), plus apple stem cells and collagen-stimulating peptides. Based on where the retinol appears on the ingredients list, I believe the concentration is mild, probably about 0.3 percent. Still, due to the combination of ingredients, it is said to be the most effective product the brand offers.
  • Best for: All skin.

Lancer Advanced Retinol Treatment

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Lancer Advanced Retinol Treatment

Lancer Advanced Retinol Treatment

  • Details: Lancer Advanced Retinol Treatment is one of the strongest retinol serums, with a high 1.25 percent concentration (so it's not sold in Canada). It also contains bakuchiol, a natural retinol alternative, shea butter, squalane and hydrolyzed collagen.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users and all skin except sensitive.

Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1%

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free 

Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1 Percent

Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1%

  • Details: Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1% has one percent retinol in a minimalistic formula with only five ingredients in total. According to the brand, you're meant to mix a pump or two into the Universal Emulsion, and use it for only one month at a time (switching to a different active ingredient during the "off" months). However, since I'm an experienced retinol user, I've ignored that advice and applied it straight to my skin for a longer time period, with no problems.
  • Best for: All skin (just dilute as necessary depending on your tolerance).

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Stable Retinal Night Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free Cruelty-free

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Stable Retinal Night Serum

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Stable Retinal Night Serum

  • Details: Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Stable Retinal Night Serum is an entry-level retinoid with 0.01 percent encapsulated retinaldehyde. Since retinaldehyde is about 20 times more active than retinol, this would be equivalent to a 0.2 percent retinol, which is mild. Other ingredients include glycerin, fatty alcohol, squalane, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C (ethyl ascorbic acid).
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and sensitive skin.

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 Stable Retinal Night Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free Cruelty-free

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 Stable Retinal Night Serum

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 Stable Retinal Night Serum

  • Details: Medik8 Crystal Retinal 3 Stable Retinal Night Serum has 0.03 percent encapsulated retinaldehyde, so it's comparable to a 0.6 percent retinol (which is medium-strength). The rest of the formula is the same as Crystal Retinal 1, and features glycerin, fatty alcohol, squalane, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and all skin except sensitive.

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 Stable Retinal Night Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free Cruelty-free

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 Stable Retinal Night Serum

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 Stable Retinal Night Serum

  • Details: Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 Stable Retinal Night Serum is a high-strength retinoid with 0.06 percent encapsulated retinaldehyde (about the same as 1.2 percent retinol). Again, it's paired with glycerin, fatty alcohol, squalane and hyaluronic acid to moisturize, and vitamin C for brightening and antioxidant protection.
  • Best for: All skin except sensitive.

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 Stable Retinal Night Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free Cruelty-free

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 Stable Retinal Night Serum

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 Stable Retinal Night Serum

  • Details: Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 Stable Retinal Night Serum is the line's most powerful treatment with 0.1 percent encapsulated retinaldehyde—that's on par with two percent retinol. As with the other strengths, it's combined with glycerin, fatty alcohol, squalane, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users. (The brand recommends starting out with one of the lower strengths first.)

Natura Bissé Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Natura Bissé Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid

Natura Bissé Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid

  • Details: Natura Bissé Essential Shock Intense Retinol Fluid is a gentle treatment with retinol (likely around 0.3 percent) and retinyl palmitate (a less effective retinol ester). It's packed with humectants and emollients such as shea butter, glycerin, propanediol and an array of amino acids.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and all skin except sensitive.

Naturopathica Retinol Renewal Concentrate

✓Retinol ✓Hydroxypinacolone retinoate ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Naturopathica Retinol Renewal Concentrate

Naturopathica Retinol Renewal Concentrate

  • Details: Naturopathica Retinol Renewal Concentrate is made with both retinol and hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR), although the brand doesn't disclose the amounts. Since they promise no irritation, the actives are probably at a lower concentration. There's also ethyl ascorbic acid (a vitamin C derivative) to boost radiance, and hyaluronic acid to moisturize.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners and all skin except sensitive.

Osmosis MD Calm Gentle Retinal Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Osmosis MD Calm Gentle Retinal Serum

Osmosis MD Calm Gentle Retinal Serum

  • Details: Osmosis MD Calm Gentle Retinal Serum is a gentle but still medium-strength treatment containing 0.0375 percent retinaldehyde. That's equivalent to about 0.75 percent retinol (but less irritating). It also has lactic acid for mild exfoliation, plus glycerin and other humectants to bind moisture.
  • Best for: Normal, dry and mature skin.

Osmosis MD Clarify Blemish Retinal Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Osmosis MD Clarify Blemish Retinal Serum

Osmosis MD Clarify Blemish Retinal Serum

  • Details: Osmosis MD Clarify Blemish Retinal Serum helps clear breakouts with 0.05 percent retinaldehyde (equivalent to about one percent retinol). Niacinamide, mandelic acid and lactic acid are also present to help normalize oil production, calm inflammation and dissolve dead skin cells.
  • Best for: Acne-prone skin.

Osmosis MD Correct Preventative Retinal Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Osmosis MD Correct Preventative Retinal Serum

Osmosis MD Correct Preventative Retinal Serum

  • Details: Osmosis MD Correct Preventative Retinal Serum is a stronger treatment with 0.075 percent retinaldehyde, making it similar to a 1.5 percent retinol (but with less irritation). This formula is also high in niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and collagen-boosting peptides.
  • Best for: All skin except sensitive.

Osmosis MD Renew Advanced Retinal Serum

✓Retinaldehyde ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Osmosis MD Renew Advanced Retinal Serum

Osmosis MD Renew Advanced Retinal Serum

  • Details: Osmosis MD Renew Advanced Retinal Serum is the brand's highest-strength retinoid, with 0.1 percent retinaldehyde (which is about the same as a two percent retinol). Other anti-aging ingredients include peptides, niacinamide and lactic acid.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users with normal, acne-prone or mature skin.

Pixi Collagen & Retinol Serum

✓Retinol ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Pixi Collagen Retinol Serum

Pixi Collagen & Retinol Serum

  • Details: Pixi Collagen & Retinol Serum contains an undisclosed amount of retinol, which is the fourth ingredient in the formula. Since all skin types can use this, I believe it's probably no higher than 0.3 percent. The other main ingredients are glycerin and acacia gum (a plant-derived collagen alternative) for lightweight moisture.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners.

Revision Skincare Retinol Complete 1.0

✓Retinol ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Revision Skincare Retinol Complete 1.0

Revision Skincare Retinol Complete 1.0

  • Details: Revision Skincare Retinol Complete 1.0 has one percent retinol, and is boosted by bakuchiol, a natural retinol alternative. A vitamin C derivative gives added brightening, while humectants keep skin lightly moisturized.
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users and oily or mature skin.

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Retinyl propionate ✓Fragrance-free ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

Shani Darden Retinol Reform

  • Details: Shani Darden Retinol Reform (my personal favourite!) contains retinyl propionate, the most effective retinol ester, in a high five percent concentration. It also has five percent lactic acid, which enhances the effects by exfoliating and smoothing skin texture. Niacinamide helps to brighten, while aloe vera soothes and hydrates. See my review here.
  • Best for: All skin except sensitive.

Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum

✓Retinyl palmitate ✓Fragrance-free ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum

Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum

  • Details: Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum is formulated with retinyl palmitate, a weak retinol ester that may help a little with skin thickening and improving sun damage. Normally, I'd recommend retinyl propinoate instead, but I suspect the retinyl palmitate may be used in a higher quantity here to make it more effective (just like how Retinol Reform has a high five percent of its active). Another similarity is that the retinoid is paired with lactic acid, niacinamide and aloe vera. See my review here.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners with sensitive skin.

Skin Design London Retexturising New Skin

✓Retinol ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Skin Design London Retexturising New Skin

Skin Design London Retexturising New Skin

  • Details: Skin Design London Retexturising New Skin features an encapsulated retinol. Because it's suitable for all skin, I believe the amount is around the 0.3 to 0.5 percent mark. Also present: glycerin, glycolic and lactic acids, squalane and niacinamide.
  • Best for: All skin.

Skin Regimen 1.5 Retinol Booster Wrinkle Concentrate

✓Retinol ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Skin Regimen 1.5 Retinol Booster Wrinkle Concentrate

Skin Regimen 1.5 Retinol Booster Wrinkle Concentrate

  • Details: Skin Regimen 1.5 Retinol Booster Wrinkle Concentrate targets signs of aging with a 1.5 percent blend of retinol and silybin, a plant-derived alternative to retinoic acid. (So we don't know the actual retinol concentration, but it's definitely less than 0.75 percent since retinol is lower down on the ingredients list than silybin.) Overall, the formula is 96.4 percent natural, and includes glycerin and shea butter for a creamy texture.
  • Best for: All skin.

The Inkey List Retinol

✓Retinol ✓Hydroxypinacolone retinoate ✓Fragrance-free ✓Low-PUFA ✓Low-silicone ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

The Inkey List Retinol

The Inkey List Retinol

  • Details: The Inkey List Retinol is made with both retinol and hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR), a retinoic acid ester. The retinol comes in the form of one percent RetiStar (the same complex used by January Labs), which means the actual retinol in here is just 0.05 percent. The amount of HPR is low, too, at only 0.05 percent (from the 0.5 percent "granactive retinoid"). Therefore, this would only be suitable for super sensitive types who are new to retinol, and you should move up to a higher strength as soon as possible for more benefits.
  • Best for: Retinol beginners with extremely sensitive skin.

The Organic Pharmacy Retinol Night Serum

✓Retinol ✓PUFA-free ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

The Organic Pharmacy Retinol Night Serum

The Organic Pharmacy Retinol Night Serum

  • Details: The Organic Pharmacy Retinol Night Serum is made with a high 2.5 percent concentration of retinol encapsulated in lethicin to reduce irritation. Humectants, including sodium lactate and glycerin, deliver lightweight moisture. (But avoid this one if you have trouble with witch hazel or essential oils.)
  • Best for: Experienced retinol users and all skin except sensitive.

Verso Super Facial Serum

✓Retinyl retinoate ✓Low-PUFA ✓Silicone-free ✓Paraben-free ✓Dye-free Cruelty-free

Verso Super Facial Serum

Verso Super Facial Serum

  • Details: Verso Super Facial Serum uses retinyl retinoate—a retinoic acid ester that is more active but less irritating than retinol—to target wrinkles and discolourations. It also contains shea butter, squalane and ceramides, which give it a rich, creamy texture.
  • Best for: Normal, dry and mature skin.

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