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Spirtual Common Sense Real Talk

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Silas Morgan
Silas Morgan


For more advanced retinol users, this vegan, one percent formulation from Beauty Pie might become your new favorite. In addition to leaving skin looking and feeling more plump and hydrated with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and shea butter, it also uses vitamin C to brighten discoloration while you sleep.


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If you're currently pregnant or have an aversion to retinol, add this plant-based cream from Indie Lee to your nightly routine instead. In addition to improving skin firmness and reducing fine lines, the essential also happens to be eco-friendly, since its bottle is refillable.

We consider this staple from Murad one of the best retinol creams because of its versatility. Not only is it ideal for firming skin and reducing fine lines, but the formula also aims to help strengthen the skin barrier.

This highly rated face cream has a little bit of everything: A low concentration of retinol (0.1 percent) provides line-smoothing benefits, while jojoba oil moisturizes and a whole host of antioxidants protect skin from environmental stressors.

It's no secret that BAZAAR editors are big fans of Charlotte Tilbury essentials. This popular night cream from the brand uses a combination of time-released retinol, plant stem cells, and vitamin E to leave skin looking smoother and plumper as you sleep.

This fragrance-free cream from Olay is one of Abbott Elementary creator and star Quinta Brunson's favorites, and perfect to slather on before bed. It delivers a big dose of hydration packed with fine line-minimizing retinol, which is still gentle on skin.

Retinol, retinal (a relative of the former), and niacin combine to leave skin looking refreshed overnight. We love how this cream also has anti-redness ingredients, just in case your skin is a little more sensitive.

Created with a stabilized vitamin A complex that aims to be eight times more effective than most over-the-counter retinol with less irritation, this cream also features natural ingredients like oat extract and turmeric to keep skin calm during the retinization period.

"When it comes to a retinol cream, it's important to know what percentage of retinol is included in the formula to determine if the product is actually going to deliver all the glorious benefits vitamin A has," New York-based board-certified dermatologist David Kim, MD, explains. "Studies have shown that retinol is about 10 times less potent than prescription-strength retinoic acid, so I usually recommend products with at least 0.25 percent retinol."

Especially for first-time users, retinol treatments generally come with an irksome adjustment period. Over-the-counter vitamin-A formulations, like those with retinol and retinaldehyde (often shortened to retinal), tend to be weaker because the skin has to convert them to retinoic acid before they can take full effect. With any retinoid, especially if you have sensitive skin, you have to practice restraint and apply a pea-size drop only one or two nights a week until your skin acclimates.

Even still, this hasn't completely spared many of us from going through quite a few retinoid rough patches or falling for common retinol myths. (News flash: they don't increase your risk for developing sunburns, but you should obviously still wear SPF regardless to avoid sun damage.) Landing on a retinol that your skin won't reject takes patience and knowledge, but most of the latter's credit goes to the cosmetic chemists who've dreamed up innovative ways to deliver all the magic of this molecule without the cursed side effects.

In our extensive search for non-irritating retinols, we've discovered plenty of standouts that are at once ultra-effective yet gentle enough for the retinoid-intolerant. What makes these non-Rx gems so transformative is that they all contain either pure retinol or a next-generation derivative shown to turn on those same aforementioned receptors to spark visible change.

Before we explore their individual merits, heed this brief buyer-beware: There are a ton of serums and oils on the market masquerading as retinols. You won't find retinol (or any recognizable derivative) on their ingredient lists since as they rely on plant extracts, like rosehip oil, as alternate sources of vitamin A.

Dr. Kim recommends Drunk Elephant's A-Passioni Retinol Cream, which contains 1 percent retinol encased in nourishing oils like passionfruit, apricot, jojoba, and marula. It also happens to a Best of Beauty Award winner, in case that sways you. However, "it's important to note that 1 percent retinol is a relatively high concentration and could be irritating to people with sensitive skin, especially patients with eczema or rosacea," Dr. Kim cautions.

Instead of retinol, Eau Thermale Avène's RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream is formulated with its sibling, retinaldehyde, and the brand's Thermal Spring Water, which soothes and calms the skin in the event of irritation. The brightening cream smooths and evens skin, leading to a more radiant glow. The brand recommends that users apply this product at nighttime and incorporate sunscreen into their daily routines. Mamina Turegano, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Orleans, Louisiana, deems this as a "good starter retinol for those with very sensitive and dry skin."

Dr. Turegano bills Obagi Medical's Retivance Skin Rejuvenating Complex as a "gentle yet effective retinol." Why you ask? This lightweight moisture stars retinaldehyde, a stable and less potent form of vitamin A that is better suited for more sensitive skin but still packs a punch in terms of improving elasticity and curbing the appearance of wrinkles. Furthermore, ingredients such as chamomile, shea butter, and vitamin E act as calming agents.

Kate Somerville is well aware that retinol and vitamin C are rare bedfellows, so she has brought the two beloved and effective ingredients together in a formula that involves encapsulating the L-ascorbic acid in volcanic soil to ensure stability and cooperation.

This night cream, aptly called +Retinol Vitamin C Moisturizer, also boosts hydration via hyaluronic acid and antioxidant protection via wild gooseberry extract, which has the extra benefit of soothing any irritation the aforementioned star ingredients may cause.

SkinCeuticals Tripeptide-R Neck Repair's 0.2 percent pure, slow-release retinol (to boost cell turnover), 2.5 percent tripeptide concentrate, and 5 percent glaucine (derived from yellow poppy seed) complex is specifically designed to treat signs of aging in the neck. That includes smoothing out the appearance of neck lines, firming delicate neck skin, and reducing crepiness. Massage one to two pumps every other night in an upwards motion (up to the jawline) and steadily increase usage if/when your skin can tolerate it.

Effective retinol treatments don't necessarily equate to high price points. Case in point? Dr. Turegano recommends Neutrogena's Rapid Wrinkle Repair Pro + 0.3% Night Cream as a relatively affordable option that is a "very gentle yet fast-acting product for anyone who is a beginner to retinol." While this 0.3 percent concentration of pure retinol is the drugstore brand's highest offering yet, all skin types should be able to handle this cream, as it's cushioned with glycerin and hyaluronic acid to support softer, smoother skin.

The beauty of some over-the-counter retinol formulas is the drugstore prices. Ringing in at less than $40, Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer promises that its retinol (yes, actual retinol) quickly promotes smoother, brighter skin, and it gets additional hydrating and firming support from niacinamide (a.k.a. vitamin B3) and a line-reducing peptide. This fragrance-free nighttime formula is an ideal starter retinol, both for your retinoid-virgin skin and budget.

Apart from retinol, of course, IT Cosmetics's Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream is notable for also featuring "niacinamide, vitamin E, and panthenol to moisturize and soothe [the skin]," Dr. Turegano notes. If you have ultra-sensitive skin and crave extra assurance, you can always pair this treatment with another moisturizer that goes heavy on ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

Another recommendation Dr. King gives us is Pond's Rejuveness Advanced Hydrating Night Cream, which she says is packed with the brand's potent vitamin B3 and retinol complex, as well as "glycerin and pro-ceramides to hydrate and support the skin barrier," she adds.

We always appreciate a skin-care product that incorporates UV protection, which is just one of the reasons why CeraVe's Skin Renewing Day Cream with Sunscreen has earned our stamp of approval. Formulated with SPF 30, this moisturizer features encapsulated retinol for time-released goodness as to prevent irritation. Like the rest of CeraVe's dependable lineup, it also features three ceramides as well as good 'ol hyaluronic acid to restore the barrier and seal in moisture.

Ideal for thirstier skin types, this rich, lightly-scented Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream hydrates with shea butter, squalane, and a pack of fatty alcohols. Suspended in the mix are retinol and the vitamin-A derivative retinyl propionate. "This form is less efficacious than retinol," says Wilson. "But by pairing the two, you get the almost-instant hit of the retinol along with the longer-term action of the retinyl propionate," she explains, adding that this particular combo should reduce irritation and dryness.

You might've heard of the stabilizing powers of ferulic acid when paired with vitamin C, but did you know that it's also a mightily useful partner to retinol? Let us explain. In Dr. Dennis Gross's Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream, you'll find an age-defying concoction of retinol, bakuchiol (a popular, plant-based retinol alternative), rambutan, and ferulic acid that amps up your skin's collagen production to visibly smooth fine lines, treat dryness and roughness, and restore elasticity. Now that's the power of antioxidants (such as ferulic acid) at work. 041b061a72


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