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20 best lightweight retinol products that work for all ages

20 best lightweight retinol products that work for all ages
PHOTO: Sephora, Pexels

Retinol has been around for the last 30-odd years and it continues to be infused into skincare products even to this day, so you can be sure it’s not just a fad.

A dermatologist favourite, it’s frequently recommended to help treat skin concerns like enlarged pores, sun damage, marks and scars from acne, improve skin texture and even out skin tone.

But for every person who swears by retinol for clear skin, there’s someone who has had a bad experience with inflamed, peeling, red and sore skin.

This is usually because they have been using it wrongly or haven’t followed the dermatologist’s instructions.

We addressed some frequently asked questions, so you can get your best skin from using retinol.

#1: Retinoids vs Retinol vs Retinol derivatives. What do I need to know?

The above-mentioned terms are frequently thrown about by skincare brands and doctors, so it’s inevitable to wonder what the difference is between all of them. We got you.

Let’s start at the beginning. Retinoids are a vitamin A derivative, found in prescription formulas like Differin, as well as acne prescriptions like Roaccutane and Retin-A.

A potent ingredient, it converts to retinoic acid on contact with the skin and works to promote skin cell turnover, slow the breakdown of collagen and help prevent wrinkles.

So what is retinol? Also, a vitamin A derivative, but less potent than retinoids and can be found in over-the-counter skincare.

This also converts to retinoic acid when it is applied to the skin, but at a slower pace making it more suited to people who are new to using this ingredient. Though less potent, it has the same benefits as retinoids.  

Lastly, ingredients like retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate are classified under retinol derivatives. These are basically gentler and weaker versions of retinol, making them less likely to cause irritation to the skin.

#2: When can I start using retinol?

Widely regarded as the gold standard for anti-ageing, retinol works best when incorporated into skincare regimens at the start or before the slowdown of collagen production i.e the early 30s.

Once absorbed into the skin, retinol accelerates collagen production to smooth wrinkles, improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of age spots.

However, starting the use of retinol as early as 26 years old can help maintain collagen production even before it starts to slow down due to age.

#3: I have sensitive skin. Can I still use it?

The truth is, everyone’s skin reacts differently to skincare products and retinol is no exception.

Your experience can range from slight discomfort to stinging or flaking when using retinol products. But you can build up your skin’s tolerance to retinol.

The key is to start with a low concentration of retinol, using it one to two times a week and gradually build tolerance before moving on to a prescription formula.

#4: Should I hide from the sun if I’m using retinol?

It is widely thought that retinol “thins” the skin, making it more sensitive to the sun.

While it is true that retinol is a compound that is highly unstable, i.e., it breaks down and loses its efficacy once it is exposed to water or air, it doesn’t affect skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

You should always look for retinol products that are housed in opaque bottles to protect the integrity of their ingredients.

And since some people might experience stinging and flaking skin when they start using retinol, that could be the other reason why skin might seem more sensitised than usual.

That said, regardless of how well your skin is able to tolerate retinol, it is always crucial to wear sunscreen every day.

#5: The more concentrated, the better… right?

As previously mentioned, everyone’s skin reacts to retinol in different ways. This means that there is no ideal concentration of retinol that works for everyone.

To find what is best for you, experiment with various products and vary the frequency of usage according to your skin’s tolerance for it.

In addition, many products also contain other ingredients like antioxidants, peptides and other nourishing ingredients to complement the effects of retinol on the skin for an all-around anti-ageing effect.

#6: When should I use it?

Retinol products are best used at night after cleansing the skin. Apply a thin layer and wait about 20 minutes before you apply your moisturiser. Using a moisturiser immediately after you use retinol can dilute the effects.  

Since retinol works to boost skin cell turnover, it’s also best to incorporate a chemical exfoliating toner like an AHA toner, before you apply your retinol. This will help clear the dead skin, allowing the retinol to be better absorbed.

(Note: This is as long as you are using retinol one to four times a week. Retinol and exfoliating toners should not be used every day.)

Here are some retinol-packed products to add to your skincare routine. 

Kiehl's Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum (50ml), $130

PHOTO: Kiehl's

Delivering visible anti-ageing benefits, Kiehl’s latest Retinol Skin-Renewing Daily Micro-Dose Serum is a force to be reckoned with.

The revolutionary formula helps to promote skin renewal, visibly improves firmness, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and redefine skin texture – all while minimizing the uncomfortable side-effects associated with traditional retinol formulas lijke redness, dryness, and peeling.

Buy it here

Kiehl's Selfless by Hyram Retinol And Rainbow Algae Night Repair Serum (30ml), $46

If you’ve been guilty of scrolling through BeautyTok (AKA Beauty TikTok) on your FYP, then you’d probably know about Skincare by Hyram.

The skincare TikTok star best known for his insightful skincare advice, has collaborated with The Inkey List for a line of skincare must-haves that has got everyone raving about for good reason.

One of the more iconic products from the line is this Selfless by Hyram Retinol And Rainbow Algae Night Repair Serum.

Thanks to its key ingredient, Retinol, this serum works to banish imperfections and dark spots overnight, while Squalane plumps and softens skin after application.

Buy it here

Smart Clinical Repair Wrinkle Correcting Serum (50ml), $152

PHOTO: Sephora

When it comes to retinol products, you can always count on brands like Clinique to deliver.

Adding on to its extensive lineup of serums is none other than the Smart Clinical Repair Wrinkle Correcting Serum.

Targeted to banish wrinkles, the serum works to repair, resurface and replump skin.

With a potent blend of retinoid and hyaluronic acid, the serum helps to smooth your complexion while hydrating fine wrinkles – resulting in smoother, brighter, and radiant skin.

Buy it here

READ ALSO: This is why 46-year-old Michelle Chia seems to be ageing in reverse

Sephora HEURE Ageless Night Treatment Moisturiser (50ml), $190

PHOTO: Sephora

For something that’s a little more luxurious, peep HEURE’s Ageless Night Treatment Moisturiser.

With a lightweight and nourishing formula, this moisturiser works to soften and improve skin’s texture thanks to its unique blend of Vitamins C and E as well as Retinol and Sodium Hyaluronate.

Besides that, the moisturiser also smells as heavenly as it feels on the skin.

Buy it here.

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, $128

PHOTO: Sephora

This serum combines stabilised retinoid blends and botanical retinol-alternative extracts along with hydrating, nourishing and soothing ingredients to keep skin a youthful, plump and healthy.

Buy it here

Skin Inc Vitamin A Serum (10ml), $68

PHOTO: Sephora

Get all the benefits of retinol – think smooth, even toned skin, softer fine lines – with none of the redness or inflammation thanks to the gentler version of retinol, retinyl palmitate.

Buy it here

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum (60 capsules), $153

PHOTO: Elizabeth Arden

A cocktail of retinol, ceramides and peptides each capsule targets fine lines, sun damage, enlarged pores and rough skin for smoother, softer, plumper skin.

Buy it here.

Alpha-H Liquid Gold Intensive Night Repair Serum (50ml), $109

PHOTO: Selfridges

Great if you’re looking to incorporate a milder version for the vitamin A derivative.

This one comes with retinyl acetate which is less irritating for the skin than pure retinol.

Buy it here.

Sephora Clé de Peau Beauté Wrinkle Correcting Concentrate (20ml), $230

PHOTO: Clé de Peau Beauté

Formulated to improve the depth and length of visible wrinkles, this targeted anti-wrinkle serum uses pure retinol to stimulate collagen synthesis and maintain skin elasticity.

Use directly on areas of concern, particularly around the eyes, glabellar lines and nasolabial folds to improve even deep wrinkles which have formed due to repeated facial expressions.

It is also fortified with the brand’s Illuminating Complex which boosts hydration and radiance at the same time.

Buy it here

BHG Drunk Elephant A-Passioni™ Retinol Cream (30ml), $105

PHOTO: Sephora

Thanks to a combination of retinol and a blend of peptides, botanical oils and antioxidants, the skin-replenishing benefits of retinol are bolstered in this new formula from Drunk Elephant, which also minimises redness and irritation.

Peptides restore skin resilience and improves skin clarity, botanical oils repair the skin barrier layer for better moisture retention while antioxidants shield skin against environmental hazards for a healthier, smoother, plumper and more refined complexion.

Plus, it comes with a deluxe-sized B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum to keep skin supple.

Buy it here

Pixi Retinol Tonic (100ml), $24

PHOTO: Sephora

Following its best-selling Glow Tonic, which accelerates cellular turnover with glycolic acid, the Retinol Tonic is a toner that gently and gradually renews skin with continued use.

Over time, this blend of retinol and jasmine flower reinforces skin’s moisture barrier, improves skin radiance and even softens the appearance of wrinkles.

Buy it here.

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Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum (30ml), $100

Peter Thomas Roth - Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum 1 oz
PHOTO: Sephora

Featuring encapsulated retinol, vitamin C and vitamin E, this nighttime serum gradually releases retinol into your skin for a gentler effect.

Plus, vitamins C and E also provides skin-brightening, antioxidants, moisture-retention and skin-firming benefits for a healthier, younger-looking complexion.

Buy it here

First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25 per cent Pure Concentrate, $95 for 30ml

PHOTO: Sephora

Perfect for first-timers or those with sensitive skin types, this gentle formula features the brand’s proprietary Skin Saver Complex to ensure maximum benefits with minimum irritation.

Furthermore, it is also fortified with sensitive skin-friendly ingredients like hyaluronic acid, aloe, colloidal oatmeal, allantoin and ceramides, which soothe, boost hydration and improves moisture retention.

Plus, vitamins C and E also condition, brighten and protects the skin.

Buy it here.

Shiseido Vital-Perfection Wrinklelift Cream (15ml), $128

Wrinklelift Cream,
PHOTO: Shiseido

Designed to be used specifically on visible wrinkles, this wrinkle-correcting cream uses Shiseido’s VP8 technology to deliver pure retinol deep into skin layers to speed up collagen production so fine lines and wrinkles are smoothed.

At the same time, it also protects skin against moisture loss and improves skin radiance.

Buy it here.

Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil (35ml), $153

PHOTO: Sephora

Featuring a retinol ester complex, this overnight face oil reduces the appearance of ageing like fine lines, enlarged pores, rough skin, age spots and dullness for a revitalised complexion.

Moreover, it is infused with blue tansy and German chamomile essential oils to help soothe skin and neutralise any signs of irritation. Botanical extracts also further condition and nourish skin for your healthiest skin yet.

Buy it here.

Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair (30ml), $190

Overnight Retinol Repair Treatment 0.5% (30ml)
PHOTO: Harrods

Featuring microencapsulated 0.5 per cent pure retinol, the skin-renewing ingredient is slowly released into the skin as you get your sleep to work in tandem with your body’s self-renewal cycle.

Moreover, vitamin C improves skin discolouration, bioenergised copper amino acid complex improves skin firmness and ceramides strengthens skin’s barrier function.

To use, mix one part of the Overnight Retinol Repair with a maximum of three parts of the Buffer Cream enclosed before applying onto cleansed, dry skin. Also avoid mixing with other products when using this to reduce the risk of irritation.

StriVectin Advanced Retinol Intensive Night Moisturizer (50ml), $170

PHOTO: Dermstore

As one of the authorities in retinol use in skincare, StriVectin has improved the formulations of its retinol products consistently over the years.

Thanks to its proprietary NIA-114 technology, this nighttime moisturiser optimises the efficacy of retinol while fortifying skin’s moisture barrier and keeping environmental hazards at bay.

It also contains Copper Tripeptides to deliver the benefits of retinol without any irritation for younger-looking skin.

Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinol Night Oil (30ml), $174

PHOTO: Pestle & Mortar

If you want a product that serves the purpose of a retinol serum but gives your skin the nourishment of a face oil, look no further.

With a base of cold pressed grape seed oil, it combines two non-irritating retinol derivatives, so your skin drinks it up sans irritation to reduce pore size, boost elasticity and improve skin luminosity.

Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil (30ml), $171

PHOTO: Sephora

Another choice pick for those who prefer an oil format, this one blends rosehip seed oil, with retinoic acid to transform dull and rough skin into a plump and bright complexion.

Plus, the brand’s Estate Grown Beauty Complex also features extracts of arnica, borage, alfalfa, elderberry, meadowsweet and calendula to replenish skin with essentials minerals, vitamins and fatty acids for a healthier, more resilient complexion.

Buy it here

Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Overnight Serum (30ml), $134

PHOTO: Sephora

Taking a two-pronged approach to anti-ageing, this powerful serum features a combination of ferulic acid and retinol to firm and reduce the appearance wrinkles while you get your beauty sleep.

Super antioxidant ferulic acid neutralises free radicals that have accumulated over the day while retinol stimulates collagen renewal for healthier, brighter and smoother skin.

It is also supercharged with niacinamide, which optimises the performance of the other ingredients, minimises irritation and enhances skin glow.

Buy it here.

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This article was first published in Her World Online.

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