The 21 Best Retinol Products for Every Skin Type and Concern, According to Dermatologists

·19 min read

Consider retinoids the superfoods of skin care. The ingredient is second only to sunscreen in wrinkle-fighting power, but it does more than that. These vitamin A derivatives also help to fight acne, refine texture, and fade dark spots, according to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, dermatologist, Dr. Naana Boakye. To reap the maximum benefits, you need to use the best retinol products that work well with your skin, so you’re inclined to use it regularly.

What is Retinol and What Does Retinol Do? 

Retinol is one of several vitamin A compounds — commonly called retinoids — you can find over the counter to treat aging skin, explains New York City dermatologist, Dr. Joshua Zeichner. Other ingredients in the retinoid family include retinaldehyde and retinyl esters; they all work similarly.

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While these ingredients are cropping up all over the skin care market, they’re not quite new. The FDA approved a type of retinol as a topical acne treatment back in 1971, and you’ll find it in many of the best products for acne. Beyond treating breakouts, the ingredient also increases collagen production and cell turnover, helping to smooth fine lines and fade discoloration. The main difference between the first iteration of retinoids and the ones we’re seeing in skin care products today is that the new formulas are gentler and more effective than ever.

Top Retinol Products for 2022 

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Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer 

Best Retinol for Beginners

  • Size: 1.7 ounces

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol and retinyl propionate

  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide, glycerin, and amino peptides 

  • Best for: Normal and dry skin types

Ultra hydrating properties balance out the dry, flaky side effects that can be common with retinol in this emollient cream. It’s a solid option for sensitive types. Brightening niacinamide and soothing amino peptides are swirled in the formula, and it’s fragrance-free. It has over 7,000 five-star reviews on Amazon alone, with many commenting on its ability to blur pores, make dark spots disappear, and improve skin firmness.  

Olay Regenerist cream
Olay Regenerist cream




Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Night Moisturizer


$27.90



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Peter Thomas Roth Goodbye Acne Complete Acne Treatment Gel 

Best Retinol for Oily Skin 

  • Size: 1.7 fluid ounces

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, aloe vera, and vitamin C

  • Best for: Oily and acne-prone skin types

If you’re reaching for retinol to quash breakouts, this one’s for you. You’ll get a boost of clarifying salicylic acid in addition to vitamin A’s resurfacing powers, so the odds of clogged pores are slim to none. “My skin is super sensitive and eczema-prone, and I have had acne scars that look like asteroid craters for years. It smoothed it out in a week of regular use,” one reviewer says. It also works like spot treatment: Dot it onto problem areas to zap breakouts — including cystic ones — to stop them from surfacing. 

Peter Thomas Roth Goodbye Acne Complete Acne Treatment Gel 
Peter Thomas Roth Goodbye Acne Complete Acne Treatment Gel




Peter Thomas Roth Goodbye Acne Complete Acne Treatment Gel


$44



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Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream 

Best Retinol Night Cream

  • Size: 1.7 ounces

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid 

  • Best for: All skin types

Neutrogena has an all-star lineup of retinol products, but this one takes the cake for its gentle effectiveness. It contains a stabilized form of retinol, meaning it won’t degrade in the tub or on your skin, plus hyaluronic acid to instantly plump your skin while the vitamin A smooths fine lines over time. “I’ve used this product for years — I am 80 years old and I’m constantly complimented on my smooth skin and lack of wrinkles,” says one reviewer. 

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream 
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream




Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream


$25



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Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream

Best Retinol Cream for Mature Skin 

  • Size: 2 fluid ounces

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Bakuchiol, rambutan, and ferulic acid 

  • Best for: Dry skin types

This cream is great for preventing and treating fine lines and wrinkles, but it also supports your skin’s overall health. That’s courtesy of rambutan, an antioxidant that helps your body produce more collagen, and ferulic acid, which soothes any irritation from the retinol while preventing and managing sun damage (bye bye, dark spots). Combined, these ingredients support our skin’s barrier, which helps aging complexions stay hydrated. Best of all, it feels like silk on your skin. 

Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream
Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream




Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream


$75



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Murad Retinol Youth Night Cream

Best Retinol Cream for Dull Skin

  • Size: 1.7 fluid ounces

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide

  • Best for: Combination and oily skin types

Three kinds of retinol team up in this formula to deliver next-level benefits, and limited irritation when you begin using it. You’ll get fast-acting retinol to clear dullness overnight while a time-released version of the ingredient delivers benefits over time (and without making your skin sting). The pump component on the tub also makes sure you get the exact right amount for each application.

Murad Retinol Youth Night Cream
Murad Retinol Youth Night Cream




Murad Retinol Youth Night Cream


$82



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Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Best High Percentage Retinol Cream 

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Vitamin C, peptides, and willow bark

  • Best for: Combination and acne-prone skin types 

Paula’s Choice offers a high-strength retinol, so sensitive skin types should cycle it in after your skin has adjusted well to a lower percentage formula. We love it for combination skin because it’s a lightweight lotion, and its peptides nourish dry areas while the willow bark helps manage oily spots. “Wrinkles are minimized, and my skin glows and looks radiantly younger; blemishes are no longer an issue and old scars are clearer and almost gone,” says one reviewer.

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment




Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment


$60



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Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Retinoid Serum

Best Soothing Retinoid Serum

  • Size: 1 ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Granactive retinoid 

  • Key ingredients: Sunflower seed oil and quinoa seed extract 

  • Best for: Sensitive skin types

Granactive retinoid is a special kind of vitamin A that brings the benefits of retinol without as much irritation. Plant-based soothers enhance the calming properties of this serum. It contains hydrating mushroom and antioxidant-rich quinoa seed extract. “I wake up with noticeably firmer, more even skin, and it also seems to calm down any emerging blemishes,” explains one reviewer. 

Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Retinoid Serum
Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Retinoid Serum




Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Retinoid Serum


$16



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RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules 

Best Retinol for Travel

  • Size: 0.35 fluid ounce; 30 capsules

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol 

  • Key ingredients: Ceramides 

  • Best for: All skin types

Each of RoC’s single dose capsules contain a stabilized form of retinol in a non-irritating formula. Simply twist off the smaller end of the pod and squeeze out the serum (and don’t worry — the capsules are 100 percent biodegradable). “The capsules both maintain potency and prevent over-application because they are dispensed in a metered dose,” Dr. Zeichner explains. We love them for travel: Stash enough in your bag for each night of vacation. 

RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules 
RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules




RoC Retinol Correxion Line Smoothing Night Serum Capsules


$24.97



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Bliss Youth Got This Prevent-4 + Pure Retinol Advanced Skin Smoothing Serum

Best Smoothing Retinol Serum

  • Size: 0.67 ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol 

  • Key ingredients: Squalene, amino acids, and peptides 

  • Best for: Dry and normal skin types 

This budget pick from Bliss is dermatologist-approved. “It contains pure retinol with skin-protecting squalane,” says Dr. Zeichner, adding that the serum’s antioxidants and peptides complement the effects of retinol. After continued use, you’ll see an improvement in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, plus more even tone and a smoother texture. 

Bliss Youth Got This Prevent-4 + Pure Retinol Advanced Skin Smoothing Serum
Bliss Youth Got This Prevent-4 + Pure Retinol Advanced Skin Smoothing Serum




Bliss Youth Got This Prevent-4 + Pure Retinol Advanced Skin Smoothing Serum


$29



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CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum 

Best Retinol for Exfoliation

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce 

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol 

  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide and ceramides 

  • Best for: Acne-prone skin types

Over 18,000 reviewers give CeraVe’s serum five-stars, and we do, too. This wallet-friendly serum pairs skin barrier-strengthening ceramides with retinol, so you get the exfoliating benefits of retinol without any irritation. It’s excellent for smoothing out post-acne marks — reviewers highlight its ability to fade dark marks. 

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum 
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum




CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum


$16.40



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Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

Best Retinoid for Hormonal Acne 

  • Size: 0.5 ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Adapalene 

  • Key ingredients: Propylene Glycol

  • Best for: Acneic skin types 

This potent gel used to be only available by prescription, but now you can buy it over the counter. It’s designed for those who experience severe breakouts; Adapalene is a vitamin A derivative that’s approved by the FDA for managing acne. It’ll treat pimples that have surfaced, but with continued use, you’ll notice that it also clears your complexion in the long run, preventing bumps from developing in the first place. “It’s the only thing that has made me actually love my bare skin again — it helps fade out my freckles, old zit scars, and fine lines,” says one of the over 45,000 reviewers who gave it five stars. 

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment




Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment


$13.88



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Pond’s Rejuveness Skin-Tightening Serum 

Best Firming Retinol Serum

  • Size: 1.7 fluid ounces

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide

  • Best for: All skin types 

You know Pond’s for their nostalgia-inducing Cold Cream, but the brand does more than just cleansers. Dr. Zeichner likes this retinol serum because it includes a stabilized version of the ingredient, paired with niacinamide to calm and help brighten the skin. He attests to its ability to minimize irritation while improving the look of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Reviewers agree:
“It’s budget-friendly but delivers expensive results,” reads one comment. 

Pond’s Rejuveness Skin-Tightening Serum 
Pond’s Rejuveness Skin-Tightening Serum




Pond’s Rejuveness Skin-Tightening Serum


$12.99



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Naturopathica Holy Basil & Retinol Ageless Night Oil 

Best Retinol Oil 

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Bakuchiol and holy basil 

  • Best for: Dry skin types 

Bakuchiol is a trendy ingredient that supplies the same tone-evening powers of retinoids, but in a gentle, plant-based way. In this luxurious oil, bakuchiol works in tandem with 1 percent retinol and calming holy basil for results you can see as soon as overnight. The bright blue formula seeps into skin on contact, soothing redness and flooding your skin with hydration. If your skin feels stressed or parched, look no further. 

Naturopathica Holy Basil & Retinol Ageless Night Oil 
Naturopathica Holy Basil & Retinol Ageless Night Oil




Naturopathica Holy Basil & Retinol Ageless Night Oil


$130



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Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment Serum

Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin

  • Size: 1 ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Lactic acid and apple fruit extract 

  • Best for: All skin types 

Shani Darden is a Los Angeles-based facialist with a cult following. Her skin care products give a taste of what all the talk is about, and this one delivers. Its lactic acid removes dead skin after one use (you’ll notice that makeup goes on smoother), while the encapsulated, slow-release retinol supports cell turnover in the long run. You’ll get a glow — and no peeling or itchiness.

Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment Serum
Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment Serum




Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform Treatment Serum


$88



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Eve Lom Time Retreat Face Treatment

Best Retinol for Dry Skin

  • Size: 1.5 fluid ounces 

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol 

  • Key ingredients: Niacinamide, allantoin, and algae 

  • Best for: Dry skin types 

Anything from Eve Lom is a treat to use — the brand’s products smell amazing and leave your skin feeling post-facial refreshed. This is the richest cream on our list. It’s a heavy moisturizer that’s packed with nourishing ingredients, like anti-inflammatory allantoin and hydrating algae, to restore dry skin. A little goes a long way; massage a dot onto your face and neck and you’re set.  

Eve Lom Time Retreat Face Treatment
Eve Lom Time Retreat Face Treatment




Eve Lom Time Retreat Face Treatment


$110



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SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream

Best Resurfacing Retinol Cream

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Shea butter; chamomile and frankincense derivatives

  • Best for: Normal, oily, and combination skin types

With just four to five drops of this cream, you’ll wake up to fresh skin. The retinol is encapsulated, meaning it won’t degrade when you put it on (and the packaging’s small dropper also ensures the formula isn’t exposed to air, which weakens its potency). SkinCeuticals also offers this formula with both stronger and lighter retinol percentages, so you can adjust to what your skin can handle. “This retinol treatment is better than any other brand that I have tried — I call it a magic eraser for my face,” one reviewer explains.

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream
SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream




SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream


$80



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Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Serum

Best Gentle Retinoid Serum

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce 

  • Type of retinoid: Retinaldehyde

  • Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and glycerin

  • Best for: Sensitive skin types

This British brand offers retinoids in three tiers of intensity, and this one is the gentlest — but that doesn’t mean it’s weak. The formula contains retinaldehyde, a type of retinoid that works quicker than retinol to deliver benefits. Hydrating hyaluronic acid and calming vitamin E offset any dryness or peeling for even the most sensitive skin types. 

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Serum
Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Serum




Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Serum


$53



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Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide

Best Retinol Serum for Eye Wrinkles 

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol 

  • Key ingredients: Ceramides and peptides 

  • Best for: All skin types

Crow’s feet and lip lines are tricky to treat with topicals. Yet, this formula from Kiehl’s contains encapsulated retinol that goes on so gently that it’s safe to use around the delicate eye area to reap the wrinkle-smoothing benefits (just avoid your lids). 

Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide
Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide




Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide


$62



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The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum 

Best Budget Retinol Serum

  • Size: 1 ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Squalene

  • Best for: All skin types

The Inkey List is the least expensive option on our list, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. In fact, the formula contains two kinds of retinol (stabilized and granactive) in a slow-release format to resurface your skin effectively and gently. The low price point and mild retinol potency makes it an excellent choice for retinol beginners. “It tightens my skin and makes my face appear more youthful and vibrant,” says one reviewer. 

The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum 
The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum




The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum


$10.99



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InnBeauty Project Retinol Remix 1% Retinol Treatment with Peptide and Tranexamic Acid 

Best Retinol Serum for Treating Hyperpigmentation

  • Size: 1 fluid ounce

  • Type of retinoid: Retinol

  • Key ingredients: Tranexamic acid, peptides, and German chamomile 

  • Best for: Normal and combination skin types 

Consider this a soothing serum that just happens to contain retinol, too. The fluid packs four ingredients proven to calm, hydrate, and quell inflammation, and strengthen the skin barrier to keep moisture in. You’ll also get tranexamic acid, a cutting-edge ingredient that preempts hyperpigmentation before it appears on the skin’s surface. “I used this product for about two weeks to see if I could see any results and I did — my texture decreased and my skin overall looked very even and balanced,” writes one reviewer. 

retinol remix innabeauty
retinol remix innabeauty




iNNBeauty Project Retinol Remix 1% Retinol Treatment with Peptide and Tranexamic Acid


$48



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Altreno Tretinoin Lotion, 0.05%

Best Prescription Retinoid

  • Size: 20 grams

  • Type of retinoid: Tretinoin 

  • Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and marine collagen

If you’re ready to upgrade your OTC formula for something prescription strength, ask your dermatologist about this option. “It’s formulated in a specialized honeycomb mesh delivery system that minimizes irritation and allows for optimal penetration,” Dr. Zeichner says. So you’ll get the trusted benefit of tretinoin with a lower incidence of side effects. A trio of hydrating ingredients — hyaluronic acid, marine collagen, and glycerin — make your odds of developing post-application dry patches unlikely. 

From $60, by prescription only

The Benefits and Side Effects of Retinol

“Retinol is perhaps the best studied ingredient we have to treat aging skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. It stimulates collagen and elastin production to smooth your skin and give it good bounce. However, retinoid newbies may experience some changes to their skin as it adjusts to the ingredient. “It takes several weeks to adjust to application of retinol to the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This process is known as retinization, and commonly causes redness, burning, and stinging of the skin.”

So is retinol good for your skin? In short, yes, but your skin needs to get through that adjustment period (usually about a month) before you begin seeing results. 

To ease yourself into a retinol routine, use a pea-size amount and build up the frequency, starting with one to two times a week, says Dr. Boakye. You can also layer a moisturizer before or after applying it to curb any peeling or dryness, according to Dr. Zeichner. The ingredient makes our skin more sensitive to sunlight, so it’s best to apply at night and slather on SPF 30 during the day. “No skin types are incompatible with retinol, but some individuals cannot tolerate it,” Dr. Boakye explains. 

When used consistently, retinol can be a game-changer for those with acneic skin, delivering more potent pimple-busting actives than you’d find in a pimple patch or face mask, although preventative steps should still be taken, like sleeping on a pillowcase for acne, or using foundations or concealers specifically formulated for breakouts. Facial cleansing brushes or devices should be used infrequently, as a retinol and a scrub could equal trouble for sensitive skin types.

Retinoid vs. Retinol vs. Tretinoin 

These two vitamin A compounds have similar benefits for the skin. Retinols (like retinaldehyde and retinyl esters) are available in over-the-counter creams. These ingredients convert into vitamin A on your skin to up-regulate collagen production.

Tretinoin, on the other hand, requires a prescription and tends to work quicker than OTC options. That’s because it’s true vitamin A straight out of the bottle, which also means it can also be more intense. “It’s all about finding the right formula for your skin, and starting slowly,” Dr. Boakye says.

What to Look For in the Best Retinol Creams, Serums, and Gels 

  • Percentage: This is the quickest way to gauge how intense a formula may be, so you can calibrate your selection to how sensitive or resilient your complexion is. The gentlest options start as low as 0.01 percent, and over the counter options typically max out at 2 percent. Anything stronger requires a prescription. 

  • Soothing ingredients: Because of the inconvenient side effects — peeling, itching, sensitivity — formulas that contain calming ingredients are best for beginners. Soothing ingredients will help to manage your tolerability of the ingredient over time, and consistency is crucial. Common ones to look for are hydrators, like hyaluronic acid, and skin barrier strengtheners, such as ceramides.

  • Texture: You’ll want a formula that agrees with your skin type. Reach for a retinol cream if you’re dry, and a gel if you have oily skin. The best choice is the one that absorbs into your skin without leaving you feeling either parched or greasy. 

The Different Types of Retinol Products

  • Retinol cream: Great for dry skin types, these formulas pair intense hydrators with retinol. You’ll typically get a less potent dose of retinol in creams, so it’s a good option for those who are new to the ingredient.  

  • Retinol serum: “These are designed to deliver high concentrations of active ingredients to your skin, in this case, retinol,” says Dr. Zeichner. It’s not ideal for retinol beginners, as the higher potency can be harsh on skin that’s not used to it. Follow an application of retinol up with a soothing night cream to buffer the ingredient. 

  • Retinol gel: Since they’re lightweight and breathable, retinol gels are a great option for acneic skin types. Like serums, you’ll get a high concentration of the ingredient. 

Can You Use Retinol While Pregnant? 

Both Drs. Zeichner and Boakye agree: It’s best to avoid OTC and prescription retinoids during pregnancy. Lucky for you, there’s plenty of baby-safe ingredients that offer similar benefits. Dr. Zeichner recommends glycolic acid. This alpha hydroxy acid is derived from sugar cane and gently sloughs away dead skin without scrubbing, making it a fab option for moms-to-be who are experiencing acne or dullness. 

Dr. Boakye says bakuchiol has promising results, too. The ingredient is derived from the Babchi plant, commonly used in ayurvedic medicine. Recent research shows that it functions similarly to retinol once applied to the skin, as it up-regulates collagen production to improve elasticity, firmness, and discoloration. What’s more, you can apply it both morning and night, and your odds of undesirable side effects are slim to none, so you’ll be comfortable using it consistently.

Though both of these ingredients are generally considered safe, be sure to check with your dermatologist or doctor before trying anything new. 

Meet the Experts

  • Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, is an Associate Professor and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He is one of the country’s key opinion leaders in treating acne and rosacea and is an expert in cosmeceuticals and skin care. 

  • Dr. Naana Boakye, MD, MPH, is a New Jersey-based board-certified dermatologist specializing in general dermatology. She is also the author of Inside out Beauty, Your Prescription for Healthy, Radiant, Acne Controlled Skin, co-founder of Karité skincare and Chief Medical Officer for A-Frame, a brand building company that focuses on celebrity-led skincare brands. 

Meet the Author

Claire Sullivan is a freelance beauty writer based in New York City. She spent six years writing and editing on staff for Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings, most recently covering the beauty beat for both brands. Her background in food writing translates to a no-nonsense approach to skin care, hair care, and makeup: In her eyes, it’s all about technique and ingredients. Claire loves to turn expert advice into easy steps that inspire you to give your beauty routine a makeover.

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