Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, boosts collagen, reduces fine lines, and helps even skin tone.
While prescription-strength retinoids are more effective, over-the-counter ones work well, too.
There are plenty of affordable options under $30 from brands like The Ordinary, RoC, and CeraVe.
"Retinol is perhaps the best-studied ingredient we have over-the-counter to treat aging skin," said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital's Department of Dermatology in New York City. Retinol, which is a vitamin-A derivative, "stimulates collagen production and cell turnover," he said. This can fade fine lines and even out your skin tone.
Retinoids, the prescription-strength versions of retinol, are considered to be more effective, according to Zeichner. But while retinoids like tretinoin can be better at treating acne, their potency can also cause redness and irritation. Over-the-counter options can be a great option for people who are starting out with retinol or have sensitive skin, he said.
Some popular retinols can cost anywhere from $60-$100, but there are plenty of formulas from brands like The Ordinary and RoC that won't break the bank. Because retinol should be part of your regular skincare routine, Dr. Ivy Lee, a dermatologist in southern California, said "choosing an option that is budget-friendly is more sustainable in the long run."
Here are the five best retinols under $30, according to dermatologists
Most affordable: The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane ($8.70)
Lee suggested this budget-friendly serum that contains 1% retinol as well as moisturizing squalane. For those using one of these products for the first time, she recommended "looking for moisturizing ingredients or moisturizing formulations to help the tolerability of starting a retinol."
Best for anti-aging: RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Anti-Aging Night Cream ($29.99)
Recommended by Lee, this cream is especially designed to treat deeper lines and wrinkles.
Best for sensitive skin: Eucerin Q10 Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream + Pro-Retinol Night Cream ($11.93)
Zeichner said this formula contains a powerful antioxidant and is non-irritating, making it suitable for all skin types.
Easiest to find in stores: CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum ($19.99)
Lee recommended this affordable, accessible option that comes with ceramides to help soothe the skin barrier.
Best for hydration: RoC Derm Correxion Fill + Treat Advanced Retinol Serum ($38.99 on the RoC website, but under $30 at Amazon and Walmart)
Zeichner suggested this serum, which contains hyaluronic acid, to help "hydrate and plump for more immediate benefits" to the skin.
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