If there's one ingredient that skincare experts unanimously agree is the gold standard in anti-ageing, it's retinol. The best retinol product can help with all manner of skin concerns, from minimising wrinkles and smoothing texture to helping to control blemishes and acne.

And the good news is that nowadays there are loads of options that promise to work on every skin type, so you can easily find one that suits you.

What is retinol?

A form of vitamin A, retinol is used in serums and creams "because of its ability to speed up skin cell renewal and boost collagen production," explains aesthetic specialist Dr Tatiana Lapa.

The percentage of retinol in products varies. For over-the-counter products, this usually ranges from a starter strength of 0.1% up to a very potent 1%.

If you’re new to it, build up your use gradually, says Dr Tatiana. "Start with a lower percentage formula and only use it every few days, then gradually increase the frequency and strength."

You should also always use an SPF of at least 30 when using retinol, as it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Want to start using it in your skincare routine? We, along with our testers, are here to bring you the best retinols on the market.

Best retinols to shop in 2023

Best retinol for rapid results

Kiehl’s Retinol Fast Release Wrinkle-Reducing Night Serum, £68 here

This intensive formula, ideal for experienced retinol users, penetrates 15 layers deep for speedy renewal and promises to soften fine lines in just five sleeps.

Tester Taryn says: “I have used a prescription retinol for over a year, but this has been a game changer in a much shorter space of time. The deeper frown line between my eyes looks far less obvious. There has been a noticeable improvement in my fine lines. I was told by more than one person that my skin was looking fantastic and had I had any work done! My skin is glowing and I feel fabulous!” 5/5

Best retinol for deep wrinkles

No7 Pure Retinol 1% Night Concentrate, £37.95 here

No7’s most potent retinol is “clinically proven, even on the appearance of deep wrinkles”. It’s one for seasoned retinol users; No7 recommends following with its Post Retinol Soother (£14.95 here).

Tester Lisa says: “My skin is definitely smoother and I really noticed a difference on my frown lines. They did not disappear completely but they are noticeably less deep now. It’s unscented; normally I am a big fan of aromatherapy smelling products but the results speak for themselves. I used the Soother afterwards and it kept my skin moisturised.” 5/5

Best buildable retinol

Skin Rocks Retinoid 1, £65 here

One of two debuts products from queen of skin Caroline Hirons’ long-awaiting skincare line Skin Rocks. Expertly formulated and in refillable packaging, retinol newbies should start with this, then move on to Retinoid 2 (£75 here) when tolerance has been built up. As always with Caroline, the products are accompanied by fun, simple, no-nonsense advice on who each one suits – and who it doesn’t.

Best retinol for beginners

La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum, £40 here

As well as an 0.3% concentration of retinol, La Roche-Posay's gentle formula also contains niacinamide (vitamin B3), a free radical-fighting antioxidant that helps promote an even-toned complexion.

Tester says: "This is such a good entry-level retinol. It sinks into the skin beautifully and doesn't irritate my skin at all. When used as part of my night time skincare routine my skin looks noticeably 'better' in the mornings." 5/5

Best luxurious retinol

MZ Skin Hydrate & Nourish Age Defence Retinol Day Moisturiser SPF30, £95 here

A luxe cream with added SPF that allows you to get the benefits of retinol during the day too.

Tester Sara says: “A gorgeous cream. It feels rich and smooth, like whipped cream, and smells divine. My skin looks smoother, even and plumper. A friend thought my skin looked really silky smooth. It’s a little on the pricey side but I would ask for it as a present because for me it is perfect. A really lovely luxury cream with quick results.” 5/5

Best retinol for post-acne pigmentation

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum, £19 here

The first retinol from this TikTok-favourite skincare brand, this non-greasy, non-drying serums boosts cell turnover while also protecting the skin barrier. When used regularly, it helps to prevent post-acne pigmentation as well as tackling existing marks.

Best retinol for shrinking pores

Naturium Retinol Complex Serum, £22 here

It only launched in the UK in October, but Naturium quickly became Space NK’s biggest skincare launch of 2022. This serum combines encapsulated retinol with bakuchiol for effective yet gentle results, on pore size, fine lines and skin texture.

Deputy beauty editor Zoe says: “I have quite reactive skin so I have to be careful about the retinol I use. This didn’t trigger any sensitivity, even when I began using it every night. After a week of nightly application, I thought my skin texture had become smoother and now, after another week, I can see my pores look smaller as well.” 5/5

Best retinol eye cream

Superdrug Optimum Retinol Eye Cream, £14.99 here

You need to be careful about using retinols around the eye area but this contains retinyl palmitate, which isn’t as strong as other retinols and can be used safely for smoothing.

Tester says: "I have reactive skin and tend to break out with small red bumps if my face rejects any of the ingredients – especially around thinner areas like eyes. But I had no problems with this. I’m noticing my makeup stays on better and doesn’t crease as much and the area looks smoother." 4/5

Best retinol for a fresher face

Alpha-H Vitamin A Serum With 0.5 Retinol, £46 here

A gentle overnight serum combining retinol with squalane to plump, firm, soften lines and smooth uneven texture.

Tester Kae says: “This was a great product. The smell and feel on the serum was excellent. A little went a long way. It reduced my wrinkles by quite a bit. My sister said my skin looks great. It’s definitely more youthful and fresher than it was before. I’d buy this.” 4/5

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