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15 Best Drugstore Retinol Creams for Smooth Skin

Clare Holden
Written by Clare Holden
Best Drugstore Retinol Creams

Retinol is everywhere. Even though it was first discovered in 1909 and has long been available for medical purposes, this vitamin A derivative has become the must-have skincare ingredient for anyone looking to improve signs of aging, plump up their skin and achieve an overall healthier-looking complexion.

After being used as an acne treatment in the 1970s, patients realized that it not only improved their acne but also the smoothness of their complexion. Thus, retinol was soon incorporated into an array of products. When it comes to applying it though, it is important to remember that slow and steady is the way to get started and also to always apply SPF the following day due to how sensitive it makes your skin to sunlight.

An essential in any good skincare routine, after getting expert recommendations from dermatologists and beauty insiders and trying and testing out the options, we have compiled this list of the best drugstore retinol creams.

The 15 Best Drugstore Retinol Creams to Smooth Skin

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Finding the Best Drugstore Retinol Creams

It seems like the last few years have seen every beauty brand releasing a new retinol product, but this wonder ingredient has been around since 1947. The ingredient itself isn’t actually that expensive or difficult to produce which means most of the drugstore options more than hold their own against higher-end luxury offerings.

In fact, apart from the fancier packaging, some of the best retinol creams available are to be found at the drugstore.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drugstore Retinol Creams

Skin Type 

Whether you have dry, oily or combination skin, choosing a retinol that is designed for your specific skin type will mean you get better results. It will also mean you are less likely to cause irritation.


Retinol is regarded as the most effective skin ingredient available, meaning every beauty company from luxury to mass market has brought out a retinol cream. The good news is the drugstore has an array of high-quality options that work just as well, if not better than their more expensive counterparts.


If you find creams too heavy, opting for a retinol serum is a good way to reap all of the benefits without overloading your skin and depending on your skin type you may find serums absorb better. Creams on the other hand tend to be easier to massage into the skin for a more even distribution.


Retinol can be quite trying on the skin, so if you are new to this ingredient you may find for optimum results the best method to follow is to “sandwich” your retinol cream in between two moisturizing products. First, apply a moisturizer, wait for it to absorb followed by your chosen retinol cream and finally seal it in with another layer of moisturizer.


While retinol does wonders for improving the appearance of your skin, it also makes it much more sensitive to UV rays. The day after applying a retinol cream, you must wear SPF 50 to protect your skin from sun damage.

What are the Different Types of Drugstore Retinol Creams?


Retinol creams are rich and generally loaded with extra beneficial ingredients such as peptides and ceramides for extra hydration.


Retinol serum is a great option for those who don’t like the sometimes heavy feeling of creams. They also tend to absorb quicker so those with oily skin may prefer them.

Eye Cream 

Not all retinol creams are designed to use around the eye area. To avoid irritation, it is best to choose a separate product created specifically for the eyes.


Best Overall: Olay Regenerist Retinol and Peptide Night Face Moisturizer


  • Fragrance free
  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Hydrating


  • Some may prefer a pump dispenser
  • Simple packaging
  • Best introduced gradually

This retinol cream from Olay has it all. The smooth texture glides on and instantly absorbs to deliver you skin with a multitude of enriching and nourishing ingredients. As well as retinol to improve your skin’s texture, it is also loaded with peptides and glycerin for extra hydration and plumpness.

The cream works for dry, combination and oily skin and if you are looking to rejuvenate your complexion as you sleep this is the one to go for.


Best Budget: Good Molecules 1% Retinol Night Oil


  • Great value
  • Unscented
  • Hydrating


  • Some may prefer a cream consistency
  • Not everyone may like the dropper bottle
  • Not as widely available

Coming in at just $12, this night oil from Good Molecules is the best value retinol on the market. What’s more - as you only need to use it three times per week, one bottle will last you a long time.

In addition to 1% retinol, this potent face oil also contains antioxidant and omega-rich rosehip and plum oil for extra nourishment. If it is an all round smoother and more radiant complexion you are after, this is the perfect new addition to your skincare routine.


Best for Dry Skin: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Face Moisturizer


  • Plumps skin
  • Dermatologist tested
  • Free from parabens


  • May need to be introduced slowly
  • Might not work for those with very dry skin
  • Not everyone may like the scent

This retinol is a best seller for a reason - not only does it reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles it also leaves you with plumped up skin and an overall healthier looking complexion.

The dermatologist tested cream also tackles dark spots and dullness and the expert formula has recently been upgraded to include a soothing complex to calm and cool your face. Those with sensitive skin will also love how it is unscented to reduce irritation.


Best for Wrinkles: The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane


  • Great price
  • Contains squalane
  • Non drying


  • Needs to be stored in the fridge
  • Dropper bottle could be more durable
  • Sometimes sells out

The Ordinary has brought together two dream skincare ingredients with this product by combining retinol with squalane. The complimentary duo work simultaneously to smooth out wrinkles and deliver deep hydration to the skin.

Retinols are notorious for drying out the skin, but as this serum has been cleverly formulated to include squalane - the skin’s surface is kept moisturized at all times. If you have avoided retinol for this reason, this gentle product allows you to reap the benefits of retinol without ending up with a flakey complexion.


Best for Face and Neck: LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream


  • Made in USA
  • Ideal for neck
  • Cruelty


  • Pump dispenses too much product
  • Not as widely available
  • Needs so time to absorb

One of the all time great pieces of skincare advice is to take care of the skin on your neck the same way you take care of the skin on your face, and there is no better product to put that into practice with than the LilyAna Retinol Cream.

The non-comedogenic formula is lifting, brightening and moisturizing making it ideal for streamlining your skincare routine and keeping your complexion in peak condition.


Best for Beginners: La Roche-Posay Pure Retinol Face Serum with Vitamin B3


  • Also contains vitamin B3
  • Reduces the signs of sun damage
  • Lightweight feel


  • Slightly more expensive
  • Some may prefer a creamier texture
  • Slightly sticky at first

This is the perfect product for anyone who has never tried retinol and is feeling slightly overwhelmed by all the options. The gentle formula contains pure retinol, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to ensure your skin is taken care of in numerous ways.

These three ingredients work together to improve the appearance of fine lines, soothe and restore the complexion while also delivering optimum hydration.


Best for Acne Prone Skin: CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture


  • Fragrance free
  • Non-comodegenic
  • Enriched with ceramides


  • Not everyone may like the scent
  • Pump could be sturdier
  • May sting eyes if applied to close

Retinol is actually an amazing ingredient for dealing with post acne scars and uneven skin texture. This serum from CeraVe was developed along with dermatologists to improve the appearance of marks and pores while also restoring the skin’s natural barrier.

Loaded with skin nourishing ingredients such as licorice root extract, ceramides 1,3 6 - 11 and niacinamide, it is also suitable for every skin type including those with delicate complexions.


Best for Eyes: La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes Retinol Eye Cream


  • Sensitive eye friendly
  • Reduces dark circles
  • Depuffs eye bags


  • Slightly more expensive
  • Not as widely available
  • May take time to see results

The skin around the eyes is completely different to the rest of the face and tends to be a lot more sensitive, which is why choosing a retinol that is designed especially for this area is the best option to achieve a re-energized and brighter look.

This eye cream from La Roche-Posay deals with dark circles, crow’s feet, tiredness, bags and even puffiness. You also only need a mini amount, so while it is slightly more expensive than other drugstore options it will last a long time and the high quality ingredients make it an excellent investment for anyone serious about skincare.


Best for Dark Circles: RoC Retinol Correxion Under Eye Cream


  • Absorbs instantly
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Dermatologist tested


  • Slightly smaller tube
  • Those with sensitive skin may need to do a patch test

If you feel you have dark circles no matter how much sleep you get, investing in one of these Under Eye creams from Roc might just be the solution you have been searching for. It is even available in a smaller travel size if you want to test it out first.

The anti-aging formula was created to revitalize the under eye area and that means not only reducing dark circles but also fine lines, wrinkles and puffiness.


Best for Body: Advanced Clinicals Retinol Body Lotion


  • Unscented
  • Made in USA
  • Cruelty Free


  • Needs to be introduced to skincare routine slowly
  • Basic packaging
  • Needs some time to absorb

Your face isn’t the only place that can benefit from retinol - the skin above the knees, hands, stomach and chest can all be boosted with an application of this delicious body lotion from Advanced Clinicals.

While the star ingredient is retinol to tighten and tone sagging skin, it also includes aloe vera for hydration, green tea extract for radiance and chamomile to cool and calm redness.


Best for Oily Skin: The INKEY List 1% Slow Release Retinol Serum


  • Contains squalane
  • Great option for beginners to retinol
  • Evens out complexion


  • Not as widely available
  • Some may prefer a creamier texture
  • Not everyone may like the smell

While this product is suitable for all skin types, it works especially well for those with oily complexions due to its fast absorbing serum formula that won’t leave your skin feeling or looking greasy.

Along with 0.5% granactive retinoid to reduce the first signs of aging and 1% retinyl acetate to resurface the skin, it also includes a dose of squalane for extra hydration and protection.


Best Serum: RoC Retinol Correxion Anti-Aging Wrinkle Night Serum


  • Non sticky feel
  • Hygienic capsules
  • Sealed for extra longevity


  • Not everyone may like the capsules
  • Scent may not be for everyone
  • Might not work for those with sensitive skin

These capsules are the perfect retinol for those who love a no mess extra hygienic application. Unlike cream in pots or serums in pumps, you don’t have to worry about continuously dipping into the same product or dispensing too much cream than you will need as these clever capsules provide just the right amount. They also make a great option for traveling.

The lightweight formula melts into skin, absorbs instantly and gets work to improve the firmness and overall appearance of skin.


Best Value: Tree of Life Power Trio


  • Contains 3 products
  • Best seller
  • Fragrance free


  • Not everyone wants 3 products
  • Not as widely available
  • Dropper bottles could be more durable

If you are looking for a complete overhaul of your skincare routine or just need a little bit of guidance in terms of what products to use together then this trio is the one you need to completely reinvigorate your complexion.

Along with the retinol serum, it also includes a hyaluronic acid and vitamin c serum to create the perfect skincare sandwich. This pack has every area covered from boosting elasticity, tackling fine lines and wrinkles to leave your skin looking more radiant than ever before.


Best for Plumping: Pixi Beauty Overnight Retinol Oil


  • Smoothes out skin texture
  • Contains peptides
  • Firms skin


  • Not as widely available
  • Sometimes sells out
  • Smaller bottle

Plumped skin is one of the key indicators of a healthy looking complexion and this Retinol Oil from Pixi Beauty works overtime while you sleep to provide just that through its cocktail of skin enriching ingredients.

The silky smooth oil texture glides onto skin delivering vitamin A, peptides and ceramides to restore your skin’s firmness and bounce to have you looking glowing when you wake.


Best for Smoothness: No7 Pure Retinol Night Cream


  • Fragrance free
  • Reduces wrinkles
  • Dermatologist-tested


  • Some may find the cream too thick
  • Needs to be introduced gradually

This rich cream is the one to reach for if improving your skin’s smoothness is your main objective. Along with pure retinol it also includes collagen peptides for extra plumpness and hyaluronic acid for intense moisture. Get your complexion glowing by getting into the habit of applying this at night.

The cream was designed specifically to penetrate deeply to improve hydration and restore your skin for a fresher, firmer and more radiant complexion.

People Also Ask

  • Q: How often should I apply retinol?

    A:If you are new to retinol, start slowly by applying it once a week then building up to twice weekly and so on.

  • Q: Will retinol cause my skin to breakout?

    A:If you introduce retinol gradually to your skincare routine it shouldn’t cause breakouts. If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin be sure to choose an option designed for that.

  • Q: Is expensive retinol more effective?

    A:There are plenty of incredibly effective retinol options available at the drugstore, it is actually one of the beauty products where spending more doesn’t guarantee it will work any better.

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At Us Weekly, we aim to inform readers to make smart purchasing decisions, saving you both time and money. Our editors are obsessed with finding products in a variety of categories from fashion and beauty, to home and fitness.

We try various products, so we can recommend our favorites, and we also summarize feedback and data from other customers. Data, like product reviews and ratings, helps us recommend the best product choices for individual price points and needs.

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Clare Holden

By Clare Holden

Beauty and style writer Clare has been a fan of makeup and fashion ever since she was a child. While studying for her degree in Journalism and Communications, Clare worked part-time on cosmetic counters. After graduating she went back and trained as a makeup artist after falling in love with beauty and skincare. She now splits her time between writing about all things makeup and running her own womenswear brand White Night.
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