The beauty industry has been talking about retinol for a good few decades now, but only recently did it become available over-the-counter in the UK. A skin-transforming ingredient, it increases the turnover of cells to help remove dead skin, unblock pores and reduce redness and pigmentation – it’s also been proven to slow down the signs of ageing, including fine lines and wrinkles. It can cause irritation in some people, particularly when used for the first time or if you use it too often, but almost everyone can build up a tolerance with consistent use.
If you’re new to retinol, we recommend starting with this gentle night cream from British brand Medik8. It contains a low-concentration of the ingredient alongside soothing frankincense, and its moisturising formula is clinically proven to improve rough skin, fine lines and dark spots in just eight weeks when applied nightly. It’s a luxurious addition to your skincare routine, but it won’t break the bank, at just under £20.
Another favourite among our beauty editors, this retinol cream is ideal for those with dry or sensitive skin. It features a combination of nourishing ingredients (including glycerin and vitamin B3) to support the retinol’s anti-ageing effects, plus it’s free from fragrance, preservatives and is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic so it won’t clog pores. Our testers found it easy to apply, smelled fresh and softened their skin when used at night – especially if they followed with a rich face cream.
For a less expensive option, this best-seller from No7 is also great for newbies to the ingredient. Its formula contains a 0.3% concentration of the active ingredient, and it’s been paired with brightening vitamin C for even more anti-ageing benefits. It’s a gentler alternative to prescription-strength tretinoin, but it still works wonders on wrinkles, uneven skin tone and discolouration – our testers saw visible results in just three weeks.
Retinoids can increase sensitivity to sunlight, so always use an SPF during the day. You should also avoid using other exfoliants or skincare products containing AHAs and BHAs while you’re introducing a retinol to your routine.
The retinols we’ve recommended above have all been tested on beginners’ skin – and all have received glowing reviews from our panel of beauty editors. However, as everyone’s skin is different, it’s worth trying a few samples before making a purchase. The best way to test whether a retinol is right for you is to start with a low-concentration product and gradually work your way up to higher concentrations. retin a cream uk