The 9 Best Retinols for Sensitive Skin, Tested and Reviewed in 2023



If you know me, or have ever heard me silently scream in rage into the wind, you know that I have extremely sensitive skin and will almost always freak out. I’m talking about skin that suffers from rosacea, keratosis pilaris, hormonal acne, and perfume allergies. 

Skin is so reactive and allergic that even my dermatologist friend said, "Haha, thank God." So trust me when I say: If you're looking for retinol for sensitive skin, I'm Your New Best Friend - Because I've been, I've personally tested and reviewed dozens of gentle (and not-so-mild) formulas over the years. Here are the best recipes. 

But first: There is no "best" retinol for sensitive skin. Yes, some retinol creams are gentler than others, but most people don't realize that many of the side effects of flaking, stinging, and burning are often due to user error and impatience (well, you know who you are ). 

After my dermatologist friends—hello, dermatologists Mona Gohara, MD, and Anar Mikailov, MD—and I tested retinol With the help of my painful history, I'll give you everything you need to know about entry-level retinol and real retinol. 

Apply them in a way to avoid irritation. Check out the short list below: Keep scrolling now for the full list, plus what you really need to know when dealing with sensitive skin, like: B. What is the gentlest retinol, how to apply retinol for sensitive skin, and more. 

1. Press "Restart Gentle Retinol Serum" after you are proficient. While testing I really thought this serum would ruin my skin, but I'm happy to report that I didn't experience any(!) irritation. seriously. Retinol Serum uses three MVP anti-aging ingredients to smooth skin: 

(1) Microencapsulated Retinol (slows absorption and reduces skin irritation); (2) Bakuchiol (a natural, gentle retinol substitute) and (3) Arophira (samphire extract that mimics bakuchiol). It sounds overwhelming, but this combination is surprisingly gentle, even for retinol newbies. 

2. RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Skin Anti-Aging Night Cream. You can’t talk about retinol for sensitive skin without talking about RoC’s award-winning formula that I personally tested. 

This night cream was one of the first gentle breakthroughs in the harsh world of anti-aging, as its formula is packed with soothing, hydrating emollients that "buffer" retinol absorption after massage. This is an absolute drugstore must-have for anyone with sensitive skin. 

3. Inkey List Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Moisturizer. I personally love The Inkey List – all of their products are super affordable, have simple and effective formulas without any unnecessary irritants (hi, my biggest pet peeve). 

This gentle moisturizer is no exception: It's packed with bakuchiol to smooth the appearance of fine lines, squalane to hydrate, and sacha inchi oil to seal in moisture. Oh, and it costs less than $10. Yes, please. 

4. Biossance Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum. Browse through the five-star reviews for this plant-based retinol and you'll see a slew of "OMG" comments from people with overreactive and extremely sensitive skin (what, my brother). 

The hype is justified: The first three ingredients are water, squalane, and glycerin—a powerful hydrating trio—followed by brightening niacinamide, plumping hyaluronic acid, and, of course, MVP bakuchiol . Biossance will always have my heart. 

5. Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Moisturizer. While this night cream isn't specifically designed for sensitive skin, it's surprisingly gentle (so mild that it's the only thing my boyfriend's baby face can tolerate). The fragrance-free formula uses retinol and retinyl propionate 

(one of the weakest and mildest forms of all retinols) to smooth, plump and brighten skin over time. Remember: If you're still worried about irritation, try alternating your regular night cream with it every other night to see how your skin reacts. 

6. First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25 Pure Concentrate. This silky serum contains 0.25% retinol, which is on the milder side of the retinol spectrum (0.05% and 1% tend to be more common). If 0.25% still sounds scary, I get it but I promise you the rest of the formula is a huge treat for your sensitive skin, including colloidal oatmeal, allantoin, and aloe vera for relief irritation, as well as hyaluronic acid and ceramides to prevent the skin barrier from drying out or becoming inflamed. 

7. Dr.Different Vitalift-A Night Cream. What are the main ingredients in this anti-aging cream? 0.05% Retina (yes, with an A). When it comes to retinal vs. retinol, retinal requires one less "conversion" before being absorbed into the skin meaning it is more effective than retinol (which requires two conversions). Fortunately, the dosage is low enough that most sensitive skin types can tolerate it. Especially if you apply it on top of your facial moisturizer at night. 

8. No7 Lift & Luminate Triple Action Fragrance-Free Night Cream. Let's be honest: This fragrance-free cream is barely a retinol—it's perfect for anyone who wants an ultra-gentle night cream with anti-aging benefits. The only retinoid in the formula is retinyl palmitate (the weakest and most powerful of all retinoids) 

so all the softening, smoothing, and brightening effects actually come from the high dose of tightening oil in the cream. Peptides and plumping hyaluronic acid. Yes, this combination actually works (the power of peptides is real, friends). 

9. Tula Wrinkle Treatment Drops Retinol Replacement Serum. If retinol creams are too strong or heavy for your sensitive skin, I highly recommend these facial serums, which contain bakuchiol and squalane to smooth and tone the skin over time. 

Massage a few drops onto clean, dry skin before continuing with the rest of your skincare routine, or mix a few drops with your regular moisturizer to further dilute the bakuchiol (if you're a first-time user like me). used to be). 

Which retinol is suitable for sensitive skin? All retinoids (the collective name for all vitamin A derivatives, including retinol) are made differently and have varying strengths and potencies. "Retinoids penetrate into your skin, speeding up cell turnover and over time, your body produces fresher, smoother, less wrinkled skin," dermatologist Mona Gohara told Cosmo. Weaker The retinoids last longer (but are easier to tolerate), while the stronger retinoids act faster (but are more irritating). Here's a general breakdown: 

Strength of retinoids (from weakest to strongest) Retinyl Palmitate (very weak, not very effective as a retinoid on its own) Retinol (usually between 0.01% and 3.0%. Sensitive skin types should stick to a percentage below 0.5) 

Retinaldehyde, also known as retinaldehyde (stronger, but still a lower, tolerable dose for sensitive skin) Adapalene (the most powerful drugstore tretinoin, like Differin, is designed to treat acne) Prescription retinoids (such as tretinoin or tazarotene; effective but may be severely irritating) 

There's just one limitation here: bakuchiol. This brings us to... 

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