The Best New Retinol Beauty Buys Out Now — Including A $7 Cream

Let's be real: Retinol and sunscreen, the two most important products for maintaining youthful, healthy, spot-free skin for all of eternity, are the beauty equivalents of the boring, responsible friends you list as emergency contacts on your medical forms. You certainly don't invite them to Vegas or expect them to show up to the bar in a short, sparkly number.
But a new generation of retinols are shedding the clinical stereotype and showing that treating skin tone, texture, and lines can be cool, dude. Meet the hipster versions of vitamin A: They come in Insta-worthy bottles, feel like silk and clouds, and make you look like you're young enough to know who TF Jacob Sartorious is.
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Cate Blanchett. Naomi Watts. Nicole Kidman. What do these A-listers have in common, besides blond hair? Insane skin and Australian heritage. Sure, we suppose it could just be coincidence, but then how do you explain Rose Byrne, and Isla Fisher, and Margot Robbie...?

It seems reasonable to hypothesize that there's some magic in the waters down under — and in this Australian physician-formulated serum, which contains creatine to boost energy in the cells (which in turn boosts collagen production), brightening vitamin C and evening primrose oil, hyaluronic acid, and retinol. You can use it day and night, so long as you apply SPF over it in the morning.

Dr Roebuck's Reverse Aging Serum, $59, available at Sephora.
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If you're a hippie with a cabin in upstate New York who also cares about erasing fine lines, this is the cream that'll fit your aesthetic and also get the job done. It's designed to work while you sleep by releasing microencapsulated retinol deep into the dermal layers to promote cell renewal — and because it's so rich and contains soothing vitamin E, vitamin b5, and colloidal oatmeal, you don't have to worry about waking up red. All that, and it smells like coconut to boot.

Clark's Botanicals Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream, $98, available in June at Clark's Botanicals.
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We wouldn't mind if a skin-care line was developed by a sewage inspector — so long as it worked — but it's so much chicer when one comes from a ballet-dancer-turned-esthetician and incorporates ballet terms into the product names, right? Start with the Plié Cleanser, then reach for the Étoile Treatment Oil. It's a hydrating, antioxidant-rich face oil and 0.2% retinol in one and you'll ditch your go-to Argan or marula oil for it after one use.

Jordan Samuel Skin Étoile With Retinol Treatment Oil, $43, available at Jordan Samuel Skin.
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Treatments like this, whose formulas walk the line between serum and cream, are perfect for summer when you need something substantial on your skin post-cleansing, but want it to feel like nothing and absorb in seconds. This light fluid for morning and evening employs encapsulated pure retinol, the most stable form, along with two strains of algae and niacinamide to brighten and strengthen the skin's barrier. After a month, we noticed significantly softer skin and faded dark spots, which, considering the price tag, seems well-deserved.

Eve Lom Time Retreat Face Treatment, $110, available at Sephora.
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On the other hand, this price tag begs the question: What's the catch? A potent anti-ager for the cost of Subway's $5 foot-long (the sandwich is actually $6 because the world is a confusing place right now) seems like bullshit, so we asked an unaffiliated cosmetic chemist to look at the ingredients.

Randy Schueller, co-founder of The Beauty Brains, says, “The formula contains 1% retinol, which is better than using an undisclosed bargain-basement potency that’s sold on the cheap.” He also notes that the best ways to stabilize the ingredient are using microencapsulation or a waterless base. “Water is cheap. You could put retinol in a water-based cream or serum, but that would be a big red flag — and put the retinol at risk. This 1% formulation does not contain water. They’re taking the right approach.” All in all, he says, "The science seems reasonable. In terms of finding a solid candidate at a very good price, I'd feel good about recommending [it]."

The Ordinary Retinol 1%, $6.70, available at The Ordinary.
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This gentle serum can be used all over your face, but does its best work on the undereyes. It hydrates and cools, because sometimes crepiness around the eyes is just the result of dehydration, and evens tone to make dark circles and general fatigue a whole lot less noticeable. Just make sure the eye cream you put on after contains SPF if you're using it before walking outside.

Skin Inc. Vitamin A Serum, $45, available at Sephora.
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