10 Retinol Serums Dermatologists Actually Use On Themselves

Remember the great kale takeover that dominated the zeitgeist a few years back? As production of the leafy green grew by more than 60% between 2007 and 2012, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, consuming the fiber-, protein-, and vitamin-packed super veggie with every meal (or at least showing your support sartorially, like Beyoncé) became the ultimate health flex.

But no matter how nutritionally choice the bitter roughage was proven to be, and how many recipes we added to our Bookmarks, we were keeping a secret: Very few of us were actually living that eat-kale-every-day lifestyle. The same applies to the mountains of research supporting retinol's status as one of the most super-powered ingredients in your skin-care routine for achieving smooth, evenly-toned, acne- and line-free skin — and the fact that most of us could benefit from using it way more than we do now.


"Patients with sun-related aging changes, fine lines, textural changes to the skin, sun freckles, and melasma all benefit from use of a retinol or [prescription-based] retinoid," confirms dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Melanie Palm, M.D. "Patients that are acne-prone may also note improvement in their breakouts [after using a retinol or retinoid]."

But for all the good they can do, many retinol creams leave a greasy residue, feel too rich for oily or acne-prone skin, or can't rival the luxe experience of our favorite night creams — which means no matter how good they are for our complexions, many of us just aren't using retinol as much as we should. That's where retinol serums come in: The lighter formulas tend to absorb more quickly into skin, and still leave room for us to apply our feel-good moisturizers before sliding into bed every night.

Since finding a smart retinol formulation that can actually deliver the goods properly is key, we polled top dermatologists to find out which serums they reach for in their own skin-care routines. Ahead, 10 serums that are like the equivalent of getting your daily dose of greens in a blended smoothie — all of the benefits with none of the drawbacks.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

RoC Deep Wrinkle Serum

Who said a great retinol serum can't come from the drugstore? RoC's fan-favorite Deep Wrinkle Serum is packed with retinol, magnesium, and zinc for maximum skin-clearing and smoothing benefits.
RoC Deep Wrinkle Serum$24.99 Buy

The Ordinary Retinol 1% In Squalane

Fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin texture are no match for The Ordinary's affordable retinol serum, which is formulated with a base of plant-derived squalane to hydrate skin.
The Ordinary Retinol Serum 1% in Squalane$6.70 Buy

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum

Even if you were more of a B student in high school, you can still reap the benefits of Sunday Riley's powerful retinoid serum, which counters the potency of retinol with botanical ingredients like algae, white honey, bisabolol, cactus extract, and ginger.
Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum$85.00 Buy

Replenix Retinol Smoothing Serum

Dr. Palm generally opts for a prescription-grade retinoid, but as far as over-the-counter retinol, she suggests this one or Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum for patients. "Both contain an effective concentration of a stable, active retinol to help build collagen, fight fine lines, reverse pigmentary changes, and help other active topical skin-care product ingredients penetrate more effectively," she says.
Replenix Retinol Smoothing Serum 2X$65.00 Buy

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum

This drugstore serum has long been the personal go-to for dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. "Retinol is a highly unstable molecule and commonly causes irritation to the skin, so it's important to choose the right formula to make sure you're getting an effective treatment that is well-tolerated," he says. "The delivery system of this particular retinol has been well-studied and has proven effectiveness, which is why I have been using it."
Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum$23.99 Buy

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum

New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D., swears by these retinol- and ceramide-infused serum capsules for their line-reducing and retexturizing properties.
Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum$84.00 Buy

Glowbiotics Advanced Retinol Renewal Treatment

Retinol and sensitive skin have never been the best of bedfellows, but cosmetic dermatologist Shereene Idriss, M.D., swears by this one for her own sensitive skin. "It’s gentle, great for sensitive skin in the winter, and makes it easy for skin to adapt without getting irritated," she says. "I recommend for people with sensitive skin or people that want to dabble in retinol for the first time."
Glowbiotics Advanced Retinol Renewal Treatment$105.00 Buy

Tula Volume Defense Deep Wrinkle Serum

Retinol on its own is an incredible ingredient, but when paired with probiotics and vitamin C? Nothing but brighter, balanced skin that's visibly smoother and renewed.
Tula Volume Defense Deep Wrinkle Serum$78.00 Buy

CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Cream Serum

Three types of ceramides (1, 3, and 6-II) meet encapsulated retinol for a serum that's not only hydrating and fortifying for the skin barrier, but is totally fragrance-free and ideal for sensitive skin types.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Cream Serum$18.49 Buy

First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate

Another derm-favorite brand, First Aid Beauty, makes a great starter retinol with a 0.25% concentration of the vitamin A derivative along with hyaluronic acid, colloidal oatmeal, allantoin, aloe, ceramides, and vitamins C and E for soothing and calming effects.
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate$58.00 Buy
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