The Best Retinol Serums and Creams For Every Budget

Best Retinol Serums | The Ordinary, Sunday Riley, Summer Fridays Retinol | Space NK
You will have heard of retinol even if you’re not entirely sure what it does. We know it’s something many people are curious about, it’s why there are so many searches for ‘best retinol products UK’ on Google. But what is it about this ingredient that gets so many people – including skin experts – excited?

“Retinoids are incredible ingredients,” says Mortar & Milk, founder of Mortar & Milk and renowned clinical aesthetician. “They can be great for helping to clear up acne while also prompting stimulate fibroblasts to build more collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. Used correctly, they can help thicken skin and increase its hydration.”

It’s because of these benefits that dermatologists refer to retinoids as the gold standard of skincare, because they have been proven time and time again to have a significant impact on skin.

How to choose the right retinol strength

‘Retinoid’ is a catch all for a variety of vitamin As. “When scanning Space NK’s shelves of its retinoid products you may notice various iterations,” says Pamela. “There are many, including retinol, retinyl palmitate, or retinaldehyde.” Essentially, they all do the same thing – which is convert into retinoic acid in the skin - to create those wonderful results, but they do it at different speeds. The main reason why you might want a slower retinoid is to avoid the sensitivity that can sometimes accompany a faster one.

The strongest type of retinoid or retinol is tretinoin which is only available via a doctor, whereas other retinols are openly available but can take some navigating. “It’s less about the medium,” explains Pamela when discussing the various options available, including creams, serums, and oils. “The formulation is more important. Retinyl palmitate, for example, is a low dose retinol and ideal for beginners as you can use it without any irritation, especially when it is formulated with a blend of PHAs.”

Most importantly, if you are using a retinol serum or cream, make sure you use SPF and reapply liberally throughout the day as vitamin A makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays.

So whether you've already mastered the art of retinol or just discovering its transformative abilities, read our curated collection of the best retinols below.

Best retinol serums and creams: Our top 10 picks


The Ordinary

Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane, £6.42

Best retinol for brighter skin
When it comes to a budget-friendly, well-tolerated but effective retinol, it doesn’t get much better than this formula from The Ordinary. It blends retinol with comforting squalane to ensure skin remains calm, hydrated and resilient, while the active ingredients help reduce hyperpigmentation and plump skin. Apply a few drops to clean skin every evening, after your serum and before moisturiser.



Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream, £85.00

Best retinol for hydration
What are sweet dreams made of? We'd say this rejuvenating night cream from Murad. Powered by pioneering Retinol Tri-Active technology, this advanced moisturiser visibly minimises the appearance of fine lines and strengthens the skin’s protective barrier as you sleep. Enriched with a botanical blend of swertia flower extract and algae extract, it veils your complexion in sumptuous nourishment for a firmer, lifted and more radiant appearance.



Crystal Retinal 6, £69.00

Best retinol for the seasoned user
The longer you use retinol the more you will be able to build your skin’s resilience against sensitivity and the greater the dosage your skin will tolerate. The Medik8 range of retinols is perhaps the most hyped about series of retinols in the industry because they are available in a range of potencies so you can graduate from one to another. This particular product contains encapsulate retinol, which allows it to penetrate further and work quicker, helping to reduce pigmentation and plump skin.


Drunk Elephant

A-Passioni Retinol Cream, £26.00

Best retinol for sensitive skin
If your skin has reacted to retinol before you will appreciate the addition of jojoba and vitamin F in Drunk Elephant’s retinol cream as they help restore skin of its lipids, strengthen its protective barrier and keep inflammation in-check. Apply a pea-sized amount to clean, dry skin twice a week and slowly build up your usage over the following weeks.


Summer Fridays

Midnight Ritual Retinol Serum, £72.00

Best retinol night serum
With this retinol night serum, the magic is in the blend. Vegan retinol plus retinyl linoleate to reduce the appearance of lines, plus strengthening and hydrating niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. To help mitigate the sensitivity some people experience with retinol, this formula contains oatmeal and tiger grass to sooth and comfort skin.



The Body Retinol, £56.00

Best retinol body lotion
Don’t let the skin on your body miss out on all the action. This fantastic retinol body lotion has been formulated with 0.1% pure retinol, plus 10% AHAs, and vitamin C. It helps to clear body acne, soften skin and reduce the texture of bumps, and reduce the appearance of lines and crepiness. Slather it on daily and don’t forget the SPF if your skin is exposed the following day.


Dr. Dennis Gross

Advanced Retinol + Ferulic Intense Wrinkle Cream, £77.00

Best retinol serum for wrinkles
All retinols will help make skin look and act more youthful if used consistently, as they help speed up cell turnover and prompt collagen production. But if you’re looking for an anti-ageing heavy hitter, look no further than this retinol cream. It combines retinol with the potent antioxidants, ferulic acid and bakuchiol. Massage into skin as the last step of your routine.



Retinaldehyde Cream Serum, £32.00

Best retinol cream for beginners Retinaldehyde is a great retinol for beginners or anyone with sensitive skin and it doesn’t bring about irritation. Sitting somewhere between a cream and a serum, Naturium’s gentle retinol also contains a bio-fermented oligopeptide to help plump, refine, and strengthen skin.



Retinol Clearing Oil, £85.00

Best retinol for acne
Containing salicylic acid and retinol, this luxurious over-night oil is ideal for anyone with oily, breakout prone skin (yes, it’s totally okay to use an oil on oily skin, in fact it’s beneficial). While the retinol helps speed up cell turnover, salicylic acid works to keep pores clear of acne-causing bacteria. Use it as you would any other retinol product in the evening: cleanse your face and dry it completely before massing 6-10 drops of oil into your skin. Don’t forget to bring it down onto your neck and décolleté.


Paula's Choice

1% Retinol Treatment, £13.00

Best retinol for stressed skin
A clever blend of retinol, antioxidants, and soothing plant extracts that amounts to a very effective multi-tasking overnight treatment. It contains 1% Retinol, making it ideal for someone who is already familiar with using retinol. Apply in the evening before moisturiser to help refine pores, reduce discolouration, and minimise the appearance of lines.


Sunday Riley

A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, £36.00

Best high retinol serum
This retinol serum does it all. It uses 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol which essentially means your skin will drink it up and the active ingredient will penetrate to a level where it can have the biggest impact on skin. The retinol has been combined with algae to calm skin and reduce congestion, and CoQ10 which is a super antioxidant.


Read More

What Is Retinol?
How to do the Retinol Sandwich Method
Natural Retinol Alternatives Explained
Can you use vitamin C with retinol?
Posted: Tuesday, 09 July 2024

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