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The product that can do it all, also known as the superhero of the skincare industry, the maestro (should I keep going?)—we’re talking of course about retinol. But what is retinol, what can it do, and how do you use it? Join us as we discover the wonderful, effective world of retinols.

First and foremost, what is a retinol?

Well, actually, it’s the natural form of Vitamin A. And that Vitamin A is known to have brilliant benefits for the skin, from erasing signs of aging to fading skin discoloration to declogging pores. When applied topically, retinol instructs the skin cells to behave “normally,” boosting the natural functions of the skin. Basically, retinol encourages skin cell turnover, increasing the shedding of old skin cells to reveal a fresher, younger appearance.

“It is used to increase cell turnover to help smooth skin, retard collagen breakdown to reduce fine lines, and unclog pores,” says New York plastic surgeon Dr. Melissa Doft. “It tightens pores, improves skin tone by increasing elasticity, decreases fine lines by increasing skin thickness, lowers collagen breakdown, improves texture, and evens skin color by lightening brown spots.” (Wow!)

There are so many types of retinol. Where do I begin?

From prescription retinol to retinol-infused products, it can be really overwhelming to know where to start. You don’t have to use a pure retinol product; in fact, you may want to start using a retinol that’s better tolerated and not as strong as a prescription strength (called a tretinoin), says Dr. Doft. “It is okay to use a mix, but it is important to understand the concentration of retinol that you are applying to your skin.”

There are a couple different varieties: Retinol is over-the-counter (aka, in products at Target and Sephora), and tretinoin is prescription strength. “Tretinoin is 100 times as strong as over-the-counter retinol. And a retinol may take three to six months to see effects, whereas tretinoin will take six to eight weeks.”

Okay, cool, how do I use it?

At night, for starters. Sun is the enemy of retinols, so make sure you use sunscreen in the a.m. when incorporating a retinol into your regime. “Apply a pea sized amount at night, and start by using it every other night to avoid irritation and redness,” says Dr. Doft.

Gotta have a retinol now? Us too. If you don’t have sensitive skin (like, at all), try out a prescription strength from your dermatologist. For the rest of us, over-the-counter is actually your best bet, as it’s much easier on the skin while still being really effective.

And there are some really incredible and diverse options out there. We’ve rounded up our favorites right now, each with a strong point of view (but not a strong prescription). If in doubt, also ask your dermatologist about what percentage of retinol is right for you. (Also, retinols are not safe while pregnant or breastfeeding.)

The Celeb-Approved One

Shani Darden Retinol Reform, $95

Celebrity facialist Shani Darden (her client list includes flawless stars like Chrissy Teigen and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) developed a cult-status retinol that is highly effective, but still gentle enough for most to use. Darden says with continued use, skin becomes smoother, healthier, even, and more refined in texture. (And just read through those flawless positive reviews!)

The One for Eyes

Verso Super Eye Serum, $80

Swedish skincare line Verso is entirely based around Vitamin A, and they’ve clinically tested different concentrations to assure their formulas are eight times as effective, yet half as irritating as traditional retinols. (Leave it to the Swedes to perfect it!) This eye cream increases skin’s natural production of collagen for a smoother appearance around eyes, thanks to the brand’s trademark Retinol 8 complex. But it also has amino acids in the formula to diminish dark circles and fine lines.

The Retinol Alternative for Super Sensitives

Pai Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil, $40

Instead of Vitamin A, this oil contains beta carotene, which is an inactive form of Vitamin A, which means that the body has to convert the beta-carotene into Vitamin A. It acts as a great antioxidant on the skin, providing protection against free radicals, like UV light and pollution.

The Derm-Approved One

RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, $22.99

Recommended by a bevy of derms because it’s a great place to start for beginners—consider it retinol 101. The milder formula is applied at night and works with minimal to no irritation. Use this formula for a few months, until you’ve built a tolerance, and then switch to a stronger formula.

The Vegan Option

Algenist ELEVATE Advanced Retinol Serum, $98

Vegan retinols can be more difficult to find, because most retinols are shockingly animal-derived. This version is a rockstar though, for both vegans or non-vegans alike. It can promise results in just 10 days, thanks to encapsulated green algae, which preserves the retinol’s stability and efficacy. Expect skin firmness and visually improved skin texture, tone, and radiance (sign us up!).

The Non-Retinol Retinol

Tata Harper Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil, $125

For those that are either pregnant, nursing, or just don’t want the chemical interaction, Harper’s rich face oil is made of naturally occurring retinoic acid extracted from rosehips. It’ll mimic classic retinol results though, with a reduction of wrinkles, as well as breakouts for all around healthier-looking (and feeling!) skin. (Just glance through that epic customer reviews section, too!)

Got questions, or did we miss your fav? Tell us about it in the comments!

Keep on reading about our favorite skincare tips:

Beauty Products That Will Put You to Sleep The One Beauty Product Every Korean Woman Uses The Product on Amazon with 11,000 Positive Reviews

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