Best Retinol Serums For Achieving Youthful Skin In 2022

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

You're only a purchase away from the fountain of youth; retinol is the magic ingredient that can prevent wrinkles, stimulate collagen production, minimize breakouts, and basically transform your skin. The vitamin-A derivative is the gold standard in skincare because of its many benefits and ability to reverse signs of sun damage over time. While you may need a prescription to get the more potent versions of the ingredient, there are many effective treatments you can get over the counter. A retinol serum might be your best option if you're looking for a high concentration.

According to cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, "The beauty of a serum is that most of the fluid is eliminated, so what you're left with is a high concentration of active ingredients" (via WebMD). So although retinol creams and other products with thicker formulas might provide more hydration to the skin, the thinner consistency of retinol serums is ideal for normal, oily, or combination skin.

Read on to find a list of the best retinol serums you could add to your cart for youthful skin.

How we selected the retinol serums

Since retinol is a multi-functioning marvel ingredient, we wanted this list to be as comprehensive as possible. We've pored over the internet to find retinol serums that work for a variety of concerns. Whether you have dry skin and need a little hydration, need a serum that will eliminate acne scarring, or you want a topical to tackle crow's feet, this list has it all. These serums are not only packed with retinol to tackle anti-aging and acne concerns, but also have other ingredients like antioxidants and ceramides for a holistic approach to skincare.

We've also factored in the price point; you'll find a mix of splurge-worthy luxurious formulations and equally effective affordable options. Among these serums, you'll also find beauty award-winners and dermatologist-approved formulas. Browse through our curated list to find the one you want to add to your routine.

Best overall retinol serum

Made for all skin types, the Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion serum is a potent formulation made with 1.5% retinol that renews your skin overnight. The serum features time-released retinol, which means that a unique carrier encapsulates retinol while penetrating your skin so as to release the retinol over a period of time, reducing irritation usually associated with the ingredient. It also has squalane and vitamins C and E, to nourish your skin with antioxidants while gently moisturizing and mimicking your skin's natural oils.

The serum has excellent ratings across the web; on Amazon, it has 4.4 out of 5 stars, and one reviewer explains, "Within less than a week I noticed a difference, no joke. And also the results are cumulative. The longer you use this, the better your skin looks and gets." A Byrdie editor with very dry skin also gave the serum a 4.7 out of 5 stars, saying, "This serum lived up to its claim of being gentle as I experienced no irritation or redness while using it."

Get the Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion for $65 on Amazon.

Best affordable retinol serum

Retinols, for all that they do, can come with a hefty price tag. However, Inkey List is in the business of making quality products that don't make a dent in your wallet; its retinol serum even won a Best of Beauty award in 2021. Featuring 1% retinol in the formulation, the Inkey List serum works to reduce dark spots, fine lines, and improve texture. It has a creamy but lightweight squalane base that moisturizes your skin to combat any irritation.

On Amazon, it has over 2,000 reviewers giving it an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. One reviewer said, "My pores are definitely tighter and the fine lines on my forehead and under my eyes seem to be slightly less noticeable. The product is more watery than I had expected so be careful when squeezing the tube and keep in mind that a very little amount goes a long way!"

Get the Inkey List 1% Retinol Serum for $16 on Amazon.

Best drugstore retinol serum

If you're shopping for retinol at the drugstore, you'll probably find an aisle dedicated to RoC. The brand has a multitude of popular retinol products, including fan favorites like the Deep Wrinkle Night Cream. Its Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum, therefore, is the perfect alternative for those who don't want a creamy base and are looking for a more inexpensive option.

The serum, the brand claims, is "clinically proven to make skin look 10 years younger" and is made with a unique and custom-made retinol. You can also use this during the day, making it a great priming serum for makeup. Given RoC's reputation, it comes as no surprise that the serum is highly rated, with almost 8,500 reviewers giving it 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon, and was one of Allure's Best of Beauty products in 2019. YouTuber Kim Townsel used it for four months and said, "I found nothing that I didn't like about it so I highly recommend it." Another reviewer on Amazon said, "First, I praise God for keeping me youthful...and I thank Him for RoC."

Get the RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum for $17.95 on Amazon.

Best splurge-worthy retinol serum

You'll find this cult favorite in every skincare junkie's medicine cabinet; Luna from Sunday Riley is one of the brand's best-selling products and it's not just because of its magic elixir-like blue color. The retinol serum promises to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in as little as four weeks, and the reviews confirm the claim. "The Luna oil is the ONLY thing that keeps my face looking radiant! I use it every night and have for the past 2 years... worth every penny," one customer said.

The serum, described as a sleeping night oil, is infused with blue tansy and chamomile to calm your skin and prep it for a restful recovery. That translates to a film of blue on your face that quickly becomes clear, according to the brand. Like every other Sunday Riley product, Luna is a bit of a splurge. However, reviewers and editors agree it's worth it.

Get the Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil for $105 on Amazon.

Best exfoliating retinol serum

Esthetician Shani Darden has worked with celebrities like Jessica Alba, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Laura Harrier — they're all loyalists. "Spider-Man Homecoming" actress Harrier told Into The Gloss, "I see Shani Darden in L.A. for my skin — my routine is very Shani...I got my exfoliating wipes from her, and I have her retinol." If you put your trust in celebrity routines, you'd put your trust in Darden.

One of Darden's best-selling products is her Retinol Reform serum, a firming and strong retinol that won an Allure Best of Beauty award in 2020. Retinol is an exfoliant by itself, but Darden's serum is enhanced by lactic acid and AHAs; both are ingredients that exfoliate and soften skin to improve texture and firmness. It also has apple fruit extract as an antioxidant boost and many swear by it. 

Get the Shani Darden Retinol Reform at Sephora, starting at $30.

Best retinol serum for sensitive skin

Most first-time users of retinol experience flaking, dryness, and irritation for at least the first few weeks of using it (via Healthline). However, if you have sensitive skin, that feeling isn't for your skin to get used to. "Start slowly applying [retinol] twice per week and then gradually add another day until you have built up tolerance for daily use," dermatologist Michele Green told Self. But is there a product that can avoid these side effects altogether? 

The First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum is a great product to start with, as it has 0.25% retinol and many hydrating properties to help your skin adjust. The serum is infused with hyaluronic acid, anti-oxidizing vitamins, and ceramides to create a moisture barrier on your skin. Ingredients like aloe vera and oatmeal soothe the skin, to make this a completely beginner-friendly retinol. And the results are just as effective as any high concentrated retinol. A customer said, "I have sensitive skin and I absolutely love this product. It reversed the deep forehead lines I have so much that people began to ask me if I was getting Botox."

Get the First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum for $58 at Sephora.

Best retinol serum for acne-prone skin

Powerful retinoids like tretinoin are often prescribed for people dealing with acne, as they can exfoliate and unclog pores while improving textures, according to Healthline. But one particularly effective retinoid derivative that doesn't need a prescription is Adapalene. It does everything retinoids do — increases cell turnover, stimulates collagen, reduces fine lines — but it also "has potent anti-inflammatory effects independent of its activity on cellular turnover," Dr. Rachel Maiman told Bustle.

If you want to tackle your acne while reaping the benefits of retinoids, reach for the Acne Free Adapalene Gel. Its simple formula contains 0.1% adapalene and is oil and fragrance-free. A reviewer on Amazon said, "I've tried so many different acne medications. This is something that finally works. Not to get rid of acne — but to prevent it in the first place. I love it." Although technically not a serum, this lightweight gel glides on easily during the day or night and can be assimilated into your skincare routine easily.

Get the Acne Free Adapalene Gel for $9.97 on Amazon.

Best retinol serum for dry skin

For those with perpetually thirsty skin, retinol may not seem like a great idea since the ingredient can further dry your skin. But with the right pairing of retinol and moisturizer, you should be able to join the retinoid club. According to dermatologist Hadley King, "Milder formulations contain ingredients that moisturize and support the skin barrier, and use less potent forms [of retinol]," which should make it less irritating for your skin (via Real Simple).

The Kiehl's Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum might be a great option — it has a daily-strength dose of retinol that is gentle enough to be used during the day and comes packed with hydrating ingredients. The formula features ceramides and peptides, and both ingredients help strengthen your moisture barrier while firming your skin. A customer on Sephora's website said, "I really liked this serum. I was a little afraid at first because I tend to have dry, sensitive skin. This product have absolutely no irritation and glided on just like butter. If you're looking for a 'starter' retinol, try this one!"

Get the Kiehl's Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide at Sephora, starting at $62.

Best brightening retinol serum

Retinoids can often help with hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and discoloration for all skin types and tones. However, you may want to look for brightening ingredients to accompany the retinol if you have a darker skin tone, according to Dr. Corey L. Hartman (via Bustle). Paula's Choice CLINICAL 1 Retinol Treatment has a bit of both.

Paula's Choice has a variety of OTC skincare that's proved to be effective, and their CLINICAL 1 Retinol Treatment is no different. The serum contains a mixture of 1% retinol and vitamin C to reduce the appearance of dark spots while brightening your skin. It also has licorice and oat extract to soothe any irritation so you won't see any redness with this serum.

Get the Paula's Choice CLINICAL 1 Retinol Treatment for $60 at Dermstore.

Best retinol serum for crow's feet

The harshness of retinol isn't made for the thin delicate skin near your eyes, but that doesn't mean that the area should be avoided entirely. According to Face Clinic London, the skin in this area is susceptible to early wrinkles, or crow's feet, due to deteriorating elasticity and years of squinting and smiling. So, if you're looking to diminish the appearance of crow's feet, look no further than Dr. Dennis Gross' Ferulic + Retinol Eye Cream.

This serum has active ingredients like bakuchiol and rambutan that aid retinol in its quest to improve elasticity and reduce wrinkles. It also has ferulic acid, an antioxidant that protects your skin against sun damage (via Healthline). A reviewer on Sephora's website said, "I have been using this for years now and the skin around my eyes is the smoothest area on my face. It brightens and smooths, and helps with dark circles too." The only complaint might be its price tag — it's definitely an investment piece in your routine.

Get the Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Eye Cream for $69 at Sephora and look forward to achieving a more youthful appearance in 2022.