Retinol is one of the most powerful skincare ingredients, and many are interested in adding it to their skincare routine. However, finding a retinol treatment that is budget-friendly isn’t always easy. Below, we’ve put together a list of the best affordable retinol products.

Our Recommendations

1. Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream

Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream

Neutrogena Retinol for Moisturization and Anti-Aging

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Regenerating Cream

This cream moisturizer combines the power of retinol and hyaluronic acid to fight the signs of aging while also plumping and moisturizing the skin.

Skin types: Normal, Dry and Combination
Best for: Moisturization and Anti-Aging
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: After cleansing, apply the cream to your face, neck, and chest.
See on Amazon

This anti-aging moisturizer is a great way to add retinol to your routine, as the addition of moisturizing ingredients may help mitigate some of the irritation often associated with retinol. The cream contains retinol SA, which works to smooth lines and even skin tone. It also contains hyaluronic acid, which pulls moisture to the skin for healthy hydration levels.

Pros

  • Anti-aging
  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-greasy
  • Hydrating

Cons

  • May cause irritation

In addition to the hydrating benefits, hyaluronic acid has been shown to help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, which makes this drugstore moisturizer even more effective for anti-aging. Even though the hydrating ingredients may mitigate the irritating effects of retinol, if you’re new to this skincare ingredient or have sensitive skin, you may want to start by using this cream every other day or every two days to see how your skin reacts.

Water, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, Glycerin, Dimethicone, PPG 15 Stearyl Ether, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, Glyceryl Behenate, Ceteareth 20, Isohexadecane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polyethylene, Sodium Polyacrylate, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Crosspolymer, Polyacrylamide, PTFE, C13-14 Isoparaf n, Chlorphenesin, Polysorbate 20, Hydrolyzed Myrtus Communis Leaf Extract, Retinol, BHT, Sodium Hyaluronate, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide, Laureth-7, Ascorbic Acid

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: An overview of clinical efficacy and safety"

    Accessed Nov. 8, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging"

    Accessed Nov. 8, 2021.

2. Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

CeraVe Retinol for Fading post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and minimizing large pores

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum

This drugstore retinol serum is specifically formulated to tackle post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and large pores, and helps promote an overall even and clear complexion.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Fading post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and minimizing large pores
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: After cleansing, apply a pump of the serum evenly all over the face, neck, and chest. Use once a day (or less frequently to prevent irritation).
See on Amazon

This is an excellent choice for those looking for an affordable retinol. This fragrance-free retinol serum not only helps with acne scars and large pores, but it can also help fight signs of aging and brighten the skin.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Fragrance-free
  • Developed with dermatologists

Cons

  • May cause irritation or dryness

This non-comedogenic retinol serum also contains ceramides and niacinamide, which work to calm and restore the skin while maintaining its barrier. Additionally, this formula contains licorice root extract, which gives a brightening boost. That extra benefit may further help lighten discolored scars.

Aqua/Water, Propanediol, Dimethicone, Cetearyl Ethylhexanoate, Niacinamide, Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Potassium Phosphate, Ceramide Np, Ceramide Ap, Ceramide Eop, Carbomer, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Dimethiconol, Lecithin, Sodium Citrate, Retinol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Cholesterol, Phenoxyethanol, Alcohol, Isopropyl Myristate, Caprylyl Glycol, Citric Acid, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Pentylene Glycol, Phytosphingosine, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 20, Ethylhexylglycerin

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne"

    Accessed Nov. 8, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical Ingredients?"

    Accessed Nov. 8, 2021.
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "The structure, function, and importance of ceramides in skin and their use as therapeutic agents in skin-care products"

    Accessed Nov. 8, 2021.

3. Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

The Ordinary Retinol for Anti-Aging

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion

This is a cult-favorite The Ordinary product, and one of the best for preventing and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles without the irritation often associated with traditional retinol.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Anti-Aging
Tested on animals: No
How to use: At night, after cleansing, apply the product to the face, neck, and chest. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

The unique, next-generation retinoid actives in this serum makes it one of the best The Ordinary products for those who want to use a retinol but are worried about irritation. Retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) are well-known for preventing and reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Alcohol-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • Those with retinoid experience may prefer a stronger product

This product contains granactive retinoid, a complex of solubilized hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR). This form of retinoid offers anti-aging benefits without the irritation associated with retinol (which is also a vitamin A derivative). It also contains retinol that comes in a protective capsule to further prevent irritation, boost anti-aging benefits, and support the granactive retinoid.

Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ethyl Linoleate, Propanediol, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Bisabolol, Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate, Retinol, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carrageenan, Xanthan Gum, Acacia Senegal Gum, Cetyl Palmitate, Sucrose Laurate, Polysorbate 20, Isoceteth-20, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone, Behentrimonium Chloride, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: An overview of clinical efficacy and safety"

    Accessed Aug. 11, 2021.

4. Retinol 1% in Squalane

Retinol 1% in Squalane

The Ordinary Retinol for Fighting the Signs of Aging

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane

This product is the highest-strength retinoid serum from The Ordinary, and the brand’s answer to more traditional retinol products. It’s excellent for preventing and minimizing the signs of aging.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Fighting the Signs of Aging
Tested on animals: No
How to use: At night, after cleansing, apply the product to the face, neck, and chest. Follow up with a moisturizer.
See on Amazon

Retinol is the gold-standard for minimizing wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation. Those who are experienced with retinoid products may prefer the Retinol 1% in Squalane over the Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, as it is more potent. However, with the higher strength comes a higher risk of irritation, so it is best suited for those who’ve used retinoid products in their routine.

Pros

  • Alcohol-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • High likelihood of irritation, especially as skin adapts to the product

This serum contains squalane and jojoba oil, two ingredients that hydrate and soothe the skin. They may help minimize the irritation caused by the retinol.

Squalane, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Retinol, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Hydroxymethoxyphenyl Decanone, BHT.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: An overview of clinical efficacy and safety"

    Accessed Aug. 11, 2021.

5. Retinol B3 Pure Retinol Serum

La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Pure Retinol Serum

La Roche-Posay Retinol for Anti-Aging

La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Pure Retinol Serum

Retinol is one of the gold standards for fighting wrinkles and signs of aging, and this serum combines retinol with soothing and hydrating ingredients for glowing skin.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Anti-Aging
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: At night, after cleansing, apply three to four drops of the serum to the face and neck.
See on Amazon

Retinol is an incredibly effective ingredient for diminishing wrinkles, fine lines, and sun spots. The addition of sodium hyaluronate and niacinamide make this a soothing, hydrating, and effective anti-aging product.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Dermatologist tested

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

This serum contains a gradual release retinol, which slowly acts on the skin for maximum efficacy and better tolerance.

Aqua /Water / Eau,Glycerin , Cyclohexasiloxane,Alcohol Denat.,Pentylene Glycol,Niacinamide,Dimethicone,Glycine Soja Oil / Soybean Oil,Ppg-6-Decyltetradeceth-30, Sodium Hyaluronate,Retinol,Adenosine, Ammoniumpolyacryloyldimethyltaurate,Caprylyl Glycol,Citric Acid,Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate,Xanthan Gum,Polysilicone-11, Retinyl Palmitate,Tocopherol,Phenoxyethanol, Parfum/ Fragrance.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: An overview of clinical efficacy and safety"

    Accessed Aug. 16, 2021.

6. 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

Paula's Choice Retinol for Hyperpigmentation and Wrinkles

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

This treatment combines retinol, a powerful anti-aging ingredient, with hydrating and brightening ingredients for an even, smooth skin tone.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Hyperpigmentation and Wrinkles
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, massage a pea-sized amount of the treatment into the skin. Initially, limit usage to three times a week to allow the skin to adjust.
See on Amazon

Retinol is the gold-standard for fighting signs of aging, so this is an excellent choice for those with wrinkles, fine lines, and sun spots. The addition of soothing and hydrating ingredients helps counteract some of the potential irritating side effects of retinol.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Non-greasy

Cons

  • May irritate more sensitive skin types

This serum contains vitamin C, which brightens the skin, as well as licorice extract and oat extract, which soothe and calm redness.

Water (Aqua), Dimethicone (skin-softening), Glycerin (skin-replenishing), Butylene Glycol (hydrating), Isononyl Isononanoate (emollient), Castor Isostearate Succinate (skin-softening ), Glyceryl Stearate (texture enhancer), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate (emollient), Dimethicone Crosspolymer (texture enhancer), PEG-33 (stabilizer), Polysorbate 20 (texture enhancer), Behenyl Alcohol (texture enhancer), PEG-100 Stearate (texture enhancer), Pentaerythrityl Tetraisostearate (stabilizer), Polymethylsilsesquioxane (texture enhancer), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (vitamin C/antioxidant), Retinol (skin-restoring), Ceramide NG (skin-replenishing) , Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 (skin-restoring), Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-12 (skin-restoring), Sodium Hyaluronate (skin-replenishing ), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (antioxidant plant extracts/skin-soothing), Glycyrrhiza Glabra Root Extract (licorice extract/antioxidant/skin-soothing), Avena Sativa Kernel Extract (oat extract/antioxidant/skin-soothing), Arctium Lappa Root Extract (burdock extract/antioxidant/skin-soothing), Salix Alba Bark Extract (willow bark extract/antioxidant/skin-soothing), Glycine Soja Sterols (antioxidant/skin-softening ), Lecithin (skin-restoring), Allantoin (skin-soothing), Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E/antioxidant), Hydrolyzed Soy Protein (antioxidant/skin-softening), Sorbitan Laurate (texture enhancer), Acetyl Dipeptide-1 Cetyl Ester (skin-soothing), Disodium EDTA (stabilizer), Hydroxyethylcellulose (texture enhancer), Palmitoyl Tripeptide-1 (skin-restoring), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Tribehenin (emollient), Caprylyl Glycol (skin-softening), Ethylhexylglycerin (skin-softening), Pentylene Glycol (hydrating), PEG-75 Shea Butter Glycerides (emollient), PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer (stabilizer), PEG-10 Phytosterol (fatty acid-based emollient), PEG-8 Dimethicone (skin-softening), PEG-14 (texture enhancer), Magnesium Aluminum Silicate (texture enhancer), Arachidyl Glucoside (texture enhancer), Arachidyl Alcohol (texture enhancer), Sclerotium Gum (texture enhancer), Carbomer (gel-based texture enhancer), Phenoxyethanol (preservative), Benzoic Acid (preservative)

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: An overview of clinical efficacy and safety"

    Accessed Jul. 30, 2021.

FAQs

Is it OK to use retinol every night?

While some may be able to use their retinol product of choice every night, using it this frequently may increase your risk of irritation and dryness. If you’re using retinol for the first time, it’s best to start slowly and only use it a few times a week. This will allow you to see how your skin reacts to the ingredient, and also gives your skin time to adjust. After a few weeks, you can start to increase your usage, if it seems suitable for your skin.

Is hyaluronic acid or retinol better?

Both hyaluronic acid and retinol are great skincare ingredients. They serve different purposes, so neither is better – it just depends on what your skin needs and what issue you are looking to address. Retinol helps minimize signs of aging, prevent breakouts, and improve skin tone and texture, while hyaluronic acid attracts moisture to the skin and locks it in for a well-hydrated complexion. Hyaluronic acid and retinol can be layered together, so you can get the benefits of both of these ingredients at the same time. You’ll find hyaluronic acid added to some of the retinol products we’ve listed above.

Does retinol make you age faster?

No, retinol does not make you age faster. In fact, it works by helping to minimize and prevent signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. When first starting using retinol, your skin may go through an adjustment period where it looks and feels drier, which may make signs of aging look more prevalent (particularly fine lines and wrinkles). This should subside within a few weeks as your skin adjusts to the new ingredient. It should also be noted that retinol makes the skin more photosensitive, so you should always wear sunscreen to combat the negative effects the sun has on the skin.

The Bottom Line

If you want to add retinol to your skincare routine, you can do so without breaking the bank. Our recommended retinol products are super effective, and available at affordable prices.