The Best Drugstore Retinols That’ll Transform Your Skin (From $6)


There are hero ingredients, and then there’s retinol – arguably the most transformative skincare ingredient on the shelves. Ask any dermatologist or skincare fanatic, and they’ll tell you the same.

Retinol works by increasing cellular turnover, balancing oil production, and renewing the skin. Hence, why it’s a must-have for anyone looking to balance breakouts, brighten pigmentation and uneven skin tone, or keep fine lines at bay. Find out more about the incredible powers of retinol here, but more importantly, check out these six amazing affordable retinol formulas…

1. The Inkey List Retinol Serum, $11 

The-Inkey-List-Anti-Aging-Retinol-SerumSource: The Inkey List

If you’re new to the world of retinol, this serum is a great place to start. Formulated with 1% stable retinol and 0.5% granactive retinoid (retinol’s more potent sibling) as well as one of our all-time favorite oils, squalane, it restores uneven tone and texture while hydrating and soothing the skin. The slow-release formula also reduces irritation while providing effective active delivery so you can enjoy its skin-restorative effects. We’re obsessed with the gel-like texture, which makes application super easy and comfortable. Use as part of your evening routine, post-toner, and before moisturizer.

2. Sweet Chef Beet + Retinol Nightly Firming Mask, $23

This beautifully-textured moisturizer is the perfect finish to your evening routine! The nightly firming mask boasts an efficacious combo of plant-based ingredients; most notably beetroot extract, a powerful antioxidant and natural moisturizer with high levels of vitamin C and E, and hemp seed oil, which hydrates and balances the skin, offering deep moisturization without clogging pores.

Of course, it also features granactive retinoid, a next-generation retinoid that works like traditional retinol but without irritation. Finally, the addition of hydrating squalane helps to nourish with fatty acids and antioxidants. Be prepared for smoother, more even-looking skin! We love the light, whipped texture, which feels really luxurious and moisturizing but also absorbs quickly, leaving no tacky residue.

3. RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream, $28

RoC-Retinol-Correxion-Eye-CreamSource: RoC

If you’re looking for a one-stop solution for dark circles and fine lines, a retinol eye cream is a no-brainer! Not only will retinol help soften the appearance of wrinkles, but the unique blend of zinc, copper, and magnesium will further increase cell production while improving blood flow, therefore neutralizing dark circles. It’s also enriched with hydrating glycerin to keep the under eyes soft and plump while taking down inflammation!

Apply to your under eyes after you’ve moisturized (every evening) for your first couple of weeks, then try layering underneath a moisturizer as your skin becomes more comfortable with the formula. We recommend switching out for a hydrating eye cream in the mornings.

4. Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum, $22 

Versed-Press-Restart-Gentle-Retinol-SerumSource: Versed


Versed’s Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum, $22, is the skincare hero we all deserve. The creamy green formula is fueled with a duo of microencapsulated retinol, as well as plant-based retinol alternatives, including arophira and bakuchiol, which are proven to prevent fine lines and wrinkles, even pigmentation, and boost skin elasticity. It also has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Plus, as it contains chlorophyll (what gives the serum its green color), it’ll reduce any redness, making it ideal for sensitive skin types.

Top Tip: Start using retinol formulas two to three times a week for the first two weeks, then gradually increase use over the next month until you’re using it most nights. Retinol can be drying and can make your skin more sensitive, which is why you need to slowly build up your skin’s tolerance. It’s also a good idea to pull back on your exfoliating products, as this can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to the retinol.

5. The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane, $8

The-Ordinary-Retinol-0.5-in-SqualaneSource: The Ordinary


Formulated with 0.5% retinol as well as a hydrating mix of squalane and jojoba seed oil, this lightweight serum will not only restore and regenerate new, glowing skin but it’ll also plump and firm the skin. We love it as it doesn’t feel potent or drying like other retinol formulas. It’s also cruelty-free and vegan.

Top tip: Use a retinol serum in the evening, after double cleansing and toning, then allow your retinol serum to sink for five to 10 minutes before applying your night cream. Remember, retinol can cause dryness when you first start using it, so opt for heavier creams to re-hydrate your skin.

6. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Hyaluronic Acid & Retinol Cream, $34

Neutrogena-Rapid-Wrinkle-RepairSource: Neutrogena

When celebs use drugstore skincare products, you know it’s gotta be good, and the Neutrogena retinol line has a strong celeb-following thanks to its guaranteed fast results. The clinically proven anti-wrinkle moisturizer delivers the highest concentration of Accelerated Retinol SA (Neutrogena’s fastest retinol formula) for visibly smoother, plumper skin in just one week. It’s also enriched with hyaluronic acid and a glucose complex, to accelerate the skin’s surface activity one step further. In fact, it’s so impactful that in a clinical trial, 100% of women experienced noticeable results in one week, which is major!

Top tip: Don’t forget to wear SPF when you’re using retinol regularly – there’s no point trying to fix your skin if you’re going to let the sun undo all your hard work! Check out these SPF myths you need to know.

Before you start using retinol, make sure you read our retinol guide here.

Disclaimer: Every product we review has been independently selected and tested without bias by our editorial team. We never take payment to review products, however, some brands allow affiliate links, so we may earn a commission if you purchase a product by clicking on one of our links.