By now, you’ve probably had a lifetime’s-worth of retinol information shoved down your throat—but do you actually use one? We’re not counting the two random times you slathered one on before forgetting about it for six months; or that other time you tried a retinol, and it melted your skin off in sheets of pain. The answer is probably “no”—but we’re sure that’ll change once you get the low down on retinol oils.
Look, we’re not judging you, and we totally get it: Retinols are kind of a pain in the ass. Only apply a tiny, pea-size amount to your whole face, wait exactly 15 minutes before moisturizing, use every third day to start, and cross your fingers that your skin doesn’t implode? Yeah, it’s a lot.
This is where retinol oils come in—a new breed of anti-aging products that basically caress your skin while pummeling it with retinol, decreasing the irritation and flakes that usually come with retinol.
But this isn’t really a new technology, says Yale dermatologist and all-around skin badass Mona Gohara. “The retinol itself is the same. It’s just being delivered to your skin in a more cosmetically elegant, consumer-friendly, and less-irritating way,” she says. “In the hierarchy of moisturizing ingredients, oils are the most hydrating and skin-barrier-repairing ingredients, so a retinol oil could be a great choice for anyone with dry or sensitive skin.”
And, dear reader, let me assure you that Gohara is right. As someone who has the skin resilience of a Fabergé egg—to the point where, sometimes, my skin just breaks out into hives for fun before crumbling into flakes—I was able to tolerate retinol oils without any horror stories, a first for me and retinols. Because these suckers are oil-based, though, you’ll want to apply them as the last step of your nightly skin-care routine, after your toners, essences, serums, and moisturizers, or just mix a few drops in with your moisturizer.
If you’re still worried about irritation, stick to the golden rule of retinols: Use them every third night for three weeks, then every other night for two weeks, and then nightly, if your skin tolerates it. And remember that consistency is key. If you use them consistently, you should notice smoother skin, smaller pores, and reduced fine lines within three months.
Rather than have you dig through the internet to find the best retinol oil to try, though, we’ve rounded up our favorites, at every price point, to get you started. Click through to see the MVPs, and try one out tonight (and every third night after that).
A version of this article was originally published in February 2017.