How to Buy Retinol Products at the Drugstore

Caitlin S. Miller
retinol story How to Buy Retinol Products at the Drugstore

Photo: Chris Ryan/Getty Images

Raise your hand if you’ve heard over and over again the wonders of retinol? Well, raise your hand again if you’re not quite sure what to look for when shopping for the powerful anti-aging ingredient? If you’re like us, shopping the world of retinol products can be a bit of a challenge. (If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide as to what exactly retinol does, we’ve got you covered as well.) To help make any drugstore beauty aisle experience a tad easier, we tapped Dr. Howard Sobel, a New York City dermatologist, to explain retinol shopping basics.

Before even taking the retinol plunge, Dr. Sobel suggests testing a small dose on skin. “I advise my patients to first try a sample of the product—packet, mini, etc.—for a few days to see if it is irritating on their skin,” he says. Once you’ve tested the product (and found it to be acceptable), Dr. Sobel says one percent concentration is a safe dose to use. However, it’s essential to note many OTC products are much less concentrated—but still effective, especially on retinol newbies! Try a cult-classic like ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($20,, which targets deep wrinkles without a prescription.

Another thing to keep in mind when buy retinol is the other ingredients listed. “The retinol found in skin care products should always be blended with ingredients that complement its performance,” he says. Look for ingredients such as Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide), Vitamin C, or calming botanicals that would counteract any flare ups that retinol might cause, Dr. Sobel says.”Like too much salt can ruin a gourmet meal, too much retinol can leave your skin red and irritated,” he says.  Try Olay Regenerist Intensive Repair Treatment ($23, to get an effective amount of retinol with a bit of niacinamide, a vitamin B derivative that helps to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier.

Although retinol moisturizers are better if worn at night, if you do choose to apply a retinol during the day, absolutely layer a sunscreen underneath. “Retinol leaves the skin vulnerable to sun damaging UVA/UVB rays, so be sure to protect yourself,” says Dr. Sobel. An option that contains both is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30 ($22,, which contains a low dose of retinol as well as hydrating hyaluronic acid and protective SPF.

Bottom line, if you do opt for an OTC retinol, start with a low dose and go from there. And if you think you’re ready to up your retinol intake, just be sure to see your derm first!

More from Daily Makeover: Retinoid Roundup! Here are the 7 Best Retinol Creams