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You hear about a buzzy new skin-care secret every day -- charcoal! essential oils! bee venom! -- but the stuff that truly does the heavy lifting doesn't always get the props it deserves. Retinol, also known as retinoids, is an overachieving byproduct of vitamin A that promotes skin cell rejuvenation -- and you need to start using it stat.
"Retinoids are probably the second most important antiaging medicine on the market, right behind broad spectrum high SPF sunscreen," says Dr. Evan A. Rieder, a dermatologist at NYU Langone, an academic medical center in New York City. "Retinoic acid essentially does two things: It prevents blackheads and whiteheads from forming, and it acts as an antioxidant, helping reverse free radical damage."
With its proven track record, retinol should be the foundation of any daily antiaging regimen, and the good news is how accessible it is, available in both prescription and over-the-counter varieties. While it may cause flaking and redness, and take a few months to really kick in, the results will include fewer fine lines, a more even skin tone, and a creamier complexion. Just start small: With a new product, apply every few days before upping the frequency.
Collagen production begins to slow down when you hit your 30s, so that's the best time to add retinol to your routine. And when you do, you will see a difference. Says Dr. Derek H. Jones, founder of Skin Care and Laser Physicians of Beverly Hills, "I can usually tell who's been using a prescription-strength retinoid...and who hasn't."
Royal Fern Phytoactive Anti-Aging Rich Cream
Developed by German dermatologist Dr. Timm Golueke, the velvety potion combines the powers of nature and science to encourage skin's natural collagen production. Plant extracts turn up the volume on the antioxidation process while its slow-release formula unfurls over 12 hours.
(1.7 oz., $250. Buy it here.)
SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0
A favorite of Dr. Rieder, it delivers a wallop of clock-rewinding radiance. Cover your fatigued face nightly with this highly concentrated retinol, and come morning, all those nooks and crannies around your eyes and mouth will look a little softer.
(1 oz., $76. Buy it here.)
Dr. Brandt 2% Retinol Complex Serum
Two percent may not seem like a lot, but it's enough for this time-released nocturnal elixir to work its subtle magic, which includes firming and toning your skin while leaving it noticeably brighter, fresher, and more even in tone and texture.
(1 oz., $69. Buy it here.)
Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Overnight Resurfacing Pads
These pads literally wipe away the day's drudgery to reveal the luminescent, dewy skin that's been hiding under a buildup of dead dermis cells (ew). A low dose of retinol leaves your face smooth and creamy, and helps diminish age spots and wrinkles.
(30 for $52. Buy it here.)
Dr. Rieder likes it because it has the acne-blasting benefits of a prescription dose, but you can get it over the counter. "It's the place to start for people new to retinoic acid," he says. Just make sure to follow the instructions -- it's potent and may leave your skin dry and flaky.
(1.6 oz., 29.99, Buy it here.)
Neutrogena Men Age Fighter Face Moisturizer with Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15
With its shots of retinol and SPF 15, it packs a one-two punch, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and preventing skin damage from UV rays.
(1.4 oz., $12.99. Buy it here.)