By now, you've probably heard about retinol as the must-have ingredient in your skincare routine. That’s because it's not only effective, it's also one of the only proven ingredients to help reduce the appearance of aging and more. In fact, retinoids' long list of skin benefits include minimized wrinkles and blemishes, a more even skin-tone, lighter scars, and a brighter complexion.
And, because retinol is backed by hundreds of long-standing and recent studies alike, dermatologists have been prescribing some form of retinoid for decades. Today, most consumers experience its youthful, glowing benefits by using a moisturizer that contains retinoids as its key ingredient.
A Quality Retinol Moisturizer Can:
- Reduce the appearance of wrinkles & fine lines
- Help fade dark spots & soften rough patches of skin
- Support a brighter, even skin tone
- Aid in minimizing breakouts & regulating oily skin
- Hydrate skin by promoting collagen production & cell renewal
However, many retinol creams can be inherently costly, require a prescription, or even be risky to use due to certain concentrations that may cause harsh side effects.
The Problem With Traditional Retinol Creams
For all of its touted benefits, many people have equated skin irritation and adverse side effects with retinol—especially when using low-quality forms of retinol or highly concentrated formulations.
Some side effects you may experience with a highly concentrated retinol are redness, burning or itching, dryness, flaking or peeling skin, and increased sensitivity in the sun.
This is why a lot of people are opting for less harsh alternatives to retinol, like bakuchiol, which can give the same skin benefits as retinol, minus the irritation.
Bakuchiol: A Non-Irritating Retinol Alternative
Bakuchiol (derived from the bachi plant native to India & South Asia) is a clean, plant-based alternative to retinol. Studies show that bakuchiol works just as well as retinol to significantly decrease the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation, which is why it's become an increasingly popular ingredient in high-quality moisturizers.
Most bakuchiol users also report less skin peeling and stinging than those who use retinol. So, if you have sensitive skin or experience burning, redness, or flaking with retinoids, we recommend finding a bakuchiol moisturizer for retinol benefits without the side effects.
But, with hundreds of topical retinol and bakuchiol-based moisturizers on the market, how do you know which are safe and effective? We'll show you what retinoids and retinol alternatives are, how they work, and what to look for in a quality product.
How Do Retinoids & Retinol Alternatives Work?
To understand how retinoids and bakuchiol work, we need to first know a little about collagen. Collagen is a protein that provides structure to the body, while sustaining the skin’s firmness and elasticity. However, as we enter our mid-20s, our body produces significantly less collagen each year, which causes visible signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, or thinning skin. This is where retinoids and bakuchiol come in.
Both retinoids and bakuchiol have a tiny molecular structure that penetrates deeply into the collagen-rich lower layers of skin, where most topical products can't reach. If used consistently, retinol creams can promote new collagen production and preserve your current collagen and elastin reserves. By restoring the skin's natural ability to repair and maintain itself, retinoids and bakuchiol teach your skin to behave and appear more youthful—effectively reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and preventing new ones from forming.3
Ingredients To Look For
BakuchiolA powerful, plant-based retinol alternative that’s perfect for all skin types and minimizes the look of wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven skin tone without the irritation.
Retinyl PalmitateRetinyl Palmitate is converted into retinol by the skin, which is a powerful anti-aging ingredient that diminishes the appearance of wrinkles, improves skin tone, and softens and smooths the skin's texture.
Hyaluronic AcidOften listed as Sodium Hyaluronate, Hyaluronic Acid is a powerful ingredient that deeply moisturizes and smooths the look of wrinkles around your eyes.
Polyglutamic AcidAn intensely hydrating acid that can hold up to 10,000 times its weight in moisture and works synergistically with hyaluronic acid to visibly smooth and plump skin.
Activated Vitamin CActivated Vitamin C is a specialized form that is 50x more powerful than traditional Vitamin C, penetrating deeper into the skin with greater potency and more visible results.
Hydrating OilsGive skin a youthful glow with plant-based oils like Jojoba, Macadamia, and Olive which closely mimic your skin’s natural lipid barrier.
Additives to Avoid
SulfatesSLS and SLES are chemicals reported by the American Journal of Contact Dermatitis to cause irritation.
ParabensSynthetic preservatives that can affect hormone levels
Heavy Mineral Oils Clog pores and suffocate skin
PetroleumAlso clogs pores and can't be metabolized
What To Look For
In addition to the ingredients above, there are some other factors worth considering when purchasing an effective retinol moisturizer:
The Right Potency
Retinol uses retinyl palmitate, an ester of Vitamin A. Because Vitamin A is not stable, it can lose its potency. Look for formulas that are stabilized or encapsulated to protect the integrity of Vitamin A. Additionally, sometimes creams contain too much retinol, which can inflame your skin. Unless your dermatologist prescribes more, try sticking to formulas with 1% retinol or opt for a moisturizer with bakuchiol instead.
Properly hydrated skin is key to a clear, even tone. Studies suggest that hydration helps maintain the skin’s barrier and promote regular melanin production. To get the most comprehensive results, look for a retinol or bakuchiol cream that doesn’t just help smooth your complexion, but moisturizes skin, too.3
Transparent List Of Ingredients
Many popular moisturizers on the market fail to list all of their ingredients on their labels. This means that you might be using a product with potentially harmful or unwanted chemicals. Look for a brand that isn’t afraid to list all of its active ingredients clearly on both its product label and its website.
Americans spend millions of dollars every year for youthful skin, and they still find themselves unhappy with an apparent lack of results. It’s better—and safer—to invest in a product that offers a 100% money-back, no-questions-asked guarantee to show the company's faith in the potency of its product.
What To Avoid
Forget the Research
Contrary to popular belief, not all moisturizers are the same. Brands use different formulas, so check that they contain the ingredients listed above.
Prioritize Price Over Quality
We found that some brands tended to fall short on potency. Focus on quality ingredients to avoid compromising on your health.
The 5 Best Retinol & Retinol Alternative Moisturizers On The Market
Based on our own extensive research, the metrics provided by our Smarter Reviews Ranking System, and consideration of numerous reviews by Smarter Shoppers just like you, we've compiled a list of what we've found to be the top five products to help promote the appearance of flawless, smooth, even-toned skin.