If there’s one skincare ingredient most likely to be crowned “most commonly spotted on the vanities of people with really good skin,” it’s retinol. The once mystifying skin fixer is pretty well understood by the masses at this point (here’s a comprehensive refresher), and just about every derm will co-sign its use from your 20s onward. On top of all this, it’s now readily available—and in much more tolerable concentrations than its prescription-strength counterparts—on the shelves of every beauty retailer from Sephora to your local drugstore. Retinol has gone mainstream, baby, and we’re here for it.
While plenty of folks have committed to incorporating this multitasking ingredient into their routines to tackle every skincare goal from smoothing fines lines and wrinkles to refining the skin’s texture and tone and even treating and preventing acne, the wide variety of formulations is still a sticking point that deserves a bit more explanation. “Retinol can be confusing because it is marketed differently in different products,” says board-certified dermatologist Elyse M. Love, MD. “Most retinols come in cream formulations, but they are typically presented in two ways. The first option is a dedicated retinol, which typically has the percentage of retinol included in the product. The other formulation is night creams that note that they include retinol,” she explains.