The Best Retinol Oils

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Given the popularity of retinols and their stronger, prescription-only counterpart (retinoids), it's unsurprising that brands are constantly coming out with new ways to incorporate the vitamin A derivative into your routine. Lately, it’s retinol oils that are all the hype — but as you may already suspect, not all retinol oils are created the same. The best retinol oils are made with plenty of moisturizing and calming ingredients to balance out the retinol’s potentially drying and/or irritating effects. Common nourishing ingredients found in retinol oils include jojoba seed oil and squalane to help with hydration and leave skin smoother.

Depending on your skin type, the best retinol oil for you will vary. Acne-prone skin types may want an oil that contains salicylic acid to bolster the retinol’s pore-clearing effects, while those with sensitive skin can benefit from the inclusion of calming ingredients like bisabolol and chamomile. Anyone with particularly sensitive skin or a history of experiencing the redness, dryness, and flakiness associated with retinol (known as retinization) may have better luck with a retinol alternative, such as rosehip seed oil or bakuchiol.

And if you need a retinol refresh, here's your reminder that while the amount of oil you apply may vary from brand to brand, the method remains the same: Your retinol oil should be applied as the last step of your skin care routine. To avoid the risk of irritation — this is especially important if you’re a retinol beginner — begin by applying your oil just two to three times a week, slowly increasing the frequency until your skin adjusts. And you'll need to be especially diligent when it comes to applying your daily SPF, as retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

If you need help finding your perfect match, scroll on to shop five of the best retinol oils available right now.

1. The Cult-Favorite Retinol Oil

Sunday Riley introduced this retinol-infused oil into its product lineup long before retinol oils started popping up everywhere, and it’s been a best-selling product for the brand ever since its 2015 launch. The Luna Sleeping Night Oil uses retinol in the form of hydroxypinacolone retinoate, which is said to be more stable and less irritating than the all-trans retinoic acid of a prescription retinoid. Multiple calming ingredients like blue tansy and two kinds of chamomile oils help to soothe skin and reduce redness. And antioxidant-rich and moisture-enhancing ingredients like chia seed oil, grapeseed oil, and avocado oil have been included in the formula, too.

If you’re just tipping your toes into the world of retinol for the first time and aren’t quite ready to commit to a $100+ oil, you can buy a small, 1-ounce bottle for $55.

2. Best Drugstore Retinol Oil

Retinol products tend to be on the pricey side, but that doesn't mean more affordable options are impossible to find. Ringing up at less than $20, Neutrogena’s retinol oil pairs 0.3% retinol with skin-soothing bisabolol and vitamin E, which has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This oil is a part of the brand’s best-selling line of drugstore retinol products, which also includes a serum and two creams, both sold on the same page.

3. Best Retinol Oil For Acne-Prone Skin

Oily and acne-prone skin types tend to steer clear of oils because they have a reputation for clogging pores and leaving skin feeling greasy. But there are face oils created with these concerns in mind, Dermalogica's Retinol Clearing Oil being one of them. To provide moisture to your skin without clogging your pores, Dermalogica added noncomedogenic jojoba seed oil, argan oil, and rosehip seed oil (the latter of which contains plant-derived retinoid compounds) to the formula. A slow-releasing retinol ester is also included in the oil, as is salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid typically used to treat acne because of its ability to dig deep into pores to reduce the buildup of breakout-causing dead skin and oil.

4. Best Retinol Oil For Dry Skin

While all face oils are inherently good for dry skin, ANAIRUI Squalane + Retinol Jojoba Oil combines its retinol with several moisturizers that are noncomedogenic and lightweight. Plant-derived squalane (in this case, derived from olive oil) helps to prevent water loss from your skin, jojoba seed oil leaves skin feeling softer and smoother, and vitamin E helps to strengthen your skin barrier while simultaneously helping to reduce inflammation. At less than $20, this retinol oil comes at a can’t-beat price, too.

5. Best Retinol Oil For Sensitive Skin

If you've found that your skin has been too sensitive for retinol in the past, Tata Harper’s admittedly splurge-y Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil uses naturally occurring retinoic acid found in rosehip seed oil to mimic the benefits of retinol, minus the risk of irritation. Though this is the most expensive retinol oil on this list (and maybe on the entire market), Tata Harper is one of those brands that’s truly worth the splurge. Every ingredient the luxury brand uses is either grown on the brand's organic farm in Vermont or ethically sourced from around the world. Packaging is also made from 100% recyclable glass and cartons, with any plastic being used made from sugar cane. And everything the brand does — from harvesting ingredients to manufacturing the products — is all done right at their VT HQ, no outsourcing involved.

Studies referenced:

The role of moisturizers in addressing various kinds of dermatitis: A review, by Schandra Purnamawati, MD, Niken Indrastuti, Dr, Retno Danarti, Dr, Tatan Saefudin, MD;

Antiaging effects of retinoid hydroxypinacolone retinoate on skin models, by Nora Ruth, MA, Estée Lauder Companies, Thomas Mammone, PhD, MBA, Estée Lauder Companies;