Which Retinol Is Best For My Skin Type?

"Retinoid" is an umbrella term that encompasses retinol, retinaldehyde, or retinoic acid. Each are apart of the vitamin A family. Retinol gets converted into retinal, and then, retinoic acid, which is the most potent thing. For plain retinoic acid, you normally have to have a prescription, and at times, it can be very irritating. So, let’s talk about retinoic acid, retinaldehyde, retinol, and how they work in oils. Retinoids are oil-soluble. So, when they’re in oil-based formulas, they work really well. In regards to how they work on skin types, “skin types” are truly a thing in medical literature, but we’ll use the term here for the purpose of this blog. 

For example, this is The Ordinary’s retinol and squalane works well on drier “skin types.”

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane - $7.50

There’s also this amazing one from Dermalogica that has a jojoba oil suspension and salicylic acid. 

Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil - $82

This product is a vitamin A ester, and many medical studies have shown that vitamin A esters are actually a little more bioavailable (closest thing to the vitamin A produced in the body) than something like retinol. However, in Cassandra’s experience, retinols and Vitamin A esters tend to be very similar. At any rate, the Dermalogica Clearing Oil is very gentle.

Both of these work great for dry skin and for anyone who wants a glow. If your skin lacks moisture, using a moisturizer underneath one of these retinol oils is going to be fantastic. Oils are great for people who are on the drier side and want to lock in moisture. 

Furthermore, you’ll notice that The Ordinary describes their oils as having a lower or higher percentage of retinol depending on the product. Some believe that one is going to be less effective or less potent than another, but all retinol gets turned into retinoic acid. So, you don't really have to graduate up that scale. More simply, it won’t make that much of a difference in how your skin feels. 

On the other hand, getting retinol in an oil suspension like squalane is very different than getting a retinol combined with salicylic acid. Retinol combined with another active like salicylic acid is going to be much better for people who have oily skin, desire a glow, but also struggle with acne. It can also work for those who have dry skin and acne. However, if you don’t have acne and you’re looking for anti-aging benefits, you won’t need something like salicylic acid. So, the one with retinol and squalane is also fantastic. 

What if you are someone who doesn’t want to use a skincare oil because your skin is oily and dry? Perhaps you just need to add moisture on your face?

That is wherePaula's Choice Barrier Repair Moisturizer with Retinol  comes in. 

Paula's Choice Barrier Repair Moisturizer with Retinol - $35

This is the barrier repair moisturizer with retinol, and it’s fantastic for dry skin or a damaged skin barrier. For example, if you use something like prescription retinoic acid, and it burned your face, this is a good way to introduce a retinoid into your skincare routine. It is very unlikely to burn your face, and therefore, takes the guesswork out. 

Paula’s Choice Barrier Repair has shea butter, ceramides, and green tea. So, if you have a damaged skin barrier, your skin will love this. This works very well for sensitive and dry skin types. 

But what if you’re not dry, and you’re just plain sensitive? 

If you’re sensitive, but you don’t have a pressing need for hydration, adapalene comes is definitely worthy trying. 

AcneFree adapalene gel once-daily topical retinoid acne treatment - $9.97

This is one of Cassandra’s favorite brands for acne-prone skin. If you have hormonal, teenage acne, and lots of  breakouts, this retinoid is going to be fantastic. This could also be a great opton for sensitive skin without acne. This is also a point of interest for sensitive skin individuals dealing with wrinkles, scars, and hyperpigmentation.

Adapalene gel is basically a synthetic retinoid. Scientists and derms knew that retinoids can be really irritating to the skin. Thus, synthetic retinoids were created to be just as effective whilst causing less irritation to the skin. You can think of it as a cousin to retinoid, but it honestly works very well, and you can get it without a prescription. The one from AcneFree is cruelty-free which is why Cassandra loves it. It’s also very inexpensive and under 10 bucks. For those who have acne and are on a budget, it’s very affordable. Even if  you have sensitive skin, this product doesn’t cause the dryness, peeling, redness, and irritation like a normal prescription retinoid might. This is probably the best choice for someone who has sensitive skin and acne. 

So, what are a few products for those who have acne but not sensitive skin?

That is when Cassandra would recommend a product  that combines actives. Some of the best acne-fighting ingredients are sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid. While salicylic acid combined with retinoids are easy to come by, unfortunately, it’s hard to find products that have sulfur, retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids.


Two good options for receiving custom blended actives are Apostrophe and Dermatica. You’re able to get prescriptions from both of these brands and retinoids blended with other ingredients like salicylic acid or tranexamic acid. If you have hyperpigmentation or rosacea, you can also get formulas blended with azaleic acid. There are also other brands that offer custom-blended prescription retinoids like Dermatica, Agency, and Rory.

In regards to which of those companies is best for you, that’s going to depend on your skin type.

Ultimately, if you have cystic or intense acne, a retinoid in perscription form is probably going to be your best friend. Take note though that medical grade retinoids can make you peel and burn. That’s why a lot of people blame retinoids for dryness and irritation.

Apostrophe Tretinoin Formula - $75

Dermalogica Tretinoin Cream - $24.99

Paula's Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment - $56

Retinoids for Fine Lines and Wrinkles? 

If you do have fine lines and wrinkles, the Medik8 Crystal Retinal is the most potent you can get without a prescription. It isn't as irritating as a full-on retinoic acid. This also  has glycerin squalling ascorbic acid and and carrot seed oil. You can use it for any skin type, but Cassanda also loves this for mature skin. If you're trying to find fine lines or wrinkles, you’ll want something that is soothing and absorbs nicely. 

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 Serum 30 ml -$100

What about retinoids for hyperpigmentation?

Beauty Pie Super Retinol Night Renewal Moisturizer - $80

This Vitamin C Night Cream Renewal Moisturizer is encapsulated with retinal and fruit acids. So, it helps with hyperpigmentation, discoloration, and dark spots. Thanks to the vitamin C, it can also help with acne and fine lines. 

The 0.2% retinal and 2% bakuchiol with peptides and vitamin C from Paula’s choice could also be very helpful for hyperpigmentation and might appeal to those who are fans of “clean beauty.”

Retinol products for just oily skin?

This is the grant active retinoid emulsion at 2%, and this is beautiful, milky, and liquidy serum soaks into the skin perfectly. It is amazing for oily skin because it doesn't make your skin overly greasy. It's milky, it absorbs well, and it has retinol. While it’s not matte, this product does give you a supple look.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion -$10.50

Click this video to learn more, and we hope this was helpful. As always, remember to apply your SPF!

Coverphoto Credit: Lucia Romero Fotografía