Retinol, the over-the-counter vitamin-A derivative that has long been lauded for its anti-aging properties, has taken on a different form of late. Traditionally delivered to the skin via creams, the anti-wrinkle ingredient has founds its way into a slew of face oils that claim to coddle the skin as they also Benjamin Button it (a.k.a. cause reverse aging).
Part of what makes retinol so great is that in addition to softening and preventing creases, it also helps speed cell turnover, increase collagen, brighten skin tone and minimize the appearance of pores and likelihood for blackheads or breakouts. But it can also cause irritation for people with sensitive or dry skin types, which means those people don't stick to a strict retinol regimen. Enter: Retinol oils. Some of my favorite skin-care brands on the market — like Sunday Riley, Verso and Pestle & Mortar — have gotten in on this trend. As both a face oil advocate (I think many people still have misconceptions about this entire product category) and retinol devotee (judge-y forehead lines, begone), I found this new crop of products immediately intriguing.
Everything about retinol oils sounded appealing to me, but I wasn't going to start obsessively working them into my routine without first consulting the experts. So I went to two of my most trusted dermatologists — Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital and Dr. Jeannette Graf, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York — for their take.
"The active ingredients of all retinol products are similar, it's just the base that's different," explains Zeichner. "Oils tend to be advantageous for people with drier skin because of the natural hydrating properties of oils." Sounds pretty simple — but one important thing to note is that switching from a retinol cream to an oil might mean you'll also need to change up the order in which you use your skin-care products. (Assuming that, like me, you like to layer a battalion of different serums, treatments and creams each night.) "A retinol oil can be easily integrated into their routine; however, since they're oils, applying one would be a later step in the routine, since retinol oils aren't water soluble and therefore don't penetrate as rapidly," says Graf, who suggests using them on top of water soluble products, like essences or hydrating serums (assuming they aren't also oil-based).
Let's take a closer look at three standout retinol oils currently on the market, shall we? First up: a blue-tinted formula that I found especially enticing.
Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, $105, available at Sephora.com.
But that blue tint isn't just for show; azulene oil, an ingredient that calms redness, gives it that hue. It's also spiked with chamomile and chia seed oil, which is rich in Omega-3s. This combination of soothing, moisture-replenishing ingredients with retinol makes it an ideal choice for anyone prone to redness or irritation.
Verso Super Facial Oil, $195, available at Sephora.com.
Packaged in individual spritz-on vials (each set comes with four refills for the protective black case), Verso's oil includes the brand's signature "Retinol 8," which they claim to be eight times as effective as other retinols. What I love about this product is its mess-free application (no drip-through-your-fingers moments since you can spray it directly onto skin), quick absorption and the addition of antioxidant vitamin E to the formula. Yes, it's a pricey one, but there's some good stuff going on in there (and it'll last you, thanks to the smart packaging).
Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinol Night Oil, $109, available at pestleandmortar.com.
Because it's made in Ireland, Pestle & Mortar's entire line is held to European skin-care standards (where literally hundreds of U.S.-approved ingredients are banned). It's free of parabens, proplynene glycols and fragrance — which leaves more room for good things, like super-moisturizing cold-pressed grape-seed oil. "Because there are two types of retinol in cold-pressed grape-seed oil, the irritation is decreased," says Graf. And it doesn't feel heavy on skin, but rather soaks in within about 30 seconds of application.
111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Retinol Oil, $230, available at barneys.com.
In addition to the 1 percent retinol and blend of oils (palm, coconut, corn, rice) in this formula, it also contains NAC-Y2, which "boosts collagen and elasticity and stimulates cell regeneration," says Graf. And just two or three drops are all you need per treatment.
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