5 Top Retinol Serums vs. Creams: Which Wins for Anti-Aging?

When it comes to turning back the clock on aging skin, few ingredients pack as much punch as retinol. Personally, it's one of my favourites to reach for when it comes to addressing skin concerns such as wrinkles and loss of firmness. 

This vitamin A derivative has long been lauded by dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts alike for its multitude of anti-aging benefits. But what exactly does retinol do for your skin? And should you be using a retinol serum or a retinol cream? 

Today, I'll explain what the difference is between these two types of retinol products and which you should go for. But first - let's refresh on what exactly retinol is. 

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a molecule derived from vitamin A, but it's a gentler, weaker version of the vitamin's acid form, retinoic acid. Our skin uses this form, which is most similar to what appears in prescription-strength retinoids!

When applied to the skin, retinol must first convert into retinoic acid before your skin can utilise it. This extra conversion step is what allows retinol to be more tolerable than harsher retinoids while still providing potent anti-aging effects. 

How Retinol Benefits Skin

Retinol lends skin some major benefits - which is why it's such a popular skincare ingredient. 

Boosts Skin Cell Turnover

First, it encourages increased cell turnover, sloughing off dull, dead skin cells to reveal the fresher, more radiant complexion underneath. This process is what makes retinol skincare so beneficial - all the other benefits for skin are linked to this!

Supports Collagen Production

By increasing skin's cell turnover rate, retinol has a role in supporting your skin's collagen production. Collagen is the essential protein in skin that helps it feel plump, soft, smooth and wrinkle-free. 

These levels naturally fall over time as we age - by encouraging skin to create more collagen, we can stave off premature wrinkles and loss of firmness in skin.

Fades Imperfections

Another bonus that retinol gives skin is that it fades dark spots and softens the appearance of acne scars over time. It's a skincare ingredient that just keeps on giving!

How to Add Retinol to Your Routine

With such impressive credentials, you'll want to make sure retinol has a permanent place in your anti-aging skincare lineup. 

But should you opt for a retinol serum or cream? The ideal product choice depends on your skin type and concerns. 

Here's the major differences between the two, plus a guide to which you should choose based on your skin!

Retinol Serums

Serums tend to be formulated with higher concentrations of active ingredients like retinol. 

This allows them to pack a more powerful punch, visibly diminishing wrinkles and dark spots. However, those higher concentrations can also increase the risk of dryness, redness, and irritation - at least temporarily while your skin adjusts to the potent ingredient.

For normal to oily skin types looking to really target signs of aging, a retinol serum can be an excellent option as part of your treatment regimen. This is because a serum is less likely to have as many moisturising ingredients compared to a cream, making it easier to layer without feeling too heavy on skin. 

The drawbacks? Well, for many, there is temporary dryness and what some call 'skin purging' as skin adjusts to retinol. These effects can be more apparent with stronger retinol formulas but have the trade-off of results appearing more quickly on skin. 

If a retinol serum sounds like the right choice for you, here are some of our top picks at Beauty Affairs!

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum

Formulated with just the right percentage of retinol at 3.5%, this serum from Dermalogica is an award-winner. It's formulated with Squalane to help minimise any dryness and redness, while the unique retinol complex wards off premature fine lines and wrinkes. 

Murad Retinol Youth Serum

Another heavy-hitter when it comes to the anti-ageing serum game, this serum from Murad has everything your skin needs to boost collagen levels. Murad Retinol Youth Serum improves the look of skin in as little as 2 weeks thanks to the super-charged formula!

Medik8 Intelligent Retinol 3TR

If you're new to this, one of the best ways to introduce retinol to your skin is in a moisturising oil base - and that's exactly what Medik8's Intelligent Retinol line is. The ultra-soothing and incredibly moisturising base is perfect for toning down any temporary irritation. Medik8 Intelligent Retinol 3TR is perfect for applying after toner and before moisturiser every night. 

Retinol Creams

Cream formulations, on the other hand, usually contain lower levels of retinol balanced by more moisturising ingredients. This makes retinol creams ideal for those with dry or sensitive skin who still want to reap the anti-aging benefits without as much potential irritation.

You may experience slower results compared to a serum's higher concentrations. But a cream allows you to build up a tolerance over time by gently introducing lower retinol levels first. For sensitive types, it's often the better-tolerated option long-term while still fading wrinkles and spots.

Here's a guide to our favourite retinol cream moisturisers!

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream

This replenishing night cream winds back the clock with retinol, but is also formulated with ultra-nurturing niacinamide to help manage irritation on skin. Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream has a creamy, moisturising formula that's perfect for nurturing skin while you sleep!

Medik8 Night Ritual Vitamin A

This is the dream night cream for those with sensitive skin! Medik8 Night Ritual Vitamin A features a cushy, moisturising formula that locks in hydration overnight. It's formulated with encapsulated Retinol to deliver a steady dose that isn't too much or too little - it's just right. 

Can You Use a Retinol Cream & Retinol Serum Together?

You might be wondering if you can layer both of these products to get better, faster results for your skin. The truth is, it's generally not recommended to layer multiple skincare products that contain this potent ingredient! 

Doing so could lead to persistent irritation, damaging your moisture barrier. We suggest only picking one type of product as your heavy-hitting retinol step!

If you want to layer retinol with any other products, we strongly recommend peptides or hyaluronic acid. Peptides are ideal for giving an anti-ageing boost, while hyaluronic acid is a super-hydrator that helps to minimise flaking and dehydration.

No matter which formula you choose, consistent use of retinol is key to maximising its effects. Add it to your routine gradually, building up to daily application. With a little patience and persistence, you'll be glowing with that signature retinol glow!

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