It’s true that retinol can be notoriously sensitive to the skin, but finding the best retinol serums can make all the difference in achieving a smoother, more youthful complexion.

These powerful skincare formulations have all the benefits you need to visibly get rid of the worry lines on your face. Choosing a retinol serum may be challenging, especially for beginners, but why worry when you have Daily Vanity to rely on in times like this??

To help you get the best retinol serums, we’ve compiled a list of options for you to choose from but not without sharing a few important details you should know about retinol and its use.

What is a retinol serum and what does it do?

best retinol serums

Retinol, a form of vitamin A and a type of retinoid, is celebrated for its transformative effects on the skin. This potent skincare ingredient accelerates skin cell production, stimulates collagen synthesis, and increases cell turnover.

While it may initially cause skin sensitivity and peeling, you can make the effects more manageable by gradually incorporating it into your routine. Despite its bad rep as a skin-irritating ingredient, it’s also the gold standard for helping to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and acne scars, creating a more even complexion. This is why retinol serums are so sought after for those looking to improve their anti-ageing routine!

Who should and should not use retinol serums?

Retinol benefits a wide range of individuals, from their early 20s to late 50s, who seek to improve skin texture and reduced signs of ageing.

Retinol serums are particularly suitable for those dealing with fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and acne scars. Be as it may, retinol may not be a suitable option for individuals with extremely sensitive or easily irritated skin. Here’s why:

  • Skin sensitivity: Extremely sensitive skin is more prone to redness, burning, and peeling when exposed to retinol. The ingredient can exacerbate these issues, leading to extreme discomfort for some individuals.
  • Initial side effects: When first starting retinol, it often triggers an adjustment period known as “retinisation,” during which the skin may become dry, flaky, and irritated. This phase can be particularly challenging for those with sensitive skin.
  • Risk of over-exfoliation: Retinol encourages skin cell turnover, which can lead to over-exfoliation in individuals with sensitive skin, making it even more delicate and prone to irritation.

While retinol can deliver significant skincare benefits, it’s essential for people with extremely sensitive skin to consult a dermatologist before incorporating it into their skincare routine.

Can you mix retinol with other skincare products?

While a retinol serum is a great addition to any skincare routine, there are ingredients you should and should not use it with. Mixing them with incompatible ingredients can have negative side effects on your skin, which you’ll definitely want to avoid.

To know more on what skincare products you can mix it with, we have a guide on which ingredients can go with retinol and which to avoid.

What percentage of retinol to start with?

If you’re new to retinol, it’s best to begin with the lowest percentage, preferably 0.25%. Give it a try for a few weeks and see how it makes your skin feel before deciding whether you should increase the dosage to 0.5% or higher.

However, if you’re unsure, we strongly urge you to seek advice from a dermatologist for a better understanding. This way, they’ll be able to analyse your skin condition thoroughly before recommending the correct percentage.

This being said, note that pure retinol can only be prescribed by a doctor, but there are several retinol serums in the market that are mild enough to get off the shelves.

How long does it take for your skin to adjust to retinol?

retinol serums

This depends on your skin type. Typically, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

For those with normal skin, the adjustment period may be shorter, but individuals with sensitive skin may require more time. During the initial stage, you might experience dryness, flakiness, and mild irritation. However, as your skin becomes accustomed to retinol, you’ll notice improvements in these symptoms.

Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, let’s find out some of the best retinol serums you should consider adding to your skincare routine.

Best retinol serums to try

Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide

Free from paraben and fragrances, Kiehl’s anti-ageing retinol serum is precisely formulated with pure retinol in a daily-strength micro-dose formulation.

It visibly helps to reduce wrinkles, firm skin, even out your skin tone, and smooths texture. 90% of users, even first-time Retinol users, have agreed that their skin feels comfortable during use.

Add this powerful anti-ageing serum into your skincare routine after cleansing and before applying moisturiser for visible results.

This retails for RM360 at Kiehl’s

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

The Ordinary’s retinol serum is a highly-stable water-free solution that contains 0.5% of direct retinol.

While Retinol has been studied extensively, it can be irritating to the skin for first-time users and requires a build up of skin tolerance. This formula also offers hydrating benefits due to the presence of Squalane. It balances oil production, providing just enough moisture to keep your skin clear and healthy.

This retails for RM50 on Sephora

Malin + Goetz Retinol Correcting Serum

If you’re looking for a formula that contains anti-ageing properties, the Malin + Goetz Retinol Correcting Serum is the product for you.

This advanced multi-vitamin serum is formulated to help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, neutralise free radicals and protect your skin against environmental pollution.

Rich in multivitamins including vitamin A, C and E, this retinol serum protects your skin against daily environmental aggressors. The encapsulated retinol (vitamin A) uses time-released delivery technology to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, giving you the radiant and youthful complexion you’ve always desired!

The airless packaging protects the formula from air and degradation to ensure the long-term stability of key ingredients.

This retails for RM329 (30ml) on Sephora

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Facial Serum

Wake up to plumper, younger-looking skin with Olay Retinol24!

The serum combines a blend of niacinamide that helps build keratin, a type of protein that keeps your skin firm and healthy as well as vitamin B3 + Retinol complex.

The Olay’s retinol serum penetrates deep into your skin’s surface layers and visibly improves existing fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

This retails for RM109.90 on Shopee

Innisfree Retinol Cica Repair Ampoule Serum

One of most affordable retinol serums you can get your hands on is this one from Innisfree.

Soothe your troubled skin and retexturise it in four weeks with the Innisfree Retinol Cica Repair Ampoule Serum.

Containing 0.015% retinol (Vitamin A1), this retinol serum from Innisfree is perfect for beginners. The formula combines retinol with its patented Jeju Cica-Liposomlogy™, a low-irritant mixture of Ceramide NP, Centella Asiatica, and Jeju Green Soybean Hyaluronic Acid, this stable solution provides an 88% lower risk of skin irritation.

This retails for RM156 (30ml) at Innisfree boutiques and Sephora.

Paula’s Choice RESIST Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum

Known for its effectiveness to treat a variety of skin types and concerns, Paula’s Choice is one of the many brands that can deliver what they promise!

Its soothing, silky texture goes to work immediately to help skin of any age look younger. With regular use of this retinol serum, you will see smoother skin, with an improved appearance of wrinkles and skin tone.

Containing a gentle 0.01% retinol concentration, it guarantees no irritation, making it safe for use on your skin. The unique packaging also ensures retinol’s stability and effectiveness even with prolonged use.

This retails for RM220 on Paula’s Choice

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum

The Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum is an advanced formula featuring a 6.5% stabilised retinoid blend and botanical extracts.

Boasting soothing ingredients like Hawaiian white honey, cactus extract, and ginger, this serum creates a balanced, soothing effect, promoting a calmer and more even-toned complexion.

It combines a 5% retinoid ester blend, 1% liposomal-encapsulated retinol blend, and 0.5% blue-green algae, delivering powerful results for congested and UV-damaged skin.

This retails for RM600 (35ml) on Sephora

Herbivore Botanicals Moon Fruit Retinol Alternative Serum

Herbivore Botanicals is a clean beauty brand that brings you products that are safe, non-toxic, and highly effective.

Though it may not be a traditional retinol serum, their Moon Fruit acts as a plant-based retinol alternative serum. This serum contains one percent bakuchiol and plant peptides that swiftly absorb into the skin to combat visible signs of ageing on the face and neck.

This 100% plant-based serum has been clinically shown to target fine lines, wrinkles, and promote firmer and clearer skin with the same efficacy as retinol but without the potential for irritating dryness or redness.

This retails for RM325 (30ml) on Sephora

Dr. Dennis Gross Advanced Retinol+Ferulic Texture Renewal Serum

Ever heard of a serum that contains rambutan?

Well, this one by Dr. Dennis Gross serum features not only retinol, but also other ingredients like bakuchiol, rambutan leaf extract, and ferulic acid that work synergistically to help build skin proteins and increase radiance.

This daily complexion-renewing serum is also powered by Phyto-Retinol Blend™ to reduce the look of blemishes and visibly smooth fine lines for a clear, even complexion. In addition to that, powerful hydrators squalane and hyaluronic acid help prevent water loss and boost hydration.

This retails for RM395 (30ml) on Sephora

Kora Organics Plant Stem Cell Retinol Alternative Serum

This newly launched innovative serum is a milky, dual-action solution featuring a unique 5% blend of retinol alternatives, pioneering the gentle targeting and prevention of visible signs of ageing.

Additionally, it offers continuous antioxidant protection, effectively hydrating the skin around the clock.

It’s suitable for daily use and, as a certified organic formula, delivers results comparable to retinol without causing irritation. Notable ingredients include Bakuchiol, alfalfa extract, Acai stem cell extract, rosehip oil, and Noni extract, each contributing to a more youthful, radiant complexion by targeting signs of ageing, repairing skin damage, and providing essential nourishment.

This retails for RM340 (30ml) on Sephora

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum

Ideal for individuals with combination, normal, dry, or oily skin, this serum offers a high-potency retinoid treatment combined with squalane.

The key components include a 3.5% Retinoid Complex, concentrated Squalane for improved moisture barrier function and skin recovery, and Oat-Derived Beta-Glucan to soothe, hydrate, and restore skin health.

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum features a rapid-action, high-concentration multi-retinoid with booster technology. This lightweight, gel-like consistency works swiftly to combat wrinkles, rejuvenate skin texture, minimise pores, and enhance skin tone evenness.

This retails for RM469 (30ml) on Sephora

First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum

Though the downside from using retinol can be quite ‘irritating’, they’ve been proven effective!

For those first-timers, you can consider this retinol serum from First Aid Beauty. This beginner-friendly anti-ageing serum contains First Aid Beauty’s exclusive Skin Saver Complex, which delivers active ingredients into your skin without causing irritation.

In addition to retinol, the serum also includes peptides, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E to not only repair and nourish the skin but also promote regeneration.

This retails for RM280 on Sephora

Biossance Squalane + Retinol Night Serum

This retinol serum from Biossance is enhanced with a time-release technology to offer a more efficient delivery system. It allows retinoids to penetrate into the skin more deeply while being gradually released over a period of eight hours. As a result, it delivers noticeable improvements to your skin in a gentle and gradual manner.

This retails for RM355 (30ml) on Sephora

The Inkey List Selfless by Hyram Retinol And Rainbow Algae Night Repair Serum

Besides the skin-renewing benefits, this retinol serum also helps reduce the appearance of post-acne marks and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation from breakouts with the help of rainbow algae.

Perfect for those under 20 or in their late 30s, this retinol serum does double duty. Not only does it have all the benefits of retinol, but also makes your skin look plumper and feel softer as soon as you apply it – and you can thank squalene for that!

This retails for RM150 (3oml) on Sephora

Pixi Retinol Capsulecare Smoothing Face Serum

The Pixi Retinol Capsulecare Smoothing Face Serum is an ideal option for beginners, especially those in their early 20s who’s looking to smoothen out their uneven skin texture.

It contains the perfect dose of nourishing serum in biodegradable capsule forms, formulated with a youth-boosting blend of Retinol, Vitamin E and Plant Oils for refined skin.

The biodegradable pods ensure that the product doesn’t oxidise, preserving its maximum potency and effectiveness, so there’s no need to worry about it losing its power.

Each capsule contains the perfect dose of nourishing serum for the face, neck and décolletage.

This retails for RM115 (3o capsules) on Sephora

Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Anti-Wrinkle Overnight Retinol Serum

Juice Beauty is no stranger to skincare junkies or Sephora shoppers. Popular for their antioxidant rich formula, this retinol serum is no different from the rest of their products.

Carefully formulated with a powerful combination of bio-retinol and retinol, this overnight retinol serum is your ticket to visibly banishing all those worries from your face!

The blend of nourishing jojoba, coconut, and shea butters, as well as hydrating sodium hyaluronate and vitamin B5 moisturises your skin well. So, no need to worry about dealing with dry and irritated skin.

This retails for RM331 (3oml) on Sephora

Drunk Elephant A-Shaba Complex Eye Serum

Your skincare products will never be complete without having at least one product from Drunk Elephant!

This gentle yet effective eye serum with only 0.1% dore of pure vegan retinol, 3% antioxidant-rich caffeine and copper peptides, targets fine lines, wrinkles and reduces puffiness for a rested, more youthful appearance.

This retails for RM285 (15ml) on Sephora

IT Cosmetics Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-In-Cream

Having been around since 2008, IT Cosmetics is still one of the most sought-after brands in the market. And one of their products that has benefited numerous individuals in this Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum.

While most traditional retinol products on the market rely solely on free retinol, the IT Cosmetics Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream takes a different approach. It features Dual Retinol, a combination of both free and encapsulated retinol.

This blend of free and encapsulated retinol starts to reach at least 15 layers into the skin’s surface in just one hour. Niacinamide in here helps reduce environmental damage and minimises the look of dark spots and discolouration, while vitamins B5 and E soothe and hydrate skin, balancing common effects of retinol usage such as redness, skin dryness and flaking.

This retails for RM340 (50ml) on Sephora