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 to try in 2024, we’ve gathered the top options, 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 reduce 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.

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.

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 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 smooth 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 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 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 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 the most affordable 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 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 in treating 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 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 RM235 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

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.

Powerful hydrators squalane and hyaluronic acid also help prevent water loss and boost hydration.

This retails for RM395 (30ml) on Sephora

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum

Ideal for individuals with combination, normal, dry, or oily skin, this serum is a high-potency retinoid treatment that’s 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.

It 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 of using retinol can be quite ‘irritating’, they’ve been proven effective!

For first-timers, consider this 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.

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 one 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 its skin-renewing benefits, this 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 serum does double duty. Not only does it have all the benefits of retinol, but it also makes your skin look plumper and feel softer as soon as you apply it – and you can thank squalane 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 are 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 serum is no different from the rest of their products.

Carefully formulated with a powerful combination of bio-retinol and retinol, this overnight 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 (30ml) 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

While most traditional retinol products on the market rely solely on free retinol, IT Cosmetics 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 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.

Frank Body Rewind Retinol Serum

A little pearl-sized amount is all you need for this skin-transforming magic.

Frank Body Rewind Retinol Serum packs a punch with its 1% retinol blend and niacinamide (Vitamin B3). It erases fine lines, wrinkles, and blemishes while smoothing skin texture and fading dark spots.

Affordable and effective, it’s like hitting the rewind button on your skin’s ageing process – simply add it to your daily routine for a youthful, radiant complexion.

This retails for RM125 (30ml) on Sephora

Alpha-H Vitamin A Serum with 0.5% Retinol

If you’re new to using this skincare product, we suggest you start with a lower percentage like this one from Alpha-H.

Their 0.5% Retinol Serum is a gentle introduction, enriched with nourishing Australian botanicals like jojoba, macadamia, and sweet almond oil. This sheer, non-irritating formula accelerates skin renewal overnight, targeting uneven tone, texture, and fine lines.

This retails for RM295 on Sephora.

Lixirskin Night Switch Retinol 1% Serum

Control your skin issues and minimise sun damage with this overnight elixir infused with retinol. Lixirskin Night Switch is specially formulated to refine facial texture, address problem skin, and combat sun damage while you sleep.

With a potent dose of retinol, this elixir targets fine lines, wrinkles, pores, blackheads, and spots, working overnight to strengthen and rejuvenate your skin’s topmost layers.

This retails for RM205 (15ml) on Sephora.  

Peter Thomas Roth Even Smoother Glycolic Retinol Serum

With a high potency of 15% glycolic acid complex and 1.5% time-released micro-encapsulated retinol, this nightly resurfacing serum aims to enhance your skin texture, fine lines, and wrinkles.

And the presence of adenosine, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and collagen gives your skin a healthy and plump appearance with a youthful glow.

This retails for RM288 (30ml) on Sephora

Everything Else You Need to Know About Retinol

Is It Safe To Incorporate Retinol Serum Into My Skincare Routine During Pregnancy?

Retinol should generally be avoided during pregnancy due to its potential to cause birth defects. Consult with your healthcare provider before using any skincare products containing retinol while pregnant.

Alternative ingredients like vitamin C or glycolic acid can be considered to address skincare concerns during this time.

Can You Mix Retinol With Other Skincare Products?

While this skincare product 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.

That being said, pure retinol can only be prescribed by a doctor. However, 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.