The Best Retinol Treatment to do Before Bed

By Loren Bullock

If there is one thing in skin care most people can recognize, it’s retinol. Retinol is an ingredient commonly used in acne fighters, anti-wrinkle creams, dark spot faders, and other skin care products that seek to improve your complexion. Retinol works by increasing cell turnover which reduces fine lines and wrinkles, acne, dark spots, and brightens dull skin.

Clearly, this stuff sounds like magic, so which retinol treatment should you pick? This all depends on what you want out of it. We’ve combed the web for the best retinol night creams and serums you can use before bed to wake up with a better complexion. Check out our top picks.

Our Picks for the Best Retinol Treatment

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Best for Acne

Retinol Serum 2.5% with Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin E

You can say goodbye to unsightly blemishes with this retinol serum. Made with 2.5% retinol, this serum works to unclog pores and clear breakouts. This blend also prevents future breakouts by keeping away dead skin cells that sit on your face and clog your pores. The jojoba oil and hyaluronic acid keeps your skin moisturized, while the vitamin E protects your skin from any further damage.

This serum works for all skin types—even sensitive skin—so you can skip the troublesome irritation that often comes with retinol usage. Not only that, but it is also cruelty-free, allowing you to feel good about what you put on your face.

Best Anti-Aging

Retinol Serum 2.5% with Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin E, C for Face, Acne Scars, Dark Spots by Kate Blanc

Made with organic and natural ingredients, this high-strength retinol serum works to reduce visible signs of aging. The organic ingredients make it so you don’t break out or have an allergic reaction as you make your skin more beautiful.

This serum is created to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, sun spots, and discoloration. The retinol increases the collagen production that naturally deteriorates as we age, the hyaluronic acid brings moisture to the skin, and the vitamin C repairs damaged skin cells. Yes, all of these properties come in this little bottle.

Best for Scars

Radha Beauty Retinol Moisturizer Miracle Cream for Face

If acne isn’t really your problem, it’s just the scarring and the dark marks, Radha Beauty has got you covered with their retinol cream. Made with 2.5% retinol, vitamin E, and green tea, this cream treats dark spots, scars, and hyperpigmentation, leaving your skin with a beautiful glow. The retinol pumps up the collagen production, and the green tea fights inflammation and provides antioxidants.

This product is cruelty-free and made without harmful fragrances, parabens, or dyes. The cream also works for all skin types, so you don’t have to comb through products to find one that works specifically for your type.

Best Budget

Retinol Serum for Face and Skin, Clinical Strength

Of course, retinol treatments can be both affordable and effective. If you don’t want to break the bank to improve your skin, the Tree of Life retinol serum is for you. This serum specifically targets fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots with its natural formula, leaving your skin youthful and radiant.

This clinical strength retinol serum is made with vitamin E, jojoba oil, witch hazel, and green tea—everything inside is cruelty-free, vegetarian, and made in the USA.

How to Choose a Retinol Treatment for You

The first thing you need to know before picking a retinol cream is that not all retinol is the same. There is a difference between retinol and retinoid. I know: they sound very similar, but they vary based on strength. Actually, there are a few different types of retinol, and here they are from weakest to strongest:

  • Retinyl Palmitate
  • Retinol
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Adapalene
  • Retinoid (Tretinoin): This will require a prescription from your doctor or dermatologist.

The strength of retinol you decide to work with, of course, depends on a few other things.


We’re back to the original question: why do you need a retinol treatment? This will determine the strength of the retinol cream or serum you choose and whether or not you’ll need a prescription to get it.

  • Acne: Pimples and acne come in all forms and severities. If you have mild to moderate acne, or plan on using retinol as a spot treatment, something lighter like a retinyl palmitate or retinol should work. If your acne is moderate to severe, you can step it up a notch and use something stronger.
  • Aging: Just because we’re getting older, doesn’t mean we have to look the part. Adapalene is great for reducing sun damage and signs of aging. However, if you want something stronger for reducing wrinkles, retinoid creams such as Tretinoin work the best.
  • Skin Conditions: Retinoids can also help with skin conditions such as warts and psoriasis. A warning: retinoids made for this purpose usually contain steroids.

Skin Type

Here are the best retinol options based on your skin type:

  • Sensitive Skin: Retinyl Palmitate
  • Oily Skin: Adapalene or Tretinoin
  • Dry Skin: Retinol or Retinaldehyde

Types of Retinol Treatments

  • Cream: Retinol creams are the most common way to topically apply retinol to your skin. They work best for people with dry skin because they tend to be heavier.
  • Serum: Retinol serums are lighter and water-based, making them a good option for people with super oily skin.
  • Oil: Retinol oils are most commonly sold over the counter because they aren’t terribly strong. Oil works well with your skin and can be rather hydrating, so if you are just starting out with retinol, oils are a good way to wade into it.
  • Gel: Gels easily smooth into the skin and provides a soothing, cooling sensation. Many of the prescription-strength retinoids come in gel form.

Warnings and Side Effects

Retinol treatments aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. If you want perfect skin, you’re going to have to navigate a few obstacles to get there.

It Takes Time

When you start using retinol, your skin will start going through a bit of an adjustment period. You could experience dryness, peeling, redness, worsening of acne, or irritation. This happens because your skin has to catch up to how fast the skin cells are regenerating, and it takes a while. After a few weeks, you should start to see some improvements; however, it takes about 3 to 6 months to see great results. Yes, this is one of those instances where patience is rewarded.

Start Out Easy

If the adjustment period sounds terrifying, we get it. But if you start out easy with your retinol dosage, they shouldn’t hit you so hard. Start out by applying it one night a week or every other night. Then, slowly work your way up to nightly. As tempting as it can be to slather it on, make sure you are using a pea sized amount each time.

Use Sunscreen

There are two reasons retinol treatments are best used at night. One, your skin repairs itself as you sleep, and two, it makes your skin really sensitive to the sun. This makes it so your skin is extra prone to sunburn, sun damage, darkening, and dark spots (which is the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish with the retinol). The best way to prevent this is to wear sunscreen every day.

Beware When Pregnant

Unfortunately, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and you want to try retinol, you’re going to have to wait. The vitamin A can cause birth defects or hurt the baby if they ingest it through breastmilk. You can never be too safe.


Retinol treatments before bed work wonders on nearly any skin ailment that can happen on your face: from acne to wrinkles to sun spots. Remember to take it slow, because there is an adjustment period, and that it will take a few weeks to see results. But, if you stick with it and use your treatment consistently, your skin will thank you, and everyone will wonder what your secret is.

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