From Sunday Riley to Paula's Choice: 9 of the absolute best retinol products for beginners.

Retinol. As far as skincare ingredients go, few come with as big of a reputation as retinol. 

Well-studied and researched, it’s been shown to help a number of skin concerns, from plumping out fine lines and wrinkles to reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin texture.  

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With this myriad of benefits also comes the concern of irritation, maybe even flaking or itchy skin. 

However, formulations have come a long way and now include sophisticated delivery techniques, along with soothing ingredients to help make retinol much less scary. 

So, do you need to use it? As with all skincare (except SPF) it’s up to you and your skin goals as to whether you want to include something in your routine, but if you are a first-time retinol user, I’ve put this guide together to help find your perfect starter formula! 

Let’s start with the basics: retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and is vital for helping boost cell turnover within the body. 

It’s often thought to be an exfoliant, but it’s actually just a really powerful antioxidant. Particular foods can be sources of vitamin A as part of your regular diet but to really get those great results in your skin, topical application is the way to go. Any form of vitamin A applied to the skin must go through the same process in order for it to then work in the skin.  

Retinol must first be converted to retinaldehyde, then to retinoic acid before it can be actively used by the skin. Therefore, from strongest to weakest, we have pure retinoic acid, retinaldehyde (also shortened to just retinal) and then retinol. 

This also means that the closer to retinoic acid you are, the sooner you will see results, but you also have a greater risk of irritation.  


Pure retinoic acid is available by prescription, so it’s only available after consultation with your GP or dermatologist. 

However, retinol or retinal products are available over the counter and in some really great beginner formulas - let’s get into it! 

Encapsulated retinol.

Encapsulation is a technology that allows retinol to be delivered to the skin within a carrier, prolonging the time between application and activation. 

Most skin types and retinol beginners find this a much more tolerable way to introduce retinol into their routine. 

Frank Body Rewind Retinol Serum, $30.

Image: Mecca/Mamamia  

This beginner formula features encapsulated retinol for slow release, along with niacinamide to help with inflammation. 

Viviology Retinol Serum, $59.

Image: Adore Beauty/Mamamia  


Alongside the active retinol, this rich serum also combines ceramides and peptides to help nourish and support the skin.  

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1, $79.

Image: Adore Beauty/Mamamia  

Medik8 are well known for their retinal formulas, which starts with this entry level serum. It of course features encapsulated retinal, along with hyaluronic acid and honeysuckle extract, for their anti-inflammatory and soothing benefits.  


Oil formulas containing retinol can also be a great way to introduce it into your routine. The hydrating and nourishing properties of the oil can help to offset or subdue any irritation from the retinol.  


Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, $158.

Image: Mecca/Mamamia  

Alongside a gentle retinol ester, Luna features blue tansy and chamomile to help reduce redness and inflammation, as well as avocado and chia seed oils for rich hydration.  

Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil, $129.

Image: Mecca/Mamamia  


This is an excellent starter retinol for those that are looking for a two-in-one oil; a nourishing oil formula that delivers slower release retinol, along with salicylic acid to help reduce breakouts. 

Lower percent.

Starting your retinol journey with a lower percentage is a great way to start - lower percent concentration means there’s less of the active ingredient applied to your skin at a time.  

Youth To The People Retinal + Niacinamide Youth Serum, $104.

Image: Mecca/Mamamia  

This features a lower 0.15 per cent concentration of retinal, along with niacinamide, ceramides and adaptogens to soothe skin and replenish moisture.  

Paula’s Choice Resist Barrier Repair Moisturiser with Retinol, $46.

Image: Paula's Choice/Mamamia  


A creamy, hydrating formula, that features a low concentration of retinol. Including it in the moisturiser step also means that the retinol is buffered by the other skincare applied underneath.  

Selfless by Hyram Retinol and Rainbow Algae Night Repair, $48.

Image: Sephora  

A beginners formula with squalane for moisturising the skin and rainbow algae to help reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

Boost Lab Night Renewal Serum, $29.95.

Image: Boost Labs/Mamamia  


Features a low 0.125 per cent retinol alongside vitamin E and aloe vera, both known for their anti-inflammatory properties in the skin.  

So there you have it! A guide to some of the best beginner retinol-based formulas, for whatever skin type you may have or however experienced you are with using it. 

For all of these, it’s important to follow the recommended regimen and gradually integrate it into your routine. When it comes to retinol, slow and steady will always win - and by win I mean give you the glowiest, plumpest and smoothest skin. Yay! 

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Have you tried any of the above retinols before? What was your experience? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature Image: Paula's Choice; Mecca; Mamamia.

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