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Our skin goes through a lot. From the harmful UV rays of the sun to the pollutants we’re exposed to every day, it’s no wonder our skin can start to show signs of aging prematurely.
Skincare companies have taken notice of this and have started to create products that contain retinol, a form of Vitamin A that can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.
Retinol can be found in both over-the-counter and prescription products, but not all of them are cruelty-free.
While some may argue that the benefits of using retinol outweigh the cons, others feel strongly about only using products that do not test on animals.
If you’re looking for the best retinol products on the market, we’ve compiled a list of our top nine favorites; complete with their pros and cons. Read more to find the perfect retinol product for you!
What is Retinol?
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that the body needs for growth and development.
There are many different forms of Vitamin A, but retinol is the purest form of this vitamin and can be found in both over-the-counter and prescription products.
In skincare, it is used as an anti-aging ingredient because it helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.
Retinol can also help to improve skin texture and even out skin tone making it an ideal ingredient for those looking to achieve younger-looking skin.
While retinol is an incredibly effective anti-aging ingredient, it can also be quite drying and irritating to the skin.
If you are new to using retinol, it is important to start slowly by incorporating it into your skincare routine a few times per week, and gradually increasing the frequency as your skin becomes more tolerant.
The Difference Between Traditional and Cruelty-Free Retinol Products
There are two main types of retinol products: traditional and cruelty-free.
Traditional retinol products are those that have been tested on animals during any stage of production.
Cruelty-free and vegan retinol products, on the other hand, have not been tested on animals at any point during the production process and do not contain any animal-derived ingredients.
Additionally, most of these products are also free of other harmful ingredients like parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
This makes it a good option for those with sensitive skin or who are looking for a more natural skincare routine.
The Pros and Cons of Using Cruelty-Free Retinol Products
Vegan and cruelty-free skincare are making waves in the beauty industry and for good reason.
There are many benefits to using retinol products, but there are also a few downsides that you should be aware of before making the switch.
Improves Skin Texture
- Over time, the skin can start to lose its elasticity and firmness.
- This can cause the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.
- Retinol helps to improve skin texture by stimulating collagen production and increasing cell turnover.
Reduces the Appearance of Dark Spots
- Dark spots are a common side effect of aging and sun damage.
- Retinol can help to fade dark spots by promoting cell turnover and correcting skin tone. The dispersion of melanin is also improved, resulting in a more even complexion.
Not Tested on Animals
- One of the biggest advantages to using vegan retinol products is that they have not been tested on animals.
- Animal testing is cruel, and many alternative methods can be used to test the safety and efficacy of products.
- Additionally, most of these retinol products are also vegan and free of other harmful ingredients.
Drying and Irritating
- One of the biggest drawbacks to using retinol is that it can be drying and irritating, especially for those with sensitive skin.
- This is because retinol is a powerful ingredient that can cause the skin to peel and flake.
Can Cause Redness and Peeling
- Another downside to using retinol is that it can cause redness and peeling, especially when first starting.
- Retinol works by increasing cell turnover, which can cause the skin to become irritated and red.
- It is important to use a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen when using retinol to help reduce irritation.
- While there are many affordable options on the market, vegan retinol products can be more expensive than traditional retinol products.
- Vegan and cruelty-free skincare are often made with higher-quality ingredients and are not tested on animals.
The 9 Best Cruelty-Free and Vegan Retinol Skincare
From retinol cream to a vegan retinol serum, there are many options on the market for those looking to add sustainable and eco-friendly retinol to their skincare routine.
Here are the nine best cruelty-free and vegan-friendly retinol products we absolutely love:
Best Cruelty-Free Retinol Creams
Skin types: Normal, Dry, Combination, and Oily
We love how this retinol cream from Drunk Elephant is suitable for all skin types and can be used both day and night.
Primary benefits: Adds glow and radiance to the skin, firms and smoothens skin texture, brightens the complexion
- Has Triple-Peptide Blend
- With 1.0% Vegan Retinol
- Includes Vitamin F
Drunk Elephant is known for its high-quality, clean skincare products, and its A-Passioni Retinol Cream is no exception.
What we loved most about this retinol cream is that it is suitable for all skin types and filled with ingredients that help to soothe and hydrate the skin.
The formula has a triple-peptide blend that helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles while improving skin texture.
Meanwhile, vitamin F fights free radicals that can cause damage to the skin.
It is fast absorbent, non-greasy, and leaves the skin feeling hydrated and plump.
Skin types: Normal, Dry, and Combination
We love how this night cream contains antioxidants and nutrients that aid in repairing the skin while you sleep giving it a much-needed rest.
Primary benefits: Moisturizes and soothes the skin, enhances skin firmness, reduces uneven skin tone
- Vitamin C that brightens the skin
- Rich in antioxidants
- Night cream
When sleeping, our skin goes into repair mode and is more receptive to treatment.
This makes overnight the perfect time to apply retinol skincare, like 100% PURE’s Retinol Restorative Overnight Balm.
The balm melts into the skin upon application, providing immediate hydration.
However, people with oily skin may want to avoid this cruelty-free cream as it is quite rich.
Avocado butter and plant oils help to nourish and condition the skin while the vegan retinol in the formula achieves a smooth and youthful complexion.
The result is a plump and glowing complexion come morning.
For best results, apply before bedtime to cleansed and toned skin.
Skin types: Sensitive, Normal, Dry, Oily, and Combination
We love that Poppy Austin Retinol Cream is so lightweight and easily absorbed into the skin. People with sensitive skin can also use this product as it is very gentle.
Primary benefits: Makes the skin supple with a healthy glow, fades dark spots and acne scars, unclogs pores
- Gentle formula
- Can be used during the day and night
If you prefer a lightweight emollient that still packs a powerful retinol punch, look no further than Poppy Austin’s Retinol Cream for Face.
The air-light formula is quickly absorbed by the skin and leaves behind a velvety finish.
It is 5 times more gentle compared to other retinol on the market, making it a great option for those with sensitive skin.
We love the pump dispenser as it prevents the retinol from oxidizing and losing its potency.
It is also non-greasy, non-comedogenic, and free from harmful chemicals like sulfates, phthalates, and parabens.
Organic aloe and wildcrafted green tea revitalize and soothe the skin, while vitamin E and shea butter help with skin repair.
This retinol cream can be used both day and night.
Just remember to always follow up with sunscreen as retinol can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Best Cruelty-Free Retinol Serums
Skin types: Sensitive and Normal Skin
We love how this serum is non-irritating, vegan-friendly, and ideal for those with sensitive skin.
Primary benefits: Firms and smooths the skin, refreshes the complexion, evens out skin tone
- Squalane based
- Non-irritating vegan formula
- Phyto-retinol from bakuchiol
Instead of using retinoids or retinol, Biossance ‘s Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum uses bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative that is just as effective but gentle enough for sensitive skin.
While this is effective for all skin types, those with sensitive skin will especially appreciate how this cruelty-free serum doesn’t cause any irritation.
The lightweight and fast-absorbing formula are perfect for layering under makeup or for use at night.
Bakuchiol, an antioxidant known for its age-defying properties, helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also brightening the skin.
Meanwhile, squalane, a plant-derived oil, hydrates, and locks in moisture.
The combination of these two ingredients results in softer, smoother, and more youthful-looking skin.
Skin types: All skin types
We love how collagen-rich this serum is and the fresh cucumber scent that it has.
Primary benefits: Improves collagen production, plumps and firms the skin, improves skin elasticity
- With calming and soothing ingredients
Retinol and collagen are two of the most popular anti-aging ingredients on the market.
Pixi’s Collagen & Retinol Serum combines these two powerhouse ingredients to create a serum that is suitable for all skin types.
Compared to creams and oils, the consistency of Pixi’s serum is much lighter. If you are new to using retinol, this is a great product to start with as it is gentle and non-irritating.
The serum has a fresh-cucumber scent that is not too overpowering. With Acacia collagen and chamomile extract, the serum minimizes pores and brightens the skin.
It also contains Vitamin B3 which is known to even out the skin tone.
For best results, apply a small amount of the serum to cleansed and toned skin before moisturizer during nighttime.
Skin types: Best for Aging Skin
We love the fact that this high-dose serum delivers results without causing any irritation while protecting your skin from free radical damage.
Primary benefits: Increases collagen production, diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, protects the skin
- With 6.5% retinol
- Suitable for all skin types
Aging skin can benefit from using a retinol serum that is high in potency and strength. If you are looking for a serum that fits this description, we recommend Sunday Riley’s A+ High-Dose Retinol Serum.
Using plant-derived retinol blends, this powerful serum fights aging by increasing collagen production, brightening the skin, and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
The 6.5% solution of retinol is one of the highest concentrations you will find in a retinol serum brand.
But, don’t let that scare you off as the formula also contains Hawaiian White Honey and Sodium Hyaluronate which help to soothe and hydrate the skin.
COQ10, which is great for UV-exposed and aging skin, provides antioxidant protection while also minimizing the appearance of pores.
The combination of these ingredients makes Sunday Riley’s A+ High-Dose Retinol Serum a powerful and effective retinol serum that is suitable for all skin types.
Skin types: Normal, Oily, Combination & Dry Skin
We love the purple and milky texture of this serum and how it makes our skin look and feel after using it.
Primary benefits: Evens out skin tone, fights major signs of aging, gives out a natural glow
- Uses Bakuchiol
- Edelweiss Stem Cell
- With AHAs
Don’t let its purple, milky color fool you. Ole Henriksen’s Transform Plus Glow Cycle Retin-ALT Power Serum can brighten the skin and give it a healthy glow.
The Retin-ALT Power Serum is an alternative to traditional retinol serums as it uses bakuchiol and AHAs to achieve similar results without irritation.
It also contains Edelweiss Stem Cell which is an ingredient that is known to protect the skin from environmental stressors.
And the pump packaging ensures that you get the right amount of product every time.
Best Cruelty-Free Retinol Oils
Skin types: Suitable for all skin types
We love the ingredients that this oil contains and how it makes our skin feel soft and smooth after several uses.
Primary benefits: Restores firmness, gives out a smooth texture
- With ceramides and peptides
- Night oil
Pixi has once again made it to the list with their Overnight Retinol Oil. And we’re not surprised as the oil is derived from different ingredients that are sure to give you smooth and soft skin.
The oil is made from a blend of retinol, peptides, and ceramides that work together to bring a youthful glow to the skin.
And like all Pixi products, this one is also paraben and cruelty-free.
The only thing that we don’t like about this product is the rich texture which can feel a bit heavy on the skin.
But other than that, it’s a great retinol oil that packs a punch.
Skin types: Normal, Dry, and Combination
We love the plant-derived ingredients in this oil and how it doesn't leave our skin feeling greasy.
Primary benefits: Maintains skin elasticity, repairs damage, improves skin texture
- Plant-derived ingredients
- Moisturizing and reparative
A retinol oil that is suitable for normal, dry, and combination skin types? Yes, please!
Tata Harper’s Retinoic Nutrient Face Oil contains plant-derived retinol from rosehip that helps maintain the skin’s elasticity while also moisturizing it.
However, that’s not all. The face oil is also infused with other ingredients like jojoba oil and calendula giving out a luxurious feel in the morning.
The only downside to this product is the high price tag. But, we think that it’s worth every penny.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Use Retinol If I Have Sensitive Skin?
Retinol is known to be a potent ingredient that can cause irritation, redness, and dryness.
So, if you have sensitive skin, we recommend that you start by using a retinol serum with a lower concentration of retinol.
You can also use a retinol serum that contains other ingredients like hyaluronic acid or aloe vera to help soothe and hydrate the skin.
What’s The Difference Between Retinol And Retinoids?
Retinoids are a class of compounds that includes retinol.
Retinols are the weakest form of retinoids and are available over the counter.
On the other hand, retinoids are only available with a prescription from a doctor.
Retinoids are also more potent than retinol and can cause more irritation.
If you’re new to retinoids, we recommend that you start with a retinol serum and then move on to a retinoid serum when your skin can handle it.
Do I Need To Use A Moisturizer With Retinol?
While there is no rule that you have to use a moisturizer with retinol, we recommend that you do so.
A moisturizer can help hydrate the skin and prevent irritation. And if you have dry skin, a moisturizer is a must as retinol can cause dryness.
We also recommend that you use sunscreen during the day as retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
Retinol is Your Skin’s New BFF
Retinols are the new kid on the block when it comes to skincare ingredients.
And we’re not surprised as retinol has a whole host of benefits for the skin. From reducing wrinkles and fine lines to an evening-out of the skin tone, retinol can do it all.
But what’s even more impressive is that people with all skin types can use retinol.
If you are on the lookout for a retinol serum, this list we’ve put together is a great place to start.