10 Best Over the Counter Retinol Creams for Acne

Best Retinol Creams in 2017 - Handpicked for best outcomes for oily, sensitive, and acne prone skin

When it comes to acne treatments many people have to regularly resort to heavily medicated treatment options. Some of these are only available on prescription and can contain some potent drugs and anti-biotics as well.

But prescription treatment is not cheap when you consider a visit to your doctor and the cost of filling the prescription. This doesn’t mean that you should never consider it, but it’s important to know that there are alternative options available.


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Most prescription treatments work in two ways. First, they deal with the bacterial infection most commonly with anti-biotics. This is usually fast and effective. Secondly, the inflamed and damaged skin needs to be repaired which usually takes time.

This is where there are great alternatives to prescription creams. Retinol is one such over the counter active ingredient that does a few things to help your skin recover faster. First of all it triggers an increased skin cell turnover, and then it stimulates the processing of collagen.

It’s not a magic bullet that you apply at night time to get up in the morning to glowing and clean looking skin. But if you want to seriously speed up the recovery time from an acne outbreak then you definitely have to give it a try.

On this page you will find the best and most effective retinol products available that you can easily add to your daily routine.

Click here's to see our No. 1 pick as the Best Retinol Cream for Acne.

Table of Contents:

  1. Is Retinol Good for Acne?
  2. How Often Should You Use Retinol
  3. Side Effects of Retinol
  4. Controlling Side Effects of Retinol
  5. Top 10 Retinol Creams for Acne Prone Skin

Top 3 - Editor's Picks

If you're in a rush, below are the best Over the Counter Retinol Creams for Acne, hands down!

Keeva Anti-Ageing Lavendar Night Cream With Retinol
  • Natural ingredients along with retinol.
  • Recover damaged skin and boost elasticity.
  • Remove the signs of ageing.
Click for Price
RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Facial Night Acne Cream
  • High level of retinol.
  • Helps keep the skin moist and healthy.
  • Help increase the overturn of skin cells
Click for Price
La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes
  • Gentle and soothing
  • Fragrance and paraben free
  • Soothes the skin
Click for Price

Is Retinol Good For Acne?

Retinol is wildly advertised by retinol creams and retinol serums as a miracle worker but is it really all that amazing?

Let’s take a look at how retinol works first. Retinol is basically Vitamin A and works by accelerating the growth and discarding of dead skin cells. This makes the cells less likely to fall into pores as well which leads to less blocked pores.

This process of accelerating the death of skin cells on the surface in turns speeds up the growth of healthy skin cells underneath the surface. This also makes it extremely effective at preventing and removing wrinkles.

Retinol also prevents the breakdown of collagen which gives skin its elastic texture. The presence of healthy amounts of collagen in the skin essentially gives the skin its suppleness and glow.

Not only does retinol help reduce acne, but is also generally very healthy and beneficial to the skin. According to the book “Retinoids: Advances in Basic Research and Therapy”, Retinol proved extremely effective against acne.

An experiment recorded within this book reports marvelous results of using vitamin A and retinol with 85% of the recipients displaying very significant improvements. The recipients were all victims of long standing inflammatory acne and other skin problems.

Notably as well, the same experiment showed better results in women with none of the women showing less than significant improvement and a large majority showing more than 75% improvement.

This cannot be understated that such results are very strong indicators of retinol being very potent against acne as well as other skin problems.

The facts and experiences supporting retinol are indeed very strong! Retinol is endorsed by nearly all dermatologists and is definitely very beneficial overall especially in terms of curing acne.

How Often Should a Retinol Serum Be Used?

Retinol is a mild version of Vitamin A but is very beneficial nonetheless. It should be kept in mind, however, that you are not supposed to whip a truckload of it on your face whenever you get the chance. Slight care should be taken when using products with retinol.

Retinol is reported to have quite adverse effects when worn into sunlight. Retinol is photosensitive and reacts with sunlight making your skin more prone to sun damage. So make sure you do not go to the beach wearing retinol based products. It is best to use at night and can be applied overnight to great effect.

Renowned doctors advise that spreading the regime of starting with retinol based products over a period of time is the way to go. Doctors usually recommend using it once every week and then increasing frequency as time goes by. But, increasing it to more than once every night is not recommended! Four to five times a week should suffice.

Side Effects of Retinol

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Retinol is a complete recommendation for anyone wanting to rid acne off their bodies but it may also render some slight side effects.

  • Firstly, you will almost surely notice the irritation it causes on first application. Retinol, and all vitamin A based products for that matter, have a tendency to cause itching and irritation until the body creates a toleration to it.
  • Retinol will also leave the skin dry and flaky. This is because it speeds up the death of skin cells on the top layer of the skin. The skin may also turn red and peel due to the abrasive effects.
  • Retinol based products are also not suitable for people with eczema or rosacea. Pregnant or breast-feeding ladies should also keep their distance form Retinol or any Vitamin A products. This is because it is known to cause birth defects in rat offspring. It may seem far-fetched but taking chances is obviously not recommended at such crucial life junctures.
  • In some extreme cases and overly sensitive skin types, retinol may cause harmful effects. So if the usage of retinol is causing severe irritation (even at low dosages) or is making the skin swollen and red, discontinue any usage to avoid further harm.

Controlling the Side Effects of Retinol Creams

  • Firstly, to overcome the irritation it causes, it is absolutely essential that you start with lower concentration products and use the sparingly. Then build up the use as your body grows used to the level of Vitamin A exposure.  You may grow up to higher concentrations and higher frequency of application but you must ensure that you do not rush your path and do more damage than benefit.
  • It is also to be noted that you must understand your skin yourself and not try to speed through the levels because someone else ‘moved to the other serum within a week’ and you are assuming you can as well.
  • It is also recommended that you use moisturizers and other skin soothing products to keep the negatives to their minimum and to also achieve the best results.
  • Retinol is not a one stop shop for all your skin worries. Retinol is indeed very powerful but a combined approach with plenty of moisturizers, cleansers and antioxidants works best to keep your skin in tip top shape.
  • Using a cleanser or scrub daily is very beneficial and it can also clear away the dead cells on the top layer building up due to the retinol effect. Keep your skin hydrated and moisturize often.

Now that we have gotten an understanding on how retinol and Vitamin A based products work, it is time to dive in and analyze some of the best products circulating the market so you may find the perfect match for your skin and indeed your pocket.

10 Best Retinol Creams for Acne

1. Keeva Anti-Ageing Lavendar Night Cream With Retinol

Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the proven benefits of retinol without having to worry about the potential side-effects of high concentration medicated creams? This is what you get with this night cream from Keeva Organics.

Best For: Oily, Acne Prone Skin, And Sensitive Skin.

Active Ingredient: No active ingredients. It employs a blend of hyaluronic acid, organic jojoba oil, shea butter, retinol, and vitamins C and E.


  • Among the very few products available that boast natural ingredients along with retinol.
  • The proven natural and scientific ingredients in this night cream are carefully chosen to recover damaged skin, boost elasticity, and remove the signs of ageing.
  • Can also work as your day time moisturizing cream without clogging pores.
  • Nice mild smell that doesn’t irritate.


  • Has more focus on moisturizing and repairing skin than clarifying it.
  • Relatively small Jar, does not last for long.


  • Best used daily once before going to bed.
  • Just take a small amount in your hands, gently massage on your skin until absorbed.
  • Leave overnight.

2. RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Facial Night Acne Cream

The RoC cream is a gem created by the people at RoC. With Correxion, they have done nothing wrong and whipped up a massively successful award winning formula. Using this cream will very likely leave you with significantly lesser acne and an even skin tone.

Best For:All Skin types especially oily skin

Active Ingredients: Retinol, zinc, copper, magnesium and glycolic acid


  • A high level of retinol that works away all night to rid your skin of acne
  • Glycolic Acid helps keep the skin moist and healthy
  • Minerals help increase the overturn of skin cells
  • Is oil free
  • Works equally well for all skin types
  • Has won several prestigious allure awards over the years and is proven to work


  • Slight burning and irritation accompanies the cream
  • High level of retinol may not be suitable for new retinol users


  • Apply at night preferably before going to bed and leave it overnight to work its charm
  • Apply your moisturizer over it for better results if you please
  • Use once every two nights then work your way to daily application.

3. La Roche-Posay Redermic R Eyes Anti-Aging Retinol Cream

The La Roche-Posay anti-aging cream holds a special place in many users’ eyes and enjoys an outstanding reputation even with dermatologists!

The cream is specially designed for use on the eyes abut can remove wrinkles all along the surface of your body. The cream is has won several awards which boast of its reliance and effectiveness. The cream is very gentle and soothing and can be used by people of almost all skin types.

Best For: Sensitive skin

Active Ingredients: Retinol, caprylyl glycol, citric acid, glycerin, caffeine


  • Very gentle and soothing that makes it perfect for application on the eyes and around it
  • The cream is suitable for all skin types
  • Specially tested to be applicable for people with allergies
  • Fragrance and Paraben free
  • Glycerin and other soothing agents treat the skin well and help soothe the skin


  • Gentleness make it less effective for areas other than the eyes.
  • Is not effective on reducing puffy eyes


  • Apply generously at daytime or at night around the eyes
  • Use sunscreen when going out into the sun after application
  • Take care to not get it into your eyes

4. Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum With Retinol

The Neutrogena Rapid Repair Cream is a great option if you are looking to wipe away the wrinkles off your face. Applying it regularly will make very significant reduction in wrinkles in just a week. The persona and brand quality of Neutrogena is not put to the sword with this cream as it upholds the high banner very well.

Active Ingredients: Accelerated Retinol, Hyaluronic acid

Best For: Dry, wrinkly skin


  • This cream smoothens the skin and has a visibly significant effect on wrinkles
  • It helps the skin look fresh smooth and soft instantly
  • Brightens the skin and results visible as soon as within one week
  • Helps reduce puffy eyes and uneven skin tone
  • Very affordable yet powerful


  • High reactive strength may lead to significant irritation, redness and peeling
  • Not the best for reactive skin types and sensitive skins may want to keep a distance


  • Keep use limited to night and apply carefully, keeping in mind the high strength of retinol.
  • Apply less frequently until you are sure your skin can handle a higher dose.
  • Use moisturizers to keep abrasive effects in check

5. Murad Skin Perfecting Lotion

Murad Skin perfecting lotion works in a lot of ways to give your skin health and consistency. The lotion is a dermatologist favorite and will clean away a majority of your skin concerns with consistent usage. Long term effects of using this lotion regularly surpass nearly every other lotion and is one of the best you can buy.

Active Ingredients: Retinol, Queen of meadow extracts

Best for: Oily skin, porous skin, uneven skin


  • This lotion is amazing and relieving acne concerns and will reduce acne like the best anti-acne creams out there
  • Is a fantastic hydrator that nourishes the skin
  • Blocks pores and gives a consistent skin tone especially visible when used regularly
  • Reduces oil production in oily skin and stabilizes uneven areas of the skin.


  • Preservatives in the lotion like methylparaben and aminomethyl propanol which may cause irritation
  • Contains parabens which are linked with breast cancer
  • May increase skin sensitivity and sun sensitivity for a while


  • Apply at night before sleeping for the best results
  • You can achieve great results when used in tandem with a cleanser. Just apply the cleanser before the lotion.
  • Use sunscreen of applying at daytime

6. SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream

The SkinCeuticals cream is a very strong cream and definitely one that works. If you want to remove your acne and wrinkling problems then this will surely help you. The cream is a very strong cream that can work actually like the ‘hard to believe’advertisements! With this SkinCeutical cream, you can be sure of getting extreme action going on your skin!

Best for: All skin types except sensitive ones

Active Ingredients: Retinol (1%)


  • A high effect cream for sure! It can help the ones on whom other creams have been ineffective.
  • A very high concentration of retinol (1.0%) make it a very potent weapon against acne and all other skin problems
  • Works against wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone and numerous other skin problems
  • The very high level of retinol can drastically improve your skin


  • High retinol concentration leads to irritable skin if not used with care
  • Will not shut down pores
  • Sensitive skins may find it too strong for their liking


  • Do not take this cream lightly. The retinol concentration is as high as it gets without prescription so only use if you are used to retinol products
  • Start slowly and apply twice a week before bed. Then work your way to daily application as you build up toleration
  • Use moisturizers in tandem for the best impact
  • It is best to consult your physician before using this product

7. Bioelements Oil Control Sleepwear

Bioelements Oil Control cream is a very good option for a healthy night time beauty regime cream. It has very significant effects at making the skin look healthier and younger.

It can remove wrinkles and acne and has an overall healthy and beautifying effect for the skin. This should be the product for you if your skin oils itself to the extreme!

Active Ingredients:Retinol, Calcium, peptides, Vitamin E

Best for: Oily or Combination Skins


  • Smoothens the skin and removes lines and wrinkles
  • Extremely effective at controlling production of oil in the skin. This is the creams claim to fame
  • Absorbs easily and is very gentle to the skin
  • Effective and healthy for other skin types as well


  • Not the best for acne treatment
  • A gentle cream and other more potent creams are available in the market


  • Warm it a bit before applying at night and leave it for the whole night

8. iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+

The iS Clinical Serum is the holy grail for the sensitive skin type! The serum is ultra-effective for a number of skin problems that may present themselves. These problems include acne and rosacea. There may not be a better product available to put a rest to chronic rosacea and acne!

Active Ingredients:Retinol, Kojic Acid, Vitamin E, Vitamin C

Best For:Sensitive and Acne prone skins


  • The best serum out there to rid you of the serious skin problems like rosacea and acne
  • Extremely effective against hypersensitive skin, sun damage and aging skin
  • Also effective against insect bites
  • Removes wrinkles, uneven tones and dry skin patches


  • Vitamin C may be irritable and flaming
  • High price


  • Cleanse your face first using a good cleanser
  • Apply to the face gently
  • Apply daily for best results after you have created a tolerance to the retinol

9. Obagi360 Retinol 1.0

The Obagi360 Retinol 1.0 adresses a multitude of problems that are faced by people around the globe. It is surely a top of the line product and one to beat in the market. The cream is strong yet gentle. It contains a high concentration of retinol (1%) but is time released which makes it gentle towards the skin.

Active Ingredients: Retinol, Bisabolol, Jojoba Seed Oil, Sage Leaf Extract, Shea Butter

Best For: All skin types


  • It works for all skin types and is a very effective product at battling a number of skin problems
  • Reduces wrinkles, heals pores, cures uneven skin patches, reduces blemishes and brightens the skin overall
  • Has a high concentration of retinol but is still pretty gentle.


  • Has a distinguished, slightly unpleasant smell
  • High concentration of retinol means it is for experienced retinol users


  • Start slowly by applying around once or twice a week then work your way to applying it every evening
  • Not recommended to be applied at day time
  • Moisturizers can help soothe the skin as well as improve the results of the cream

10. Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream

The Advanced Clinicals Retinol Cream focusses on hydration and moisturizing. The cream is specially designed for salon professionals and offers a lot of answers to many skin problems.

The cream claims to remove wrinkles and aging effects with gentleness. It also reduces dark circles and puffy eyes. The cream can perhaps be classified in the slow firing category which prefers to do its work gently with consistency rather than a hard hitting quick and dirty solution to the problems.

Best For:All skin types

Active Ingredients: Retinol, Glycerin


  • Powerful anti-aging formula that removes wrinkles and blemishes. It smoothens uneven skin patches.
  • Very gentle on the skin and works without any irritation. Gentle enough to be used on the arms and hands as well
  • Very affordable
  • Paraben free


  • Not a quick working cream that can solve your problems quickly
  • Not preferred for outdoor use


  • Cleanse your body first for the best results
  • Massage it on gently onto your skin focusing on wrinkles and affected spots.
  • Due to its serenity and gentleness, you may use it daily contrary to other retinol based creams

11. Jan Marini Skin Research Age Intervention Retinol Plus

The Jan Marini cream is a fantastic cream for your skin problems. The cream was the 2013 NewBeauty award winner and deservedly as well. The cream works very well to relieve all skin problems including acne and wrinkling. The product contains a high level of retinol (0.5%). It also works to close large pores that are unhealthy and unwanted.

Active Ingredients:Hyaluronic Acid, Dimethicone, Green Tea, Retinol, Shea Butter

Best For:All skin types


  • Extremely nourishing formula that provides the retinol for wrinkle and acne treatment and also many other beneficial elements
  • Nourishes and hydrates the skin and has antioxidants that benefit in several other ways
  • Suitable for sensitive skin types as well because of being fragrance free
  • Exceptional against dry skin and very effective at removing wrinkles


  • High Price
  • High retinol content will require you to build some tolerance to it first


  • Apply the product once or twice weekly before bed then work up the tolerance to daily application
  • Keep your moisturizing product working as well

So there we are with an in-depth review of retinol based products and knowledge about retinol. Let us know your experience with the products in the comments section below or tell us if we missed out a product that is the apple of your eye!

Sheikh has been blogging regularly at CAA for over 5 years. He spends majority of his time studying health and technology or participating in discussions about these niches (online or offline).


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