Retinol Serum VS. Retinol Cream: What does retinol do? Which one should I choose?
Expert Q/A

What’s Best For Your Skin? Retinol Cream VS. Retinol Serum

What does retinol do? The truth is that the world of retinol is full of benefits, but all the options (retinol cream, retinol serum, pro-retinol, retinoic acid, etc.) can cause confusion. One of our readers asks us to clarify:

“What’s the difference between a retinol cream and a retinol serum? Do they have the same benefits? How do I know which is better or more effective for my skin? There’s so much out there! I am very confused.”

To parse out the differences, we turned to Dr. Debra Wattenberg, MD, who specializes in cosmetic dermatology at her boutique Upper East Side clinic, NY Skin RX. As a member of the Charlotte’s Book Advisory Board, Dr. Wattenberg helps to curate The Arsenal, educating readers on innovative skincare, wellness, and anti-aging treatments. Here’s what she said:

“Retinol is one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients available over the counter. But purchasing the right product can be confusing because it is available in a variety of strengths as well as different consistencies. Choosing between a retinol cream and a retinol serum depends on your skin type—you also need to consider the other products in your skincare regime.”

Retinol Cream for Dry Skin, Retinol Serum for Oily

“Most creams will contain some moisturizing ingredients like petrolatum or mineral oil. These can be occlusive and may clog pores, but if your skin is dry or sensitive, a retinol cream might be the perfect choice. In contrast, most serums are water-based and tend to contain higher concentrations of the “active” ingredients. In addition, most serums tend to be light to the touch and rarely leave a residue, or sticky feeling. The retinol serum is great for oily or acne-prone skin, or for those who prefer to apply a separate moisturizer in addition to their serum.”

The Workhorse: Increasing Cell Production

“Retinol, regardless of the formulation, is the workhorse of any anti-aging regimen. By increasing cell turnover, it prevents collagen loss, treats fine lines, and evens skin tone. In addition, it is a potent antioxidant that helps to destroy free radicals, which develop in the skin as a result of sun, smoke and pollution.”

What Does Retinol Do? Advice For First-time Users

“Getting used to using retinol can be challenging. I recommend applying it sparingly (approximately the size of a pea for the entire face) at bedtime to clean skin. Apply your moisturizer directly over the retinol. Start out every other night to help acclimate to the product, as most people get a little dry and irritated when they first begin a retinol cream or retinol serum. It takes approximately 12 weeks to see results, so stick with it. Finally, don’t forget to apply a sunscreen in the morning. All retinols increase your sensitivity to the sun.”

Charlotte’s Book is a trusted place to find and share information on the best in skincare, anti-aging, aesthetics, and wellness. Ask Charlotte your beauty or wellness question, and we’ll call upon one of the experts in The Book to provide you with the most up-to-date information.

Treatments, Experts, and Concerns Mentioned In This Feature:
Dr. Debra Wattenberg, MD
Dr. Wattenberg, MD Boutique Clinic: NY Skin RX
Volume Loss
Dark Spots
Wrinkles & Aging
Sun Damage
Skin Cancer Prevention

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