Skincare: My First Experience with Retinol

best retinol skincare products

I was rummaging about in my office today, trying to prep for a video on a new foundation that I wanted to review, when I came across a smallish box of products, very neatly put together and stashed safely in the corner of a larger box. Obviously my curiosity was aroused, and when I looked inside the smaller box I realised that it contained a selection of beauty things that all had an ingredient in common: retinol.

Before I moved house (the first move, to Bath, not the second, to the wilds of Somerset – keep up) I tried to sort my products into little categories that would make sense when I finally came to unpack them. Things that would remind me about posts I wanted to write, or certain ingredients I wanted to test. I have to admit that most little categories have made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever – I should have slipped little notes inside with the products – but this one instantly jogged my memory.

best retinol skincare products

Because I was big on retinol, last year, despite not really going about my product-testing in anything like a “full throttle” kind of way. I did a lot of reading about retinols, a lot of video-watching about them and a lot of excited imagining about what the results would be like when I used them, but I didn’t ever get around to properly using them. I was breastfeeding and couldn’t be bothered with having to add the whole retinol/breastfeeding worry to my – already quite lengthy – list of worries.

So I dibbled and dabbled but the results were so good, even from minimal use, that I promised myself I’d step things up a level this year. And now I’ve found my box of retinol goodies and I can really get started. I think that it’s about time; although I don’t have any particular areas of unevenness or scarring on my face, any sun spots or deep wrinkles, I do feel that the texture of my skin is changing and fine lines around the eyes and forehead are definitely more noticeable.

best retinol skincare products

Retinol, in case I’m just speaking absolute gibberish to you, is a derivative of vitamin A that helps to increase cell turnover and collagen production which in turn gives smoother, clearer, more even-toned skin. It’s a power ingredient that yields incredible results and sorts a huge variety of skin issues from fine lines to sun damage, acne scars to dullness.

The drawback? Well actually, these days, I don’t really see that there is one. At least not with any of the products I’ve tried so far. With very strong, prescription creams such as Retin-A there can be quite significant side effects such as redness and peeling, irritation, dryness, and I think that’s what has fuelled a whole set of myths around retinols and how “risky” and “tricky” they are. My view of them, until a couple of years ago, was that I would avoid them at all costs – they sounded too complicated, I’d be worried that I’d over-exfoliate (WRONG! Retinol isn’t even an exfoliant) and that it would be dangerous to put my face in the sun. It didn’t sink in, despite having attended loads of science-led press launches for retinol products that explained that there were different strengths and different formulas and that the tolerance to various products would be different.

best retinol skincare products

But anyway, to cut a long story short, I’ve had brilliant success with the products I’ve tried so far. The three predominant ones, I would say, are Anne Semonin’s Miracle Eye Cream*, which had me doing a double take in the mirror after a few weeks’ use, This Works Night Repair Serum* and Alpha-H’s Beauty Sleep Power Peel*, which combines a hefty 0.5% retinol with a high concentration of exfoliating glycolic acid. I’m going to do separate, in-depth posts on all three products because I have been so impressed with them – the Power Peel is a great twice-weekly treatment (I’m going to be using it tonight, in fact) whereas the serum from This Works (which is so cushdy in texture I mistook it for a moisturiser) is more of a regular, frequent use sort of product.

But until then, take a look at the video to see what I’m going to be testing out next. I’ll keep you updated with all of my findings and do more videos on products with retinol if that floats your boat? I feel as though I’m slightly late to the retinol party, in one way, but then on the other hand I’m sort of glad I waited. I wouldn’t have had anything to gauge my results by before, but now that I get no sleep, am constantly worried and live on a diet of Magnums and fishfinger sandwiches, my skin has plenty to complain about.

Anne Semonin Miracle Eye Cream*:

This Works No Wrinkle Night Repair*: or

Alpha H Beauty Sleep Power Peel*:

Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion*:

Clarks Botanicals Retinol Rescue Eye Serum*:

L’Oreal Revitalift Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream**:

DCL Profoundly Effective A Cream*:

Skinceuticals Retinol:

FAB Retinol Serum*: 

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid Emulsion*:

*please note that I am part of the L’Oreal Beauty Squad. Any work I do in relation to that role will be clearly marked “AD”, otherwise the inclusion of a product – as in this video – is purely editorial, unsponsored and unpaid.

© 2018 A Model Recommends®: all opinions are my own and any sponsored or paid posts will always be clearly marked as an AD in the title. I accept press samples and receive product and services to review as part of my job. *Outbound links are affiliate links, which means that I receive a very small percentage of any sale made. This does not affect my content in any way and does not cost you anything, but you are most welcome to Google the products on a new page if you prefer. Please see here for full "about" section and disclaimer. A Model Recommends and Ruth Crilly are registered trademarks.



  1. March 7, 2018 / 5:19 am

    My mom always told me how important it was to use retinol as I got older. Still – I never found much luck with it! I was using script grade from the doctor too. Maybe I need to re evaluate my skin routine. Thanks for the perspective!

    • Jo.C.
      March 7, 2018 / 5:58 pm

      I haven’t had much luck either Kim. Total waste of money really.

      • March 8, 2018 / 11:51 pm

        Which ones have you tried? x

  2. Hannah C
    March 7, 2018 / 7:31 am

    I’ve had good results from Indeed Lab’s Retinol Reface – I’m not sure what the concentration is. Also have Paula’s Choice 1%, but don’t like it as much. Neither have ever irritated my skin; I suspect that’s more the pharmaceutical grade heavyweights like Tretinoin and Differin.

    • madamedummy
      March 7, 2018 / 1:22 pm

      pierre fabre .05% tretinoin is great …
      may be called ‘airol’ depending on locale …

  3. Kate Pyle
    March 7, 2018 / 7:44 am

    Thank you Ruth!! I’ve felt the pressure to use them on my saggy old face but was intimidated by the range available and perceived risk factors. Will watch the vid and then buy. And watch me transform into a sprightly 20something. :-)

  4. Louise
    March 7, 2018 / 11:35 am

    I swear by Jo Verso’s products, especially the serum and day cream. Like you I was sceptical and then very impressed with the results. I don’t use them every day, but when my skin is looking grey, this is what I turn to.

    Please allow me to send my sympathy to you on the loss of your Dad.

  5. madamedummy
    March 7, 2018 / 1:19 pm

    as always , such a wonderful post !
    the retinol will also stimulate new hair growth in the hairline…
    ( & possibly a bit of peach fuzz on the face for some) …
    but it’s miraculous …it is fabulous …
    pop an ‘msm’ supplement daily along with it
    & you will most likely never EVAH be tempted to fillers or “work”…

  6. DLA
    March 7, 2018 / 1:25 pm

    I personally would neither use the This Works nor the Alpha-H product. Because they both contain unnecessary fragrance (things like Citral, Geraniol, Linalool etc).
    I don’t want to have this filth in the products for my face. As Retinol can already be ‘stressful’ for the skin it’s not necessary to put allergenic substances on top.
    Paulas Choice don’t use fragrance and that’s why their 1% Retinol treatment is far better.
    But that’s just my personal opinion.
    Not my personal opinion: Everybody please remember to use a reasonable sunscreen (at least SPF 30) EVERY DAY when using Retinol (or its derivatives).

  7. Linsey
    March 7, 2018 / 2:49 pm

    I am inspired to try one of these, but wondered… why is the ‘The Ordinary’ one so much cheaper?!?!

    • March 8, 2018 / 11:53 pm

      The formulations are very pared-down to minimal ingredients, but many would argue this is better anyway.. They have a very different philosophy to most brands – worth reading up on their website! x

  8. nicola Jane hoole
    March 7, 2018 / 3:07 pm

    Can someone please recommend a cream with retinol for my upper lip I have lines but the clinic says they are superficial and I don’t need injections I need retinol cream .
    I can’t seem to find a cream that targets upper lip only
    Thanks in advance

    • Jane
      March 7, 2018 / 4:48 pm

      I just use my eye cream around my lips, have been doing so for donkeys years.

    • March 7, 2018 / 8:48 pm

      I don’t think there are creams that target the upper lip only, but try using an eye cream. They are formulated for thin and sensitive skin, which is the same for eyes and lips.

  9. Jo.C.
    March 7, 2018 / 5:55 pm

    I’ve used various products which contain Retinol over the years but haven’t seen much improvement, in fact I would say my skin looks more haggered than before. So now I just stick with moisteriser and serums. Maybe i’ll save up for a facelift lol

  10. March 7, 2018 / 8:49 pm

    I am a big fan of retinol. Started using them after I had my second child and they made such a difference to my hormonal, stressed out skin!

  11. Abigai
    March 10, 2018 / 5:47 pm

    I’ve been using prescription tretinoin for 8 years, Yes, it was difficult to begin with, with the redness and flaking, but I persevered. I’m so glad I did, I’m 55 this year, I have hardly any wrinkles and my skin is still taut and firm, plus I get compliments on my skin all the time and people are amazed when they find out my age. I use tretinoin, Vitamin C serum and sunscreen, that’s it. The idea is to bend the skin, not break it, so a little redness and flaking is normal when first starting but apply every other day or buffer with moisturiser a few minutes after using until your skin adjusts. I think if you want great skin as you age, tretinoin is a MUST.

  12. March 10, 2018 / 9:10 pm

    I had a retinol peel a few months ago and it did wonders for my skin so I’m now looking to incorporate it into my skincare regime but have been overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer – not to mention how pricy a lot of the products are – so I’m so glad you’ve recommended some here that I can give a try. Also thanks to the lady that mentioned using eye cream on the upper lip – that is genius! I’m 36 and a non-smoker but have started to see the lines forming… will also be adding this to my regimen from tonight!

  13. Sophie
    March 15, 2018 / 4:35 pm

    Ruth would you be able to do a review on Medik8 products particularly the eye cream with retinol as this seems quite reasonably priced for an eye cream??

  14. Mansi
    March 20, 2018 / 7:37 am

    Absolutely love the Ordinary retinoid- overtime it sorted out my skin in a way no other ingredient has. I approached it much trepidation having had horrid response to tretinoin before; stopped with acids altogether. Now I’m alternating their retinol with AHAs and Alpha Lipoic Acid, and my skin looks and feels like glass.

  15. Stephanie
    April 8, 2018 / 12:45 am

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts and a review of The Ordinary granactive retinoid once you’ve used it. I feel like I’ve had pretty decent results and for the price, don’t think you can go too wrong!

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