Getting serious about your skincare routine can make you feel like an instant grown up, even if adulting isn’t your thing (yet). Visiting a dermatologist, understanding your skin type, and adding effective ingredients — like retinol (also known as vitamin A) — to your regimen is a solid starting point. 

When it comes to using retinol, the first step is understanding what it is and how to best incorporate it into your routine. “Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that’s a weaker, over-the-counter version of prescription-strength Retin-A,” says California-based dermatologist Jill Javahery. “Retinols have the ability to unclog your pores, enhance cell turnover, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and help even out pigmentation.” Good news: Retinols can work wonders for most adults if they’re used correctly — but note that women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should avoid it. Read on to get more familiar with this brightening, plumping ingredient, and discover products that contain it at every budget.

$15 — $30

If you’re looking for an affordable way to introduce retinol into your routine, you’re in luck: Lots of effective drugstore options exist, like Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Regenerating Face Cream ($26). “When retinols are used appropriately, they’re very safe, but should not be used in daytime products,” Javahery explains. Your skin is more susceptible to sun damage after using a retinol because of the exfoliation that occurs. This option from Neutrogena works well because it’s intended to be used exclusively at night, so you won’t compromise your complexion during the day.

$30 — $50

Applying an option like Philosophy Help Me ($49), a night treatment that has time-released retinol, as the final step in your nighttime skincare will help your face get familiar with the new ingredient. “Apply this type of retinol after washing your face but before moisturizer,” says Javahery. “I recommend using them every other night, at least in the beginning, to give your skin time to become accustomed to a new product.”

$50 — $75

Keep in mind that not all retinols are created equally. “There are many types of retinols that vary in strength,” she tells us. “Formulations, such as whether it’s a cream, gel, or serum, will affect the way the skin absorbs the product.” A serum like Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65) has a potent formula but is also packed with vitamin E to make sure it’s gentle on the skin. Give this option a go if you want to plump up wrinkles and even out hyperpigmentation.

$75 +

Once you’re a retinol regular, dive into a powerful product like Kat Burki Retin-C Treatment Complex ($165). It’s made with vitamin C, which helps with efficacy, so you’ll notice serious results after continued use. Your skin will also be protected against free radicals, so fine lines and wrinkles don’t stand a chance of forming.

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