What Exactly Is a Retinol Serum and Should You Be Using One?

What Exactly Is a Retinol Serum and Should You Be Using One?
Image: Instagram @adorebeauty
At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW - prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

With so many skincare trends like blue light protection and mini skincare fridges, it’s hard to know what you actually should and shouldn’t be using (and don’t even get me started on the order of using them, either). You might’ve heard of the ingredient ‘retinol’ and in particular, retinol serums. More people are turning to this skincare miracle to help with everything from acne to fine lines and wrinkles. But what exactly is it? And should you be incorporating one into your skincare routine?

We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about the popular formula (including where to find the best retinol serums in Australia).

What is a retinol?

Retinol has been dubbed a miracle ingredient for its myriad of benefits, but it’s important to know exactly what it does before investing in it. Retinol is a synthetic derivative of Vitamin A – a fat-soluble vitamin which promotes healthy skin. Many skincare products work to remove dead skin cells, but retinol molecules go deep beneath the outer layer of skin to your dermis. Once there, it works to boost the production of elastin and collagen which creates a plumping effect that reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores. At the same time, it also has an exfoliating effect which can improve the skins texture and tone. Told you it was magic.

Who should be using a retinol serum?

Retinol can cater to a wide variety of skincare concerns, so chances are it can definitely help with any (or all) of your skin woes. Along with treating fine lines and wrinkles, retinol can help with uneven skin tone, large pores, sun spots and acne. Given that it operates on a cellular level, it has the ability to brighten up your skin, regulate oil and prevent pores from clogging which is why it’s such a popular treatment for acne. If you have any of these concerns, you should definitely consider incorporating a retinol serum into your skincare routine.

It’s important to know that it can take several weeks to see the benefit of a retinol serum, so don’t be disheartened if your skin doesn’t look dramatically different overnight. You should also check the strength of the retinol before buying. There’s low-strength (0.01% to 0.03%), moderate-strength (0.04% to 0.1%) and high-strength (0.3%-1%). Don’t be turned off by the low-strength option as it can still offer a range of benefits, in fact it’d probably be best to start out with one of these first to see how your skin responds.

Lastly, you should be using your retinol serum at nighttime as it makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Be sure to slather your skin in sunscreen the next day too to prevent any irritation.

Best retinol serums in Australia

La Roche-Posay Redermic Serum, now $60.39 (usually $71.95)

retinol serum

This serum is interesting as the retinol is gradual-release meaning it works slowly on the skin for optimal efficiency. It also contains Vitamin B3 which works to soothe the skin, counteracting any sensitivity effects the retinol might cause.

You can buy the La Roche-Posay Redermic Serum ($60.39) from Amazon here.

BOOST LAB Retinol Night Renewal Serum, $29.95

retinol serum

This serum is all about the beauty sleep, working overnight to help de-wrinkle, hydrate, firm and illuminate your skin. It’s also oil and fragrance free if you aren’t a fan of serums with a strong smell.

You can buy the BOOST LAB Retinol Night Renewal Serum ($29.95) from Amazon here.

The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane, $12.70

The Ordinary is a really popular brand given its accessible price point and product effectiveness. This is a water-free solution which contains 1% pure retinol. It’ll work to reduce the appearances of fine lines, photo damage and general skin ageing. You’re recommended to try a lower-strength retinol first (like this ALPHA-H one) before moving into this one.

You can buy The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane ($12.70) from Amazon here.

Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum, $100

retinol serum

This serum is suitable for all skin types except sensitive given its high level of potency. It’s best for people in their 30s, 40s and 50+ looking to target fine lines, uneven skin texture and uneven skin tone. Several reviews also comment on its effectiveness for treating adult acne if that’s a primary concern as well.

You can buy the Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Night Serum ($100) from Amazon here.

L’Oréal Paris Retinol Anti-Ageing Night Serum, now $29.95 (usually $51.95)

This retinol serum is high potency so it’s best for people who have experience with the product already. If your primary focus is to correct wrinkles, this is a great choice as its formula is targeted for that specific purpose.

You can buy the L’Oréal Paris Retinol Anti-Ageing Night Serum ($29.95) from Amazon here.

Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum, $96.95


retinol serum

This product is really interesting as the serum is contained inside a capsule rather than a dropper. Each capsule contains retinol, ceramides, peptides and emmoliant oils. When combined, they’ll smooth out the lines in your skin, provide serious hydration and renew the texture.

You can buy the Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum ($96.95) from Amazon here.

ALPHA-H Vitamin A Serum with 0.5% Retinol, $80

This blend contains one of the mildest concentrations of retinol making it a great introductory product. It’ll also work to hydrate the skin courtesy of Vitamin A which products a healthy glow and production of new skin cells.

You can buy the ALPHA-H Vitamin A Serum with 0.5% Retinol ($80) from Amazon here.

Olay Regenerist Retinol Serum, now $35.99 (usually $59.99)

retinol serum

This serum is great for giving your skin a hit of hydration while renewing and resurfacing the skin while you sleep. It combines both niacinamide and retinol which is great for people with sensitive skin, as pairing the ingredients can actually make retinol easier to use.

You can buy the Olay Regenerist Retinol Serum ($59.99) from Amazon here.

Paula’s Choice Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Serum, $59

This serum works to reduce the appearance of wrinkles along with evening out skin tone and red marks. It also contains Vitamin C which is great for brightening the skin and replenishing vital antioxidants.

You can buy the Paula’s Choice Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Serum ($59) from Amazon here.

Log in to comment on this story!