Retinol is the scientific term for vitamin A. This ingredient has been proven to increase the production of skin-plumping collagen, thus increasing the firmness and elasticity of skin and softening the depth and overall appearance of wrinkles over time. Additionally, retinol is an antioxidant that helps to counteract the effects of free radicals -- which damage skin cells. In over-the-counter wrinkle creams, it is listed as retinol, retinyl palmitate or retinylaldehyde -- retinol being the most effective. Prescription strength creams are stronger but work in a similar manner.
Over-the-counter retinol creams won't produce results as quickly, and they aren't as effective for more prominent lines and wrinkles, but they cause less irritation than prescription creams. That being said, retinol can be irritating to some with sensitive skin. Several reviewers recommend using it every other day to begin with and easing yourself into a daily regimen. Retinol can also cause sun sensitivity. For this reason, dermatologists say it's crucial to use a broad spectrum sunscreen (containing SPF 15 or higher) during daylight hours. Additionally, retinol compounds begin to degrade in the presence of light and air. For this reason, experts recommend looking for anti-aging skin treatments that are packaged in opaque containers and avoiding products in clear or wide-mouthed bottles and jars.
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream -- Night (*Est. $13 for 1.4 oz.) is a longtime favorite among reviewers because it's affordable and it works. The retinol cream contains a notable amount of antioxidants (green tea and two forms of vitamin E), all in a moisturizing base. Begoun says, "It is definitely one of the better retinol products at the drugstore," due to its high content of quality ingredients at its affordable price point.
Consumers at MakeupAlley.com and Drugstore.com agree. Several praise the wrinkle cream for being an excellent value and insist that it produces noticeable results in the form of a more even skin tone and smoother texture. Several users also say that the Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream does an excellent job of moisturizing skin and reducing the occurrence of acne breakouts. While some users maintain that Neutrogena does nothing to improve the appearance of wrinkles, others say that it does indeed soften fine lines, making them less noticeable.
Experts say that it can take up to two months, however, to see noticeable results with an over-the-counter wrinkle cream. For more obvious results, a prescription-strength formula may be needed. Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream -- Night is fragrance-free and oil-free, but it may be a bit too thick and heavy for oily skin types. Like nearly all wrinkle creams, it doesn't contain sunscreen, so it's best used as a night cream. A similar formula that contains sunscreen is also available, Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream SPF 15 (*Est. $13 for 1.4 oz.).
Rapid Wrinkle Repair Night Moisturizer (*Est. $20 for 1 oz.) is Neutrogena's latest offering, and Neutrogena says it's their fastest retinol cream to date. Paula Begoun points out, however, that the formula actually contains very little retinol or hyaluronic acid (another highly touted ingredient in this formula, which is known to hydrate and plump skin). In fact, Rapid Wrinkle Repair contains more preservatives and fragrance than either of the aforementioned ingredients. Users at Drugstore.com and Amazon.com have mixed opinions about the moisturizer. Some say it produces noticeable results in just a matter of days, while others say they saw no change at all. Although the formula earns high overall ratings at both websites, it isn't reviewed as often as the tried-and-true Healthy Skin Cream, which also gets better ratings from the most credible professional sources. We ultimately chose the latter as a Best Reviewed product because it is a better overall value and is reviewed more often by users.
If you want more dramatic results than an over-the-counter wrinkle cream can provide, a prescription cream may offer the solution. Prescription wrinkle creams use derivatives of vitamin A, known as retinoids, to firm skin and diminish fine lines and wrinkles. Although prescription creams cannot rival cosmetic medical procedures, such as Botox and face lifts, experts at ConsumerReports.org say retinoids are "the only proven topical prescription remedy for wrinkles." They are stronger than over-the-counter products and can make an obvious difference to skin, whether in the beginning or advanced stages of aging. It's important to note that even these proven creams are unlikely to erase all signs of aging, and those with more noticeable wrinkles may need a stronger dosage. Still, doctors recommend sticking to the lowest dosage until your skin adjusts to it.
There are several prescription-strength retinol creams available (including Retin-A, Retin-A Micro and Renova) but they are outside the scope of this report. If you are considering this route, we recommend discussing all of the options with your doctor in order to determine which is best for you.