You’ve probably heard your skin-care enthusiast friends sing the praises of retinol for facial skin care, but what about a retinol body lotion, serum, or oil? Body products that contain retinol as an active ingredient can have a wonderfully positive impact on your skin’s quality.
How does retinol work?
Retinoids and retinol are touted as powerhouse ingredients for exfoliating, brightening, clearing breakouts, and “anti-aging” (read: reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles). Dermatologist Adam Scheiner, MD, tells SELF that topical retinoids were originally used to resolve acne, but they turned out to have a positive impact on the skin’s overall quality, too. That’s because these ingredients, both derivatives of vitamin A, speed up skin cell turnover, as SELF has previously reported. When that happens, dull and dead skin sheds faster, the skin’s barrier gets stronger, and collagen production gets a boost, which helps the skin maintain its elasticity. While they function similarly, retinoids and retinol differ in terms of potency—you can get retinol over the counter in a range of concentrations, but many retinoids are available with a prescription.
How can retinol benefit the skin on your body?
“Traditionally, retinols have been used for the face, but the rest of the body can also join the anti-aging fun,” dermatologist Andrea Schrieber, MD, tells SELF, noting that the skin on your neck, chest, arms, legs and even the backs of your hands can benefit from retinol skin-care products. Dr. Schrieber points to dullness, discoloration or hyperpigmentation, signs of premature aging, and rough and bumpy skin (keratosis pilaris) as skin concerns that a good retinol product can help address. And, true to its roots, retinol is also an excellent acne-fighting ingredient, if you deal with breakouts on your chest or back.
Who should use retinol body products—and how can they can get started?
As SELF has previously reported, retinols can be helpful to a wide range of people. That said, your skin type can help determine what type of product you try out. Those with sensitive skin, for example, may be better off using a product with a lower concentration or one that contains retrinal, a less irritating form of retinol. Meanwhile, people with dry skin should probably choose a more moisturizing product like a retinol cream or lotion, as opposed to a gel—and Dr. Scheiner recommends using said body cream sparingly until your skin builds up a tolerance.
To that point, it’s not a bad idea to take it slow when beginning to add retinol to your skin-care routine, regardless of your skin type. Retinols, especially more potent formulations, aren’t as intense as their prescription-strength counterparts, but they can still cause some irritation, dryness, and redness—as well as photosensitivity, so wear your sunscreen! Dr. Schrieber recommends using your retinol every other day or every two days to start out, and using plenty of moisturizer. She adds that pregnant or breastfeeding people should skip retinol products altogether.
What should you look for in a retinol body product?
In addition to varying levels of potency, Dr. Schrieber says to look out for added ingredients like antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and peptides, all of which pose additional benefits for your skin. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, help prevent signs of aging and dark spots; while hyaluronic acid provides additional hydration by helping skin attract and retain more moisture. Ceramides similarly help with dryness by maintaining a healthy skin barrier, while reducing the appearance of fine lines, to boot. Finally, peptides further encourage collagen production, which helps supplement the effects of your retinol of choice.
With all that in mind, there’s a wide array of retinol body products that you can try. But, to save you some time, we’ve highlighted some of the highest-rated options below. Many contain those extra-credit ingredients Dr. Schrieber shouted out, and some are particularly well-suited to certain skin concerns like acne, skin texture, or dullness. Read on to find your new favorite retinol body lotion.