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Best retinol serums Australia

Looking to find the best retinol serums in Australia?

You probably already know that retinol is considered royalty in the world of skin care.

We have decades of clinical research demonstrating its effectiveness. There’s little, really, that retinol can’t help with. If you want to smooth those wrinkles, think retinol. If you what to improve skin tone, think retinol. If you want to unblock pores and reduce breakouts, think retinol. If you want to say goodbye to dullness, think Retinol. If you want to reduce texture and visible pores …. well, you get the drill.

And that’s not all, retinol can do a lot more, including providing antioxidant protection. You probably already know about how important it is to keep free radicals at bay given that these bad boys can do a lot to age your skin, and body.

I won’t go into all the benefits of retinol here as you can read all about it in my other blog article What are Retinoids?

What is retinol?

To find the best retinol serums in Australia, you first need to know about topical retinoids.

Topical Vitamin A ingredients, such as Retinol, are generally known as retinoids.

They come in over-the-counter and prescription-only forms.

Retinol is the most widely recognised and most widely used Vitamin A derivative. It’s been around the longest and we have plenty of research confirming its benefits and experience in formulating with it. Retinol is clinically proven to improve visible signs of skin ageing and acne. 

Other over-the-counter forms include Retinyl Palmitate, Retinaldehyde (Retinal) and Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate. These work in similar ways to retinol. 

Typically, Vitamin A derivatives need to convert to Retinoic Acid before they can be taken up by the receptors we have in our skin and deliver their benefits. This conversion process is imperfect and, with every conversion step that occurs, some potency is lost. The fewer the conversion steps, the faster the take-up in the skin.

Retinol requires two conversion steps. First it converts to Retinaldehyde and then to Retinoic Acid, which is what’s found in the prescription Tretinoin (Retin-A).

It would be easy to assume, therefore, that prescription forms of Vitamin A are best. However prescription forms have significant drawbacks, including causing dryness, peeling, redness and sensitivity. Most people find their skin adjusts over time, but for others it never does. Slower conversion is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have sensitive skin, or are using other products with potent actives, such as Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Beta Hydroxy Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide or L’Ascorbic Acid.

While some people just use retinol alone in their skin care routine, others use it alongside a prescription retinoid … on different nights, not the same night! Too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing!

How retinol helps skin ageing

Collagen and elastin are the key structural proteins found in the dermal layer of the skin. They help keep our skin looking plump and youthful. But, as we age, fibroblasts in our skin no longer make as much of these all-important proteins.

We reach peak collagen levels between the ages of 24-35. Young skin comprises 80% type I collagen and 15% collagen type III

This is followed by a gradual decline that sees us lose about 25% of the collagen in our skin over the next 40 years. 

In addition to the decline in our natural ability to produce collagen, estimated to be 1-1.5% a year, our remaining collagen and elastin gets damaged. This results in lines, wrinkles and sagging. There are also other factors that impact our collage, including sun exposure, smoking, poor diet, stress and lack of sleep.

And, if losing volume and firmness wasn’t bad enough, we also experience a reduction in Hyaluronic Acid, which impacts the hydration and suppleness of our skin.

Introducing Retinol into your skin care routine at this time can help to counter the loss and degradation of collagen and elastin as we age.

How retinol helps acne

Acne is caused by the accumulation of dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria  in the pores, which leads to inflammation.

Retinol can be used, alongside other actives, to improve acne. It increases skin cell turnover and thereby reduces the buildup of dead skin cells. This helps keep pores clear and open, which also has the benefit of enabling other topical acne actives to penetrate so they can do their best work.

The good thing about retinol, and other retinoids, is that they can help with all forms of acne.

Because retinol is keratolytic, meaning it breaks down outer layers of skin, it allows new layers to come through that are softer, smoother and healthier looking.

But that’s not all it does. Retinol can also decrease oil production, kill bacteria and reduce inflammation.

Retinol is beneficial for blackheads and whiteheads, helping the keratin to release from the pores. Retinol is also beneficial for those who experience those red and inflamed papules and pustules, helping to clear and prevent them.

The added benefit is that retinol helps to improve post-acne dark marks, scars and enlarged pores.

But you need to be patient and give it 3-4 weeks to really see results.

How much to pay for retinol

Prices for the best retinol serums in Australia vary considerably. Whether something is luxe beauty, cosmeceutical or drug store bought doesn’t determine whether it’s going to be effective.

The price a brand sets for its product is more about its positioning in the market, how much it’s invested in R&D and the formulation, the cost of ingredients, the packaging used and brand cache.

Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. But cheap doesn’t necessarily mean great either.

Retinol is a complex creature that’s temperamental in many ways. Formulating chemists need to get a lot right when working with retinol or you could just be buying something that’s ineffective, irritating and potentially harmful to your skin. 

You’ve probably heard people say that the cosmetics industry is regulated, but sometimes there’s little oversight and enforcement, especially when a product is made in an unknown manufacturing lab in a country with very different regulatory standards.

Looking at the percentage of retinol declared doesn’t tell you enough. 

You want to ensure you’re getting a well formulated, stabilised and correctly packaged retinol serum that delivers all that it’s meant to, not something that’s potential ineffective, unstable, pro-oxidant or contaminated.

Brands don’t tell you which formulation chemist or manufacturer developed or made the product so you can only really judge by way of brand credentials. These days, even reviews can be suspect.

Some brands selling cheap retinol on ecommerce platforms just buy the formulation off the shelf and have it made in a low-cost country such as China. They don’t conduct any testing of their own to verify the percentage of retinol, the stability of the product or even its safety. And they don’t have to.

Stick with retinol serums that come from brands that have a strong reputation, have a basis in science and lead the way in terms of formulations – it all matters.

You can pay anything from $30 to $530. But also keep in mind, your choice should be about maximising value not minimising price. A cheap product that doesn’t deliver results and causes irritation is a complete waste of money.

How to find best retinol serums

If price doesn’t determine quality and effectiveness, how do you find the best retinol serums in Australia? 

Here are some important things to look for in your quest.

Use our guide to find the best retinol serums in Australia

Percentage of retinol

You want to pay attention to the percentage of retinol in the product. If it’s not clearly declared then look at the ingredients list. Be cautiously sceptical if the brand doesn’t declare the percentage of retinol. 

If you’re new to retinol or have sensitive skin, you will want to start with something with a low percentage or start off with retinol esters, also known as derivatives. But if you’re an experienced retinol user, then you’ll want to look for something between that has 0.5-1% of retinol.

The maximum percentage permitted for use is regulated in cosmetic products in many countries:


Retinol may be the star attraction, but just like the lead actor in a film, everyone else in the cast is important too. No actor, regardless of star power, can deliver on his or her own. Retinol needs the backing of a whole lot of other ingredients to be able to deliver a great performance.

Retinol also requires a compatible environment for it to work its magic. It doesn’t like the company of acidic, alkaline or oxidising ingredients. It’s also best formulated with a buffer to maintain the right pH range throughout the product’s shelf life. A formulation chemist will aim for a pH of 6-7.

Given that retinol can be drying and irritating, it should be combined with other soothing and moisturising ingredients. These include allantoin, bisabolol, beta glucan, ceramides, centella asiatica, colloidal oatmeal, glycerin, green tea extract, liquorice, panthenol, hyaluronic acid and squalane.


Unlike L’Ascorbic Acid, Retinol has been found to have good epidermal penetration. Enzymes in the skin convert it to its active form, Retinoic Acid. 

But, as I’ve mentioned, this process can occur imperfectly and the formulation can speed up or slow down this process. If the retinol is absorbed and converted too quickly it can cause too much irritation and not deliver its benefits deeply enough in the skin. 

Encapsulated retinol is far more stable and less prone to oxidising. But it’s also superior in other ways. Because encapsulated retinol has multilayered liquid crystalline microspheres, it releases slowly into the skin at a deeper level and that means less irritation and better results.

For these reasons, encapsulated retinol is the preferred form of retinol, but it’s a more expensive ingredient. 


Retinol is difficult to manufacture.

Given it doesn’t like heat, light or an acidic environment, the skill of a formulating chemist really comes into play.

Heat needs to be avoided during processing and the right pH has to be maintained throughout the life of the product. A good formulation chemist with formulate at a pH of 6-7, use a buffer, such as Triethanolamine or Sodium Citrate, to preserve this pH, include other antioxidants and undertake stability testing to ensure this doesn’t change significantly and spoil. 

Despite it being a recommended practice, brands are not required from a regulatory perspective to undertake stability testing. That means that what came off the production line may not be exactly the same thing that you receive, and that should be of concern. Good brands will do this testing as a matter of course, but don’t count on it from questionable brands.

There are risks with any skin care product, but those risks are significantly increased when you’re dealing with active ingredients, such as retinol, that are inherently unstable.


When it comes to retinol, packaging is not just about aesthetics; it’s integral to the quality and stability of the serum.

Because retinol is susceptible to oxygen and light, the best Retinol serums in Australia will comes in opaque, airless containers. This type of packaging does a far superior job of protecting and preserving the Retinol and other actives. 

So if the retinol you’re considering is contained in a clear glass jar that you dip your fingers into, you may want to keep looking as that’s a red flag.

Sensorial experience

Of course, we all want our skin care to deliver results, but we should also be able to enjoy using it. I say life is too short for joyless skin care. 

A good brand will develop products that are lovely to use while also being functional. That’s one of the differences between a great brand and an ordinary brand.

You don’t want a product that’s smooth, velvety, moisturising and feels lovely on the skin, not something that’s greasy, clogs pores or smells like Aunt Mabel’s 40-year-old Coty perfume.

Ethical considerations

Increasingly, we’re all more conscious as consumers of ethical considerations these days. We want to know more about the company we keep people.

Most brands these days will sing it from the rooftops that they don’t test on animals. But you also want to know whether any of the ingredients have been tested on animals. Reputable brands go the extra mile when sourcing to ensure that they have transparency in the supply chain and aren’t unwittingly buying ingredients from questionable suppliers with questionable practices … because they’re cheaper.

Another consideration is the origins of the retinol. Skin care formulators typically use retinol that’s made from synthetic sources rather for reasons of stability, however, some many still use a form derived from enzymes found in milk or eggs. 

If you’re vegan or prefer vegan products, looking at the label. A brand that is responsible will source retinol that’s vegan friendly and tell you about it.

Shop best retinol serums Australia

As I’ve mentioned, there are quite a few factors to consider when looking for the best retinol serums in Australia.

Hopefully you know have the knowledge to do your own research and find which one will best suit your skin and budget.

Or you could skip all the hard work and shop some of our favourites.

Beginner retinol

A313 Cream is a great place to start if you’re new to the use of retinol, have sensitive skin or don’t know how your skin will react. It’s a well-kept beauty secret among French women and is in demand around the world. This product has been developed without water, which improves stabilisation and enhances penetration. Even though this one uses retinol esters, it still delivers a punch, so make sure you introduce it slowly and keep up the moisturisation.

The cult-A313-Cream-is-now-available-from-Skin-Clinica-in-Australia

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Intermediate retinol

BioBare Skin Revivify Encapsulated 0.5% Retinol Cream is much loved by experienced users of retinol. This is a luscious, velvety cream that, unlike many other retinol products, is lovely to use. It feels and spreads like a light but nourishing moisturiser and delivers great results without undue irritation. The retinol is encapsulated in a phospholipid layer and is released in a time-controlled way more deeply in the skin. It comes in an opaque, airless pump jar so you can dispense just the right amount and keep the actives protected.


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Advanced retinol

Medik8 Crystal Retinal 6 or Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10 is as good at is get when it comes to over-the-counter retinol. Medik8 is one of the first companies to have used Retinal, an advanced form of retinol. Retinal needs only conversion step in the skin to become the Retinoic Acid, what’s found in prescription Tretinoin. Medik8 has found that its Retinal works 11 times faster than retinol. This cosmeceutical brand sets the standard when it comes to Retinal. Its focus on R&D and long experience formulating with Retinal has enabled Medik8 to master this super tricky ingredient. Medik8 Crystal Retinal delivers visible results and is in an elite class of its own.


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Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinoid Night Oil is a new generation retinol that the latest research has found to deliver superior results without the irritation. It uses Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate. This ingredient is directly related to Retinoic Acid and binds to retinoid receptors in the skin without having to convert to Retinoic Acid first. As a newer ingredient, it doesn’t have the same research as other forms of retinol. Research, although limited, has shown significant improvement in collagen and elastin in the skin using this active.


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Remember, as with all retinoids, do not use if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.

Now you’re fully prepped to find the best retinol serums in Australia.

Yours truly in better skin

Anna Marie - Founder of Skin Clinica - The Skin Experts

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