The Best Retinol Body Products to Smooth Your Skin

9 min read


Retinol is somehow both one of the most popular and misunderstood skincare ingredients. While skincare experts and beauty lovers sing its praises, beginners might be wary of such a potent ingredient. Is retinol safe? How do you incorporate it into your skincare routine? And what about the dreaded “purge?” Believe me, I’ve been there. When it comes to what you put on your face, it pays to be cautious. But once you experience the transformative powers of retinol, you’ll never go back. You’ll probably want to use it everywhere. So it’s no surprise that retinol is popping up in all the buzziest body care bottles.

One of my favorite skincare hacks is using potent ingredients on my body as well as my face. From swiping glycolic acid across my underarms to using hyaluronic acid on my hands, I love to show my body a little extra love. Plus, our bodies can handle more active ingredients at higher concentrations. In fact, the skin on your body often needs more strong products to see a difference. That’s where retinol comes in.

Featured image from our interview with Sanetra Nere Longno by Michelle Nash.

Image by Teal Thomsen

The Best Retinol Body Products: What to Know

Using retinol is the closest thing you’ll get to bathing in the fountain of youth. It supercharges cell turnover to speed up collagen production, keeps your skin firm, and smooths fine lines and pigmentation. All these things happen to your body, as well as your face, which is why it seems like all the cutting-edge brands are releasing retinol body products.

To discover how to use the best retinol body products, I spoke to Dr. Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin & Aesthetics Surgery of Manhattan. She took me through the ins and outs of how to use retinol for the body and what to look for in the best retinol body products.

Image by Belathée Photography

The Benefits of Retinol Body Products

Retinol, a type of vitamin A, provides several benefits to the body, including improved skin health, bone growth and development, and maintaining eye health. It has been shown to stimulate collagen production, which can enhance the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and skin texture. Additionally, it can reduce acne, unclog pores, and improve uneven skin tone. Retinol has also been used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and hyperpigmentation.

Side Effects

Potential side effects of retinol include skin irritation, redness, peeling, and sensitivity to sunlight. To avoid these side effects, it is recommended to start with a low concentration of retinol and gradually increase the dosage.

Image courtesy of Stella Simona

How to Apply Retinol Body Products

Regarding the frequency and application of retinol body products, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It is generally recommended to use retinol products at night since they can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.

The Difference Between Retinol Body Creams and Body Lotions

It is important to note that retinol body creams and body lotions have different consistencies. Creams are thicker and more hydrating, while lotions are more suitable for people with oily skin. The choice between a cream or lotion ultimately depends on personal preference and skin type.

The Best Retinol Body Products for Sensitive Skin

For individuals with sensitive skin, it is recommended to use a lower concentration of retinol and start with a patch test before using it on a larger area. It is also important to avoid using retinol with other potentially irritating skincare ingredients, such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). The Naturium retinol body lotion as well as Olay Retinol body lotions are great options.

Who should avoid retinol body treatments?

People with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea should be careful with using retinol body products since it may exacerbate these conditions. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid using retinol products due to their potentially harmful effects on the developing fetus.  Consulting a dermatologist before using retinol body products is always advisable.

Image by Emma Bassill

The Best Retinol Body Products, Tested and Reviewed

With a doctor’s recommendation in tow, I tried some of the most popular retinol body washes and viral retinol body lotions for myself. I looked for products that paired their retinol formulas with other skin-renewing active ingredients. I also investigated which skin type each product was formulated for and whether or not it was a cruelty-free formula.

My own trials and additional research gave me a 360 view of the exciting, emerging world of retinol body treatments—from body washes to serums and scrubs. And it also gave me smoother, clearer skin in just a few washes. So believe the hype, and read more for a full rundown on the best retinol body products.

Every product is curated with care by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether gifted or purchased ourselves. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Topicals is known for their cult favorite hyperpigmentation solution (which I love), so when the ads for their body serum flooded my For You page, I was intrigued. Promising to smooth textured skin and fade discoloration all over the body, this serum sounded like a stronger, retinol-infused version of their hero product. And when I tried it, it didn’t disappoint.

The texture is something between a serum and a lotion. It feels water-based and lightweight but provides a surprising amount of coverage—a little bit goes a long way. After applying the serum, it absorbs into the skin immediately, leaving it hydrated but not sticky. The directions say to apply it 2-3 times a week, so I used it every other day. In just a week, I could feel a difference in how smooth my skin felt to the touch, particularly in places like the backs of my arms. I’ll definitely be keeping this in rotation for my nighttime routine.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol, Niacinamide, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Urea
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 5 fl oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

This shower duo has sold out multiple times since first going viral. This two-step system is a wash and conditioner for your body. I tried it out for myself and have not been disappointed. The milky wash is a nighttime ritual that caps my day with a small feeling of accomplishment. If I did nothing else that day, I know I’m making progress toward clearer, smoother skin. Each product lathers easily and feels gentle on my skin. In just a few days, I noticed a difference, especially in my KP—the bumpy, clogged pores on the surface of your skin. Just be sure to use sunscreen in the morning after as retinol heightens your sensitivity to the sun.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol, Vitamin B3 Complex
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 18 fl oz & 8 fl oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

Anyone who struggles with clogged pores on their face should invest in Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Lotion, a holy grail for clearing sebaceous glands and smoothing your face. In the same vein, anyone with clogged pores on their body, also known as KP, should try Paula’s Choice Resist Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment. While the facial toner uses salicylic acid to sweep away debris from your pores, this body treatment uses retinol to transform the texture of your skin. Vitamin C also helps to fortify the anti-aging effects of retinol, making for smooth and soft skin all over.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol, Vitamin C
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 4 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

Naturium is another brand that has gone viral for its transformative—and affordable!—body products. It’s a brand that combines scientific research and potent ingredients to get real results. And you can pick it up at your local Target. Always on the cutting edge, this retinol body lotion is a silky solution that softens, resurfaces, and firms skin while you sleep. Formulated for all skin types and concerns, it nourishes and transforms your skin without irritation, thanks to its encapsulated form of retinol.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 8 fl oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

You can get transformative results without going over budget—or even complicating your routine. This lotion is gentle enough for your face but powerful enough to visibly firm and smooth the skin on your body in just one week. It’s also packed with the same moisturizing ingredients that make other Gold Bond products a drugstore staple. It’s safe to say that this no-fuss moisturizer packs a punch. Grab it for a super simple, yet super effective routine at a great price.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol, Niacinamide, Urea
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 7 oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

If you take your nighttime ritual seriously, this luxe, whipped body butter is for you. Get all the pampering of your favorite body care products without sacrificing science-backed results. Who says you can’t have it all? The air-whipped argan oil base is as nourishing as it is lush. Fans of Josie Maran will recognize the smooth consistency and the applicable texture as their signature body butter but even more potent and powerful.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 8 fl oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

For spa-like results while you sleep, this Cosmedix treatment magnifies the effects of retinol by combining it with bakuchiol, the clean-beauty alternative to vitamin A. By leveraging the benefits of both actives, this treatment resurfaces your skin as you sleep. Backed by research and superstar ingredients, it promises visible results in just two weeks. The nutrient-packed formula hydrates, brightens, and tightens the skin overnight without a trip to your esthetician.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol, Bakuchiol, Caffeine
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 4 fl oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

This viral brand makes buzzy body ingredients that actually work. Packed with potent ingredients and a fine texture, this body scrub is a retinol body treatment that feels as satisfying as it is effective. Slough off dead skin with physical exfoliation while retinol works beneath the surface of your skin to resurface and treat. Bumps be gone—this body scrub is an easy way to incorporate retinol into your body care routine.

  • Active Ingredients: Retinol, vitamin C
  • Skin Type: All
  • Size: 2 fl oz
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes


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