Q: I want to try an anti-aging retinol cream. Are the drugstore kinds effective, or should I pay up for prescription strength?
A: Over-the-counter products like Roc Retinol Correxion, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair, and La Roche-Posay Redermic are less potent and therefore less irritating (and cheaper) than prescription-strength retinoic acid — the vitamin A derivative that boosts collagen, reduces lines and brown spots, and unclogs pores. “Retinol — the active ingredient in over-the-counter products — converts to retinoic acid in the skin, but not as much as you get from a prescription like Retin-A Micro, Differin, or Renova,” says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann. “Retinol and retinoic acid do the same things, but the dosage is different [between over-the-counter and prescription]." Stronger prescription formulas yield faster, more dramatic results, but also tend to cause irritation, dryness, and flaking. Using a milder Duane Reade product eventually gives you the same benefits; it just takes longer to get there. And it’s a much gentler anti-aging option, especially if you have sensitive skin.