The 10 Best Retinol Body Lotions, According to Experts and Editors

Your go-to list, vetted by experts and editors.

Woman spreading cream on hands with yellow background
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If I'm being honest, my skincare routine is one of the best parts of my morning. I love slathering creams, serums, essences, and SPFs all over my body, and have enjoyed watching my skin glow, as though from the inside, in the process. But while facial skincare gets a ton of attention, skincare for the rest of the body is often forgotten about or neglected, and many people go about their days and nights without using a quality body lotion. These creams help skin stay hydrated and glowing, particularly as cold weather comes back around, and are made with ingredients as diverse as your face creams, from Vitamin C to retinol. And recently, I've been hooked on the latter.

"Retinol is a Vitamin A derivative that is available over the counter in a variety of formulations, including serums, creams, eye creams, and more," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lauren Penzi. In particular, she explains, "retinol is used for its anti-acne and anti-aging effects."

This means that whether you're suffering from acne, hyperpigmentation or scarring, keratosis pilaris, or sagging skin, retinol body lotions can firm and smooth your skin while evening out its tone. 

Below, Dr. Penzi unpacks everything there is to know about retinol body lotions and points us in the direction of the best options money can buy.

The Benefits of Retinol

I asked Dr. Penzi how retinols work, scientifically speaking, and she explained, "In skin, retinol is converted to retinoic acid that binds retinoic acid receptors (RARs) and retinoid X receptors (RXRs). This then leads to a cascade of gene-regulatory processes within the skin cells that alter their function and behavior."

More simply put, "it works to increase cell turnover, promote new collagen synthesis, and keep dirt and sebum out of pores, which all contributes to smoother, firmer, and tighter skin texture. It also decreases oil production and disperses melanin pigment, which helps target those pesky dark spots that never seem to fade."

Finding the Right Retinol

Of course, you can tailor your retinol choice to suit your specific needs, targeting issues such as scarring, keratosis pilaris, acne, or aging. However, when choosing one retinol body lotion over another, you should also keep concentration, and therefore potency, in mind. 

"Start with a lower concentration of retinol and use it every other night," Dr. Penzi suggests. "Gradually increase the frequency as your skin tolerates it. This helps your skin adjust to the retinol and reduces the risk of irritation."

Retinol Best Practices

Because retinol is such a potent ingredient, it's important to keep a few tips in mind when incorporating it into your daily routine. 

First and foremost, remember that because retinol increases the rate of cell turnover, you should avoid using it in tandem with acids like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and azelaic acid, as well as with acne-fighting ingredients like benozyl peroxide. Rather, if you're looking for a retinol lotion that specifically targets acne, find one that incorporates anti-acne ingredients for you, in delicate combinations and dosages approved by scientists and dermatologists. You can find a few of those options below.

You should also avoid using a retinol at the same time as a Vitamin C formula. Whereas Vitamin C thrives during the day, retinol is best used at night—a rule of thumb that Dr. Penzi agrees with.

"I recommend applying at nighttime, as retinol can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, and using it during the day may increase the risk of sunburn," she says.

And once you're ready to apply? "Always start with clean, dry skin. Apply a thin layer evenly to the body areas you want to target," Dr. Penzi advises. In particular, she says, "Larger body surface areas with more obvious signs of sun damage are the best places to apply retinol. This includes your chest and decolletage, back, arms, and legs. Be careful with thinner skin areas like your neck, axilla, and groin, as these areas are more sensitive and prone to irritation."

Finally, consider using different, non-retinol lotions on patches of skin that are already fragile, such as freshly shaved legs. Dr. Penxi agrees, "I recommend avoiding applying retinol containing creams directly after shaving, as this can increase risk for irritation.

The Best Retinol Body Lotions

Meet the Expert

Dr. Lauren Penzi
Dr. Lauren Penzi, MD

Dr. Lauren Penzi, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York state.  A graduate of Loyola University Maryland and New York Medical College, she specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery, and the Women’s Dermatologic Society. 

Gabrielle Ulubay
E-Commerce Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.