In this clean retinol guide I’m sharing the best natural retinol serum products that I use religiously for anti-aging. I’ve also broken down the vital, need-to-know information about retinol, the gold standard ingredient for anti-aging. So many clean beauty brands use retinol, because it’s hands down the most efficacious form of vitamin A proven to reverse signs of aging, get rid of wrinkles and improve skin texture. As I write this, companies are developing new and improved clean retinols, so you don’t have to use plant alternatives like bakuchiol and rambutan, which are less effective.
For instance in July 2023, a retinol called Retinol CT50 was released. This retinol ingredient is free of both BHA and BHT, which are usually present in retinol to prevent oxidation. I recommend looking for clean BHT free retinol at a percentage of at least 1% if you want a really effective retinol serum.
Another amazing next-generation retinol used in clean skin care is HPR (also known as Granactive Retinoid). It’s even suggested that HPR is as powerful as prescribed retinoids, without the unwanted side effects like flaking and skin irritation.
A common issue people have with retinol is that it can cause irritation and redness. When skincare products include harsh or toxic ingredients on top of retinol, you could risk damaging your skin barrier.
If this is you, look for a clean retinol serum that uses plant alternatives to retinol. Brands may also describe these ingredients as bio retinol. They can include plants like bakuchiol, moth bean, rambutan, rosehip and carrot seed.
The most popular (and proven) plant alternative to retinol is Bakuchiol, derived from the traditional Indian and Chinese medicinal plant babchi. Bakuchiol is the only plant-based alternative to retinol that’s clinically proven to have similar effects as synthetic retinol like improving skin texture, collagen production, firmness and wrinkles.
But, I have to emphasize this – natural plant alternatives to retinol will not be AS effective as retinol. For real anti-aging results, I strongly believe you need retinol, which is why many organic and clean beauty brands will include clean retinol.
Not all retinoids are created equal though. Here, I’ve created a chart to help you understand the different strengths of retinol used in clean beauty, so you can choose the best one for you.
If you’re pregnant, you should avoid products with retinol and choose pregnancy safe retinol serums with natural alternatives instead. Keep reading for the very best clean retinol serums made with natural and organic ingredients.
One of my favorite clean retinol product discoveries of 2023 is the Saint Jane overnight treatment. This is a face moisturizer and sleeping mask that is rich and luxurious, great for aging skin and works throughout the night to fight dry skin, uneven texture and fine lines. It’ss formulated with Retinol, antioxidant-rich elderberry, and a proprietary Fine Line Complex and active florals.
Another top clean retinol discovery I made this year was the Mara Beauty Algae Retinol Face Oil. It features 1.2% clean retinol that’s BHT-free along with natural Vitamin A-rich ingredients. This face oil is incredibly thoughtful in formulation and provides skin with all 20 known amino acids, antioxidants from fermented green tea, brown seaweed, cacao and evening primrose.
- High tech formula of microencapsulated retinol, Vitamin C and stabilization assist from Vitamin E
- Proprietary microencapsulated resveratrol and superoxide dismutase (SOD) for a powerful antioxidant boost
- Powerful organic skincare with the addition of synthetic retinol
- Contains a combination of 2.5% Bio-Retinol and Retinol
- Evening primrose encapsulated retinol (innovation on the market and exclusive to Juice Beauty)
- Helps smooth skin, reduce the appearance of lines & wrinkles and evens skin tone and texture
- Natural retinol alternative serum
- Organic and wildcrafted ingredients synthesized with green chemistry in a water-based serum
- Fermented pumpkin enzymes softens and refines skin’s appearance
- International: Shop Kypris at Space NK
- Contains only natural alternative to retinol Bakuchiol
- An organic aloe leaf juice and jasmine hydrosol base with 15 of the world’s most innovative ingredients, including cellular extracted flame tree, emu apple and Tasmanian kelp, cacay oil, watermelon bioferment and vegetable ceramides
- Provides hydration, nutrition and protection
- Formulated with low-irritation HPR retinoids
- Gently promotes cellular turnover to help clear breakouts and smooth fine lines
- Plumping ceramides strengthen the skin barrier and improve elasticity
- Botanical antioxidants and marine superfoods revitalize, tone and protect
- $74 (discount code OBL saves 10%)
- Contains a combination of Granactive Retinoid and natural retinol alternative Bakuchiol
- Granactive Retinoid helps to promote skin turnover and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, without redness or irritation
- 37 botantical extracts including Centella Asiatica Extract, Bisabolol, Niacinamide, Hemp Seed Oil Complex, Lingonberry and Saponaria Pumila Stem Cells
- First skincare product to harness the power of upcycled Black Tulips from Dutch farms
- $110 (discount code OBL saves 20%)
- Contains 0.15% Stabilized Retinaldehyde, the most potent retinol next to an prescription and converts the fastest to retinoic acid
- 5% Niacinamide to boost efficacy of retinal
- Hyaluronic acid, adaptive a (Ashwagandha, Maitake, Shiitake, Reishi) and ceramides (Ceramide NP, Ceramide AP + Ceramide EOP)
- Twist off capsules of concentrated retinol, algae oil, spilanthes, astralagus and more
- Vegan and biodegradable capsules
- 0.2% retinol at a higher level than many other retinol products
- Formulated with melanated skin in mind
- These are very strong!
- Natural, plant-based retinol alternative from Picão Preto, a medicinal herb that’s native to Brazil
- 3% Vegan squalane and beautiful seed butters like Shorea and Murumuru
- Affordable and 100% natural skincare brand
- Takes transparency to the next level with all % of actives marked
- $35 (discount code OBL saves 20%)
- A lush nighttime facial oil with retinol
- Supercharged with vitamins E, C, D3, and CoQ10
- Medium weight oil in a base of Jojoba and enriched with Rosehip Oil, Sea Buckthorn Oil, Green Tea Seed Oil and Apricot Kernel Oil
- $58 (discount code OBL saves 20%)
- Contains natural alternative to retinol Bakuchiol
- Bakuchiol at 1% – Helps diminish the appearance of dark spots, uneven tone, and fine lines and wrinkles
- Gently resurfaces skin overnight to smooth texture, even tone, and reduce the appearance of dark spots
- Beta glucan, wild indigo extract and squalane
- $22 (save with code OBL at Cocokind)
- Organic face oil that contains only natural alternatives to retinol
- All-trans-retinoic acid rich rosehip oil, botanical retinol alternatives Ayurvedic babchi bakuchiol and tropical cacay oil
- Helps boost dermal collagen production and thicken the epidermis
- Organic and highly vibrant Hawaiian ingredients
- Contains natural alternatives to retinol only
- Retinol alternative Rambutan improves appearance of elasticity, firmness fine lines and wrinkles
- Paracress reduces the visible signs of aging
- Squalane boosts moisture retention and plumps skin
- Orange Milk Tree extract soothes, plumps and restores glowy skin
- Cosmos Natural certified
- $72 (Discount code OBL saves 15% at Indie Lee)
- Face Oil that contains encapsulated Retinol with time release technology
- Pure Vitamin E, Vitamin C, CoQ10 and advanced Marine Micro-algae extract
- Night-blooming Baobab extract and ‘The Queen of the Night’ aka Jasmine Grandiflorum hand-picked at dusk
- Ultra luxurious face oil that’s a crazy splurge at $250 but noticeably works
- $250 (code THANKYOU25 saves 25% here)
- Holistic skincare brand with a retinol collection combining synthetic retinol and natural retinol alternative Bakuchiol
- Naturopathica Holy Basil & Gorgeous Retinol Ageless Night Oil features 1% retinoid blend for fine lines and wrinkles
- Lightweight liquid oil with blue hue
- Contains adaptogenic herbs to fight skin stress
- Naturopathica Passion Fruit & Retinol Ageless Eye Serum contains retinol, antioxidant-rich passion fruit and a targeted peptide
- Luxurious cream containing Retinol, Peptides, Bakuchiol, and proprietary MFC proprietary MFC ™ Multi-Fermentation Complex (a powerful blend of oxygen, peptides, enzymes, hyaluronic acid, probiotics, and vitamins)
- Multi-molecular weight hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C, lipids and brightening Swiss Alpine Complex of 7 organic Swiss extracts containing brightening flavonoids, phenolic acids and iridoids
- A very rich and decadent cream that still has a somewhat whipped texture
- $325 (Discount code OBL saves 15%)
- K-beauty retinol brand
- Contains retinal, which is faster than retinol and provides better and faster results without adverse reactions.
- Liposome technology stabilizes retinal and enhances skin firmness. It prevents possible side effects by ensuring the right elements are delivered at the right place.
Andrea is a clean beauty expert from Los Angeles, California with 10 years of experience in clean beauty, natural skincare and organic living. She writes for Organic Beauty Lover using her expertise to guide readers in choosing the best clean beauty products. Andrea graduated from the University of Southern California in 2012 and has worked at multiple skincare companies, big and small. Connect with her @organicbeautylover.