Retinol is a star anti-aging ingredient that has gotten even more popular in recent years.
This type of vitamin A is hailed for erasing wrinkles and transforming skin tone – and science is there to back all those claims up.
Since everyone is talking about retinol, you might also want to give this baby a go. But can you do it the vegan way? Yes, you can.
We have listed the best vegan retinols on the market. Shop cruelty-free vegan retinol products from vegan retinol serums and face creams to vegan retinol body lotions.
What Is Retinol?
Retinol is a form of vitamin A. It is also referred to as vitamin A1. Retinol is a subtype of retinoids – a class of chemical compounds that are vitamers of vitamin A.
Retinol is the third strongest retinoid. It is stronger than retinoid esters (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate) and weaker than retinal and retinoic acid (tretinoin).
When applied to your skin, retinol is gradually converted into retinoic acid. Only after the conversion, you will get the skincare benefits such as reduced fine lines and wrinkles.
Unlike pure retinoic acid, retinol is available to buy over the counter. Retinol usually comes in a form of liquid serum, gel, cream, or lotion.
Is Retinol Vegan?
Retinol in skincare is always vegan. “Whether it’s in cosmetics or prescription skincare, retinoids are always synthetic,” says Paula Begoun of Paula’s Choice.
Many people think retinol is not vegan because retinol is naturally found in animal-based foods such as liver, oily fish, whole milk, cheese, and butter.
Skincare does not use naturally-derived retinol because it is not stable enough.
However, retinol skincare products can include other animal-derived ingredients and still not be vegan. (i.e. include beeswax, honey, animal glycerin, stearic acid, and squalane).
Retinol products can also be animal tested. To make sure your retinol skincare is vegan and cruelty-free, always look for a vegan sticker or certified vegan label.
Best Vegan Retinols 2023
We have listed the best vegan retinol products on the market. Choose the right vegan retinol for your skin and enjoy the age-defying benefits.
Best Vegan Retinol Serums
Serums are an effective way to add retinol to your skincare regime. Here are the best vegan retinol serums in 2023.
Paula’s Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment
Hands down, this is the best vegan retinol serum out there. In this serum, natural bakuchiol multiplies the power of retinol to give you smoother, brighter and rejuvenated skin.
By pairing vegan retinol with bakuchiol and peptides, this lightweight lotion targets wrinkles and fine lines, rough texture, loss of firmness, and enlargened pores.
This vegan retinol also has vitamin C that helps fight dark spots and dullness. The serum is free of fragrance and parabens. Read our full review here.
Retinol strength: 0.3% (moderate), also available as 1%
Other ingredients: bakuchiol, peptides, vitamin C
Skin type: normal, oily, combination, dry
The Ordinary Retinol 0,5% In Squalane
This potent vegan retinol oil serum is a simple concentration of retinol in vegan squalane. It visibly reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, photodamage, and dullness.
The alcohol-free vegan retinol is stable and effective but can irritate the skin. If you’re looking for irritation-free vegan retinol, go for Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion instead.
PS The Ordinary retinols are one of the most affordable vegan retinols on the market.
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum
First Aid Beauty has made a beautiful vegan retinol serum for dry and sensitive skin. The serum includes nourishing ingredients that alleviate the irritation associated with retinol.
The vegan retinol with hyaluronic acid minimizes fine lines and wrinkles revealing much firmer, brighter, and smoother skin.
We love that this vegan retinol features aloe, colloidal oatmeal, allantoin, and ceramides to nourish, soothe, and hydrate your skin.
Retinol strength: 0.25% (moderate)
Other ingredients: hyaluronic acid, vitamins C + E, aloe, colloidal oatmeal
Skin type: dry, sensitive, normal, combination, oily
Yeouth Retinol Serum With Hyaluronic Acid
This bestselling medium-strength vegan retinol serum with hyaluronic acid is great for all skin types. It defies wrinkles and fine lines, boosts, collagen, and provides essential hydration.
The vegan retinol also includes aloe vera and vitamin E that together nourish and hydrate your skin. The serum is also safe for sensitive skin.
Retinol strength: 0.25% (moderate)
Other ingredients: aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E
Skin type: oily, combination, normal, dry, sensitive
Eva Naturals Skin Clearing Serum
This multitasking vegan retinol serum with salicylic acid, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide addresses multiple skin concerns.
The serum repairs sun damage, erases wrinkles, supports collagen, reduces acne and blemishes, hydrates your skin, and tightens pores. Need we go on?
With its skin clarifying effect, this vegan retinol is great for acne-prone and oily skin. With a lot of strong ingredients, it might be too much for sensitive skin.
Retinol strength: 2% (very high)
Other ingredients: salicylic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, MSM
Skin type: combination, oily, acne-prone
Shani Darden Retinol Reform
Shani Darden Retinol Reform pairs vegan retinol with lactic acid – a fantastic AHA that exfoliates the skin surface, revealing a much brighter and smoother complexion.
This vegan retinol with AHAs is made with irritation-free encapsulated retinol that is safe for sensitive skin. It reduces fine lines and dark spots and protects your skin from external factors.
Retinol strength: 2,2% encapsulated retinol (low)
Other ingredients: lactic acid, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract
Skin type: dry, sensitive, normal, combination
Best Vegan Retinol Face Creams
If you want to keep your skincare routine simple, choose a vegan retinol face cream. Discover great retinol vegan night creams and daily moisturizers for your skin needs.
- Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Vegan Retinol Cream: 1% vegan retinol with vitamin F
- Naturium Retinol Complex Cream: 0,25% vegan retinol with bakuchiol
- Bioniva Retinol Moisturizer Cream: 0,25% vegan retinol with aloe vera
- Bella Beauty Retinol Cream Moisturizer: 0,25% vegan retinol with vitamin C
- The Skincare Co Night ABC: 0,25% vegan retinol with niacinamide
- Dr Dennis Gross Anti-Aging Moisturizer: encapsulated vegan retinol with ferulic acid
- Clearly Basic Clear Out For Acne-Prone Skin: 0.04% vegan retinol with azelaic acid (2% retinol complex with 0.04% concentrated retinol)
Best Vegan Retinol Eye Creams
Retinol makes an excellent eye cream ingredient. If you struggle with under-eye puffiness, dark circles, or fine lines, check out these best vegan retinol eye creams and serums.
- Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Triple Correction Eye Serum
- Sunday Riley 5 Stars Retinol + Niacinamide Eye Serum
- The Inkey List Vegan Retinol Eye Cream
Best Vegan Retinol Face Masks
These are the best vegan retinol face masks and treatments. Enjoy the age-defying, plumping, brightening, and hydrating experience at once.
- Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Eye Sleeping Mask
- Azure Hyaluronic Acid & Retinol Face Mask
- Dr Dennis Gross Overnight Texture Renewal Peel
Best Vegan Retinol Body Lotions
Your body can also benefit from retinol. Here are the best vegan retinol body lotions. These body moisturizers reduce sagging and wrinkles and improve skin tone and elasticity.
- Josie Maran Whipped Argan Pro-Retinol Vegan Body Butter
- PH Factor 5.5 Vegan Retinol Cream For Face and Body
- Medix 5.5 Vegan Retinol Cream with Ferulic Acid
- Reduces wrinkles – retinol smooths out fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the collagen production in your skin
- Improves skin tone – retinol brightens your skin tone through cellular level exfoliation
- Fades dark spots – it fades sun spots, age spots and hyperpigmentation by curbing melanin production
- Regulates oily skin – retinol helps regulate oil production, therefore preventing breakouts and acne
- Minimizes acne scars – retinol also improves your skin texture and reduces acne scars
- Tightens pores – retinol clears dead skin cells and clogged oil from your pores which makes your pores appear smaller
- Strengthtens skin – retinol can increase epidermal thickness which makes your skin stronger and more resistant to environmental stressors
- Treats kerastoris pilaris – retinol can treat a harmless skin condition that causes your skin to have causes tiny bumps and dry, rough patches and tiny bumps
Retinol Side Effects
There are many potential side effects of topical retinol.
The most common side effects of retinol are excessive dryness, skin scaling, redness, and itching. Less common side effects can include skin discoloration and acne flare-ups.
Thus, you should be very careful with retinol if you have dry or sensitive skin. Heather Rogers, M.D., suggests putting on moisturizer first and then just a pea-size of retinol.
If you have severe acne or some preexisting skin conditions, always consult a dermatologist before incorporating any kind of retinoid into your skincare routine.
What To Look For In Vegan Retinols?
The most important thing in buying vegan retinols is choosing the right strength.
The most common retinol concentrations are 0,25%, 0,3%, 0,5% and 1%. You can also find retinols in the range of 0.01-0.03% but those concentrations are not very effective.
Some companies express retinol concentrations on the cosmetic scale instead of the more popular medical scale. This means often a 2% marked retinol product is actually 0.2%.
When you have never used retinol before, choose the 0.25% strength and gradually work your way up. If you have sensitive skin, always patch test retinol before using it.
You should also pay attention to other key ingredients in your vegan retinol. For instance, vitamin E is a great ingredient for dry skin but might be pore-clogging to oily skin.
Retinol Vs Bakuchiol
When you look for vegan retinol products, you will quickly come across bakuchiol. Bakuchiol (aka bio-retinol) is a natural vegan retinol alternative derived from the Psoralea corylifolia plant.
Bakuchiol is a good choice if you are looking for a natural plant retinol alternative. Compared to retinol, it is much is safer for sensitive and dry skin.
When paired together retinol, bakuchiol can help stabilize retinol and keep it effective for longer.
Encapsulated retinol provides similar benefits to retinol without the side effects. Yet, it is much weaker. 1% encapsulated retinol equals 0.05-0.08% normal retinol.
FAQ About Vegan Retinols
Retinol in skincare is vegan. In food products, it might not be.
You should use retinol if you have aging, dull, or problematic skin. Sensitive and dry skin should be careful with retinol and rather opt for retinol’s natural alternative – bakuchiol.
Vegan retinol is exactly the same thing as regular retinol, so they are both equally effective. In skincare, retinol is always synthetically derived.
No, vegan retinol is not safe during pregnancy. However, retinol’s natural alternative bakuchiol is considered safe during pregnancy.
The best vegan retinol is Paula’s Choice 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment.
Retinol can help reduce the red pumps in rosacea but it can also irritate the skin even more. For rosacea, choose either the lowest concentration of retinol or go with the non-irritating natural retinol alternative – bakuchiol.
In skincare, bakuchiol and retinol are both vegan-friendly. Bakuchiol is simply the natural alternative to retinol. Bakuchiol is derived from the Psoralea corylifolia plant.
Yes, you can use retinol and vitamin C together. Just make sure that the concentration of both is not extra high.
No, the serum is not vegan because it contains honey.
No. None of Algenist products are considered vegan since the company tests on animals.
Yes. All Monat products are vegan and cruelty-free.
We are glad that retinol in skincare is vegan-friendly. There are so many benefits to incorporating retinol into your skincare routine and it’s great to do it the kind way.
Our favorite vegan retinols come from Paula’s Choice, The Ordinary, First Aid Beauty, Drunk Elephant, Naturium, and other cruelty-free and vegan brands.
As we find new vegan retinol serums and vegan retinol night creams, we are sure to test them out and add our favorites to this list.
PS if you use retinol during the day, make sure you follow it with vegan sunscreen. Retinol can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage.
Wikipedia: “Retinoid” And “Retinol”
American Academy Of Dermatology Association: “Retinoid Or Retinol”
Medical News Today: “What Is retinol And How Can A Person Use It?”
AJCL: “50 Years of Topical Retinoids for Acne: Evolution of Treatment”
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology “Retinoid, Topical”
Article update on May 04 (2023): Fact checked and medically reviewed by MD Shimona Garg
Update on February 18 (2023): Added references to support retinol benefits