6 Gentle Resurfacing Retinol Options For Sensitive Skin

An iconic ingredient that everyone can use
Jasmine Tookes

When you have sensitive skin it can feel like all of the best skin care ingredients are off limits; from retinol to vitamin C, the products in skin care that promise better skin by the bottle also come with warnings of irritation and patch tests.

But just because you have sensitive skin doesn’t mean you have to swear off retinol altogether, in fact there are plenty of formulations made with sensitive skin types in mind.

Yes, we’d still recommend patch-testing — everyone’s skin reacts differently to skin care after all — but if you stick to low concentrations of retinol (think: under one per cent), look for ‘no side effect’ promises and even dabble in vitamin A derivatives and alternatives (read: bakuchiol), there’s hope for you yet.

Rather than letting you wander off into your local beauty retailer with nothing but a hope and retinol on the brain, however, we’ve curated a list of recommendations in the ‘best retinol for sensitive skin’ category. Here are our top picks…

2024’s top retinol for sensitive skin

  1. Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, $200, ASOS
  2. COSRX The Retinol 0.1 Cream, $33, Amazon Australia
  3. SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3, $129, SkinCeuticals

The best retinol for sensitive skin 2024


Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum

from $200 at ASOS

Best for: Low risk high dosage

Sunday Riley haven’t compromised on potency with this high dose serum. It uses an innovative blend of retinoid esters, liposomal-encapsulated retinol, and blue-green algae (a natural, retinoid alternative) to treat fine lines, wrinkles and congestion.

Sizes: 15ml / 30ml / 50ml

Key features:

  • Retinoid esters (five per cent), liposomal-encapsulated retinol (one per cent) and blue-green algae (natural, retinoid alternative)
  • Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
  • Clears a congested complexion
  • Encapsulated CoQ10 improves the appearance of impaired skin
  • Hawaiian white honey, bisabolol, cactus extract, and ginger work to balance, calm and soothe

Available at:


COSRX The Retinol 0.1 Cream

from $33 at Amazon Australia

Best for: Retinol newbies

Formulated for folks new to the world of retinol, this face cream sandwiches a gentle, yet effective concentration of 0.1 per cent retinol in between nourishing vitamin E and hydrating panthenol. All you need is a pea-sized amount for your whole face, and for the record, we’d recommend adapting the frequency of application over time once your skin has had the opportunity to get used to the potent ingredient.

Sizes: 20ml

Key features:

  • Contains 0.1 per cent retinol
  • Vitamin E nourishes and moisturises
  • Panthenol binds moisture to the skin and hydrates
  • Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
  • Lifts and firms sagging skin
  • Shrinks pores
  • Non-comedogenic

Available at:


SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3

from $129 at SkinCeuticals

Best for: Retinol veterans

Although this may not be the most potent concentration of retinol, if you’ve already got your skin used to the ingredient, then this face cream is gentle enough to use every evening without causing irritation. Formulated with 0.3 per cent retinol, soothing bisabolol (to minimise irritation), and specially packaged to preserve its potency, this night cream targets the first signs of ageing, as well as acne.

Sizes: 30ml

Key features:

  • Gentle enough to use nightly
  • Contains 0.3 per cent retinol
  • Bisabolol soothes and minimises irritation
  • Specially packaged to ensure potency
  • Targets the first signs of ageing and acne
  • Non-comedogenic and fragrance-free

Available at:


Medik8 Retinol 3TR

from $79 at The Iconic

Best for: Improving texture and tone

Get brighter, smoother skin with this 0.3 per cent retinol serum that utilises time-release technology to minimise the risk of irritation, as well as a nourishing infusion of moisturising emollients (jojoba oil and vitamin E).

Sizes: 15ml

Key features:

  • Contains 0.3 per cent retinol
  • Time-release retinol minimises the risk of irritation
  • Infused with nourishing and moisturising emollients (jojoba oil and vitamin E)
  • Brightens skin and smooths texture
  • Minimises the first signs of ageing

Available at:


Rejuvaus Repair & Refine ABC Serum

from $220 at Rejuvaus

Best for: A streamlined skin care routine

Streamline your skin care routine with this all-rounder serum that’s enriched with vitamin A (encapsulated slow-release retinaldehyde), vitamin B3 (niacinamide), and vitamin C (Kakadu plum). It helps to refine pores, fine lines and dark spots, enhance radiance, unify tone, smooth texture and promote a more resilient complexion.

Sizes: 30ml

Key features:

  • Gentle enough to be used twice a day
    Slow-release encapsulation prevents skin from becoming overwhelmed and sensitised
  • Contains encapsulated slow-release retinaldehyde (vitamin A), niacinamide (vitamin B3) and Kakadu plum (vitamin C)
  • Refines pores, unifies tone and texture
  • Enhances radiance
  • Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
    Strengthens barrier function

Available at:


Dope Skin Co Retinol Eye Cream With Vitamin C

from $39.95 at Dope Skin Co

Best for: Spot treating

If you have sensitive skin, then the idea of slathering retinol all over your face may not sound appealing to you. But you can still use the ingredient as a potent spot treatment under the eyes to get a leg up on crow’s feet before they form and deepen, or dotted onto dark spots to diminish the depth of colour of hyperpigmentation.

Sizes: 15ml

Key features:

  • Contains one per cent retinyl palmitate, a gentle retinol alternative
  • Infused with two per cent ascorbyl palmitate, a vitamin C derivative
  • Enriched with one per cent hyaluronic acid and vitamin E
  • Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
    Promotes elasticity, firmness and collagen production
  • Lightweight and non-greasy

Available at:

Can I use retinol if I have sensitive skin?

Yes, you can use retinol if you have sensitive skin; you just have to be a bit more careful than other skin types when it comes to selecting a product that doesn’t irritate your skin. There are plenty of retinol products that offer low concentrations of retinol for this exact reason, but there are also vitamin A derivatives, which are less likely to have side effects than traditional formats of the ingredient. Alternatives to retinol such as bakuchiol are also sensitive skin-friendly, promising a lack of side effects and irritation.

Which retinol is best for sensitive skin?

The best retinol for sensitive skin is a retinol product that you have safely patch tested on your sensitive skin. Unfortunately, given the temperamental nature of sensitive skin, it’s hard to give a blanket answer in terms of product recommendations. However, you can look for low concentrations of retinol, stable vitamin A derivatives and bakuchiol in your skincare products to start with, in order to find what works best for your skin.

Looking to save money on retinol for sensitive skin? Check out our coupon codes for MECCA, Oz Hair & Beauty and more.

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Main image credit: @jastookes

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