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Can retinol treat skin concerns on your body, too? Derms weigh in

From 'bacne' to fine lines, this popular ingredient is no longer just for your face.
Vivian Le / TODAY

No matter how committed you are to a skin care routine, chances are you've heard of the powerful ingredient: Retinol. If you need a quick refresher on what this ingredient can do, retinol is the over-the-counter version of retinoid, which dermatologists say possesses many skin care benefits including acne and anti-aging.

"It speeds cell turnover and aids exfoliation of dead skin, it gets into the pore and breaks apart keratin debris, goes deep in the skin to help build collagen improving skin texture, fine lines and wrinkles, and even helps heal sun damage and repair the skin," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Leah Ansell.

While it's been a popular ingredient to add to your nightly facial routine, you might have recently seen it pop up in lotions and serums for your body. So we asked the experts if retinol body products have similar benefits and are worth adding to your skin care routine, too.

What are the benefits of retinol for the body?

While retinol is most commonly used to stimulate cell turnover, target fine lines and treat acne on the face, dermatologists say it can actually work on any area of the skin. Ansell says especially on the chest and back area, which are more prone to acne (i.e. bacne). However, she notes that the ingredient still works best on the face, since it contains more sebaceous glands.

In addition to treating body acne, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung says there are a few other benefits to using this ingredient in body care. "Body retinol is great for treating ashy skin, keeping skin smooth and tight, and preventing body acne. It can also help to fade brown spots," she says.

Can everyone use retinol in body care?

Both dermatologists agree that most people could benefit from using retinol products on your body, however, if you're prone to certain skin conditions, are pregnant, or trying to conceive, you'll want to avoid it.

"Those with rosacea, perioral dermatitis, very sensitive skin and eczema may want to have caution when first using a retinoid. As retinoids can be drying, it is important to find the right formulation and strength for each individual’s skin type," says Ansell.

The dermatologists also say that the same rules apply to your body as they do to your face. If you have sensitive skin, Cheung suggests only applying it one or two days a week, since it can cause dry and flaky skin. And there are certain ingredients you'll want to avoid while using it, which can also be found in acne-fighting body products.

"Avoid retinol and benzoyl peroxide [together] because these may not be compatible. Also avoid other excessively drying topicals, which, when used in combination with retinoids can be too drying," adds Ansell.

The good news is if you're using moisturizing lotions that contain hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, the experts say retinol body products work well with these ingredients and can help maintain moisture.

Whether you're looking to treat a case of bacne or overall improve your skin texture, we rounded up a variety of retinol lotions and serums that are loved by both editors and shoppers.

Editor-loved retinol body products

Necessaire The Body Retinol

Commerce editors Vivien Moon and Julie Ricevuto say they use this retinol serum all the time. Moon likes it for its lightweight formula and says it doesn't feel greasy when she applies it before bed. According to the brand, this "serum-in-balm" contains 0.1% pure retinol and 10% AHA that's meant to target dark spots, lines and even help with scarring.

Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Body Lotion

Another favorite of Ricevuto's is this lotion from Versed, and editorial director Adrianna Brach says she likes it, too. Along with retinol, the brand says it contains cocoa butter, squalene and vitamin E to help relieve the skin from dryness.

"I also love this one for its gentle exfoliation. My skin feels nourished afterward thanks to the added cocoa butter in it," says Ricevuto.

More retinol body products to shop

Paula's Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment

According to the brand, this retinol body treatment is an award-winning product and contains 0.1% retinol. The brand suggests using this lotion from the neck down to target uneven skin tone and add moisture.

I've been using Paula's Choice Triple Active Total Repair Serum and the brand's "retinyl" has done wonders for dark spots on my face, so I look forward to trying this retinol option for the body to help target sun damage.

Gold Bond Age Renew Retinol Overnight Body & Face Lotion

You don't always need to splurge for an effective product. This drugstore brand offers a retinol lotion that can be used for both your face and body. The brand says it also contains peptides, shea and cocoa butter for hydration.

And shoppers rave about the benefits and compare it to luxury products, "I put it on my face and my arms which have suffered damage from years of working in the sun. I’m on my second tube and I plan to keep ordering it," says one verified reviewer.

Advanced Clinicals Retinol Advanced Firming Cream

According to the brand, this advanced retinol cream contains aloe vera, chamomile, glycerin and green tea to help target a variety of skin concerns: sun damage, wrinkles, crepey skin and more. Plus it has nearly 46,000 five-star ratings. "I love this cream. I’ve been using it for several years and will continue to do so. It does reduce the appearance of wrinkles and makes skin smoother, softer and shinier," says one verified reviewer.

Medix 5.5 Retinol + Ferulic Acid Age Rewind Body Cream

This body cream contains both retinol and ferulic acid to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks, wrinkles, sun damage and more, according to the brand. Plus the brand says it contains vitamin E and shea butter so you can expect it to feel extremely hydrating, too. It has more than 17,000 ratings and one reviewer called it the "best cream ever".

Meet our experts

  • Dr. Leah Ansell, MD FAAD, is a New York-based board-certified dermatologist at Treiber Dermatology Associates and an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University.
  • Dr. Jessie Cheung, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, treating patients at her own practice, Cheung Aesthetics & Wellness in Chicago and New York.