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Retinol is a wonder for skin – but it doesn’t need to be a luxury

Retinol is peerless in its proven ability to reduce pore size, treat acne scars, smooth skin texture and soften fine lines. But what if you want all that bang for less of your buck? Given retinol’s popularity in recent years, I was surprised by how relatively little choice there is in the below-£25 market, but impressed with the quality nonetheless.

CeraVe has finally launched a retinol serum in the UK, and it’s worth the wait. It combines encapsulated retinol (better tolerated by irritable skins) with CeraVe’s signature blend of three ceramides to cushion the skin’s barrier, and niacinamide (which everyone should be incorporating into their routine by now, for myriad good reasons, not least its calming properties). CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum (£19) is what I’d call – with much love and respect – a “Fisher Price retinol”, as it makes things easier and more comfortable for newbies and the retinol-wary (I know there are still plenty of you). Don’t be fooled by its gentle formula, however – you should still see results in a month or so.

There’s no reason why increasing your active ingredient concentration (over time) means also ramping up your spend

Bliss’s Youth Got This Serum (£21.99) is another fine choice with an awful lot of formula for its relatively affordable price tag. Here we have retinol, amino acids (to support the barrier again), peptides (for strength), antioxidants and my favourite moisturisers, glycerin and squalane, in another easy, elegant formula that, to sound crass, feels way more expensive than it is.

These are both entry level retinol, but there’s no reason why increasing your active ingredient concentration (as one should, over time) also means ramping up your spend. The Inkey List’s new SuperSolutions range targets stubborn skin conditions with high- concentration formulas. The Scar, Mark and Wrinkle Solution (£22.99) is an unexpectedly creamy formula that contains 1% retinol (the over-the-counter maximum). While this works its witchcraft on discoloration, lines and post-spot scarring, the squalane and apricot kernel oil in the rich but lightweight peachy cream keep the skin’s barrier comfy and moist.

Related: The best starter retinols to try | Sali Hughes

As with all retinoids – whether over-the-counter retinol or prescription – some mild irritation (a little redness, a lot of flaking, perhaps a mild and brief stinging sensation) is normal in the first week or so of nightly use. This should pass as skin acclimatises. When using retinol at night, it is vital that in the day you unfailingly use an SPF of 30 minimum, regardless of your skin type.