If you don’t already know, retinol/retinoids are a gift to humanity, and in my eyes, go down in history as some of the best skincare ingredients of all time – hands down, no competition. They really do it all – they prevent wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, tighten pores, reduce oil production, prevent acne and clogged pores, increase collagen production, and perform a whole host of other miracles.
Retinol and retinoids are the closest we’ve ever come to finding the fountain of youth, and if you aren’t already using them, I sincerely recommend you start – even you sensitive skin folks. I have rosacea, eczema, and a perpetually damaged skin barrier and retinol/retinoids still do wonders for my complexion.
While retinoids like tretinoin can have a pretty high barrier of entry (they are available only through prescription and cost a pretty penny), retinols are widely available at a reasonable cost, are easy to get your hands on, and don’t cause nearly as much skin irritation than retinoids do due to their less concentrated nature. This makes them more preferable to most consumers.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate retinol into my skincare routine is via serums. Serums absorb deeper into the skin, and at a much faster rate than other products, which make them the perfect medium to reap the maximum benefit of actives like retinol and AHAs. So while you technically could use retinol in a moisturizer or cream, you wouldn’t get the same results that you would through using a serum, aka serums are the way to go.
That being said, if you’re a sustainable consumer who prefers using vegan products, it can be difficult to find a good vegan retinol serum. There’s not very many of them, and the few that are vegan are often cosmetically inelegant, way overpriced, and all around subpar. To save you time, money, and grief, I’ve put together a list of the best vegan retinol serums available. I hope it’ll make finding the perfect serum a breeze!
1. Pacifica Clean Shot Granactive Retinoid
If you’re not already incorporating Pacifica products into your skin care and hygiene routine, you’re missing out. They are, in mine and many others’ humble opinions, the best vegan skin care brand around.
They’ve got a cult following, and for good reason – all of their products are vegan, cruelty free, PETA certified, and formulated with fantastic ingredients. I’ve yet to find a single product of theirs that I don’t thoroughly enjoy, and that’s saying a lot considering how many I’ve tried. And their Clean Shot Granactive Retinoid Serum is no different – It’s a fantastic serum that incorporates a relatively new sibling of retinol called granactive retinoid. And before you start saying that’s not retinol, hear me out.
While granactive retinoid is newer to the game than retinol, that doesn’t make it any less effective. In fact, it’s actually better than retinol in a lot of ways. Unlike retinol, granactive retinoid is directly recognized by your skin cells and doesn’t have to be broken down like retinol does, meaning it works more quickly and effectively. It also has the same effects as retinol without as much irritation, making it extra suitable for sensitive skin types.
Pacifica’s Clean Shot Serum pairs 5% granactive retinoid with other stellar ingredients like glycerin, lecithin, and norway spruce extract. It is 100% vegan, cruelty free, is formulated without parabens or phthalates, it has a quick absorbing, silky smooth texture that doesn’t pill. What’s not to love?
2. The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane
Another brand that I absolutely love (that just so happens to be exclusively vegan) is The Ordinary. They’ve made exuberantly expensive ingredients that have been gatekept by the cosmetic industry for decades affordable and much more accessible to the average consumer, and for that, we all owe them a thank you.
Their formulations are also very minimalistic but effective, and they cut out the unnecessary fillers you see in many brands’ products. They hold a special place in my heart, and I can confidently recommend much of their skin care without a shadow of a doubt.
One of their most famous products is their Retinol 1%, and countless people all around the world go absolutely bananas for it. It has a very bare bones ingredient list, and that’s not surprising considering minimalism is one of The Ordinary main draws. And its minimalistic formulation is actually what most people like about it. With only six ingredients, the likelihood of a negative reaction to the product is much less likely than it would be to your average 15-20 ingredient product.
The serum has a slightly oily texture, more so than others on this list, and if you have dry skin this is the retinol I’d recommend most. It contains both squalane and jojoba oil which are both phenomenal facial oils that have wicked moisturizing capabilities.
Also, if you’re worried that a 1% retinol will be too strong to start out with, The Ordinary also has a .5% retinol! It’ll be more beginner friendly and much more suitable for sensitive skin.
3. First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum
First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum is an all around great serum that contains one of the best ingredients to pair with retinol – peptides. Peptides are a type of amino acid that are essential to the skin, and a lack of them can lead to a whole host of issues, such as rough texture, loss of firmness, and increased appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Unsurprisingly, the incorporation of peptides in skincare leads to the exact opposite. It leads to increased production of collagen and elastin, which results in the skin acting and looking younger, and leaving you with a smoother, plumper, less aged looking complexion.
Some of the serum’s best ingredients include (of course) 0.25% pure retinol, peptides, avocado oil, colloidal oatmeal, vitamin e, ceramides, and aloe leaf juice. As far as consistency goes, it’s like a hybrid between a serum and a cream, and would be perfect for those looking for a less hydrating, but more moisturizing serum. And yes, this product is vegan! All First Aid Beauty products are 100% cruelty free (PETA-certified) and many of their products have fully vegan formulations.
4. CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture
I’d be genuinely surprised if none of you had tried a CeraVe product before. They are an extremely famous brand worldwide who are known for being one of the most recommended brands by dermatologists, for their gently formulated products, and for their affordable price tag.
While I don’t use many of their products, there is one that I keep coming back to – CeraVe’s Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture. Because my skin is so sensitive, it is not uncommon for me to develop side effects from retinol use. Flaky skin, damaged skin barrier, you name it.
This is one of the only retinol serums that I’ve used that has never caused me side effects, even with daily use. Many serums I have to scale back to every other day, but not this one. It is fantastic, and if you’re looking for a sensitive skin friendly retinol you can use every night, this is the one for you.
Some of its best ingredients include retinol, niacinamide, three different types of ceramides, and sodium hyaluronate.
5. 100% PURE Multi-Vitamin
Before I rave about this product, I just want to say that it is on the more expensive side, so if you don’t have money to spare, I’d skip this one. That being said, if you DO have money to spare on new skincare, 100% PURE Multi-Vitamin serum is definitely worth a try. It’s basically, as the name gives away, a walking vitamin serum. It is formulated with retinol (aka a vitamin A derivative), vitamin E, niacinamide (aka vitamin B), vitamin C, and a ton of different antioxidants.
It is a powerhouse of a serum that will help with a wide variety of skin issues even more than a regular retinol serum would. Fine lines, hyperpigmentation, rough texture, acne, anti-aging, you name it. And that’s the only reason I feel comfortable recommending it, even though it has a high price tag. It’s ingredient list lets it do the job of five different serums, so in the end, the price evens out a bit. And most importantly, it’s vegan!
6. Valjean Labs Repair Overnight Anti-Aging Nighttime Facial Serum
Now, if you skipped the last listing because it was expensive, or read through and just want something that’s more budget friendly, Valjean Labs Repair Overnight Anti-Aging Nighttime Facial Serum might be more up your alley. It is one of the most affordable serums on this list, but the product doesn’t reflect that. It is cosmetically elegant and glides on the skin like a dream, has a solid ingredient list, and is made by a brand that produces strictly vegan and cruelty free products.
The serum is also super lightweight, and absorbs in under 30 seconds, which is ideal for those looking for a less heavy serum. And like First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum, it pairs retinol with peptides, which you’ve gotta love. (especially at this price point)
7. Vital Affair Collagen Peptide Complex Serum
Out of all the retinol serums on this list, Vital Affair’s Collagen Peptide Complex Serum is the one I recommend most often, primarily because of how versatile it is. Its a multitasking superstar that can treat a variety of skin concerns, and is very similar to 100% PURE Multi-Vitamin in that it’s a walking vitamin serum, but at a much more affordable price. And, of course, it is also 100% vegan and cruelty free.
It’s formulated with all kinds of great ingredients including vegan collagen, peptides, niacinamide, retinol, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, aloe vera, and a ton of antioxidant plant oils. It’s hard to find a serum that incorporates so many stellar ingredients (especially at such an affordable price) and I can’t recommend it enough.
Also, if you’re not a fan of complex skincare routines and are looking to make your routine simpler, this serum is perfect for you. It performs the job of 2-3 serums in one step, and is a huge time saver.
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Hi, I’m Ash!
I’m a laid back traveler who loves experiencing new things and spontaneity. My favorite hobbies are hiking, gardening, skincare, and all things tea.
My biggest goal is to spread the word about sustainable travel and show everyone how easy it is to partake in. If you wanna learn more about that or get to know me better, feel free to click here.