At the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, we've tried countless retinol creams on the market, but when one of the best-selling skincare brands unveils an affordable, "no tradeoffs" retinol collection, it's hard to ignore. It is no secret that regular use of retinol-containing skincare can cause painful side effects like dryness, redness and irritation, otherwise known as retinol burns.
A step away from the brand's iconic red jar, Olay tapped into the retinol market in late 2019, unveiling a reasonably priced collection including a serum, a night cream and an eye cream. Since then, this GH Seal-holding trio has sparked the attention of influencers and skincare lovers alike: A feat, since many people have a love-hate relationship with retinol (while it's the gold star skincare ingredient for anti-aging, it can be irritating to the skin).
Olay's Retinol24 line comes in purple glass containers packed with dermatologist-tested formulas. The entire collection is free from parabens, phthalates and synthetic dyes, plus the cardboard packaging for the moisturizer and serum is 100% recyclable.
- Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Moisturizer claims to provide 24-hour hydration while visibly improving fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and pores while brightening and firming skin. The brand says that the fragrance- and dye-free product, approved for daily use, is non-greasy and fast-absorbing.
- Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Serum promises lasting 24-hour hydration while offering a non-greasy, quick-absorbing finish. Like the night moisturizer, it claims to visibly improve fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and pores, plus visibly smooth, brighten and firm. According to the brand, it's a fragrance- and dye-free serum that's approved for everyday use.
- Olay Regenerist24 Night Eye Cream also claims to boost 24-hour hydration, offering a light, silky feel. In addition to smoothing fine lines and firming, brightening and evening skin tones, Olay says the cream unleashes the eye's glow and evens texture while you sleep. Plus, it claims to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dark circles. Like its sister products, it's said to be approved for daily use and is also made fragrance and dye-free.
Our pros dug through this line's claims and evaluated its ingredients while putting some to the test. Here are our findings on the Olay Regenerist Retinol24 line:
How does Olay Regenerist's Retinol24 work?
To keep irritation at bay, the Retinol24 collection contains water-capturing glycerin and skin-protecting dimethicone to provide lasting hydration without that greasy feeling. But the real stars are retinoid complex and niacinamide – two ingredients that complement each other well.
In skincare, "retinoid" is a catch-all phrase for derivatives of vitamin A. Olay's retinoid complex of retinol and retinyl propionate work together to speed up skin cell turnover and slow down the aging process. It can firm, smooth and brighten skin from within while also lessening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol reaches deep into skin where it oxidizes and turns into its active form of retinoic acid. This creates the skincare benefits of water retention and collagen production. Retinyl propionate has a larger molecule than retinol and thus is gentler on the skin, and it takes longer to show noticeable results but is more stable in return.
Whether they are over-the-counter or prescription-strength, retinoids are notoriously hard to stabilize — even exposure to light and air can quickly disintegrate them. Though this formula is packaged in a jar, the brand claims "our formulation expertise and craftsmanship have enabled us to stabilize retinol in a new and novel way," says Rolanda Wilkerson, Senior Director of Fellow Beauty Care at Procter & Gamble, the company that owns Olay. "Extensive stability and quality testing ensured our retinoids are stabilized over time," she adds. Though Olay declined to share the concentrations of its active ingredients, in general, liquid formulas tend to be more concentrated and packaged in air-tight dispensers.
Its other star ingredient, niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, has a trail of scientific evidence on its skin benefits. This multi-tasking ingredient is now found in countless formulas, but Olay was the first large skincare brand to shine a light on its benefits 22 years ago. Niacinamide counteracts the irritation and dryness often caused by retinol by protecting and moisturizing the skin barrier.
Thanks to its proven anti-inflammatory properties, it's well-tolerated, even at higher doses, by sensitive or eczema-prone skin types. 2% niacinamide is proven to regulate sebum-producing cells and treats acne breakouts, so it's great for acne-prone skin too. And by blocking enzymes involved in melanin production, niacinamide fights off hyperpigmentation as well as improves skin tone and texture while minimizing the appearance of pores. But its most impressive quality? Niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier, helping lock in moisture and keep out harsh environmental pollutants.
Does Olay Retinol24 really work?
In thoroughly vetting the collection's serum and eye cream claims and studies, the brand's clinical data detailed significant improvement in under-eye wrinkles, crow's feet and spots, and its randomized Lab tests showed significant hydration after 6 to 24 hours. Women also reported noticeable improvement in dark circles after using the eye cream consistently for 28 days.
In GH Beauty Lab's night creams test, we recruited 22 women aged 35+ to test each night cream every day for four weeks, and then they rated each on ease of use, performance and satisfaction. We used our state-of-the-art Lab equipment to evaluate each product for moisturization, firmness and improvement in the appearance of texture, skin tone and wrinkles. After analyzing all of this data, Olay Retinol24 moisturizer outperformed all others in our night creams study, earning its spot as the best overall winner. Here's what our Lab and consumer tests found:
- Anti-aging: Among the nine night creams we tested, it had the best average visual improvement in wrinkles among the 11 panelists who tried for four weeks. It also increased skin firmness over four weeks by 27%, according to the Cutometer device which measures skin laxity. "It seemed to work as well as my prescription retinoid," said one tester. "When I woke up each morning, my skin was firmer and smoother," said another. "If I relax my face after smiling, I can see that fine lines are less noticeable."
- Moisturization: It moisturized skin by 20% over six hours as determined in a volar forearm clinical via Corneometer measurements. This lab performance was echoed by 100% of users, who agreed that it made skin feel moisturized after four weeks of use.
- Gentleness: 95% of users agreed that it did not cause redness or irritation, ranking best-tolerated among retinoid creams in the roundup. "In contrast to my prescription retinol cream, which is thick and hard to absorb, this cream was emollient but very light," raved one tester.
- Satisfaction: It earned the highest consumer satisfaction score, with over 90% of users agreeing that they will continue using the product. "What's not to like?" asked one tester. "It's unscented and has a light, soothing texture. The cream is absorbed quickly and isn't oily, which is wonderful."
How long does it take for Olay Retinol24 to work?
There is no silver bullet when it comes to skincare. According to Olay's studies, 28 days showed noticeable change. When it comes to retinol, patience and compliance are key – and sunscreen, of course. Even small or smaller percentages of retinol are proven to be effective on skin and the continued use may be more beneficial in the long run than using it in fits and starts.
Are there any side effects to Olay Retinol24 products?
During our Lab study and our GH Seal evaluation, we found all Retinol24 products suitable for everyday use, with a minuscule number of consumers who reported some irritation. Olay's monthlong clinical studies showed that around 95% of women experienced no irritation and had no issues using either product daily. Still, since skincare isn't one size fits all, we recommend slowly introducing retinol into your routine by using it two to three times a week and monitoring your skin for reactions (especially around the eyes, an especially delicate area) before upping your use.
Exposing your skin to a higher amount of retinol may create a lag time where the new skin cells come to the surface and get exposed before they are ready. This process can cause irritation and discoloration. The brand advises against using all three products in a single regimen (especially if you are new to retinol) not to trigger premature exposure of the new skin to surface and cause irritation, so start simple with either the moisturizer or the serum.
Our studies show that nightly use of Retinol24 moisturizer could be used nightly with no or minimal shortcomings. Retinol rookies should start using it 2 to 3 times a week and gradually increase application to 4 to 7 nights a week. Remember that the absence of side effects doesn’t mean that the retinol is not working, but if an adverse reaction to retinol occurs, it's essential to give your skin a break to bounce back — but not to give up on the ingredient completely.
Whether or not you're a retinol user, sunscreen is a must, but there should be no compromise whatsoever if you are on a retinol regimen. Retinol increases the skin's photosensitivity and makes it more vulnerable to sunburns, which cause premature aging and hyperpigmentation – one of the top contributing factors to skin cancer.
How much do Olay Retinol24 products cost?
Olay's Retinol24 products start at $29.99 on olay.com. The moisturizer also comes with the peptide cleanser in a twin pack for $28.99 and a trial size for $11.99. You can pick up Olay products in major drugstores and online retailers, like CVS, Walgreens, Target, Walmart and Amazon.
The bottom line
Whether you are just dipping your toes into the retinoid world or looking for an effective, no-fuss product that will visibly improve skin and won't break the bank, the Olay Regenerist Retinol24 line fits the bill. Using any retinol product regularly — even less powerful formulas like these — can have immense skincare benefits, and Olay's retinol line has the scientific testing to back it up.