Obagi retinol review

Obagi Retinol Review – How & Why you should use it

Retinol is an amazing skin product that has been proven in studies to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. 

Everybody knows that which is why retinol products are becoming more and more common.

But what you might not realize is that in order to get the benefits of retinol you must be using a high enough concentration in a high quality product!

That’s where Obagi retinol steps in.

In this Obagi retinol review I will walk you through why you should seriously consider adding this product (or another retinol containing product) to your daily regimen…

Benefits of using Retinol

In terms of creams and lotions that actually work, retinol competes with Vitamin c for the best facial product of all time.


Because unlike other facial products, retinol has been battled tested through clinical research studies over many years.

obagi retinol ingredientsobagi retinol 1.0 creamObagi retinol 0.5

It’s one of, if not the most, well studied product and it has been clinically proven in several studies to reduce the signs of aging.

It turns out that in order to get the benefits of using Retinol the product must be formulated correctly. 

For instance: 

It has been shown that retinoic acid causes considerably more side effects than retinol

Even though these are both Vitamin A products, their absorption and side effects differ greatly. 

That’s one of the reasons why Obagi is ahead of the curve… 

Their formulations are trusted by Dermatologists and Plastic surgeons because their products are well researched and have been shown to work. 

​So how does Retinol work on the skin?

It works through several mechanisms, but one of the most powerful is felt to be how it increases skin turnover time.

You see:

Your skin is constantly producing more skin in the epidermal layer. This is one of the reasons why exofliating your skin is so important

Vitamin c increases collagen in the dermis

New skin grows underneath old skin which pushes the dead skin to the surface.

This dead skin ​can sometimes stay on longer than normal and creates several negative side effects like increasing your risk for developing clogged pores and making your skin look dull or uneven. 

This process is constantly happening and your skin turns over every 50-60 days or so.

Retinol speeds up this process and reduces it to around 21-28 days if used at high enough dosages!

That means it makes your epidermal layer thinner which increases the absorption of other facial products and improves your skin texture (making you look younger). ​

​But beyond its effects on aging it also helps benefit your skin in several other ways. 

Most women (including me) use retinol because they want their skin to look younger and that’s perfectly fine. 

  • Bottom line: Retinol helps benefit the skin by reducing the aging process, protecting against photodamage/sun damage and by increasing blood flow to the deeper layers of the skin. Retinol should be part of your skin care regimen if you are serious about looking younger. 

Prescription Tretinion vs OTC Obagi Retinol​

What’s the difference between tretinoin and retinol?

You probably know that you can get a prescription for tretinoin in various dosages from your Doctor (usually a plastic surgeon or dermatologist), but how is this different from retinol?

It turns out that due to various laws only certain concentrations of retinol are allowed in over the counter products.

What this means is that prescription medications contain higher quantities of retin-a or tretinoin (retinol).

Retin a vs obagi retinol

This is important because all of the studies I’ve listed above were conducted using this HIGH concentration of retinol.

What does this mean for you?

It means that over the counter products can claim to have “retinol” in them, but they don’t have to list the concentration in their formulation!

As a result many cheaper products put just a tiny amount of retinol in a product and slap on an anti-aging label and sell it as a product that’s supposed to be as good as Obagi or iS clinical products. 

This couldn’t be farther from the truth and is why you have to make sure you purchase from a high quality brand. 

One of the benefits of using Obagi products is that they are formulated at the concentrations required for optimal results. 

For instance the concentration of the Obagi 1.0 is 0.1% (which is a prescription strength dose). 

The Obagi retinol 0.5 is 0.05% concentration (again another prescription dose). 

Obagi can do this because it requires a medical license to purchase their products which means you get pharmaceutical strength dosages if you use obagi products, including Obagi retinol. 

This also means that the Obagi retinol may have some side effects that you need to watch out for because it’s quite potent (more on that below). ​

Another advantage of getting Obagi retinol over prescription tretinoin is that they put less inactive ingredients ​in their formulation which makes the product BETTER for your skin

So just because you can get tretinoin at the same concentration from a pharmacy doesn’t necessarily mean you will want to.

Consider these factors before getting prescription tretinoin from your pharmacy: ​


  • Works well and contains high quality active ingredient (tretinion)
  • Confidence in knowing you are getting the right concentration from the pharmacy
  • Can be compounded with other medications like hydroquinone to help with hyperpigmentation or melasma


  • No control over fillers or inactive ingredients
  • Requires Doctor visit and prescription which increases cost
  • May be too strong for some people
  • Inability to change dosing easily

How to use Obagi Retinol Correctly

So we know that Retinol definitely works, but what about Obagi retinol products?

Luckily Obagi products have been tested in satisfaction trials and the results are impressive.

In a 3 week trial people using the Retinol 1.0% Obagi product people noticed the following: ​

  • Very little issues with erythema (which means redness) or dryness of the skin versus the baseline (where they started from)
  • No flaking of the skin at any point during the study

This basically means that Obagi products are well tolerated – and this is important because as we mentioned previously retinol products can be powerful and one of the concerns is redness, flaking or dryness that can occur at higher doses. 

In addition to these benefits people using Obagi retinol for 3 weeks also noticed: ​

  • 90% saw an improvement in facial appearance
  • 88% said that their skin was more resilient
  • 88% would purchase the product again
  • 88% would recommend the product to a friend

obagi retinol benefits

​Obviously these results are not perfect, but when it comes to your skin there is no perfect product that works for EVERYONE out there. ]

But Obagi retinol has about a 9 in 10 chance of working for you (which is pretty darn good all things considered). ​

In order to get these kind of benefits the product must be used correctly, however, which is what I will outline below: 

Obagi Retinol 0.5 & 1.0 Review

Overall rating: 

Overall Quality

Very high quality product that comes in different concentrations


Higher price but comparable when compared to prescription tretinoin

Why I Love it

Works very well with about a 90% success rate among all people

Who should use it: 
  • ​Anyone looking to have younger looking skin (this is one of the best anti-aging skin care products)
  • People with mild to moderate acne
  • People looking to improve their skin texture
  • People (especially women) with early signs of wrinkles around the eyes or around the corners of the mouth
  • People with oily skin looking to reduce sebum production
  • People also undergoing laser therapies, microdermabrasion, microneedling or microdermabrasion
  • Retinol 0.5% or 1.0% (depending on which concentration and strength you choose)
  • Green tea extract (camellia sinensis)
  • Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
How to use it: 
  • Once a day apply a pearl sized amount to your fingers then spread evening throughout your entire face and neck (avoid your eyes)
  • Make sure to apply product in the evening
  • If you experience dryness, redness or flaking then use every other day until your skin acclimates
Recommended product: 

obagi retinol review side by side

Obagi 0.5% (start here if you’ve never used Retinol products before)

See more reviews here

Obagi 1.0% (start here if you have used retinol products in the past and/or you don’t have sensitive skin)

See more reviews here

Side effects of using Retinol

Now that you know why you should be using it, we should spend some time talking about any potential issues that might arise when using retinol (this applies to Obagi retinol but also applies to retinol products in general).

First you need to realize that retinol is a Vitamin A derivative and is a powerful vitamin for your skin.

Because it’s powerful, and if not used correctly, some patients may experience some minor side effects – these side effects can be treated easily, which we will explain below, but let’s talk about what to look out for: ​

  • Redness (one of the most common symptoms and an indication that you might be using too high a dose)
  • Flaking of the skin or peeling (another common symptom indicating your dose may be too strong)
  • Slight break outs (happens only upon starting retinol in some people)
  • Rash (very rare, usually related to inactive ingredients and not retinol itself)

What’s important is that these side effects do not necessarily indicate that you need to stop using retinol. 

Instead they are usually caused by using a concentration that is too strong for your skin, or it simply means that you need to start out lower and increase your concentration slowly over time.

Luckily these symptoms (if you do experience them) will go away over a few weeks if you back down on the concentration or use the your retinol less frequently. 

​If you do experience these symptoms the best thing you can do is one of the following: 

  • Purchase a lower concentration retinol (don’t worry, you will be able to use the stronger concentration later so you won’t waste your original purchase)
  • Apply your retinol every other day, instead of daily (you may need to use every third day, etc.)
  • Don’t change your retinol product and instead allow up to 2-3 weeks for your body to acclimate to the concentration – and just deal with some minor flaking or redness

​By using these strategies you will be able to handle pretty much any of the side effects associated with retinol. 

But remember:

Most people don’t even have these side effects if they use a high quality product! ​

Retinol 0.5 vs 1.0

​This Obagi retinol comes in two different concentrations and it’s important to understand them so you know which one you should start with. 

​The ONLY difference between these two products is the concentration of the retinol it contains. 

Your goal should be to get up to the 1.0% dose if possible (most of you will be able to get there).

But in some cases you may have to start out on the 0.5% dose first. ​

​Who should start with Obagi Retinol 0.5%

  • Those with VERY sensitive skin (Fitzpatrick type I and II)
  • Those who have never used Retinol containing products in the past
  • Those who have used retinol or tretinoin in the past but who reacted with redness or dry skin

Who should start with Obagi Retinol 1.0%​

  • Those people who have used retinol or tretinion in the past without any issues
  • Those with more resilient skin and those who don’t react to ingredients in skin care products
  • Those with extreme photodamage or advanced signs of aging (wrinkles or thickened leathery skin)
  • Those with a history of using tanning beds frequently in the past
  • Those people who have used Obagi retinol products in the past (or other retinol products from high quality brands like iS clinical)

If you stick to these guidelines then you shouldn’t have any issues regarding reacting to the retinol. 

Also, remember that Obagi products are formulated with other active ingredients like Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) designed to help your skin tolerate the retinol and increase absorption. ​

Complete Obagi Retinol Ingredient list​

If you have any concern that you might react to the ingredients found in this product then please see the ingredient list below: 

  • Shea butter
  • Jojoba
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Vitamin A (retinol)
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • Dimethicone
  • Vitamin E

Obagi retinol has been shown to help people with the following skin types: 

  • Sensitive skin (those who react to skin care products)
  • Oil prone skin (those with naturally oily skin) 
  • Acneic skin (those prone to developing acne or those with active acne breakouts) 
  • Mature skin (those over 50+, usually after menopause)
  • Combination skin types (those with a combination of skin types) 
  • Dry skin
  • Normal skin
  • Hyperpigmented skin (those with uneven skin tone or those with hyperpigmentation syndromes like melasma)

Over to you

Obagi retinol can seriously make a difference in your skin care regimen. 

If you haven’t tried high quality retinol containing products then you should consider a trial run of obagi retinol.

The benefits of using retinol range from a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles to an reduction sun damage from years spent in the sun. 

Regardless of your age or skin type retinol containing products CAN work for you. 

Now it’s your turn:

Have you used Obagi retinol in the past?

Did it work for you? Why or why not?

Leave your comment below! 

Kat Rich

Hi! I'm Kat and I write these posts. I'm obsessed with eyebrows, hair and anything related to fitness. Right now I do microblading, 3d brows and semi-permanent eyebrows in Mesa, Arizona as a certified microblading artist. I'm a licensed cosmetologist and have been for over 10 years as well. I love experimenting with new products and love to share my experiences. Have questions? Leave them below!

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