Whether you struggle with acne, sun-damaged skin, or want to improve the look of fine lines, your derm might prescribe you a tretinoin cream. And if you’ve already tried it, you know how irritating can be for your skin — especially if it’s the sensitive type. It may sound backward, but this is how tretinoin works: by irritating the skin. It speeds up skin cells’ life cycle, making them divide and die faster so that fresh and healthy cells can replace them. Tretinoin is incredibly effective, even with its side effects. And if you decided to pick a repairing moisturizer to pair with your tretinoin, you’re one step closer to smooth skin, without irritations. But which are the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin? You’re about to find out, so stay put!
What is tretinoin?
Tretinoin (brand names Retin-A, Renova, Avita) is a synthetic retinoid derived from vitamin A, a prescription-strength topical medication used to address sun-damaged skin, wrinkles, and acne. Tretinoin works by increasing cell turnover, meaning it replaces older cells with newer and fresher ones. This helps keep pores clear, reduces breakouts, softens wrinkles, and evens tone. Unfortunately, it’s common for tretinoin to damage the skin barrier and cause dryness and irritations. As such, you need a proper moisturizer to counteract tretinoin’s side effects.
Should I use tretinoin before or after moisturizer?
Using a moisturizer with tretinoin is mandatory to reduce irritation risks. There are two ways you can layer your moisturizer when following a tretinoin treatment. To avoid risking irritating your skin, start by using a moisturizer before you layer tretinoin and after it. Sandwiching your tretinoin will most likely keep damage at bay.
You can do this until your skin builds tolerance to tretinoin. When your complexion adjusts to tretinoin, you can only use a moisturizer post tretinoin — that’s a must. For the best outcome, wait for 15 minutes before you apply moisturizer on top of tretinoin.
What ingredients pair well with tretinoin?
Tretinoin works best when used with reparative ingredients to reduce the chances of irritation and dryness. Hyaluronic acid is one of them because it’s a humectant that attracts and binds water to the skin, helping it maintain elasticity and hydration. Another ingredient that pairs well with tretinoin is niacinamide since it supports a healthy barrier and has antioxidant effects. Actually, one research hints that pre-treating your skin with niacinamide can provide additional barrier protection and decrease water loss. Squalane, peptide, and ceramides also pair just great with tretinoin due to their reparative and moisturizing benefits.
What type of moisturizer is best to use with tretinoin?
The best moisturizer to pair with tretinoin is one that aims to repair the skin barrier and has hydrating and moisture-locking properties. Here is why: the protective barrier has the role of preventing water loss and shielding against external foes. The barrier is made up of cells held together by a mixture of lipids called the lipid matrix (made of ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol). When tretinoin penetrates the skin’s outer layer, it rapidly produces new cells that lack the necessary adhesion and lipid production, creating tiny holes in your outermost skin layer. That’s why most people notice peeling, flaking, dryness, and irritation after retinoids.
Barrier-repairing moisturizers are emollients containing lipids to fill in these holes. As a result of using the best moisturizers after tretinoin, you’ll notice an increase in skin moisture, reduced irritations, and dryness.
The best moisturizers to use with tretinoin cream
These are the best moisturizers that will help minimize irritations caused by tretinoin handpicked by our editors.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
- Best for: Skin barrier recovery
- Key ingredients: Ceramides, fatty acids, niacinamide
The first spot is taken by La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer because it has the role to restore the skin to achieve a healthy glow by repairing and protecting the barrier. To do so, the moisturizer packs soothing and reparative ingredients such as glycerin, niacinamide, and ceramide, which you already know pair well with tretinoin, while lacking drying alcohol, fragrances, and parabens. It’s just great for your thirsty skin and is one of the best moisturizers to prevent irritations caused by tretinoin use.
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore Moisturizer
- Best for: Hinder tretinoin irritations
- Key ingredients: Ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore Moisturizer is famous among people who want to replenish and consolidate the barrier, and it’s definitely one of the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin. Why? It’s formulated with 2% pure ceramides, natural cholesterol that boosts the barrier repairing process, fatty acids, and a mix of natural oils, all working to bring your complexion to its best condition. So if tretinoin cream still causes you irritations, this moisturizer helps counteract its effects in an instant.
Babor Lipid Intense Moisturizer
- Best for: Barrier recovery & even skin tone
- Key ingredients: Niacinamide, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid
While you’re using tretinoin, your skin lacks moisture, looking dry and flakey. Rest assured, Babor Lipid Intense Moisturizer contains all the ingredients — hyaluronic acid, pure oils, glycerin, niacinamide — necessary to rebalance lipid and moisture levels while strengthening the skin. Do you want your complexion to look velvety-soft and smooth even after you use tretinoin? Reach for this one; Babor products never disappoint.
Ole Henriksen Strength Trainer Peptide Boost Moisturizer
- Best for: Skin barrier & skin elasticity
- Key ingredients: Peptides, hyaluronic acid, ceramides
Another best skin barrier-strengthening moisturizer, ideal after tretinoin, comes from Ole Henriksen. It’s loaded with eight peptides, three ceramides, and cholesterol to accelerate skin recovery, while hyaluronic acid and collagen are added for a burst of hydration that leaves skin bouncy and dewy. This formula also works wonders for plumping fine lines and wrinkles, bringing elasticity and firmness back without irritation or dryness.
Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Moisturizer
- Best for: Anti-aging & skin hydration
- Key ingredients: Shea butter and Ginkgo biloba
Not only does this gel-cream moisturizer is ideal to pair with tretinoin due to its hydrating nature, but it’s also made to offset wrinkles. With powerful marine algae extract and plant actives such as shea butter, wheat oil, and Ginkgo biloba extract, it takes care of your skin while trapping moisture. The addition of glycerin bursts some hydration, making it one of the very best moisturizers to use after tretinoin cream.
Tata Harper Water-Lock Moisturizer
- Best for: Lock-in moisture
- Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid and peptides
To organic skincare lovers, we suggest this moisturizer with ingredients derived from natural sources. Its lightweight texture sinks deep into the skin, where it delivers a high dose of hydration thanks to the hyaluronic acid, orange peptide, and pomegranate spheres. On top of that, it’s filled with a blend of natural oils to lock in moisture and nourish your skin a bit more. It’s the perfect addition if you want a clean, natural moisturizer to use with tretinoin.
Peter Thomas Roth Hydrating Moisturizer
- Best for: All skin types
- Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, cholesterol
Peter Thomas Roth Hydrating Moisturizer contains three molecular sizes of hyaluronic acid, making up 30% of the entire concentration — can you imagine how hydrating that is? With hydrolyzed silk, Pentavitin (plant extract that increases hydration), and lots of ceramides, you can bet your skin will stay silky, smooth, and soft even when following a tretinoin treatment.
Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture
- Best for: All skin types, high hydration
- Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, coconut, shea butter
Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture provides 24-hour hydration, soothes, and prevents tretinoin from irritating with the help of hyaluronic acid, coconut, amino acids, and shea butter. The moisturizer also uses a blend of natural oils to boost the skin’s ability to retain water, helping reduce dryness caused by tretinoin. As a science-backed brand, Murad products are a go-to, and this moisturizer is definitely one of the best to use with Retin-A cream, thanks to its super-hydrating benefits.
PCA Skin ReBalance Face Cream
- Best for: All skin types
- Key ingredients: Niacinamide, vitamin E
The nourishing and light cream by PCA Skin is one of the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin as it hydrates, calms, and soothes sensitive skin in an instant. Besides keeping skin hydrated all day long, the moisturizer also boosts the protective barrier with niacinamide, while vitamin E helps nourish and protect against further damage. Whether you have sensitive, dry, oily, or mature skin, PCA Skin ReBalance Face Cream is for you.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel-Cream
- Best for: Intense dryness
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid
Neutrogena’s hydrating moisturizer quenches thirsty skin in no time with a gel-like formula and lightweight texture. It’s spiked with hyaluronic acid and glycerin while being oil-free and non-comedogenic. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel-Cream is a cult-favorite drugstore option, the ideal alternative to pricey creams if you are on a budget.
EltaMD Sunscreen Moisturizer
- Best for: UV protection & all skin types
- Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, zinc oxide
EltaMD Moisturizer is a double-duty product that everybody raves about. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t skip while using tretinoin, is sunscreen since Retin-A can make your skin photosensitive. This one has all it takes to be one of the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin cream because it gives SPF 40 with 9% zinc oxide, high hydration thanks to hyaluronic acid, and antioxidant protection due to the addition of vitamin E. Here’s your winner product!
Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer
- Best for: Oily and breakout-prone skins
- Key ingredients: Aloe vera, zinc oxide, hyaluronic acid, panthenol
Juice Beauty Moisturizer is made with squalane, vitamins B5, C, and E, hyaluronic acid, plus a medley of fruits and plant extracts to soothe and keep tretinoin irritations at bay. Additionally, the antioxidants in the formula protect the complexion against free radical damage, while zinc oxide shields against sunbeams with SPF 30. This moisturizer is a great addition to your tretinoin treatment if you fancy organic skincare and oil-free formulas.
Vichy Aqualia Thermal Rich Cream
- Best for: Sensitive skin
- Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, shea butter
Vichy Aqualia Cream is another moisturizer that gets the job done when it comes to minimizing the side effects of tretinoin. It works excellent with Retin-A as it’s made with potent humectants, like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, propanediol, and skin-softening shea butter. Besides, the moisturizer is made with Vichy volcanic water that contains 15 minerals, known to strengthen the barrier and protect against external aggressors.
What moisturizer should I use with tretinoin?
It depends on how your skin reacts to tretinoin. If tretinoin only causes dryness you should pick a super-hydrating moisturizer. On the other hand, if your skin is easily reactive or tretinoin causes irritations, choose a moisturizer that repairs the barrier. Here’s a list of the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin cream:
- La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair
- SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore Moisturizer
- BABOR Lipid Intense Moisturizer
- ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Marine Moisturizer
- Tata Harper Water-Lock Moisturizer
- Peter Thomas Roth Hydrating Moisturizer
- Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisturer
- PCA Skin ReBalance Face Cream
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Moisturizer
- EltaMD Sunscreen Moisturizer
- Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer
- Vichy Aqualia Thermal Rich Cream