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The 11 Best Moisturizers To Pair With Your Tretinoin Cream (Retin-A)

Brand courtesy / SkinCeuticals
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If you’re tackling acne, dark patches, or fine lines, your dermatologist might just hand you a tretinoin cream (Retin-A). Tretinoin is one of the most researched treatments, to say the least. It’s 20 times more effective than retinol, so for sure you can count on it to fix your skin issues. However, tretinoin comes with a lengthy list of side effects. Why? Because it drives the skin to shed old cells and grow new ones. This aims to trigger a renewal process that results in smoother, firmer, and tighter skin. However, while your skin is renewing itself, it will also be more vulnerable and you will have to deal with dryness, redness, and flaking early on. Although this is a normal reaction, you can ease these side effects by using a moisturizer that restores and hydrates your skin. With this in mind, we’ve made a list of the best moisturizers to use after tretinoin to help your skin heal faster.

What is tretinoin?

Tretinoin (brand names Retin-A, Renova, Avita) is a synthetic retinoid derived from vitamin A that can treat sun-damaged skin, rough texture, wrinkles, and acne. Tretinoin works by increasing cell turnover. What it does is accelerate the shedding of old skin cells and stimulate the growth of new ones. While this will give you healthy skin in the long run, in the short term, you may find your skin going through a bit of a rough phase.

This is because the accelerated cell turnover also creates a lag time before new cells come to the skin’s surface. Why is this problematic?

Well, your skin depends on these cells to build its protective barrier—the outermost layer of the skin. As new cells grow and old ones shed, this barrier becomes less effective. This reduction in barrier function can make your skin more sensitive and vulnerable to irritants. Your skin might become more prone to redness and dry and flaky patches.

But don’t worry. You can help your skin through this tretinoin phase and control the irritation and dryness with a good moisturizer.

What moisturizers to use with tretinoin?

After tretinoin, it’s best to use a moisturizer that contains barrier-strengthening ingredients. Think of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids—these are the substances that form the skin’s fat layer. Because tretinoin damages the skin’s barrier, it’s essential to use it together with products that restore this barrier. Moreover, these ingredients are also emollients, so they can soften the skin after tretinoin and reduce redness.

Another ingredient to watch out for is niacinamide. In fact, one research shows that pre-treating your skin with niacinamide can provide additional barrier protection and reverse the side effects of dryness after tretinoin. Non-comedogenic oils rich in fatty acids, such as argan oil and squalane, are also effective in soothing tretinoin-induced irritation. 

What to avoid after tretinoin

In short, avoid anything that exfoliates the skin, like alpha or beta hydroxy acids. Also, steer clear of vitamin C and occlusive ingredients while your skin adjusts to tretinoin, as they can either cause irritation or block the shedding of dead cells, disrupting the skin’s natural balancing process.

We recommend following a gentle routine while you’re treating your skin with tretinoin. Stick to the basics: a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Avoid harsh ingredients and anything that can remove moisture from your skin, like alcohol, fragrances, and sulfates.

How to use tretinoin with moisturizer

Should you use tretinoin before or after your moisturizer? If it’s the first time you use tretinoin or if your skin is sensitive, we recommend using a moisturizing cream before and after tretinoin. This is called the sandwich method and is intended to minimize side effects. Covering the skin with a moisturizer before applying tretinoin creates a protective layer that makes tretinoin less harsh. One thing, though: this could also make the treatment less effective. If your skin is not sensitive, however, and you aim for quick results, use the moisturizer after tretinoin. For best results, wait 20 minutes before applying moisturizer to allow enough time for the tretinoin to absorb into the skin. Another method that works for beginners is to use the moisturizer right after the tretinoin without waiting 20 minutes.

Moisturizers to use with tretinoin

Purito Centella Unscented Recovery Cream

Purito Centella Unscented Recovery Cream ticks all the right boxes for an effective moisturizer to use after tretinoin. It’s hydrating, gentle, restorative, and budget-friendly. The moisturizer is made in a base of 50% Centella asiatica, which is a natural extract that restores skin hydration and reduces dry patches. There are also squalane, niacinamide, ceramide, and phytosphingosine (a fat similar to ceramides), all needed to recover the skin’s barrier and ease tretinoin side effects.

Purito Centella Recovery Cream

Clinical Skin Multi-Lipid Replenishing Moisturizer

This dermatologist-tested moisturizer is made with ceramides, cholesterol, and phytosphingosine, all of which work to strengthen the skin barrier and reduce post-tretinoin sensitivities. The formula also contains hyaluronic acid, amino acids, and squalane—three key players in skin hydration. Fast absorbing, non-greasy, and free of fragrance and drying alcohol, this is the best moisturizer to relieve tretinoin irritation and achieve smoother, softer skin in no time.

Clinical Skin Multi Lipid Replenishing Moisturizer

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer

The third place is taken by La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair. This drugstore moisturizer loads soothing and restorative ingredients such as glycerin, niacinamide, fatty acids, and ceramide, that work well with tretinoin cream. At the same time, it doesn’t contain irritants, like drying alcohol, fragrances, and parabens.

La Roche-Posay Repair Face Moisturizer

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore Moisturizer

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore Moisturizer is one of the best products for tretinoin users. Why? Well, it’s made with 2% ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids, and a mix of natural oils, all working to soften the skin and restore the skin’s natural fats. Use it right after tretinoin to counteract the adverse effects.

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore

Ole Henriksen Strength Trainer Peptide Boost Moisturizer

This barrier-strengthening moisturizer, ideal after tretinoin, is loaded with eight peptides, three ceramides, and cholesterol to accelerate skin recovery, while hyaluronic acid and collagen deliver a burst of hydration that leaves skin bouncy and dewy. This formula also works wonders for softening fine lines and wrinkles, bringing elasticity and firmness back without irritation or dryness.

Ole Henriksen Strength Trainer Peptide Boost Moisturizer

Peter Thomas Roth Hydrating Moisturizer

Peter Thomas Roth Hydrating Moisturizer contains 30% hyaluronic acid— 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 resilient and soft even after tretinoin treatment. The beauty of this moisturizer is that it is ideal for everyone, including for those with acne and sensitive skin.

Peter Thomas Roth Hydrating Moisturizer

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream is the perfect drugstore moisturizer to use after Retin-A cream because it’s made with ceramides, cholesterol, and hyaluronic acid. All of these ingredients restore your skin’s barrier and increase hydration, which is exactly what your skin needs when using tretinoin. The gentle formula is also non-comedogenic and oil-free, meaning everyone can use it without worrying about bad reactions or breakouts.

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

e.l.f. SuperHydrate Moisturizer

For an affordable moisturizer to use after tretinoin, go for this one. This fast-absorbing moisturizing gel was created for dry skin and contains Centella asiatica to minimize irritation and soothe the skin, niacinamide to reverse the side effects of tretinoin, and squalane to reduce dryness. In addition, it includes two forms of vitamin E, an emollient that reduces skin peeling and flaking. And it doesn’t cost more than $12.

e.l.f. SuperHydrate Moisturiser

EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40

While treating your skin with tretinoin, you must use sunscreen every day because Retin-A can make your skin photosensitive. Well, EltaMD Moisturizer is a dual-duty product that everyone is raving about and has what it takes to be one of the most effective moisturizers to use before or after tretinoin cream. It offers SPF 40 with 9% zinc oxide, high hydration thanks to hyaluronic acid, and antioxidant protection from vitamin E.

EltaMD Sunscreen Moisturizer

Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer

For natural skincare lovers, Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer stands out. It’s made with squalane, vitamins B5, C, and E, hyaluronic acid, plus a medley of fruits and plant extracts to soothe your skin and ease sensitivities. Additionally, the antioxidants in the formula protect the skin against free radical damage, while zinc oxide shields against sunbeams with SPF 30.

Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer

Vichy Aqualia Thermal Rich Cream

Vichy Aqualia Cream is another moisturizer that gets the job done when it comes to minimizing the side effects of Retin-A. This is because it’s made with 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 skin’s barrier and protect against external aggressors.

Vichy Aqualia Thermal Rich Cream

Final words

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 strengthens the skin barrier. Here’s a list of the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin cream:

Who wrote this?
Picture of Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder of Women's Concepts and a certified skincare consultant. She has over five years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and over a decade as an acne sufferer. With a background in dermatological research, Ana brings a wealth of expertise to a diverse range of topics, from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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