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Tretinoin Before Or After Moisturizer? This Is How You Do It

  • Use tretinoin 20 minutes before moisturizer if your skin has already built tolerance and is not sensitive.
  • Use tretinoin after moisturizer if your skin is not accommodated with retinoids yet, aka you’re a beginner.
  • Apply the moisturizer before and after tretinoin if your skin is easily reactive.
  • Use a moisturizer that aids in hydrating and fortifying the protective barrier.

Another day, another irritation caused by tretinoin. Does it sound familiar to you? If tretinoin still bothers your skin, it not only means you’re using it wrongly, but there’s a chance you negate all of its benefits, which would be a shame. So how do you use tretinoin without messing up your skin? As you may have guessed, the answer is to moisturize, moisturize and moisturize.

But as basic as it sounds, most people fail to find the right recipe for using tretinoin, the challenging part being whether you use tretinoin before or after moisturizer. Grab the popcorn as you are just about to find the best way to use tretinoin with a moisturizer.

Why do you need to use a moisturizer with tretinoin?

Tretinoin has a reputation for causing irritation due to its ability to stimulate cell turnover at an accelerated rate. This weakens the protective barrier as the new cells are replaced too quickly by tretinoin, so they lack the protection needed to defend the skin properly. The more tretinoin you put on, the weaker the barrier becomes and the higher chances of dryness and redness. This is why using a moisturizer is non-negotiable. 

Applying a moisturizer before or after tretinoin helps offset irritation by creating an extra layer of protection, increasing hydration as well as accelerating the cell regeneration process. Of course, you get the most benefits when you use the right moisturizer at the right time. 

Tretinoin before or after moisturizer?

There are several methods to use tretinoin with a moisturizer, depending on how sensitive your skin is and how used is to tretinoin.

To properly use your tretinoin, most experts recommend applying it directly after cleansing and before moisturizing. For the best results, wait 20 minutes before you layer the moisturizer, so you leave enough time for tretinoin to get absorbed into the skin and reach its site of action. Yet here is where things get tricky. Although using tretinoin and the moisturizer 20 minutes apart is ideal, there is also a risk as you leave enough time for tretinoin to damage the cells. So appeal to this method only if your skin is already used to tretinoin.

Instead, if your skin is sensitive or it’s your first time with retinoids, use tretinoin after you moisturize. Applying your moisturizer first creates an extra layer of protection between the skin and tretinoin, so there are fewer chances of irritation and dryness. Although this may affect the results a bit, it’s still better than having your face on fire, right? Another method that works for beginners is to use the moisturizer right after tretinoin without waiting 20 minutes. 

Finally, if none of the above works, the sandwich method is your last option, which involves using the moisturizer before and after tretinoin. First, apply a layer of your moisturizer on damp skin, wait for a few minutes, follow up with tretinoin, and then trap everything in with another layer of moisturizer. This makes tretinoin work much slower and gentler since its absorption power is reduced by the moisturizer.

Types of moisturizers to use with tretinoin

What kind of moisturizer you pair with tretinoin is deadly important. On top of everything, avoid moisturizers that have alcohol, fragrances, drying elements, and harsh exfoliants. Instead, pick one containing as many hydrators as possible coupled with replenishing ingredients.

After using tretinoin, your priority is to dodge dryness and support the barrier recovery. Hence, you need to feed your skin with reparative and hydrating elements like hyaluronic acid, squalane, shea butter, ceramides, peptides, and fatty acids. We already talked about the best moisturizers to use with tretinoin, so go ahead and pick your favorite.

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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