5 Tips for Better Retinol Application

Is Retinol drying out your skin? Don’t stop using Retinol. Try our top beauty hacks for retinol use on sensitive skin: 5 Tips for Better Retinol Application

Always apply moisturizer and plenty of it

Some prescription retinol such as Renova or Atralin has an emollient base that tricks you into thinking you don’t need a secondary moisturizer, but you do.

Retinol can cause irritation if not applied properly
Retinol can cause irritation if not applied properly

Prescription retinol can be deceptive: it looks emollient but still requires lots of moisturizers to tolerate its’ powerful effects

Buffer, Buffer, Buffer: Instructions for How to Buffer Retinol

  • If your skin is already irritated or very sensitive, apply moisturizer first, then retinol.
  • If your skin is normal, mix your retinol directly into your moisturizer and apply it together.
  • If you’ve been on retinol for more than one month, apply retinol first, then moisturizer on top.

Choose Moisturizer Carefully. What moisturizer should I use to buffer my retinol?

Your moisturizer may be unknowingly contributing to your irritation. What moisturizer should you use to buffer? I prefer as natural and simple as possible because there’s already plenty going on with just the retinol.

Does your moisturizer contain brighteners, Vitamin C or exfoliating ingredients? Stick with gentle ingredients such as Aloe Vera, Jojoba, Squalene and Sunflower Oil which are all very soothing and nourishing to the skin. Alveno, Cerave, and Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizer are some simple and gentle moisturizers.

Re-evaluate other skincare product use

Retinol is already doing all the peeling and exfoliating for you, there is no need to use heavy exfoliators. Do you use Vitamin C Serum, AHA, glycolic, skin lighteners, peels, or scrubs? Even harsh washcloths and sponges or sonic facial brushes, these are all potentially too harsh now for your delicate retinol-treated skin.

A gentle cleanser is especially important. Look for cleansers that protect the natural lipid barrier. You may occasionally need to gently exfoliate with retinol, but not very often.

Slow and steady wins the retinol race

It is exciting to see Retinol’s rapid skin renewal, but less is actually more with retinol because if you have to take two weeks off to heal from overuse, you lost more than you gained in zealous overuse. Even if you buffer, don’t use retinol more than once a day.

When in doubt, apply as little Retinol as you can, and apply more moisturizer than you think you may need.

Retinol requires powerful moisturizers to buffer its’ irritating effects, even if you have oily skin.


Don’t give up retinol due to irritation! Retinol is a powerful resource for removing wrinkles, brown spots, acne scars, discoloration, and refining overall skin tone. It is exciting to see changes in your skin! But buffering retinol is MANDATORY to be able to use it consistently without irritation. 

Was 5 Tips for Better Retinol Application useful? You may also like How to Use Tretinoin Without Irritation

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