When To Use Retinol In Your Skin Care Routine

When To Use Retinol In Your Skin Care Routine

When to apply retinol? Best Retinol Routine

When you apply retinol serum in your skin care routine greatly affects how well retinol works and retinoid side effects. You should always apply retinol in your evening skin care routine because light and sun make retinol ineffective.

Choose the retinol you use, when you use this retinoid in your skin routine, and what products you use the retinol with based upon your Baumann Skin Type.

When to use retinol in your skin care routine?

When to apply retinol in your evening skin care routine depends upon these factors:

1. Your Baumann Skin Type

2. How strong the retinol is that you are using

3. Which moisturizer you are using

Should you use a retinol before or after moisturizer or before or after a serum?

Well- it depends on many factors. When to use any retinoid such as retinol in your skin care routine depends upon if you are on a retinoid already, what your Baumann Skin Type® is, and what type of moisturizer you are using.

If you are using many skin care products, it can be difficult to decide how to fit retinol into your skin care routine. These instructions will guide you.

You will have a much easier time adjusting if you begin with the correct retinoid cream or serum. Different types of retinoids have different potencies. The  amount of side effects you will experience with retinol all depends upon which retinoids you use and how you use them.  So read these instructions carefully.

The instructions below will assume the following:

  1. You know your Baumann Skin Typ
  2. You are using the best retinoid cream for your skin type
  3. You are applying the retinoid cream properly
    1. Using the proper strength
    2. Using the proper amount
    3. Using the proper type
    4. Using the proper frequency
    5. Using a good brand
    6. Using the right form of retinoid

When to Use Retinol in Your Skin Care Routine When Beginning Retinol


When beginning a retinoid for the first time you should apply the retinol on top of your moisturizer.

If you are using the correct moisturizer for your Baumann Skin Type, then you will apply the retinol after your moisturizer when you are beginning a retinol. But keep reading- it depends upon what ingredients are in the moisturizer.

If you have never used retinoids before, we recommend beginning with a low strength retinol. Here are our  favorite low strength retinols sold by dermatologists. Keep reading to know when to use these low strength retinols in your routine.

Retinol Before or After Moisturizer?


The type of moisturizer and cleanser you use is important and will affect potency and penetration of retinol. If you are beginning a retinoid or if you are having skin sensitivity to a retinoid, apply it after moisturizer.

Retinoid beginners should not use a moisturizer with a large amount of hyaluronic acid or oleic acid (olive oil). Hyaluronic acid and oleic acid will increase absorption of the retinoid and lead to an increase in retinol side effects. If you are a dry skin type, use a barrier repair moisturizer before your retinol. Oily skin types usually have an easier time tolerating retinoids.

Retinol Before or After Serum?

Whether you are wondering when to put retinol serum on, if serum or retinol is first, or you want to learn more about layering serums and retinol, you need to know your Baumann Skin Type® first. This way we can give you advice about specific serums and retinoids.

There are many types of serums- so we cannot answer the question of “Retinol before or after serum?” without knowing what is in the serum. Click this link to learn about when to use Vitamin C, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid serums with retinol.

Keep reading to learn the exact skin care routine steps for applying retinol, but in most skin regimens, serums will be step 3 at night, moisturizers are step 4 and retinol goes after the serum and the moisturizer.

Serum Before Or After Retin A?

Whether you are using Retin A or another prescription retinoid such as tretinoin, tazarotene and trifarotene, the answer is the same- it depends upon what is in the serum.


Retinol Routine Order Morning and Night

Always use retinol at night. Do not use retinol in the morning. For most skin types, serums that contain niacinamide and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) go in step 3- the treatment product step. Moisturizers come after the serum and retinoids go on top of the moisturizer.

Why Use Retinol At Night?

The sun and light break down retinol and tretinoin so that they are ineffective. The second and third-generation retinoids like adapalene, tazarotene and trifarotene are not light sensitive and can be used in the daytime.

Never wear retinol in the sunlight. When retinyl esters like retinyl palmitate break down, they can be harmful to the skin. In fact, there is a fear that retinyl palmitate may increase the risk of skin cancer if worn in the sun without a sunscreen.1 2 3

Why Use Retinol After Moisturizer?

Why Use Retinol After Moisturizer?

Retinoids are a family of Vitamin A compounds that easily penetrate into the skin and affect DNA transcription. How much of the retinoid gets in the skin greatly affects the potency, efficacy and incidence of side effects. 

Unlike most skincare products, retinoids get into the skin easily- almost too easily when you are beginning- and are likely to cause side effects until your skin gets used to them. Your skin will acclimate to the retinoid in a process called tachyphylaxis- so the key is to start with a low-strength retinoid and gradually increase the strength. 

One way to control how much retinoid gets into the skin is by using the retinoid on top of the moisturizer. Choosing a moisturizer such as a moisturizing oil (like jojoba oil or argan oil) or a barrier repair moisturizer will decrease absorption of the retinoid when the retinoid is placed after the moisturizer. However- if you apply the retinol before the moisturizer or oil, it will actually increase the absorption of retinoid. Using retinol on top of a moisturizer decreases absorption while using retinol before the moisturizer increases absorption. When beginning retinol, you want to decrease absorption until your skin is acclimated which can take 2-6 weeks depending upon your Baumann Skin Type and what other products are in your skincare routine.

Moisturizer Before or After Retin A?

Retin A is a prescription retinoid called tretinoin. It is stronger than retinol. When you are moving from retinol to tretinoin, or beginning tretinoin for the first time, the Retin A should go on top of the moisturizer.

Prescription retinoids are very strong so it is wise to use tretinoin, tazarotene and trifarotene after a moisturizer until you can tolerate the prescription retinoid without getting redness and irritation. Adapalene is less irritating that the other prescription retinoids, but we still recommend using adapalene on top of your moisturizer until you are acclimated to it. 

Lotion after retinol?

Whether you use a lotion, cream or oil moisturizer- the answer is the same. Use before the retinol when you are a beginner and after the retinol once you are acclimated to the highest strength retinol.

Can I Mix Tretinoin With Moisturizer?

If you are using a prescription retinoid such as Retin A (tretinoin), you can mix the retinoid with the moisturizer in your hand before applying it. Mixing Retin A and a moisturizer will dilute the strength of the retinoid. For example, if you mix 4 teaspoons of Retin A 0.05% cream with ¼ teaspoon of moisturizer, the resulting Retin A strength is 0.025%. Click here to learn about what moisturizer is best to mix with Retin A. You can also mix Differin gel and Tazorac with moisturizer to decrease potency.

How Long Should You Wait To Apply Moisturizer After Retinol or Retin A?

If your regimen is designed properly for your skin type, you do not need to wait between products. The regimen should be designed so that each product increases efficacy of the other products with no waiting required. Most moisturizers increase penetration of retinol when applied after retinol. So- you do not need to wait to apply moisturizer after using a retinoid like retinol or Retin A. 

Should You Apply Retinol on Wet or Dry Skin?

Skin washed with warm or hot water and damp skin will allow increased absorption of retinol. So- if you are a retinol beginner- apply on dry skin. Seasoned retinol users can apply on wet skin. The cleanser you use also affects absorption so make sure you are washing with a face wash that is compatible with retinol.

Retinol Formulation Can Affect When To Use The Retinoid In Your Routine

Retinoid strength affects when to use retinoids in your skin care routine. Some retinol products are actually not effective at all because of the way they are formulated. You can learn more about how to know if a retinol product is good by clicking this link.

Retinol Skin Care Routine Order For Non-Beginners

If you have been on retinol or another retinoid, then you want to increase absorption of the retinoid to get better results. Follow the instructions at this link to slowly increase your retinoid dose until you get to the strongest prescription-strength retinoid. Once you get on the strongest retinoid every night without any redness or irritation, you can switch to use your retinoid before your moisturizer.


Retinoids are the best antiaging ingredient to treat wrinkles but must be used properly. As discussed above, there are many factors to take into account to choose a retinoid and how to fit retinol in your skincare routine.

The easiest way to know what retinoid to use and what other products to combine it with is to follow the specifci advcie we give you based upon your Baumann Skin Type.  We will give you a personalized skin care routine that allows you to choose from many good brands of retinoids. The routine will give you a specific step by step guide so you will know exactly when to use your retinoid in your skin care regimen.



  1. Mei, N., Xia, Q., Chen, L., Moore, M. M., Fu, P. P., & Chen, T. (2005). Photomutagenicity of retinyl palmitate by ultraviolet A irradiation in mouse lymphoma cells. Toxicological Sciences, 88(1), 142-149.
  2. Wang, S. Q., Dusza, S. W., & Lim, H. W. (2010). Safety of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens: a critical analysis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 63(5), 903-906.
  3. FU, P. P., HOWARD, P. C., CULP, S. J., Xia, Q., WEBB, P. J., BLANKENSHIP, L. R., ... & BUCHER, J. R. (2002). Do topically applied skin creams containing retinyl palmitate affect the photocarcinogenecity of simulated solar light?. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 10(4).

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