When To Use Retinol In Your Skin Care Routine

When To Use Retinol In Your Skin Care Routine

When to apply retinol in your skin care routine

When you apply retinol serum in your skin care routine greatly affects how well retinol works and the incidence of retinoid side effects.

You should always apply retinol in your evening skin care routine, not in the morning skin care routine, because light and sun inactivate retinol.

Which Baumann Skin Type you have determines:

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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. How long you have been using retinol

4. If you are having any retinoid side effects

5. If your skin is stinging or irritated

6. Which moisturizer you are using

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 on which routine step to use retinol will guide you.

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

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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?

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

Best moisturizer to use after retinol at night?

You should only use moisturizer after retinol when you are not having retinol side effects.

Choose a barrier repair moisturizer such as Zerafite Wrinkle Defense Barrier Cream

Best moisturizer to use before retinol at night?

Which moisturizer to use before depends upon your Baumann Skin Type and if your skin is having any retinol side effects.

Avoid moisturizers with hyaluronic acid because they increase absorption of retinol. 

Choose a barrier repair moisturizer like  Zerafite Wrinkle Defense Barrier Cream

Can I use any moisturizer with retinol?

No! Moisturizers with AHAs, BHAs and hyaluronic acid will increase retinol side effects.

The best way to choose a moisturizer to use with retinol is to build your skin care routine according to your Baumann Skin Type.

Is it better to mix retinol with moisturizer?

Instead of mixing retinol and your moisturizer together, it is best to use retinol before or after your moisturizer. Which to use first depends upon your Baumann Skin Type, how acclimated you are to the retinol, and which moisturizer you are using. 

Learn more about how to use retinoids here.

Why Use Moisturizer Before Retinol?

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Retinoids are a family of Vitamin A compounds that easily absorb 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 them. You are likely to get side effects until your skin gets used to them, so you want to absorb less when beginning a retinoid.

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.

Which moisturizer is best to use before retinol?

These moisturizer types have occlusive ingredients that will decrease retinol absorption.

The 4 best moisturizers to use before retinol:

  1. Derma Made Ceramide Barrier Cream
  2. Medature PSL Repair Cream for dry skin
  3. Zerafite Soothing and Calming
  4. Zerafite Wrinkle Defense Barrier Cream.
  5. Zerafite Skin Brightening Barrier Cream

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. 

Why Use Moisturizer After Retinol?

Once you get used to retinol , you can use moisturizer after retinol.

4 reasons to use moisturizer after retinol:

  1. You have been on retinol for at least a month
  2. You are not having any retinoid side effects
  3. You are on the strongest retinoid percentage
  4. You want to increase potency of the retinoid
  5. You want to slug the retinoid into the skin
  6. You want to occlude the skin to increase absorption

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Lotion after retinol?

Whether you use a lotion, cream or oil moisturizer- the answer is the same.

Use the skin care product before the retinol when you are a beginner and after the retinol once you are acclimated to the highest strength retinol.

Retinol Before Or After Toner?

Use a toner or essence before retinol.

Using it after retinol will just remove the retinol from the skin.

Many toners contain alcohol or exfoliants like hydroxy acid.

Using these toners before retinol will increase absorption.

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.

Let us help you figure this all out.

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Retinol And Retin A Before Or After Oil? 

Oils act differently depending upon which fatty acids are in the oils

When retinoids are used before oils, the oils help occlude the skin surface and push the retinoid into the skin. This is known as slugging.

If the retinoid is placed after the oil, the oil will prevent penetration (except in the case described below).

However, the fatty acids  in the oils can affect how much absorption occurs.

Oleic acid is a fatty acid in olive oil that can cause tiny holes in the skin.

Olive oil contains the fatty acid oleic acid which is known to increase penetration of ingredients into skin.3 4 5

Using any oil after a retinoid will increase penetration, however, olive oil will increase skin penetration even more than jojoba oil, rose hip oil or argan oil due to the large amounts of oleic acid in olive oil. 

When beginning a retinoid, we recommend not applying any oil on top of the retinoid.

Once you get used to the retinoid, you can use an oil after it.

Which Face Oil to use after Retinol?

Rose hip oil and argan oil and other oils are commonly use in skin care routines. 

Applying oil such as Argan Oil on top of the retinoid (after the retinoid) until you get acclimated to the retinoid. In addition to having hydrating abilities, argan oil also is an anti-inflammatory oil. This is why argan oil is the best oil to use with retinol.

  • Oils applied before retinol will decrease the amount of retinol that is absorbed. 
  • Oil applied after retinol will increase the amount of retinol that is absorbed. 

Our dermatologists suggest applying oil before retinol when you are first beginning retinol.  Once you are acclimated to retinol, apply the oil after the retinol.

These are the best face oils to use after a retinoid:

  • Argan Oil
  • Evening Primrose Oil
  • Borage Seed Oil

 

Retinol Before Or After Sheet Mask

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Use retinol before a sheet mask.

The sheet mask will increase absorption of the retinol.

However, it is really not necessary to use a sheet mask to increase absorption of retinol because retinoids (with the exception of retinyl esters and retinal) absorb very easily into the skin already.

Sheet masks with hyaluronic acid will increase absorption of retinol which could increase the side effects.

Tip for Your Retinol Routine Order- Morning and Night

Why Use Retinol and Tretinoin 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

Retinol Routine At Night for Beginners

5 step night regimen steps for when you are beginning retinol:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Eye Cream
  3. Treatment Serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Retinoid

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

Retinoid strength affects when to use retinoids in your skin care routine. 

  • Stronger retinoids can go after the moisturizer
  • Weaker retinoids can go before the moisturizer

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.

5 night regimen steps for those who have been on retinol for awhile and do not have stinging skin:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Eye Cream
  3. Treatment Serum
  4. Retinoid
  5. Moisturizer

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Retinol is very unstable so what you use before and after it in the skin care routine is very important.

Here are some commonly asked “before or after retinol?” questions I hear from my dermatology patients.

When to use retinol with my other antiaging serums?

This is the skin care routine order to use retinol with antiaging serums:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Serums
  4. Moisturizers 

When to use retinol in your skin care regimen is confusing.  Let us guide you!

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Retinol Before Or After Toner in your Skin Care Regimen?

Use a toner before retinol.

Using toners and essences after retinol will just remove the retinol from the skin.

Many toners contain alcohol or exfoliating agents like hydroxy acid. Using these toners before retinol will increase absorption.

Retinol Before Or After Sheet Mask

Retinol Before Or After Sheet Mask

Use retinol before a sheet mask.

The sheet mask will increase absorption of the retinol.

It is not necessary to use a sheet mask to increase absorption of retinol because retinoids (with the exception of retinyl esters and retinal) absorb very easily into the skin already.

Sheet masks with hyaluronic acid will increase absorption of retinol which could increase the side effects.

Retinol And Retin A Before Or After Oil? 

In general, when retinoids are used before oils, the oils help occlude the skin surface and slug the retinoid into the skin.

 If the retinoid is placed after the oil, the oil will prevent penetration. However, some oils cause tiny holes in the skin such as olive oil.

Oils act differently depending upon which fatty acids are in the oils.

  • Olive oil contains the fatty acid oleic acid which is known to increase penetration of ingredients into skin.3 4 5
  • Jojoba oil- will decrease penetration of retinoids if use before and increase if used after
  • Rose hip oil- will decrease penetration of retinoids if use before and increase if used after
  • Argan oil- will decrease penetration of retinoids if use before and increase if used after

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Retinol Before Or After Moisturizer?

Whether you use a cream, lotion, oil, or gel moisturizer, it will affect the penetration of retinols.

This will affect the efficacy and the incidence of retinoid side effects. Remember- the type of moisturizer you choose will greatly affect retinoid efficacy, so if you are just starting a retinoid, read more at this link about how to choose a moisturizer when beginning retinoids.

Using retinoids properly is key to great results. There are many tricks to decrease side effects and increase efficacy. You will get the best results if you follow our recommendations based upon your Baumann Skin Type® because we will then be able to give you a choice of retinoids from many brands that are the correct strength for your skin type.

Our dermatologist-developed skin care routine steps will give you a specific step by step guide so you will know exactly when to use your retinoid in your skin care regimen.

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Best References and peer reviewed publications on when to use retinoids in your skin care regimen:

  1. Baumann, L. Chapters 35 and 45 in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology, 3rd edition (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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