How to Layer Tretinoin With Other Products?

Tretinoin or retinoic acid is a wonderful ingredient that’s prescribed for many skin issues, including acne, lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and texture.

It works by speeding up the cellular turnover and sending new, young cells to the surface of the skin to improve the overall look.

However, even though tretinoin is the cure for many common skin concerns, using it doesn’t come without downsides. Because it’s so strong, tretinoin can often cause initial dryness, peeling, and irritation.

These symptoms usually last anywhere between 2-8 weeks but depending on the skin, the strength of the product, and the other products in your skincare regimen, they can stick around for longer or shorter than that.

Which is why many people are wondering whether layering other hydrating products can help ease some of the initial discomfort.

And while the answer to this is yes, you need to be careful when layering other products with tretinoin because you want to make sure you are not slowing down its action or using it in a completely wrong way.

Which is why in this article, I will talk about how to layer tretinoin with other products and get the best results from your treatment.

How to Layer Tretinoin With Other Products - The Skincare Culture

NB: If you’re someone with oily/acne-prone skin, you need my new book “The Ingredients Handbook for Acne-Prone Skin“. Download it here.

How to Layer Tretinoin With Other Products?

There are three most commonly applied methods of layering tretinoin with other products.

These are the three I find most efficient when it comes to making the most out of the active ingredient and the other products that you are using:

The “Elaborate” Method

This method is suitable for maintaining hydration and avoiding excessive dryness and irritation.

Here are the steps on how to layer your tretinoin with other products:

  • Cleanse with a gentle cleanser.
  • Wait until the skin is dry (don’t pat or towel dry, let it dry naturally.)
  • Apply a hydrating toner while the skin is still damp but not wet.
  • Apply a hydrating serum while the skin is still damp from the toner.
  • Apply a moisturizer while the skin is still damp from the serum.
  • Wait 20-30 minutes.
  • Apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin.

If you feel like removing one of these steps, for example, a toner or a serum, you may very well do it. However, a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer are a must.

The Sandwich Method

You might be familiar with the “sandwich” method as this one is quite popular with people whose skin gets extremely dry and irritated, usually when starting tretinoin or increasing the strength.

It involves multiple layers of a moisturizer and long waiting in between products, so while it might not be ideal for those who want to do a quick skincare routine before going to bed, it’s very efficient in soothing irritation and keeping the skin moisturized.

Here are the steps for the sandwich method of layering tretinoin with other products:

  • Cleanse with a gentle cleanser.
  • Wait until the skin is dry (don’t pat or towel dry, let it dry naturally.)
  • Apply a hydrating toner while the skin is still damp.
  • Apply a hydrating serum while the skin is still damp from the toner.
  • Apply a moisturizer while the skin is still damp from the serum.
  • Wait 20-30 minutes.
  • Apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin.
  • Wait 20-30 minutes.
  • Apply another layer of moisturizer.

Waiting for at least 20-30 minutes before and after applying tretinoin is important because you can easily miss some areas or move the product around with the second layer of moisturizer, which will lead to uneven coverage.

The Simple Method

As the name suggests, the simple method is the simplest and most straightforward technique of applying tretinoin. It doesn’t really consist of layering products but rather the proper application of tretinoin.

The simple method, in my opinion, is the best way to apply tretinoin; however, it might not work for everyone, especially for those whose skin gets very dry and irritated and requires extra nourishment.

Here’s how the simple method of applying tretinoin works:

  • Cleanse with a gentle cleanser.
  • Wait until the skin is fully dry (don’t pat or towel dry, let it dry naturally.)
  • Apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin on dry (not damp) skin.
  • Wait 20-30 minutes.
  • Apply a moisturizer.

Again, waiting 20-30 minutes is important because you don’t want to move the product around while applying moisturizer, as this will give you uneven coverage.

Best Cleansers While on Tretinoin

While using tretinoin, your skin is likely to get somewhat dry and irritated. Which is why having a gentle cleanser that isn’t going to strip your skin is important.

Here are my top three cleansers while on tretinoin:

La Roche Posay – Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser – $12

Toleriane – Hydrating Gentle Cleanser – The Skincare Culture

The Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser is the perfect match for tretinoin, and it is always recommended by dermatologists before anything else.

It has a light milky texture and contains hydrating ingredients that don’t strip or irritate the skin. It can also be used as a first cleanse to remove makeup and sunscreen.

RELATED: Best Cleansers For Sensitive Skin.

CeraVe – Hydrating Cream-To-Foam Cleanser – $17

CeraVe – Hydrating Cream-To-Foam Cleanser - The Skincare Culture

CeraVe’s Hydrating Cream-To-Foam Cleanser is particularly good for people with dry, sensitive, and irritated skin as well as someone that suffers from atopic conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. 

That being said, it is also an affordable and excellent option for tretinoin users that are experiencing that initial irritation, flaking, and peeling.

RELATED: Best Products For Acne-Prone Skin By CeraVe.

SkinCeuticals – Gentle Cream Cleanser – $45

SkinCeuticals – Gentle Cream Cleanser – The Skincare Culture

SkinCeuticals Gentle Cream Cleanser is a very mild, gentle, and non-foaming cleanser that contains moisturizing and soothing ingredients such as propanediol, allantoin, and glycerin.

It’s amazing for those with dry and irritated skin and is the perfect luxurious addition to the skincare of a tretinoin beginner.

RELATED: SkinCeuticals Soothing Cleanser for Acne-Prone Skin Review.

Best Toners While on Tretinoin

Toner isn’t necessary in a skincare regimen, but it can help relieve irritation and hydrate the skin. So it’s not a bad idea to include a toner for an extra boost of hydration while on tretinoin.

Here are the best soothing toners while on tretinoin:

Cetaphil – Healthy Radiance Refresh Toner – $17

Cetaphil – Healthy Radiance Refresh Toner – The Skincare Culture

Cetaphil’s Healthy Radiance Refresh Toner is a lightweight toner that instantly revitalizes the skin and makes it softer, smoother, and brighter-looking.

It contains brightening and soothing ingredients such as niacinamide, anhydroxylitol, and xylitol, sugar-derived molecules that are excellent for moisturizing and softening the skin.

Sadly, the Healthy Radiance Refresh Toner isn’t available in the US, but it’s easily found throughout pharmacies in Europe and other parts of the world.

RELATED: Does Niacinamide Cause Sun Sensitivity?

SoonJung – pH 5.5 Relief Toner – $20

SoonJung – pH 5.5 Relief Toner – The Skincare Culture

The SoonJung pH 5.5 Relief Toner is a lightweight toner that has a low pH of 5.5 to keep skin balanced and hydrated throughout the day.

Free of potential irritants such as fragrance and alcohol, the toner contains soothing and hydrating ingredients such as barrier-strengthening panthenol, moisturizing madecassoside, and soothing chamomile extract.

RELATED: Best Hydrating Toners For Glowing Skin.

KLAIRS – Daily Skin Hydrating Water – $28

KLAIRS – Daily Skin Hydrating Water - The Skincare Culture

The Daily Skin Hydrating Water by KLAIRS is a very lightweight, hydrating toner that instantly soothes angry and irritated skin.

It contains calming and soothing ingredients such as chamomile leaf, hydrating glycerin, soothing and repairing panthenol, and calendula flower extract, which is a non-fragrant antioxidant with redness-reducing properties.

RELATED: Best Toners For Oily Skin.

Best Serums While on Tretinoin

A nourishing serum isn’t a must, but it’s an excellent addition to your skincare regimen when starting tretinoin, as it can help hydrate the skin and ease some of the initial discomfort.

Here are the best hydrating and soothing serums while on tretinoin:

It’s Skin – Power 10 Formula – Li (Soothing) – $16

It's Skin – Power 10 Formula - Li Soothing – The Skincare Culture

It’s Skin Power 10 Formula is a lightweight and straightforward serum that contains a high concentration of licorice extract to soothe and hydrate irritated and dry skin, and also help fade spots of hyperpigmentation.

Besides its main active ingredient, the serum also contains polyglutamic acid, which is a hydrating ingredient many swear is superior to hyaluronic acid when it comes to moisture retention.

All in all, this serum has a simple and straightforward formula, isn’t loaded with potentially drying and irritating ingredients such as fragrance and alcohol, and is very affordable.

RELATED: Best Antioxidant Facial Serums.

CeraVe – Hyaluronic Acid Serum – $17

CeraVe – Hyaluronic Acid Serum – The Skincare Culture

CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Serum is another great product for dry, dehydrated, sensitive, and irritated skin due to its ability to hydrate, soothe, calm, and support a strong and healthy skin barrier.

Its main ingredient – hyaluronic acid – along with glycerin are great humectants that attract and retain moisture in the skin to make it look plump and healthy.

Besides that, the serum contains CeraVe’s signature three essential ceramides, which work to strengthen the skin’s protective barrier. And lastly, the formula also contains Panthenol, which is a B5 vitamin that has incredibly soothing and healing properties to help irritated or compromised skin repair and heal.

Sounds perfect for skin that’s getting used to the tretinoin ickies.

RELATED: Best Hyaluronic Acid Serums For Acne-Prone Skin.

Medik8 – Hydr8 B5 Intense – $75

Medik8 – Hydr8 B5 Intense – The Skincare Culture

Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense is the supercharged version of Medik8 regular B5 serum, and while there’s also a slight price difference, I prefer the Intense version for those who are dealing with excessive dryness and irritation while starting tretinoin.

The Hydr8 Intense is slightly thicker, has a silkier consistency, and contains ultra-hydrating ingredients such as multiweight hyaluronic acid, soothing panthenol, moisturizing allantoin, and Saskatoon Berry, a Canadian-native plant containing wonder antioxidants called anthocyanins.

Saskatoon Berry is also a superior hydrator as it helps to block the enzyme which breaks down hyaluronic acid, leaving a reservoir of hyaluronic acid within the upper levels of the skin.

RELATED: Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense Moisturizing Serum Review.

Best Moisturizers While on Tretinoin

Moisturizer is an absolute must while on tretinoin, and these are the best moisturizers that soothe and soften the skin but also layer well with both gel and cream-based tretinoin:

La Roche Posay – Cicaplast Baume B5 – $15

La Roche Posay – Cicaplast Baume B5

The Cicaplast Baume B5 by La Roche Posay is a product that delivers immediate relief within seconds of applying it to dry, sensitive, and skin irritated by tretinoin.

It’s a thick balm that contains many soothing, repairing, and moisturizing ingredients, including softening shea butter, hydrating glycerin, soothing and repairing panthenol, nourishing magnesium, anti-inflammatory zinc, as well as Madecassoside, which is one of the four main compounds in the plant extract Centella Asiatica, an incredibly soothing and repairing agent that helps strengthen the skin barrier.

RELATED: Best Moisturizers to Use With Tretinoin.

Embryolisse – Lait Creme Sensitive – $30

Embryolisse – Lait Creme Sensitive - The Skincare Culture

Embryolisse’s Lait-Creme Sensitive is a deeply moisturizing and nourishing cream developed for irritated and sensitive skin, which makes it a perfect moisturizer for when on tretinoin.

The soothing cream is fragrance-free and rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins that provide the skin with nutrients and protect it from pathogenic aggressors while helping it retain moisture and a healthy barrier.

Besides that, there are also soothing aloe vera and moisturizing shea butter and beeswax in the formula, making it a thick, nourishing product suitable for dry, mature, sensitive, and irritated skin.

RELATED: Best Moisturizers For When You’re on Accutane.

Paula’s Choice – Omega+ Complex Moisturizer – $36

Paula's Choice – Omega+ Complex Moisturizer – The Skincare Culture

Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Moisturizer is a silky smooth cream formulated with ingredients that aim to restore dehydrated skin and strengthen the skin barrier.

The Omega Complex Moisturizer contains ingredients such as Omegas 3, 6, and 9, which act as building blocks in the skin cells and strengthen the skin barrier.

Additionally, anti-inflammatory passion fruit and guava extracts work to soothe the skin and relieve irritation caused by excessive tretinoin peeling.

RELATED: Best Paula’s Choice Products For Acne-Prone Skin.

What You Shouldn’t Use While on Tretinoin?

When using tretinoin, your skin is likely to get more sensitive and reactive. Some peeling and flaking may also occur to varying degrees depending on your skin’s tolerance.

When using tretinoin, it is important not to use:

  • Scrubs.
  • Exfoliating acids (especially AHAs, such as glycolic acid.)
  • Enzymes.
  • Harsh and drying cleansers that can make your skin burn and feel uncomfortable.
  • Benzoyl peroxide.

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