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Retinol before or after moisturizer – What’s better for your skin?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A & an ingredient to help us resolve skin issues like premature aging, acne condition & pigmentation issues.

Retinol is frequently confused with retinoid (also a derivative of vitamin A) but in easy language retinol is comparatively mild to retinoid, hence it is easily available over the counter, while retinoid needs a prescription. Because retinol is mild, it works slower compared to retinoids yet is quite effective in solving most of our skin troubles.

A girl moisturizing her skin after using retinol

Moisturizing is a must

So, Is Retinol serum used before or after moisturizer?

What’s the right order?

  • It’s honestly about preference. I mean you can put retinol first, followed by moisturizer or you can follow the ‘sandwich method’ of layering moisturizer – apply retinol -moisturizer.
  • If you have a sensitive skin type, are a beginner, or just want to be extra cautious while using retinol, the ‘M-R-M’ method will be safer for you.
  • Moisturizer will help soothe any potential dryness first & create an extra layer between your skin & retinol for extra safety including the retinol benefits.
  • If you’re a retinol pro, wash your face, pat it dry & voila go ahead with applying retinol followed by moisturizer.

How to apply Retinol safely in your skincare routine?

  1. The first step, wash your face.
  2. Pat it completely dry
  3. Layer a non-comedogenic Moisturizer first, letting it absorb completely into the skin.
  4. Protect your eye area with a little Vaseline around for safety.
  5. Now, apply a pea size amount of retinol on the entire face & neck.
  6. Massage it in light circular strokes.
  7. The last step, finish with another layer of moisturizer.

What are the benefits of Retinol for our skin that people rave about so much?

See for yourself

  1. It is mind-blowing in boosting Collagen production by increasing skin cell turnover at a double speed.
  2. Treating acne & acne scars.
  3. Works wonders for fine lines & wrinkles.
  4. Takes care of dark spots & premature aging signs.
  5. Works great for hyperpigmentation and discoloration problems.

How does Retinol actually work on your skin? (Pretty Interesting part!)

  • When we start aging, our cells don’t regenerate as quickly as they used to, when we were young, sadly.
  • Now, Retinol directly affects our gene expression, regulating all our age-related issues by eliminating dead old skin cells & allowing fresh, young skin cells to come up to the surface.
  • Unlike other ingredients in the market, it goes deep into the layers of the skin & exfoliates it from within. It also clears up acne because it cleans up the pores & eliminates bacterial growth. Amazing right?

Retinol stages of usage month wise

Retinol Stages

Are there any side effects of Retinol?

Nothing this amazing comes with a few side effects but that mostly happens when you don’t use retinol carefully

Side effects,

  • Retinol increases the photosensitivity of the skin. This means your skin becomes highly sensitive to the UV radiation of the sun & can give you harsh sunburn.
  • When using retinol for the first time, there can be an adjustment period to build your retinol tolerance & you might face effects like scaliness, redness, dry skin, tightness, and even mild burns.
  • If you are not able to handle the allergic reactions by yourself or if they look very painful, please see a board-certified dermatologist.

How to incorporate Retinol safely into your skincare routine? (Important note)

Over peeled skin of a woman in the picture when the application quantity of retinol exceeds

Over-peeled skin when the application quantity of retinol exceeds
  1. Start with the lowest concentration of retinol like 0.1% / 0.25% and gradually increase to max 1%.
  2. Never apply Retinol on damp skin
  3. Don’t apply too close around your eyes & mouth.
  4. Just a pea-sized amount is enough. Too much does more harm than good.
  5. Never forget to use it on the neck as well. The weird skin contrast looks bad.
  6. Don’t forget to apply your moisturizer with a few drops of Hyaluronic acid mixed with it to combat dry skin. .
  7. If you’re a newbie, start slow by using it twice a week & then gradually increase it to every other night.
  8. Try & avoid using any other products like AHA’s/ BHA/s in your skincare routine when you’re beginning your retinol journey. This can minimize chances of excess flaking, over exfoliation & burns.
  9. Always wear sunscreen in the daytime to avoid photosensitivity.
  10. Always GO SLOW with the amount & usage to avoid flakiness, irritation or any burns.

Extra tip (Only for experienced Retinol users)

In order to experience the deepest level of skin penetration, you might want to use it after you exfoliate, so your skin is maximum receptive to it.

Also, People with Ivory skin should start using Retinol from their mid 20s as their skin is more prone to early signs of aging compared to dark skin.

Who should not use Retinol?

  1. Sensitive skin types, like people with Rosacea or Eczema condition, should avoid Retinol. It can make the skin very dry for you.
  2. If you’re trying for pregnancy, are pregnant, breastfeeding. DO NOT use retinoids of any sort.

Overall is Retinol safe for an everyday skincare routine?

Absolutely Yes! It’s a superb scientific dig for acne-prone skin & all its anti-aging advantages. Just be sure to follow all the rules while applying it.

How long does Retinol take to work?

Between 4 Weeks – 12 Weeks, with consistent use for best results. 

Now, if you get retinol burn or irritation, you should know how to tackle it without getting stressed! (Everyone has it someday or the other day, even the experts) Skin will eventually come back to normal, but you can help it heal faster. See how

Retinol Burn Care Tips

A picture of a girl with happy healed skin after retinol irritation

Healthy healed skin

  1. Don’t use fragrance cleansers or moisturizers.
  2. Stay away from makeup for a while.
  3. Use Thermal spring water to calm the skin (Try from La Roche Posay)
  4. Take cold showers or ice (Wrapped in a thin cloth) on your face. Avoid hot showers at all. It will irritate the hell out of the skin.
  5. Use mild facewash & don’t use any exfoliating fancy gadgets to wash the face, simply hands.
  6. Now give a lot of moisture and hydration to the skin for it to feel better. Like moisturizers loaded with ceramides (Helps in skin barrier) and Hyaluronic acid.
  7. After Moisturizer, seal the skin with an occlusive like Vaseline. It locks in all the goodies you just applied & heals the skin faster.
  8. Stop using any other exfoliants, acids, AHAs, BHAs, peroxides, and salicylic acid until you are completely healed.
  9. Cica Balms, Glycerin & Aloe vera, are great soothing and calming agents for the skin.
  10. Product suggestion- Try Avene- Cicalfate + restorative protective cream
  11. DO NOT forget to apply sunscreen before stepping outside. Remember you already have vulnerable & sensitive skin right now. UV rays will make it worse.

Related Articles

If you loved reading this article, you will probably also enjoy reading:

  1. Can you use Vitamin C with Retinol?
  2. Can you use Glycolic Acid with Retinol?
  3. Can you use Benzoyl Peroxide with Retinol?
  4. Can you use Azelaic Acid and Retinol Together
  5. Can you use Retinol And Hyaluronic Acid Together?
  6. Can you use Niacinamide with Retinol?
  7. Can you use Salicylic Acid and Retinol Together?

I am very hopeful that you’ll know how to handle Retinol in your skincare journey now with minimum backfires! Ha-ha. 

Love~ Beauty Stroll

By Aayushi S
By Aayushi S
Aayushi is a New York based freelance writer and a content strategist. She is a computer science graduate, a health and skincare fanatic and is also the founder of “Beauty Stroll “. She aims to make science-backed skincare easy to understand for her readers.

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