How To Layer Your Retinoid With Your Other Skincare Products

Just because you have now upgraded to prescription-strength retinoids such as Tretinoin to deal with your primary skin concerns, doesn’t mean you need to ditch your entire arsenal of favourite skincare products. A retinoid can be used at the same time as most of your other over-the-beauty-counter lotions and potions, taking into account a few simple rules to make sure your retinoid still gets the spotlight!

The Basics

First things first, never exfoliate with a harsh scrub or washcloth. Retinoids are very powerful exfoliators in their own right so you don’t need to do anything extra. Plus scrubs and scrubbing can damage your delicate epidermis (that’s the top layer of your skin) so are best avoided. In the same vein, consider stopping any acid products, whether leave on or in toners. Again, retinoids are powerful exfoliators so if you use an acid product as well, you might dry out your skin too much and cause redness, flaking and irritation. Also, avoid hot treatments on your face, like waxing and lasers, because your skin is more light and heat sensitive. Threading and electrolysis are great alternatives for facial hair removal.

How to layer your retinoid with your other skincare products

-Cleanse your skin, making sure to remove your makeup thoroughly. Pat your skin dry and allow it to dry completely.

-Apply any water-based serum – like hyaluronic acid – and/or use any ‘toning’ products. Be aware of glycolic, PHA or salicylic-toning-type products, as these can excessively dry your skin out when combined with a retinoid. Save these for the morning if you want to use them.

-Let serums absorb for a few minutes. Make sure your skin is completely dry before moving to the next step.

-NOW apply your retinoid.

-Apply moisturiser or oil-based treatments.

Opinions differ as to the order in which you should apply products. Some people advocate using your retinoid last and applying your moisturiser before you apply your retinoid. In reality, there is no right or wrong answer to this. If you find your skin is getting excessively irritated or dry when using a retinoid, apply your moisturiser before you apply your retinoid, but make sure that you give your moisturiser enough time to fully absorb (15 minutes is sufficient).

When using a retinoid, you should use acid-based products and Vitamin C in your morning skincare routine only. But remember that using different exfoliators can lead to redness and irritation, especially when you first start using a retinoid, so consider sticking to a simplified skincare routine when starting out. For example, just cleanse and moisturise in the morning and do the same at night, adding in your retinoid product before or after your moisturiser at bedtime.

When starting a retinoid, a few simple tweaks to your skincare routine is all that’s required for you to get the most out of all your favourite products. For more information about prescription-strength retinoids, contact one of our expert dermatologists. 

Dr Natalia Spierings
Dr Natalia Spierings
Dr Spierings is a leading consultant dermatologist in the UK with a medical degree from St George's University of London. She has a decade's worth of experience treating acne and anti-ageing, and is dedicated to providing safe, efficient and patient-centred care at every opportunity.
Originally published June 26 2018, updated June 27 2019

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