Sometimes, things have to get worse before they can get better, like is the case when you start using a Retin-A. The prescription-only cream works much faster than its fellow vitamin A derivative, over-the-counter retinol, and typically comes with a few unpleasant side effects while your skin adjusts. "Retinoids can initially cause a process called retinization, which is redness, dryness, and flaking," says Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. To help keep your skin smooth and flake-free, you'll want to arm yourself with one of the the best moisturizers to use with a Retin-A cream, and some tips from Dr. Levin.
How often should you apply Retin-A?
Before you even get to choosing your moisturizer, it's important that you're using your prescription Retin-A cream correctly for the best results. Dr. Levin suggest starting by applying your retinoid every third night. "If your skin isn't irritated after two weeks, increase to every other night for another two weeks," she says. Following this format, you can work your way up to applying your retinoid every night. But be cautious: "A small percentage of patients are super sensitive and sometimes have a very difficult time tolerating a retinoid," Dr. Levin notes, adding, "If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid retinols and retinoids altogether."
How to use Retin-A:
To help ease any initial irritation, Dr. Levin recommends always applying your Retin-A with a moisturizer. "Apply a pea-size amount of the retinoid first, wait a few minutes, and then apply a moisturizer to combat any dryness or flaking." Instead of opting for a fancy night cream, Dr. Levin stresses that gentle moisturizers (along with a gentle cleanser to round out your skin-care routine) are preferred. Dr. Levin lists glycerin, oat kernel extract, bisabolol, ceramides, and antioxidants like coenzyme Q10 as some of her favorite ingredients to hydrate and soothe skin while using a Retin-A.
You'll also want to avoid using other harsh, treatment-based products in your routine. "Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acids can deactivate certain retinoids, so be careful with layering product and make sure to discuss your routine with your dermatologist," she says.
And don't forget your SPF! Whether you're using a Retin-A cream or an over-the-counter retinol, your skin will become more sensitive to the sun (yes, even though you're applying the Retin-A at night). Since you don't want to undo your Retin-A's hard work with sunburn, it's important you apply sunscreen every morning.
Ahead, you'll find five of the best moisturizers to use with a Retin-A cream.
1. The Overall Best Moisturizer To Use With Retin-A
Designed for skin that's sensitive and easily irritated, Avène's Skin Recovery Cream is all about counteracting burning, stinging, and dryness — all possible side effects of Retin-A. Like all of the brand's products, it contains thermal spring water to help soothe and soften skin, but Avène also added Parcerine into this formula to reduce skin's reactivity while working to restore its protective hydrolipidic barrier. The cream, which is oil-free, paraben-free, fragrance-free, and manufactured in a completely sterile environment, also contains glycerin and squalane to gently moisturize skin.
"I had horribly itchy, red, irritated skin from Retin-A," one reviewer shares, adding, "This has helped soothe and comfort my skin." Another confirms this, writing, "This is by far the best moisturizer I've ever tried. I have sensitive skin, and this is the only cream that soothes my skin and provides lasting moisture. I've been using Retin-A, and this stuff feels so good afterwards — it's not too heavy and does not clog my pores."
2. A Gel Moisturizer To Use With Retin-A
Don't be fooled by this lightweight gel formula. Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Gel-Cream sinks into skin instantly, providing all of the hydration it needs, whether used under makeup in the morning or as the last step of your skin-care routine at night. The gel uses glycerin and hyaluronic acid to keep skin properly moisturized with a noncomedogenic, dye-free, and fragrance-free formula.
This fan-favorite drugstore option has more than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. One reviewer shares, "I started using Retin-A Micro for acne, and my face was peeling even though I was using moisturizer morning and night. After switching to this at the recommendation of my dermatologist, the peeling has stopped," they say, adding, "I am very pleased with the way this is absorbed into my skin — it's light and has no fragrance."
3. A Skin-Soothing Moisturizer To Use With Retin-A
Not only does Simple's Replenishing Rich Moisturizer work to hydrate your skin, but it also includes allantoin to soothe signs of irritation. Additionally, allantoin helps leave your skin feeling silky smooth, while ingredients like glycerin, bisabolol, and provitamin B5 draw more moisture to your skin. Simple's formula works to keep skin hydrated for 24 hours, and the moisturizer passes every test when it comes to being nonirritating: dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested, hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic, and free of harsh chemicals, artificial fragrances, and dyes.
4. The Best Night Cream To Use With Retin-A
This nightly moisturizer is beloved for its simple and effective ingredients that play nicely with a number of skin concerns, including Retin-A-induced irritation. CeraVe's Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM pairs hyaluronic acid with niacinamide and ceramides to draw moisture to skin while repairing its natural protective barrier. The lightweight night cream also uses MVE technology, which CeraVe says allows for the moisturizing ingredients to continually be released for 24 hours. Additionally, the formula is noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic, and free of fragrance and oil.
CeraVe's night lotion has more than 1,000 five-star Amazon reviews, with many people noting how well it works with Retin-A. One reviewer who uses the nightly lotion with a retinoid writes, "It helps with redness and keeps my skin from getting too dry or irritated. No flaky patches, even in winter, [and] it doesn't break me out at all." Another fan adds, "This moisturizer was recommended by my dermatologist to put on my face after prescription Retin-A cream. It's wonderfully light and soaks into the skin easily."
5. The Best Moisturizer With SPF To Use With Retin-A
It goes without saying that you need to be wearing sunscreen daily. But that's especially true when using a Retin-A cream because it makes your skin more sensitive to burning and irritation. Differin created its Oil-Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF 30 to be used with its over-the-counter retinoid Differin Adapalene Gel Acne Treatment, so you know it's a good choice. The gentle formula is fragrance-free and noncomedogenic, and it includes micropearl technology to absorb excess oil for a matte finish. The chemical sunscreen also includes gentle hydrators like glycerin to keep skin soft and smooth.
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