How To Use Retin-A With Sensitive Skin

Retinoids are the baseline products 

for achieving truly beautiful skin.

They are Vitamin A derivatives that unclog pores, boost collagen to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, speed up cell turnover to even out skin tone and refine the texture of the skin.

Essentially they create softer, smoother, brighter, more luminous skin.

They are amazing.

I recently wrote about Retinoids and Retin-A,

and received many inquiries from around the world about how to work with Retin-A if your skin is sensitive. 

Here are six tips for using Retin-A if you have sensitive skin.

1. Start With A Very Gentle Formula

Typically the prescription formulas are stronger and feel more abrasive, so try starting with an over the counter formula. Look for one that says “For Sensitive Skin”. There are plenty of retinoids on the market that are combined with calming, anti inflammatory ingredients such as green tea extract, and humectants such as hyaluronic acids, which will hold moisture to the skin, making it less vulnerable to irritation.

(I use Nytamin-A from Estheceuticals it’s super effective but also super gentle.)

2. Use A Gentle Cleanser

When you start using retinoids you need to be extra gentle with your skin, starting with your cleanser.

Instead of a foaming cleanser or a cleanser with glycolic acid/salicylic acid/AHAs/BHAs etc, opt for a very gentle cleanser. I love cleansing oils and milk cleansers, both of which will dissolve makeup and really clean the skin without stripping it.

3. Get There Slowly.

Introduce your retinoid slowly and allow your skin to build up a tolerance to it. 

If you have a sensitive skin, or if you are experiencing any burning/stinging/flaking while using a retinoid, start by only using it every 4th day for a couple of weeks. Slowly work your way up to every 3rd day, then every 2nd day. The goal is to eventally be using it every night.

Typically prescription formulas are more abrasive than over the counter formulas.

4. Try Moisturizing First

This is for prescription formulas. If they still feel abrasive apply a thin layer of moisturizer first, but again make sure it is a simple moisturizer, with no salicylics/glycolics/AHAs/BHAs. 

Over the counter formulas typically have moisturizers already in them, so can skip this step.

5. Keep It Sheer.

Particularly if you are using a prescription Retin-A cream, use a light hand. 

Ideally start with a pea sized amount for the entire face. Normally that’s all you need anyway, but regardless, start with a very thin layer and give your skin a chance to get used to it.

6. Don’t Combine

When you are first starting a retinoid, or if you are experiencing any irritation, don’t use any other highly active products. This means no vitamin C serums, no glycolics or salicylics, no scrubs or peels until your skin has completely acclimated itself to the retinoid. You can add everything back in product by product once your skin has built up it’s tolerance to the retinoid.