Retinol has amazing benefits from anti-aging to acne eradication, but every rose has its thorn and retinol is known for its ability to cause initial redness, irritation and dryness. If you already have dry skin, using retinol can be a risky endeavor, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it altogether.
“Retinol is a vitamin A–derived molecule which is a tricky ingredient to use in people with dry and/or sensitive skin,” says Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD. For patients with drier skin types, the skin barrier is foundationally disrupted. So application of very potent retinol can potentially harm and irritate it, leading to redness, flaking and burning sensation of the skin.” These unwanted side effects can be avoided, or at least mitigated, by following expert advice on best practices for applying retinol to dry skin.
Dr. Blyumin-Karasik says those beginning a retinol regimen should adhere to a slow and steady philosophy. “The most important thing is to start slow and make sure that you begin with a gentle product (especially if you have light skin or eczema),” says West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD.
Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie D. Callender, MD suggests new users add a retinol into their routine every other night for two to three weeks. If your skin is tolerating the retinol, then you can switch to a nightly retinol regimen. “Use a pea-size amount and spread evenly on the entire face. More does not mean better,” says Dr. Callender. “The goal is to minimize skin irritation.”
Use gentle skin care
Retinol should only be one part of your skin-care routine, and if you have dry skin, the rest of your regimen should be catered to quieting sensitivity while using retinol. Dr. Callender recommends using a “hydrating cleanser and moisturizer that repairs and protects the skin barrier.” She also suggests products that contain ceramides and hyaluronic acid to boost hydration.
Use “bland” moisturizers
Moisturizers are an essential part of a daily skin-care routine, but they become even more crucial when using a retinol. Dr. Beer specifically advises using “lots of bland moisturizers to calm the skin.” Dr. Calendar suggests employing an oil-free moisturizer or hyaluronic acid serum before or after retinol application.
Choose your retinol wisely
There are a ton of retinol products on the market, and it’s all about choosing the one that’s right for you. For those with dry skin, Dr. Blyumin-Karasik says, “a gentler and gradual-delivery type of retinol is best to minimize upsetting the skin.” Her favorite retinols for sensitive skin are Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($130) and the Avene RetinAL line.
Don’t apply retinol to wet skin
Dr. Beer warns against applying retinol to your skin when it’s wet. He notes that retinol is more likely to irritate the skin while moist.
Only use retinol at night
Dr. Callender notes that retinol should be applied at night. Since retinol makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so applying it before heading out the door can result in increased irritation and sun damage.