What Moisturizer Should I Use With Retin A: Breaking It Down

What Moisturizer Should I Use With Retin A: Breaking It Down
November 3, 2019 Ellis James

What is a Good Moisturizer to Use with Retin A?

You may find yourself asking, “What moisturizer should I use with Retin A?”. If you haven’t used any Retin-A products before, you might also wonder why people even bother with this “wonder product”. So, today we’ll be delving a bit into what this chemical is, before going into some tips for finding the best moisturizer to use with Retin A.

What Is Retin-A?

Retin-A or tretinoin has been on the skin care scene since forever. Known commercially as Retin-A, Vesanoid, Avita, Renova, as well as many other names.

It’s been hailed by dermatologists worldwide as the wonder cream. Its claims include diminishing wrinkles and fine lines, erasing dark spots, removing blackheads and whiteheads, and renewing the skin to give a healthy glow. This is a cosmetic miracle ingredient celebrated for its astounding ability to treat acne, visibly reduce fine lines, and smooth out wrinkles

However, despite its many skin benefits, many are still getting intimidated by this miracle product. As seems to be the pattern with nature, there are known side effects of using Retin-A treatments.

That’s because when used incorrectly, it can turn your skin dry and flaky. Typical side effects include skin irritation, redness, swelling, and blistering.

This is normal, though, as it should push your skin to regenerate; hence, the peeling.

That being said, don’t stop the treatment just because of the dryness and peeling because you can actually do something about it.

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Check out our blog posts if you want to learn more about retinoids:

Skin Care Tips While Using Retin-A

1. When using Retin-A, moisturizing is a must

You may not be the type who slathers facial moisturizer every day, but this is not the time to neglect skin hydration. It’s vital to see the importance of moisturizer for Retin A users early on.

Not applying moisturizer while under tretinoin treatment will make your skin drier than ever.

Also, you just can’t use any moisturizer you have on hand. You have to be careful which moisturizer to use because skin treated with Retin A needs serious attention.

2. Use a mild cleanser

To prevent further dryness and flakiness, treat your skin like a baby.

If you were using acne-fighting facial wash before, it’s now time to make a switch.

Look for the mildest facial cleansers you can get, such as those with hypoallergenic formulations and/or natural ingredients.

You may also try non-foaming, cream-based cleansers that are less drying compared to soap-based foaming cleansers. If you often go barefaced, you may also wash your face with water and skip using cleansing products.

3. Allow slow tolerance build-up

Wearing Retin A all day is usually too irritating for the skin, so you may want first to start wearing it for only half an hour in the first few days (yes, wash it off thirty minutes after application).

Slowly extend the hours until your skin gets used to it.

Don’t worry about not getting the benefits of tretinoin; your skin will still get a dose of it even for just a few minutes.

4. Slough off dead skin cells

Retin-A peeling may have an effect that is similar to exfoliation, but sloughing away flakiness is still advised. Just be careful and do not use harsh facial scrubs.

A very soft, washcloth damped with water and a dab of your gentle facial wash can help remove flaking skin.

Keep in mind not to scrub too hard, or the condition might worsen.

5. Buffer

The term buffering means mixing or diluting Retin-A with moisturizer, so the skin will have time to adjust especially during the early stages of tretinoin treatment.

This is a great way to avoid overdoing Retin-A and still get the benefits it offers.

What Moisturizer Should I Use With Retin A?

As mentioned, with the drying and peeling effects of Retin-A, you will need to apply moisturizer religiously to keep the unsightly flaking out.

However, with all the moisturizers available in the market, it can be a bit confusing which one is advisable to use with tretinoin.

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What’s the ideal moisturizer to use with tretinoin?

In general, when it comes to what moisturizer should you use with Retin A products, you will need an extra-hydrating moisturizer that can help lock in moisture. Make sure it is hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and doesn’t have harsh ingredients that can aggravate the dryness.

Ingredients to look for in moisturizers to use with tretinoin

Mild moisturizers without any harsh ingredients are ideal. Here are some of the top hydrating ingredients you should look for in a moisturizer:

  • Hyaluronic acid: A nature-identical ingredient, hyaluronic acid is known to keep the skin deeply hydrated and prevents it from losing moisture by creating a protective barrier.
  • Dimethicone: This is a famous moisturizing agent that can help prevent rough, scaly, dry and itchy skin. It can even soothe skin irritations caused by diaper rash, radiation therapy, and Retin-A treatment.
  • Glycerin: Like dimethicone, glycerin is also an effective agent that moisturizes and soothes irritated, dry, rough and scaly skin. It draws moisture and locks it in; thus keeping the skin hydrated.
  • Sun protection. Regardless of your skin type, using a moisturizer with added sun protection is always a plus, especially if your skin is left light-sensitive by tretinoin. Choose a moisturizer that has at least sun protection factor 30 to keep your skin protected from the harmful UV rays.

Other good ingredients you have to look out for are petrolatum, propylene glycol, and cholesterol among others. But because your facial skin is now a bit more sensitive than before, it is ideal to use a moisturizer that has 10 ingredients or less.

Eau Thermale Avene Skin Recovery Cream

Eau Thermale Avene Skin Recovery Cream, 1.69 Fl Oz

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Designed for the most sensitive skin, this moisturizer is perfect for combating the side effects of Retin-A.

Why is it Good and What are its Effects?

The product is made with sterile ingredients and is packaged in the safest means possible. It uses the least amount of ingredients and excludes all known preservatives and irritants for the best skin tolerance. It is, therefore, suitable to use as a treatment addition to Tretinoin serums.

In addition to moisturizing the skin, Avene Skin Recovery Cream also promotes the restoration of the skin’s natural defenses, making it more resilient against the effects of the sun.


  • Light formula that is ideal for sensitive skin
  • Promotes skin restoration


  • Does not add sun protection to the formula




Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Face Moisturizer Gel-Cream to Hydrate and Smooth Extra-Dry Skin, 1.7 oz

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Whether used as an everyday moisturizer or as a remedy for the side effects of Retin-A, Neutrogena Hydro Boost is one of the best hydration creams available on the market.

Why is it Good and What are its Effects?

This product is free of any irritant ingredients. Neutrogena’s superior moisturizing formula has all that you need to moisturize your skin against the side effects of Tretinoin but adds nothing new or excessive.


  • The best hydrating formula available that is Retinoid-friendly


  • No special formulation or additional benefits




To learn more, we’ve reviewed this product more in-depth here: Neutrogena hydro boost water gel vs gel cream


Simple Kind to Skin Replenishing Rich Moisturizer


Simple Kind To Skin Replenishing Rich Moisturizer, 4.2oz, Pack of 2

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As a cheaper alternative to the products mentioned, Simple’s formula is ideal for treating irritation on the skin while moisturizing to counteract against the side effects of Retin-A.

Why is it Good and What are its Effects?

It is a hypoallergenic formula that is rich in skin nutrients and vitamins. This helps restore the natural health of the skin while adding the benefits of glycerin moisturizing.


  • Safe formula ideal to keep as an extra remedy for Retin-A treatments
  • Affordable for most people


  • None found




CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Cream

CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30 | 3 oz | Daily Face Moisturizer with SPF | Packaging May Vary

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This is an excellent choice if you want an alternative from day cream moisturizers to help aid the treatment of Retin-A overnight. The CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Cream is a simple formula that works while you’re catching some beauty Zs.

Why is it Good and What are its Effects?

This product is ideal for night application. It is applicable for many skin conditions and promises to be friendly to Retinoid-treated skin. It not only moisturizes, but also rebuilds the skin’s natural defenses.


  • Perfect to use as a night cream alternative
  • Safe to use on sensitive skin or skin affected by dermatitis


  • No superior benefits




Differin Oil-Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF-30


Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with Sunscreen- Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB SPF 30, 1 pack, 4oz

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This is a safe formula that both moisturizes your skin and adds a layer of superior skin protection. It keeps your Retinoid-treated skin protected from the harsh exposure of sunlight.

Differin’s formula comes probably most recommended.

Why is it Good and What are its Effects?

It contains micro pearl technology that absorbs all the excess oil in the skin to give the best matte finish while hydrating the skin.

The formula is hypoallergenic and gentle, meaning that it does not contain irritants that will affect the Retin-A treatment. The sun protection formula also includes components like glycerin, for better hydration of the skin.


  • The best formula for added sun protection
  • Safe and gentle formula good for all skin types and friendly on Retin-A treated skin


  • Is best paired with Differin products, like their Adapalene Gel Acne Treatment




Tips for picking moisturizers for Retin-A

Always read the label and steer clear from any forms of lactic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, alcohols, and vitamin C, as these ingredients are known exfoliants or to have drying effects. While mineral oil, lanolin, and shea butter are good in moisturizing the skin of the body, they are not ideal ingredients when it comes to the face. These ingredients may clog pores and can worsen the problems that Retin-A are supposed to solve.

Furthermore, when using Retin-A, don’t use moisturizers that have antibacterial properties since they can be harsh on the skin as well. The moisturizers that you should use with Retin-A must have one sole job, and that is to moisturize.

So, with your question, “What moisturizer should I use with Retin A?”, you now have the basic answer.

Are There Moisturizers That Include Retin-A in Their Formula?

With modern cosmetics advancing at a healthy rate, it is most likely that you will find products that contain a mix of Retin-A and moisturizing ingredients to naturally combat the side effects.

It is risky though to use the two together in one product, as exfoliating deep in the skin can cause irritation. The formulations used in such products would be created for the safest results. There are many products to try, with plenty of variations available for every skin type.

It is best to trust pre-tested formulas that are mixed by cosmetic brands. Their formulations have undoubtedly been put through plenty of tests to determine if it is friendly to use and won’t have adverse effects. It is an unhealthy habit to moisturize before applying Retin-a treatments.

The increased hydration will aggravate the symptomatic appearance of skin irritation and all other side-effects of applying Retinoid creams. This is a misconception often practiced with night-time specified creams and masks.

Yes, healthy hydration is a necessity for night treatments, especially the type that might allow you to sleep with it on. Doing it before applying the Retin-a treatment is harmful and would reduce the healing effects that the treatment offers.

Hydrating the skin during a Retin-a treatment is beneficial to do, so long as the active ingredients in the moisturizer do not contain reactants or skin irritants.

Mixing your own Retin-a cream with a preferred moisturizer, if the products are Retin-a friendly, have not shown adverse effects. It is advised to rather trust the safety of pre-tested formulas.

Best Moisturizer to Use with Tretinoin: Summary

When using Retin-A, expect extreme drying, severe flaking, some burning sensation, and irritation.

Stopping the treatment won’t allow you to reach your goal of clearer and youthful skin. Hence, you need to do an extra step in order to continue using it and at the same time alleviate the side effects that your skin might be experiencing.

Check out related posts on our blog:

We hope this article helped you decide what type of moisturizer you need to keep your skin from drying and flaking as you go on your journey to younger skin with the use of tretinoin.

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