When I started on my journey with Retin-A (otherwise known by its generic name, tretinoin), I was overwhelmed to say the least. It's an extremely powerful skincare ingredient which, when used incorrectly, can cause major damage to your skin and its moisture barrier. After using Retin-A for over a year and successfully curing my adult hormonal acne, I can confidently say that I have my routine down and I'm a tretinoin fan for life. Here are my recommended products to use with Retin-A to get maximum results and minimum irritation.
What cleanser to use with Retin-A
Look for a cleanser that has hydrating properties that won't strip the skin. Look out for "cream" cleansers and avoid "foaming" cleansers.
My favorite cleansers to use while on Retin-A are:
I also like to double cleanse at night to remove my sunscreen/makeup before going in with my skincare. I have a whole blog post all about double cleansing, but essentially it involves using an oil-based cleanser as your first step to remove impurities, then a regular cleanser as your second step to clean the skin.
My favorite oil-based cleansers to remove makeup without irritating the skin are:
With any kind of retinol, moisturizing is key. It can be highly irritating and lead to dry, flaking, peeling skin, so you need to make sure you're adequately replenishing your moisture barrier twice a day.
Look for a moisturizer with ingredients like ceramides, niacinamide (if you skin can tolerate it), peptides, and hyaluronic acid (in ingredients lists, it's usually called "sodium hyaluronate").
This isn't a moisturizer, but I need to give an honorable mention to the CeraVe Healing Ointment. This is an absolutely must-have when using Retin-A. I talk about it more extensively in my blog post about how I use Retin-A, but it's great for irritated or flaking patches of skin and to protect your lips.
What sunscreen to use with Retin-A
The #1 most important thing to use while on Retin-A is: sunscreen! You should ALWAYS be using sunscreen every single day, even if it's cloudy or you're staying inside all day. UV rays can still damage your skin through clouds or through the window, and you especially need to protect your skin while on any kind of retinol.
I struggled for years and years to find a sunscreen that didn't break me out, give a horrible white cast, or feel awful going on the skin. Luckily, in recent years sunscreens have gotten a lot better and I have several I keep in my rotation.
Look for a physical sunscreen with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens are prone to irritating the skin.
And that's it! With Retin-A, less is more, especially when you're just getting started. Try not to use too many (if any) other active ingredients, and just focus on getting down a simple, solid routine of cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Over time, tretinoin will help improve acne, scarring, pigmentation, and prevent signs of again - it's really a miracle product, if you use it correctly!