If You’re Using Retinol, These Are the Cleansers to Wash Your Face With

Best Cleansers to Use with Retinol

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First of all, congratulations on your new journey with retinol. Also, congratulations on being very responsible and realizing that your regular cleanser may not be the best one to use with retinol. When you’re using topical vitamin A, whether it’s an over-the-counter retinol cream or serum, or prescription tretinoin or retinoic acid or Retin-A, your skin is sensitive to pretty much anything you put on it. That includes cleansers and face washes too. But the best cleansers to use with retinol are non-irritating formulations that won’t aggravate that sensitivity.

Any form of vitamin A, including topical prescription retinoids as well as over-the-counter retinol, does the same thing. Retinol works by regulating the cell turnover rate.

The top layer of your skin, which consists of dead skin cells, is constantly renewed by new, healthier skin cells. As a result, skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, large pores, and fine lines are diminished in the process.

Whichever form you’re using, retinol is perfect for reducing acne as well as signs of aging. However, this skin renewal process carries a few so-called side effects that might be hard to manage at first. The most common of them are dryness and irritation.

This means your skin is generally sensitive, like all day every day. This interferes with your daily skincare routine because your skin gets irritated during cleansing as well. That’s why it’s important to find a proper cleanser to use with retinol.

How to Choose a Cleanser to Use With Retinol

If you’re using retinol, your daily cleanser should be gentle, meaning that it should be free of common irritants like SLS, soap, fragrance, and active ingredients.

The form of your cleanser also matters. Ideally, it should be in cream/lotion form and it shouldn’t lather up like a super drying foaming cleanser.

When you think about it, cleansing as a skincare step removes dirt from the skin as well as a certain amount of lipids. These lipids are essential for a healthy skin barrier. Normal skin can easily bounce back from cleansing.

However, when you’re using retinol, your skin barrier is somewhat compromised, and you can’t afford to remove oils that are necessary for your skin. So it doesn’t matter if you have oily or dry skin.

Avoid cleansers that are exfoliating or mattifying. Your cleanser should simply cleanse. Your retinol takes care of the rest. You don’t need to use a “balancing cleanser” to reduce excess oil. Retinol does that.

You don’t need a “brightening cleanser” to reduce spots and scars. Retinol does that. So, pay attention to your cleanser when you’re using retinol, and make sure it’s minimal.

If you’re dealing with flakiness or peeling, try gentle exfoliators to use with retinol. But cleansing is a daily thing. So it can be too irritating to exfoliate with a cleanser daily.

The Best Cleansers to Use With Retinol

Fragrance-free, non-drying, and non-irritating, below are the best cleansers to use with retinol.

1. La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm - Best Cleansers to Use With Retinol

No matter your skin type or your vitamin A product preference, this is one of the best cleansers to use with retinol. It’s a cream cleanser and does not foam. It’s fragrance-free, oil-free, soap-free, and SLS-free. It does not contain anything that might cause irritation, sensitivity, or redness. But it does contain ceramides, which are lipids that reinforce the skin barrier.

And it has niacinamide, which also supports the skin barrier and reduces inflammation. And lastly, it has vitamin B5 to soothe and hydrate. The cleanser washes off any dirt on the skin but doesn’t leave it dry or tight. But note that this won’t help a lot with removing makeup. If you need something a bit more ‘cleansing’, try number 3!

Quick Tip: Alternatively, you can try La Roche Posay Lipikar AP+ Gentle Foaming Moisturizing Wash. It’s also a gentle cream-based cleanser but it lightly foams and provides a bit more cleansing action.

Ingredients: Ceramides, vitamin B5, niacianmide
Size: 13.52 oz/400 ml
Good To Know: Soap-free, fragrance-free, oil-free

2. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser - cleanser to use with retinol

Similarly, this one also has a light, creamy texture that cleanses the skin without stripping it. It’s also fragrance-free and formulated with barrier-restoring ceramides.

Combining that with hyaluronic acid as well as other lipids, the cleanser gives you a super gentle, non-drying, and non-stripping experience to avoid aggravating sensitivity. It leaves the skin pure and soft. It’s budget-friendly and an effective daily cleanser to use with retinol.

Ingredients: Ceramides, hyaluronic acid
Size: 8 oz/237 ml
Good To Know: Soap-free, fragrance-free

3. Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Foaming Cleanser

Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Foam Cleanser - Best Cleansers to Use With Retinol

Usually, I’m not a huge fan of foaming cleansers when your skin is going through a phase. Because when you think of foaming cleansers, you usually think of frothy cleansers that lather up and slurp up everything on the skin. But this is not like that! This is one of the gentlest foaming cleansers out there that I even use for my redness-prone, rosacea skin.

It’s more like a bubbly cleanser that gently picks up dirt, grime, and makeup from the skin and leaves it as it is and unbothered. It has soothing chamomile extract and antioxidant-rich grape extract. It does contain fragrance which I love but it’s something to keep in mind in case your skin is very sensitive to that.

Caudalie Gentle Foaming Cleanser Image by Ejollify
Image by Ejollify

Ingredients: Chamomile extract, grape extract
Size: 5 oz/150 ml
Good To Know: Soap-free, SLS-free, vegan

4. Avene Tolerance Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion

Avene Tolerance Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion - Best Cleansers to Use With Retinol

This one is so gentle and so simple that it makes you wonder how on earth it’s able to clean your face so well with its minimal formulation. The lotion form of the cleanser is super skin-friendly. It feels like you’re simply moisturizing your skin. It’s formulated without soap or fragrance and it doesn’t foam, which tends to be drying for the skin.

If you’re purging from retinol or dealing with redness or even rosacea flares, this one is incredibly gentle on the skin. As it doesn’t take away necessary oils from the skin, the cleanser contributes to the skin’s healing process by repairing the damaged skin barrier.

Ingredients: Thermal spring water, arginine
Size: 6.7 oz/200 ml
Good To Know: Soap-free, fragrance-free

5. The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm

The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm - Best Cleansers to Use With Retinol

Wearing makeup is difficult when you’re using retinol, especially in the beginning. It’s really hard to apply foundation on dry, flaky skin. So most people either don’t even bother with wearing makeup while using retinol or simply focus on eye makeup. Either way, double cleansing is still the best way to remove makeup even if you’re using retinol.

Double cleansing requires a preliminary cleanser in oil or balm form. Even though most oil cleansers are made with non-fragrance botanical oils, they can contain essential oils as well. You don’t want that when you’re using retinol.

This one is made with oat kernel oil as well as oatmeal to dissolve makeup on the face and the eye area and soothe the skin at the same time. It does not contain essential oils or any other artificial fragrances and literally calms the redness on your face. And it’s the most gentle cleansing balm you can safely use with retinol.

Ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal, oat kernel oil
Size: 5 oz/150 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, vegan, cruelty-free

So these are some of the best face washes and cleansers to use with retinol. With the assumption that you wear light makeup and follow a basic skincare routine, I’d recommend combining The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm with La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser and you’re good to go. You get to nourish your skin, calm redness, and avoid irritation while cleaning your skin thoroughly.

Tips For Facial Cleansing When Using Retinol

  • Use warm water to wash your face. Both hot and cold temperatures can be irritating even for normal skin. Pay attention to the water temperature during cleansing when you’re using retinol products.
  • If you don’t wear makeup, you can try washing your face once a day to avoid unnecessary stripping of the skin.
  • If you do wear makeup, consider double cleansing with an oil cleanser.
  • Massage your cleanser into the skin for about 60 seconds before rinsing. Be gentle and avoid too much rubbing of the skin.
  • Moisturize your skin right after cleansing when it’s damp. It’ll lock moisture in and will help a lot with retinol dryness and flakiness.

As a person who’s tried tons of retinol serums and creams and currently using a prescription retinoid, I’d like to chime in here and give my two cents.

First of all, if you’re using prescription retinol, always follow the instructions of your doctor. What I did was I went ahead and assumed that my skin was tolerant enough to start using my cream every night in the beginning.

Big mistake! I was using the La Roche cleanser. But my skin was so sensitive that it even hurt when I washed my face with water let alone with the cleanser.

My point is if you’re not doing right by your retinol cream, nothing’s going to help. If you’re using over-the-counter retinol, make sure to check out our full guide on how to use retinol.

Read Next: Best Moisturizers To Use With Retinol

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