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You might be using retinol for wrinkles or acne. You might be using it in cream form or serum form. You might be using a prescription retinoid or an over-the-counter one. But one aspect of retinol applies to all: moisturizing. Moisturizing is an important step in any skincare routine where retinol is involved because retinol is notoriously drying for the skin.
But using a replenishing moisturizer with your retinol can reduce its drying effects significantly. Whatever kind of topical vitamin A you’re using, whether it’s prescription tretinoin like Retin-A or retinol creams and serums you buy from Sephora, moisturizers help your skin through this phase.
Retinol works by speeding up the cell turnover rate, which is the renewal of the outermost layer of the skin. Your skin needs to adapt to this new cycle. The skin tends to get dry and flaky during this time, requiring better moisturizing on your part. That’s why moisturizers play an important role when using retinol.
But to avoid reducing the effects of your retinol cream or irritating your skin when it’s most vulnerable, there are some things to keep in mind when looking for a moisturizer to pair with your retinol.
How to Choose Moisturizers to Use with Retinol
Look for Hydrating Ingredients
The most important thing to look for in a moisturizer to use with retinol is a good balance of humectants and emollients. Look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, panthenol, and glycerin. Look for emollients like fatty acids, ceramides, squalane, and shea butter, which work by creating a film on the surface of the skin to prevent moisture loss. Concerning the texture, you can go for gel formulas or cream formulas depending on preference.
Look for Gentle Moisturizers
You need a very minimal, non-irritating, barrier-restoring moisturizer to use with your retinol cream/serum. As the skin is usually sensitive when you’re using retinoids, it’s a good idea to avoid fragrances in your moisturizer. Even though some skin types can tolerate and even enjoy it, some simply can’t.
Avoid Active Ingredients
Your moisturizer plays a supporting role, your retinol is the star. So avoid moisturizers that do other things. You don’t need a brightening moisturizer or an exfoliating moisturizer. That would mean your cream contains active ingredients like hydroxy acids or vitamin C, which you should not mix with retinol. Avoid any moisturizer that contains active and potentially harsh ingredients.
Best Moisturizers To Use With Retinol
To reduce retinol dryness and flakiness, below are the best moisturizers to use with retinol creams.
1. La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
This is one of the gentlest moisturizers on the planet. And it’s a lifesaver for people who are dealing with retinol dryness. The cream is suitable for all skin types. As the formula is oil-free, even oily and acne-prone skin types can safely use it without worrying about clogged pores.
It’s formulated with ceramides and niacinamide, both of which help restore the skin barrier and prevent moisture loss. It also has thermal water, which contains anti-inflammatory minerals to soothe red and sensitive skin.
Quick Tip: If you have very dry skin or flaky skin, an alternative to this is La Roche Posay Cicaplast Balm B5. It’s thicker in texture and incredibly moisturizing for the skin. It leaves the skin glowy from all that moisture and even though it’s a bit thick, it’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores.
Key Ingredients: Ceramides, niacinamide, thermal spring water
Size: 2.5 oz/100 ml
Good To Know: Oil-free, fragrance-free
2. CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream
Thicker creams are great for locking in moisture but they’re usually too uncomfortable for daytime use for most skin types. If you prefer something heavier to replenish the skin and make up for daytime dryness, this night cream is excellent.
It’s the remedy for extra dry skin and sensitiy from retinol. The budget-friendly moisturizer is made with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and shea butter. It’s also fragrance-free and great for restoring the damaged skin barrier.
Key Ingredients: Ceramides, niacinamide, shea butter
Size: 1.7 oz/48 gr
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, non-comedogenic
Related: Best Sunscreens to Use with Retinol
3. Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturizer
This whole line from Aveeno is all about calming irritated skin. This moisturizer is in gel form and though it’s not oil-free, it’s easy on oily skin too. It’s formulated around colloidal oatmeal because it’s soothing for the skin. So it makes sense to use the moisturizer with your retinol if your skin tends to get red and reactive.
Additionally, it packs vitamin B5 to hydrate and soothe. But it also has other soothers like feverfew extract as well as Centella Asiatica, which is something people with sensitive skin love for its restorative benefits. The moisturizer is fragrance-free, and affordable too!
Key Ingredients: Oat extract, vitamin B5
Size: 1.7 oz/48 gr
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, non-comedogenic
4. Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Moisturizer with Ceramides
When you’re using prescription retinol, you kind of need to take a break from your fancy skincare. Because most of them don’t go well with your retinol cream. At the same time, we know how therapeutic it can be to indulge in fancy skincare. Well, you’ll be using a lot of your moisturizer and you’ll be using it very often. So it’s not the best for your budget to get something expensive.
Just in case you want to though, this one is the best one to get from Sephora. It’s made with a blend of oils as well as hyaluronic acid and ceramides. It has a very moisturizing, emollient base to prevent water from evaporating from the skin. It softens the skin, reduces flakiness, and smooths out rough skin. The moisturizer is vegan, cruelty-free, and fragrance-free.
Quick Tip: Alternatively, try Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Firming Moisturizer. It’s made with a blend of amino acids and peptides, all of which are incredibly replenishing for the skin. The formula lightly melts with heat and absorbs fast without leaving any residue on the skin.
Key Ingredients: Ceramides, green tea extract, marula oil
Size: 1.69 oz/50 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free, vegan, cruelty-free
5. Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizing Cream
If Lala Retro is out of your budget, this is another option you can get from Sephora but in a more affordable price range. I love this one for sandwiching retinol. It’s a squalane moisturizer and it keeps the skin hydrated and moisturized all day without an uncomfortable feeling on the skin.
It’s a tiny bit thicker than a gel moisturizer but still light on the skin. Besides squalane, it packs restorative oils like avocado oil to prevent moisture loss. It’s fragrance-free, unscented, gentle, and weightless on the skin. And it’s one of my favorite moisturizers to use with my retinol creams and serums.
Key Ingredients: Squalane, avocado oil, rice bran oil
Size: 1.7 oz/50 ml
Good To Know: Fragrance-free
6. Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream
I discovered this when I was looking for a heavier moisturizer to pair with retinol during cold, winter weather. And it did not disappoint. It’s thick and works great for dry, flaky, peeling skin. It’s made with a blend of nourishing oils like sweet almond oil and sunflower seed oil.
Though it’s a bit difficult to blend into the skin, it provides long-lasting moisture once it absorbs. When I use this in the evening, I swear my skin still looks plump and soft the next morning. It’s not fragrance-free but the overall formula is incredibly gentle.
Key Ingredients: Sweet almond oil
Size: 2.5 oz/75 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free
So these are the moisturizers you can use with retinol to mitigate dryness and irritation. Remember, it’s all about finding a minimal, gentle formula made without heavy active ingredients and using it regularly.
How to Use a Moisturizer With Retinol
The best way to use a moisturizer with retinol is to apply moisturizer before you apply retinol. This method is also called buffering. Buffering reduces the side effects of retinol by creating a barrier between your skin and retinol.
To buffer retinol, apply your moisturizer on freshly cleaned damp skin to seal moisture in. Once it dries down, apply your retinol cream. This method is so helpful that you might not even have to deal with retinol dryness at all!
You can always apply your retinol on clean skin and apply your moisturizer on top of it. You’ll still be replenishing your skin. However, it won’t help a lot with reducing that side effect.
If you’re using a retinol serum, consider mixing your retinol serum with your moisturizer or simply apply the serum before you apply your moisturizer.
Last but not least, there are super gentle serums you can use with retinol to hydrate and calm your skin. These make a great addition to your routine if you want to enhance the effects of your moisturizer too.
Read Next: Best Cleansers To Use With Retinol