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Should You Use Retinol Before or After Moisturizer?

by Yu-Jun Park 27 May 2024

Alright, gorgeous! 

Let's delve into the world of retinol, the potent, skin-loving potion! 

So you've wondered, "Should I apply retinol before or after my moisturizer?" 

Ditch those doubts; we're here to give you the deets.

Should I apply retinol before or after moisturizer?

Are you caught up in the dynamic dance of skincare, with retinol and moisturizer twirling around and you left spinning in uncertainty? 

Fear not, let's unravel this dermatological debate once and for all. 

Here’s the short answer: Retinol, an all-time favorite with the beauty buffs, comes before moisturizer. 

Yes, you heard that right.

Direct contact with your skin allows retinol to work its magic at peak potential. 

Just imagine it being a solo performer on your skin stage. It needs space and a clear stage for the performance. Think of it as holding a microphone in its hand, ready to belt out its performance. 

But how does it pull off this extraordinary act? 

Simple. Retinol needs to penetrate the skin, reaching deep down into your pores. 

In fact, it's an undercover agent, sneaking past surface cells to encourage collagen production and fresh cell growth from within. It's like having your own personal skin cheerleader.

Now, let's shift the spotlight to your moisturizer's role.

Your moisturizer, contrary to popular belief, isn't about to step on retinol's toes. Call it a peacekeeper, if you will, its role is more of a buffering act. It glides smoothly over the retinol like a veil, acting as a seal to lock in all the good stuff.

The fine print? You need to give retinol some air to breathe before you follow up with a moisturizer. 

Picture it as intermission – you wouldn't want to interrupt the main act. 

This strategic pause allows retinol to absorb fully into your skin and do most of the cellular legwork before moisturizer enters the scene. 

Give retinol a good twenty minutes, grab a cup of tea, maybe paint your nails, but let it have its moment.

But what if your skin is a bit sensitive? Well, here's where the script flips. 

If your skin is more Romeo than Rambo, meaning sensitive and prone to redness, then do the ol' switcheroo. Apply your moisturizer first, then retinol. 

The moisturizer, in this case, acts as a protective barrier easing the retinol's effect. It is like the soft-spoken opening act before the vivacious headliner takes to the stage.

You see, retinol's enthusiasm can sometimes be excessive for sensitive skin. So having moisturizer act as a cushion can reduce potential irritation and slow the retinol absorption just a bit, preventing a skincare melodrama. 

A skincare plot twist

Thought you’d heard it all? Not so fast, glow-getter!

Because as it turns out, using a moisturizer that contains retinol can also be a winning skincare move. 

The key, though, is that these formulas are professionally blended — ensuring that the ingredients work in perfect harmony. In other words? Don’t try mixing one of these at home.

So, there you have it. 

Before or after? The answer is, it depends. 

Mostly you'll want retinol to take the first bow, followed by moisturizer. But with sensitive skin, let moisturizer take the spotlight first. 

And if you’re using a retinol moisturizer? Well, then… just apply your moisturizer.

Either way, it's about making peace between these two stars of your skincare routine and letting them harmoniously shine. 

Can I use retinol without moisturizer?

Oh, you maverick, you. 

You're contemplating a skincare routine without moisturizer but with retinol? 

Pull up a chair, we need to talk. 

We know, we know - minimalism is all the rage. Marie Kondo did say something about sparking joy after all. 

But sadly, dear reader, when it comes to skincare and retinol in particular, it's less 'less is more' and more 'more is actually pretty necessary.'

What's this all about, you ask?

Well, retinol is your skin’s literate friend; it communicates with your cells. It literally tells them to behave in a healthier, more youthful way. 

Impressive, huh?

But here's the thing. Retinol can get a tad bossy sometimes. In its zeal to educate your cells, it can cause them to react, leading to dryness, peeling, and redness. Eager to avoid the dry skin blues, are you?

That's where moisturizer stands tall. 

Moisturizer is like retinol's loyal sidekick, there to mop up if things get messy. It ensures your skin retains its hydration, providing a safety net when retinol decides to go full steam ahead. 

And let’s be honest, nobody enjoys parched skin, right?

But wait, it gets better!

Not only does moisturizer protect your skin from the possible harsh effects of retinol, it also aids in its absorption. It’s like the Robin to retinol’s Batman if you will.

Aha, science!

So applying retinol onto dry skin, without a trusty moisturizer to follow, is like hopping on a one-way trip to Dehydration Ville. And trust us, that’s no exotic holiday destination. 

Now you're all, "Sign me up for the moisturizer train, I’m sold." 

But let’s clarify one thing. 

Moisturizer isn't merely a fancy accessory in this equation; rather, it's a necessity that allows you to get the most from your merry-go-round of skincare products, while ensuring comfort and glow for your skin. 

"But what if moisturizer leaves my skin feeling greasy or breaks me out?" 

Ah, that's where choosing the right product comes in. That’s an article for another day. Just remember, if the shoe fits, the prince gets the girl. But if not, find another shoe, by all means! 

But long story short… 

If you've got retinol, do not, we repeat, do not ditch the moisturizer! Instead, tango with these two in harmony. 

Your skin will thank you later. Or tomorrow morning, when you wake up with a complexion as fresh as the Prince of Bel-Air.

Is it better to put retinol on damp or dry skin?

You’re not alone. This is a question that's boggled many a skincare enthusiast. 

And we're about to solve this mystery, with surprising twists and turns that would put a detective novel to shame. 

Let's crack the case!

First, let’s recap an important point: Retinol, the hero of our skincare narrative, is a potent substance. It's like that secret agent who works while you're oblivious, tucked in bed. 

But even heroes need to tread carefully. When applied on damp skin, retinol dives deep, full-throttle, no seatbelts. The dampness increases permeability, meaning retinol can penetrate faster and deeper into your skin.

Sounds great, right?

Wait, let's hit the pause button. Just because it's faster doesn't mean it's better. In fact, this rapid dive can cause skin reactions like redness, peeling, or irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin. 

It's like jumping off a cliff without checking the depth of the water first. And that is why less is sometimes more. 

Take a breather.

Now, let's talk about dry skin application. It's like taking the scenic route, with retinol slowly and beneficially seeping into the skin layers. 

By applying retinol on dry skin, you are ensuring a gentle absorption process that mitigates potential skin irritation.

Still with me?

Then let's go deeper. 

Here's an interesting thought: dry skin can sometimes refer to wet skin that has been patted dry. This means, retinol can still be applied swiftly when the skin is slightly damp. 

The key? Timing and balance. Waiting 10-20 minutes after washing allows your skin to lose some dampness but not all, achieving a sweet spot between the extremes.

In sum?

If you're looking for quick and hardcore results, and you truly believe your skin can tolerate retinol's rapid absorption, damp skin could be the risky road you're willing to take. 

But if you're like most of us mortals and prefer a gentler, foolproof approach, dry skin is the friend you should invite over for a retinol party. 

So, folks, there you have it. We've peeled back the layers of this curious question, and now the choice is yours - to damp or not to damp? That is indeed the question.

Should I apply anything before retinol?

My dear skin-devotee, retinol is the star diva of your skincare routine. 

Like a lead actress on Broadway, it craves a stage devoid of competitors where it can steal the spotlight. 

Thus, it's imperative not to crowd your skin with other products before unleashing your retinol on it.

Ideal pre-retinol prep involves a gentle cleanse, followed by a delicate pat down with a toner. 

Delightfully simple, right? It ensures our lovely retinol is graciously welcomed into a clean skin environment, free of any residual makeup or oil. 

One caveat, my darling skincare enthusiasts: be judicious when introducing other acids into the pre-retinol equation! Retinol and exfoliating acids might not play well together - it's like hosting a dinner party with guests who have a touch of the old 'bad-blood' history. 

So, let’s avoid that potential skin irritation drama.

This takes us smoothly to the realm of SPF in our skincare symphony – the donning of the daytime shield. 

Picturing SPF interlocked arm-in-arm with retinol is like visualizing Batman with his Robin. 

Though the SPF action is reserved for your morning skincare tune, it's a non-negotiable chapter if you're twirling with retinol in the moonlight.

Retinol and K-Beauty: A love story

Now here’s a wildcard question: Can you combine retinol with your K-Beauty routine?

Fortunately, the answer is a straightforward “yes!” Commingling retinol with your K-Beauty routine can manifest as a sublime skincare superpower. 

The ethereal blend of K-Beauty's compassionate skincare philosophy, paired with retinol's anti-aging prowess, constructs an unbeatable skincare front. 

Immerse yourself in the K-Beauty world, let snail mucin, and hyaluronic acid be your comrades, and crown it with retinol's magic for a skin care fiesta that sparks serious envy. 

Enter Chuck Norris nod of approval.

So, pretty face, it's less of an 'either-or' narrative and more of a glorious 'and.' 

With the fluidity of choices, you could flirt with a retinol-infused moisturizer or apply a retinol serum followed by a simple moisturizer. 

In essence, any arrangement that offers your skin a warm embrace is your winning ticket. 

Alright, darling, ready to strut your stuff? 

Remember, your beauty mantra is smile, sparkle, repeat. That’ll keep every mirror you pass winking back at you!

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