- Retinol is a powerful anti-aging solution known for causing side effects in all skin types.
- If used with caution, it is safe for sensitive skin.
- Choose a moisturizer or cream with a low percentage of retinol for best results.
- Always wear a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher when using retinol.
Retinol is a type of retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A. Applied topically, it increases skin cell turnover to treat many signs of aging including hyperpigmentation, thinning skin, dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles. It can also treat acne and boost collagen production. To achieve good results, retinol must be regularly applied for a period of several months.
Retinol is known for causing side effects such as redness and peeling during the first few weeks of use. If you have sensitive skin, the symptoms may be severe enough that you stop use of the product before ever seeing its benefits.
However, by choosing the right product and applying it less frequently than directed, you can safely use retinol on sensitive skin and take advantage of its many benefits.
Is It Ok to Use Retinol on Sensitive Skin?
Retinol is safe for sensitive skin, though it’s important to understand that you, like everyone who uses it, will experience some initial side effects.
Your chances of successfully following through with a retinol regimen are improved if you start by applying a low percentage of retinol (0.01%) only once or twice a week and gradually increase usage over time as your skin gets used to the product. Side effects will clear up after two to six weeks.
Who should avoid using retinol?
Retinoids are not approved for use for pregnant or breastfeeding women as excess amounts of vitamin A have been linked to birth defects.
If you are in a period of extreme skin sensitivity due to a chronic condition such as rosacea or eczema, first take the time to restore your skin’s moisture barrier. Once your skin is in better health, you can begin a retinol regimen.
Best Retinol Products for Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin benefits most from retinol in low percentages and moisturizing formulas. Use only over-the-counter drugstore products and avoid prescription-strength retinoids such as retinoic acid, commonly marketed as Retin-A or Tretinoin.
Although you will inevitably experience some side effects when using a retinol skin care product, they should be tolerable enough for you to continue using the product for the duration necessary to see results.
Retinols are available in the form of creams, moisturizers and serums.
Retinol creams are formulated with moisturizing ingredients to cause less irritation than the typical retinol serum. They may include skin-soothing vitamin E and colloidal oatmeal along with other anti-aging ingredients such as peptides and squalane.
A retinol-containing moisturizer works well for dry skin as it includes nourishing, hydrating ingredients to counteract the retinol’s drying effects.
Retinol serums are lightweight and often contain more active ingredients than creams or moisturizers. They work best on oily or acne-prone skin and are not ideal for dry, sensitive skin, but may be a good solution for sensitive combination skin.
Select a serum with a low percentage of retinol—even 0.01% can produce results over time—and apply plenty of moisturizer afterward every time you use it.
How to Use Retinol on Sensitive Skin
Because retinol causes light sensitivity in your skin, it’s best to apply as part of your evening skin care routine so the product isn’t on your face during the day. Be sure to wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 during the duration of your retinol use as you’ll be much more likely to sunburn.
Step 1: Cleanse gently
Wash your face using a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic cleanser, ideally a cream or lotion to maximize hydration. Gently pat the skin dry.
Step 2: Apply
Apply the retinol according to the instructions on the package. You’ll likely only need a pea-sized amount.
Step 3: Moisturize
Follow up by applying your regular night cream. If you are using a retinol moisturizer, you may not need this final step.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects your skin from free radicals while reducing the signs of aging and increasing elastin and collagen production. It is available in creams, lotions and highly concentrated serums.
Niacinamide, a type of vitamin B, can also reduce fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and improve skin elasticity.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative with powerful anti-aging benefits. Although it is known to cause irritation in sensitive skin, you can minimize your skin’s reaction by choosing a moisturizing product with a low percentage of retinol and only applying it once or twice a week.
Always be sure to wear a sunscreen of SPF 30 while using retinol, as your skin’s sensitivity to the sun will be greatly increased.