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Do You Put Tretinoin On Before Or After Moisturizer?

Do you need to apply moisturizer when using Tretinoin? Read on for some answers on just how Tretinoin and moisturizers go together.

Read on

Tretinoin is one of the most well-regarded beauty and skincare ingredients, but it comes along with a lot of “dos and don’ts” and questions from new users as to how to get the best results out of your prescription product.

One of the most common questions leaving new Tretinoin users in a quandary is if and when you need to apply moisturizer when using Tretinoin.

Read on for some answers on just how Tretinoin and moisturizers go together. Spoiler: the way you want to use your moisturizer with Tretinoin may change over the course of using this powerful retinoid ingredient.

Why moisturizers are a must with Tretinoin

Tretinoin is pretty strong.

And, this is a good thing when you want a product that gives results, but, this strength comes with what may be a (literal) bumpy start to starting your treatment.

Tretinoin can start off with a bang, leaving the user’s skin dry, red, flaky, rash-like, and irritated.

These side effects of Tretinoin use are actually normal, and develop from the product doing what it is supposed to be doing -- ramping up skin cell turnover.

Luckily, these side effects are more of your skin adjusting to the product, and even pretty intense side effects tend to wear off and stop after the first few weeks of using Tretinoin.

This is why moisturizer use becomes a must with Tretinoin usage.

Using moisturizer with your treatment gives your skin almost a barrier against the Tretinoin, which can let the skincare treatment infuse into your skin more slowly, while hydrating to reduce the flaking, peeling, and dryness blues.

Ultimately, this means a less intense adjustment period for you.

Use the moisturizer “sandwich method” if just starting out on Tretinoin

There are a few different recommendations for just how and when to use a moisturizer with your Tretinoin treatment, and the way that you moisturize may change once your skin acclimates to the Tretinoin product.

Newbies to the Tretinoin world, or just those who know that they have really sensitive skin, the “sandwich method” may be your best bet to get through the starting period (relatively) unscathed.

The sandwich method of Tretinoin use essentially means that you are going to apply your moisturizer before and after your retinoid, essentially making the Tretinoin the “meat” or “peanut butter” of your sandwich.

This double dollop of moisturizer will give your skin soothing and hydrating double duty, hopefully leading to a much slower and more gentle effect of the retinoid.

First, wash your face and allow your skin to fully dry.

Then, apply a layer of your moisturizer, followed by a pea-sized amount of your retinoid after a few minutes.

Finally, top this off off with another layer of moisturizer after letting the retinoid soak in for a bit.

Apply moisturizer after when you are a seasoned Tretinoin user

After you have been thoroughly integrated into the world of Tretinoin, and your skin is handling your every-other-night (or whatever your doctor recommended) application like a champ, you may be able to get away from the sandwich method.

At this point, if you are using Tretinoin on your chosen schedule and your skin isn’t acting up at all, you may be able to switch to a one-time application of moisturizer after the retinoid is on your face.

Of course, this can increase the irritation slightly at first since there is less dilution of the product, so listen to your skin if it is not a fan. First, wash your face and allow the skin to fully dry.

Then, apply a pea-sized amount of your Tretinoin. Start with application to your forehead, then move to the rest of your face, avoiding the eyes and lips. (Your forehead has the least sensitive skin on your face, and will better be able to handle it if the first application site gets a little bit extra.)

Lastly, give your retinoid product 20 minutes to really get into your skin, then apply your moisturizer afterward.

Some moisturizers are better than others when using Tretinoin

When using Tretinoin products, not all moisturizers are going to be a good fit.

Tretinoin already has the risk of being slightly irritating, so you need to make sure your moisturizer is not adding to the problem.

Common moisturizer ingredients like alcohol and synthetic fragrances can be additionally drying and irritating, and not adding anything to the health of your skin.

Other moisturizer ingredients that are in there for added exfoliation like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are also ones to avoid, as you are probably getting plenty of exfoliation from your Tretinoin already and any more can cause unwanted irritation.

If you are getting some flakes and peeling skin, you can gently exfoliate those off by using a damp washcloth in circular motions.

Baby your skin a little bit, and choose a moisturizer that is made for sensitive skin, is fragrance-free, and contains only soothing ingredients.

Strut Health Prescription Tretinoin Products Online

Here at Strut, we know the power of Tretinoin, so we included it in our prescription Acne Formula, Acne Scar Formula, and Anti-Aging Formula.

If you are ready to harness the beauty-boost of this dermatology favorite, you can have a free questionnaire-based online visit with our U.S. licensed doctors today to see if our products are a good fit for your skin goals.

If you are a good candidate for treatment, your prescription can be shipped to your front door with our free shipping.


  • Moisturizer use when using Tretinoin is a must.
  • You may start out with applying moisturizer underneath and on top of your Tretinoin to help reduce initial irritation -- “the sandwich method”.
  • After the adjustment period with your retinoid, you may be able to switch into only applying moisturizer on top of the retinoid as a final step.
  • Allow the retinoid 20 minutes to absorb into the skin before applying the moisturizer top layer.
  • Choose a moisturizer formulated for sensitive skin that does not contain alcohol, synthetic fragrances, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or harsh exfoliants.
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