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For folks with sensitive skin, even the most seemingly harmless and soothing skin-care ingredients can sometimes cause an adverse reaction (looking at you, niacinamide). So when it comes to retinol, a form of pure vitamin A that aids in cell turnover for healthier skin, those with sensitive skin should tread lightly, as the ingredient has a track record of inducing irritation. "Retinol can be used by nearly everyone if it is used correctly," Erin Gilbert, a New York City-based dermatologist, tells Allure. Her motto? "Start low and take it slow."
Gilbert isn't the only skin-care expert with advice on using retinol effectively on sensitive skin. We spoke with several dermatologists and gathered their best tips and tricks on how to use retinol on delicate and hypersensitive skin types.
Remember to always do your homework so you can find the right product for your needs. One of our faves: L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Night Serum, a potent formula that's gentle enough for sensitive skin types.
Above all, you want to ensure the skin is properly cleansed before even thinking about using retinol. New York City-based dermatologist Shari Marchbein stresses that washing your face with a gentle cleanser, first, is key. She suggests CeraVe's Hydrating Facial Cleanser, formulated with moisturizing ceramides and hyaluronic acid, and Neutrogena's Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser, which is made with moisture-locking glycerin. This Best of Beauty winner from Burt's Bees and First Aid Beauty's Pure Skin Face Cleanser are other excellent options, too.
Aside from prepping the skin, Zeichner's biggest tip is to consider first experimenting with what's called a retinyl ester. In layman's terms, retinyl ester is a less concentrated form of vitamin A, which isn't as aggressive on sensitive complexions. "Look for [something] like retinyl propionate, as it's much milder on the skin as compared to pure retinol," he says. "You can think of it as an entry-level version." Murad's Retinol Youth Renewal Night Cream contains retinyl propionate, and complexion-calming red-algae extract, which smooths fine lines and wrinkles, as well as soothes irritation.
Ask any dermatologist and they'll tell you: Incorporating a retinol into your skin-care routine without the use of moisturizer is probably a bad idea. That's because without that added layer of hydration, risk of sensitivity is higher. "Moisturizing first should not interfere with how well the retinol absorbs into the skin [and] can protect it from potential irritation," says New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner.