Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
Should you apply your serum before or after tretinoin?

Should you apply your serum before or after tretinoin?

To maximize efficacy, you should apply serum after tretinoin in your skincare routine.

Tretinoin is a vitamin A derivative often prescribed by dermatologists to treat skin concerns like acne and signs of aging.

Also known as retinoic acid, tretinoin works by speeding up the turnover of dead skin cells and stimulating collagen and elastin production.

At the same time, it can cause side effects like skin irritation and dryness, especially when you first start using tretinoin.

By using soothing products like a hyaluronic acid serum, you can reduce your chances of developing any negative side effects alongside using tretinoin.

This article will explain everything you need to know about using tretinoin and serums together.

Can I use serum with tretinoin cream?

Cocokind Barrier Repair Serum

Yes, you can use a serum with tretinoin cream.

In fact, layering tretinoin before hydrating serums with humectants like glycerin or sodium PCA can be great for people with sensitive skin.

On the other hand, you should take caution with layering a vitamin C serum or salicylic acid serum along with tretinoin.

The combination of these skincare products can be too irritating, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin.

Benefits of Applying Serum Before Tretinoin

Glytone Mandelic Gentle Resurfacing Serum

There are a few benefits of applying your serum before tretinoin, including:

  • Providing extra hydration

  • Reducing sensitivity

  • Protecting your skin barrier

Let’s explore them!

Extra Hydration

Serums can provide an extra boost of hydration to help counteract the drying effects of tretinoin.

In particular, people with dehydrated and dry skin can benefit from ingredients like:

  • Hyaluronic acid

  • Glycerin

  • Panethnol

  • Aloe vera

These ingredients help keep your skin hydrated and healthy.

Reducing Sensitivity

Serums with soothing ingredients can help calm irritation and sensitivity that commonly occurs from using tretinoin.

For example, ingredients like green tea and niacinamide can help support your skin’s natural barrier and help reduce uneven skin tone!

Protecting Your Skin Barrier

Applying your serum first provides a protective barrier between your skin and the tretinoin.

This protective barrier slows the rate at which your skin absorbs tretinoin, which can help reduce:

  • Irritation

  • Dryness

  • Redness

  • Flaking

Benefits of Applying Serum After Tretinoin

Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum

Applying your tretinoin first allows it to easily penetrate your skin without a barrier.

Therefore, it can more effectively stimulate collagen production and speed up skin cell turnover.

When to Apply Facial Serum in Skincare Routine

Paula's Choice Calm Repairing Serum

Your serum should come after your cleanser and any product you use to treat acne or aging but before your moisturizer.

Follow along to learn how you can use serums as part of your morning or evening skincare routines.

Morning Skincare Routine

Your morning routine should follow this order:

  1. Cleanse your face

  2. Allow your skin to air dry

  3. Apply 3-5 drops of serum

  4. Apply moisturizer

And, of course, the last step of your morning routine should be to wear SPF.

Evening Skincare Routine

Your evening skincare routine should follow this order:

  1. Cleanse your face

  2. Apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin

  3. Wait 2 minutes for it to fully absorb

  4. Apply your serum

  5. Apply your moisturizer

If you have particularly dry skin, you can finish off with a good facial oil as well.

When to Apply Tretinoin in Skincare Routine

Tretinoin .05%

Tretinoin should only be applied as part of your evening skincare routine, between your cleanser and your serum or moisturizer.

Your skincare routine with tretinoin should follow this order:

  1. Cleanse your face

  2. Apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin

  3. Apply 3-5 drops of your favorite serum

  4. Apply your moisturizer

To finish off, I often suggest that people with dry or sensitive skin apply a layer of facial oil as well.

What to Consider When Layering Tretinoin

Tretinoin creams and BowTiedFawn branding

Because tretinoin can be such an irritating ingredient, there are a number of considerations you should take when adding it to your skincare routine.

Other Products in Your Routine

First, look at the other products in your skincare routine when deciding on the order and frequency with which to apply tretinoin.

For example, you should generally avoid layering tretinoin with other irritating active ingredients such as:

  • Vitamin C

  • Benzoyl peroxide

  • Alpha hydroxy acids

Skin Type & Sensitivity

Be sure to consider your skin type and individual sensitivity when deciding when to apply tretinoin in your skincare routine.

If you have more reactive skin, you may prefer to apply a hydrating serum underneath your tretinoin to protect your skin barrier.

Serum Ingredients

Be sure to take note of the ingredients in your serum.

For example, serums with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide are safer to layer under tretinoin than vitamin C.

Tretinoin Formulation

The formulation of tretinoin prescribed may impact your layering order.

This is because cream or gel formulas penetrate your skin differently than micro-gels.

Be sure to consult your dermatologist if you have specific questions about your type of tretinoin.

How to Layer Tretinoin in Your Skincare Routine Safely

Naturium BHA Liquid Exfoliant 2% with box

To layer tretinoin in your skincare routine safely, follow these tips.

Keep it Simple

When first starting tretinoin, you may want to avoid layering it with any serums to protect your barrier until your skin builds up tolerance.

Slowly Introduce New Products

Instead of trying out three new products at once, take it slow!

Consider introducing serum into your skincare routine after several weeks.

Start with 1-2 days per week and gradually work up to daily use with tretinoin.

Reduce Frequency

If using your serum and tretinoin together is too much, try alternating nights instead!

Alternate nights using your serum with tretinoin vs tretinoin alone.

This will allow you to monitor your skin for signs of irritation and minimize overload.

Focus on Barrier Repair

When starting tretinoin, it’s important to focus on gentle, hydrating serums.

You may want to avoid potent actives until your skin adjusts.

Then, try slowly incorporating more intense, targeted serums.

Always Moisturize

Be sure to moisturize after you use tretinoin.

This is the most important step to prevent excessive dryness or irritation.

The best moisturizers to use with tretinoin include skin-loving ingredients like ceramides, glycerin, and essential fatty acids.

Typically, you’ll want to wait to apply moisturizer after tretinoin for between 2-20 minutes to allow it to absorb completely.

Summary: should you apply tretinoin before or after serum?

La Roche Posay Hyaluronic Acid B5 Serum

For maximum results, you should apply tretinoin before your serum.

That being said, finding the best way to layer your skincare products ultimately comes down to carefully listening to your skin’s needs.

Some dermatologists may argue that you should apply tretinoin first, while others may make the case that you should apply a layer of serum or moisturizer as a buffer underneath.

Either approach can be correct – it just depends on what works best for you.

With a careful and personalized approach, you can develop the best skincare routine to treat acne and signs of aging without causing any damage to your skin barrier.

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