Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
When to Apply Tretinoin in Skincare Routine

When to Apply Tretinoin in Skincare Routine

Tretinoin should be applied after your cleanser and before your moisturizer and facial oil as part of your nighttime skincare routine.

Known for its anti-aging effects, tretinoin should be a staple in your skincare routine starting in your mid 20s to early 30s.

Because tretinoin is unstable under sun exposure, be sure to only apply it at night.

Also, because it can cause dry skin and irritation, be sure to start with a low frequency and slowly work your way up to 4-6 nights per week.

This beginners’ guide to tretinoin will explain everything you need to know about how to use it in your skin care regimen.

Tretinoin vs. Retinol

.05% Tretinoin and BowTiedFawn brandingSkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 with BowTiedFawn branding

Known as topical retinoids, both tretinoin and retinol are vitamin A derivatives used for treating acne and signs of premature aging.

Both skincare products contain important active ingredients, but they are slightly different in how they work.


.05% Tretinoin and BowTiedFawn branding

Also known as retin-A, tretinoin is the form of vitamin A that your skin actually uses: retinoic acid.

Beyond its use to treat acne, tretinoin has benefits like:

  • Speeding up cell turnover

  • Boosting collagen production

  • Getting rid of clogged pores

  • Clearing up dark spots

  • Removing dead skin cells

While it is effective, tretinoin can be irritating and is prescription-only in the United States.


SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 with BowTiedFawn branding

Retinol gets metabolized by your body and undergoes two conversion steps to get turned into retinoic acid.

Through this conversion process, it loses strength and efficacy. At the same time, it is also far more gentle than tretinoin cream and is more suitable for sensitive skin.

Unlike tretinoin, over the counter retinol can be found at any drugstore or beauty store.

Tretinoin Benefits

.05% Tretinoin and BowTiedFawn branding

If you incorporate tretinoin into your skin routine, you will notice its ability to treat specific skin conditions and:

  • Increase epidermal thickness

  • Fight post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

  • Reduce fine lines and deep wrinkles

Increase Epidermal Thickness

Using tretinoin has been proven to increase epidermal thickness due to its ability to boost collagen production. This helps leave you with smooth skin over time.

Fight Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Thanks to increased cell turnover, applying tretinoin can help clear up skin conditions like dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

Reduce Fine Lines and Deep Wrinkles

Topical retinoids are the gold standard in anti-aging.

Because of its ability to stimulate collagen and elastin production, tretinoin leads to a reduction in fine wrinkles and skin improvement in just a few months.

How to use Tretinoin in Skincare Routine

.05% RetinA and BowTiedFawn branding

Tretinoin, also known as retinoic acid, is popular for its anti-aging effects.

To use it in your skin routine, try incorporating it twice a week for the first few weeks. As your skin barrier begins to tolerate topical tretinoin better, you can slowly increase frequency over time.

Applying Tretinoin

When applying topical tretinoin, be sure to apply it clean skin.

If you apply it to wet skin, the anti aging benefits wills be stronger, but you will also be more likely to develop irritation.

Beginners to tretinoin should start by applying a pea sized amount on clean, dry skin.

How Much Tretinoin to Use

A thin layer or pea sized amount of tretinoin is all you need to treat any mature or oily skin concerns. If you use too much tretinoin, you are likely to:

  • Disrupt your skin barrier

  • Induce irritation

  • Develop flaky skin

Tretinoin irritation can cause side effects like dry skin, so be sure to use only the intended amount.

Skincare Routine with Tretinoin

Tretinoin creams and BowTiedFawn branding

For the best way to apply tretinoin cream in your skincare routine, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser

  2. Apply your toner and wait for it to absorb (optional)

  3. Apply a pea sized amount of tretinoin to your pointer finger

  4. Dot that pea all over your entire face

  5. Gently rub in the tretinoin all over your face

  6. Wait 2 minutes for it to absorb

  7. Apply a hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid (optional)

  8. Follow up with a moisturizer

  9. Finish off with a good facial oil (optional)

That’s it!

To maximize efficacy, you’ll want to apply your serum after tretinoin.

However, if you notice that you’re developing dry skin, try applying your serum or moisturizer before tretinoin.

Can I use toner before Tretinoin?

Yes, you can use a toner before tretinoin.

To avoid irritation when using tretinoin, make sure you choose a hydrating and calming toner instead of an exfoliating one.

Tretinoin Before or After Moisturizer?

Tretinoin does most of the heavy lifting in a skincare routine. Therefore, we want to maximize the absorption of tretinoin over any other heavier products like moisturizer.

When using tretinoin with moisturizer, apply tretinoin first.

The only exception to this rule is when you’re new to using tretinoin and getting a lot of irritation.

In this case, apply a thin layer of moisturizer before tretinoin and follow up with more moisturizer afterward.

Alternatives to Tretinoin

PanOxyl 4% benzoyl peroxide with BowTiedFawn brandingPaula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant with BowTiedFawn branding

While tretinoin can be awesome to treat acne and provide anti-aging benefits, it can also be too irritating for sensitive skin types.

Some alternatives include:

  • Retinol
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Salicylic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Vitamin C

All of these have their place in a skincare routine depending on your skin concerns.


CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

Over-the-counter retinol also requires sun protection like tretinoin but is far less likely to cause irritation.

Benzoyl Peroxide

PanOxyl 10% benzoyl peroxide and box with BowTiedFawn branding

Benzoyl peroxide is a special acne treatment as it kills off acne-causing bacteria without sensitizing your skin to the sun.

Salicylic Acid

Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant with BowTiedFawn branding

In liquid form as a leave-on treatment, salicylic acid exfoliants help with blackheads and lead to fewer breakouts over time by dissolving the gunk stuck in your pores.

Lactic Acid

Stratia Soft Touch AHA with BowTiedFawn branding

Similar to tretinoin cream, exfoliants like lactic acid also:

  • Speed up skin cell turnover

  • Get rid of dead skin cells

  • Help with clogged pores

Additionally, lactic acid exfoliants are less likely to cause skin irritation than tretinoin.

Vitamin C

BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner with BowTiedFawn branding

A good vitamin C serum is a great way to target uneven skin tone and fine lines.

While not as effective as retinoids at treating signs of aging, any vitamin C serum provides similar benefits like stimulating collagen production and neutralizing free radicals.

Summary: Tretinoin Routine Order

Here is the official order in which you should apply your skincare products at night when using tretinoin:

  1. Cleanser
  2. Toner
  3. Tretinoin
  4. Eye cream
  5. Moisturizer
  6. Facial oil

By following this routine, you will maximize the absorption of your tretinoin without causing irritation.

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