How To Avoid Retinol Irritation With This Trick (Expert Guide)

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“How do I avoid retinol Irritation?”

This has been the most frequently ask question so far.


Apart from Vitamin CRetinol or Retinoids has always been recommended by dermatologists as a must have in every skincare routine. Not only does it fight acne, but also reduces aging signs such as wrinkles and fine lines by accelerating skin renewal process, encourage cell turnover and stimulating collagen production, oh, not to forget it also enhances better absorption of skincare products into the skin. But sadly retinoids has their downside which is irritations. While applying topical retinoids, the skin goes through a purging phase called “retinization“. which includes micro-peelings, flakes, burning sensation and redness.

What is Retinization.

Retinization is the adjustment period in which the skin adapts to a retinoid treatment. During this time, skin may become irritated, resulting to dryness, scaling, redness or a burning or stinging sensation.

But the good news is, there is surely a way to avoid retinol Irritation or curtail the occurrence of retinization.

The Trick Is Called The Sandwich Method.

How is it done?

It’s simply done by applying a moisturizer first before your retinol at night.

Apply a gentle moisturizer first before layering your retinol on top. And why’s that? The reason is because the moisturizer will serve as a layer between your skin and retinol which will in turn dilute the effect of retinol making it tolerable to your skin thereby reducing possible occurrence of purging or irritations. Layering the retinol over a moisture-rich moisturizer will help subside the harshness of the retinol and limits the occurrence of irritations.

Look for a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, antioxidants, or redness-relieving peptides. We recommend cereVa moisturizing lotion ($13 Dermstore). As it’s infused with 3 essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid (a moisture magnet) which all works together to pull moisture from the atmosphere and retain into the skin, keeping the skin soft, supple and optimally hydrated.

The whole idea is adding an extra layer to your skin, preventing retinol from hitting your skin directly. This trick is more suitable and recommended for individuals with sensitive and dry skin type.

To walk you through the process on how to properly get it done.

  • Step 1: Wash your face with an alcohol free and gentle facial cleanser.
  • Step 2: Pat your face dry with a clean towel (Pat, don’t rub to avoid irritation)
  • Step 3: Apply a thick coat of your moisturizer on your face, spread it evenly to cover your entire face. Wait for a minute while you allow your skin to fully absorb it.
  • Step 4: Then apply a pea size of retinol (or other retiniods) to your face. Spread it evenly on your entire face.
  • Step 5: You can go ahead with your other skincare product application and don’t forget to also moisturize afterwards to seal in moisture, and keep skin well moisturized all night long.

You can as well use the buffering method, this is by making a mix of a few drops or a pea-size amount of retinol with a little amount of your moisturizer in the palm of your hand prior to application, to reduce retinol’s intensity on the skin. Buffering method dilutes the retinol and makes it more tolerable to the skin. This will further help reduce inflammatory irritation associated with retinol use.

Don’t forget to apply extra moisturizer afterwards too.

Wrapping It Up.

To avoid retinol Irritation is very much possible, but chances has it that you “may” still experience a slight irritation, which won’t be as bad as it would have been without the “sandwich or buffering method“.

Individuals with dry and sensitive skin type are most suitable to use any of these techniques to lessen the retinization phase and to save themselves the stress of undergoing the purging stage. Don’t forget to always wear sunscreen during the day to shield your skin from the dangerous UV rays of the sun. Remember “The sun is the devil“.

Possible Questions & Answers.

Q: Will the sandwich and buffering method reduce the potency of retinol (and other retinoids)?

A: Not at all. The whole essence for the sandwich method is to add an extra-layer of barrier to your skin to prevent retinol from hitting your skin directly which may cause irritation to your sensitive or dry skin. While the buffering method help dilute the retinol and makes it more tolerable to the skin. This will further help reduce inflammatory irritation associated with retinol use.

Studies have shown that this base layer of moisturizer does not dilute or reduce the efficacy of the retinoid but helps with tolerability.

Q: Does sandwich and buffering method applies to all retinoids in general?

A: Yes. It doesn’t only apply to retinol but to all retinoids (vitamin A derivatives) in general.

Q: Does sandwich and buffering method applies to all skin types?

A: The intent for these techniques is to prevent or reduce the occurrence of retinoids irritation. So, if you have been applying your retinoids the usual way without experiencing the peeling and burning effects you should stick with it. But if you do experience irritations then use either the sandwich or buffering method.

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