Tretinoin Before Or After Moisturizer, Which Should Go First?

tretinoin before or after moisturizer

Tretinoin Before or After Moisturizer?

If you’ve dabbled in skincare, chances are you’ve come across the powerhouse ingredient known as tretinoin. It’s a derivative of vitamin A and has earned its stripes as a go-to for addressing acne, fine lines, and overall skin texture. But here’s the burning question: should you apply tretinoin before or after moisturizer? Let’s break it down.

Understanding Tretinoin

Before we jump into the application process, let’s quickly recap what tretinoin does. This topical treatment works by increasing skin cell turnover, which helps to unclog pores, reduce acne, and diminish the appearance of wrinkles over time. It’s a game-changer for many, but it does come with its fair share of instructions for optimal use.

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The Case for Applying Before Moisturizer

Some skincare aficionados swear by applying tretinoin before moisturizer. The rationale behind this approach is that tretinoin needs to be in direct contact with the skin to work its magic most effectively. By applying it first, you ensure maximum absorption and penetration into the skin.

The Argument for Applying After Moisturizer

On the flip side, there’s a camp that advocates for applying moisturizer before tretinoin. Why? Well, tretinoin can be quite potent and may cause irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin. By layering moisturizer first, you create a protective barrier that can help mitigate any potential side effects like dryness or redness.

The Verdict: It Depends

So, which approach is the winner? The truth is, it depends on your skin type and tolerance. If you’re just starting out with tretinoin or have sensitive skin, you may want to play it safe and apply moisturizer first to buffer its effects. On the other hand, if your skin can handle it and you’re looking to maximize tretinoin’s efficacy, applying it before moisturizer might be the way to go.

Tips for Application

Regardless of whether you choose to apply tretinoin before or after moisturizer, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Start Slow: If you’re new to tretinoin, start with a lower concentration and gradually increase frequency as your skin adjusts.

2. Use Sparingly: A pea-sized amount is all you need to cover your entire face. Overdoing it can lead to irritation.

3. Wait Before Layering: Allow your skin to fully absorb each product before layering the next. This helps prevent pilling and ensures optimal absorption.

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4. Protect Your Skin: Tretinoin can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to wear sunscreen daily to protect against UV damage.

Frequently Asked Questions On Tretinoin Before or After Moisturizer

1. Should I apply tretinoin before or after moisturizer?

It is generally recommended to apply tretinoin before moisturizer. Tretinoin works most effectively when applied directly to clean, dry skin. Applying moisturizer before tretinoin may dilute its potency and reduce its effectiveness.

2. Why is it important to apply tretinoin to clean, dry skin?

Tretinoin is a topical retinoid that works by increasing cell turnover and promoting the exfoliation of dead skin cells. Applying it to clean, dry skin ensures maximum absorption and penetration of the active ingredient into the skin, allowing it to work more effectively.

3. Can applying moisturizer before tretinoin reduce its effectiveness?

Yes, applying moisturizer before tretinoin can potentially reduce its effectiveness. Moisturizer creates a barrier on the skin’s surface, which may hinder the absorption of tretinoin into the deeper layers of the skin, where it exerts its effects.

4. Should I wait after applying tretinoin before moisturizing?

It is generally recommended to wait at least 20-30 minutes after applying tretinoin before applying moisturizer. This allows the tretinoin to fully absorb into the skin and reduces the risk of irritation or adverse reactions when layering skincare products.

5. Can moisturizer be applied immediately after tretinoin?

While waiting 20-30 minutes before applying moisturizer after tretinoin is ideal, some individuals may experience excessive dryness or irritation and may choose to apply moisturizer immediately after tretinoin. However, this may decrease the effectiveness of tretinoin to some extent.

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6. Are there any exceptions to the rule of applying tretinoin before moisturizer?

In some cases, dermatologists may recommend applying moisturizer before tretinoin for individuals with extremely sensitive or dry skin. However, this should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as it may impact the efficacy of tretinoin.

7. Can using a moisturizer after tretinoin help reduce irritation?

Yes, applying moisturizer after tretinoin can help reduce dryness, flakiness, and irritation commonly associated with tretinoin use.

8. Is it safe to use tretinoin and moisturizer together?

Yes, it is safe to use both together. In fact, incorporating moisturizer into your skincare routine can help mitigate the drying effects of tretinoin and improve overall skin comfort and tolerance.

9. Can I use other skincare products with tretinoin?

While using tretinoin, it’s essential to be cautious when incorporating other skincare products, especially those that may increase skin sensitivity or cause irritation. Avoid using harsh exfoliants, strong acids, or products containing alcohol, as they may exacerbate irritation when used in conjunction with tretinoin.

10. How long does it take to see results from using tretinoin?

Results from using tretinoin may vary from person to person, but noticeable improvements in skin texture, tone, and appearance can typically be observed within 6-8 weeks of consistent use. Full benefits may take several months to become apparent, so patience and adherence to a skincare regimen are key.


Whether you apply tretinoin before or after moisturizer ultimately comes down to personal preference and what works best for your skin. Experiment with both methods, listen to your skin’s needs, and don’t forget to be patient, results won’t happen overnight, but with consistent use, you’ll likely start seeing improvements in your skin’s texture and appearance.

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