How to layer tretinoin is such a common question that I’m going to address it today. I received this excellent question from a reader and wanted to turn it into a blog post. It takes a village!
dear dr Bailey, thank you for your very informative blog. I’ve learned a lot from reading your articles, but I’m still a little
Do I have to wait before layering a skincare product, or can I layer one on top of the other right after applying?
Let’s say if I use green tea cream, then prescription tretinoin, and then a moisturizer, won’t that dilute the effects of the tretinoin? Alis
Hi Alis, you ask an excellent question that everyone shares. The answer is actually part of the “fine touches” of an effective anti-aging skincare routine. Glad you picked this up, and thank you for creating the opportunity to help others with it too! The reason you are confused is that honestly no studies have been conducted on individual product applications. Also, opinions differ even among dermatologists. Because of this, you get conflicting recommendations.
I’ve spent years creating bespoke, complex, multi-layered skincare routines for my patients and the proof is always in the results. I learned what works and what doesn’t.
I created mine Ageless Rejuvenation Skin Care Kit to instill confidence in people by layering on a cutting-edge anti-aging skincare routine. In this kit I have included all the products you need for effective, proven, medical anti-aging skin care. I use all of these products in my own skincare routine to keep my now 64 year old skin as healthy and glowing as possible. I alternate tretinoin with the retinol cream in the kit because it’s easier to use. Below I describe how to overlay a routine like this.
How to build a skincare routine to maximize results
The secret to a powerful and complexion-changing skincare routine is to build what I call Total Skincare™. That means giving your skin everything it needs with your skincare routine in 4 essential steps:
- TO CLEAN
- TO PROTECT
When building a routine, I also use common sense and the principle of applying water-based (thin) products first, followed by oily/occlusive (thicker and more viscous) products on top. Ideally, this will help product ingredients diffuse into the skin.
Dermatologist’s Tips for Layering Anti-Aging Skincare Products
AM Anti Aging Skin Care Routine Layering
TO CLEAN with a pH neutral skin cleanser like this Extremely gentle cleaner in kit. Use warm water, not hot, and your fingers or a gentle one exfoliating sponge. It is important to rinse the skin well. If you like using a toner, use a non-drying toner like mine Naturally moisturizing pore minimizing toner with organic witch hazel and rose hydrolate.
CORRECTLY by applying the Antioxidant skin therapy with green tea (a very light water-based product) right after washing to recharge skin with the most proven skincare antioxidants to fight skin damage caused by free radicals. I’ll let that dry. I then layer other age reversal products such as: Anti-aging face cream with glycolic acid right on it. Medical-grade Glycolic Acid products brighten complexion, lighten pigment problems, stimulate collagen renewal to combat skin thinning and wrinkling, and stimulate skin’s hyaluronic acid production! This is a powerful ingredient for reversing skin aging. It can be irritating, so I recommend skipping the glycolic acid on days when your skin is sensitive.
HYDRATE: Enrich skin barrier components such as ceramides by layering the Daily moisturizing face cream. On days when you have applied the glycolic acid cream, the base moisturizes and covers this important step.
TO PROTECT: A mineral zinc sunscreen is then applied daily. I prefer a facial product with iron oxide to also reduce visible and blue light from digital devices, which is also known to contribute to skin pigment issues. That’s why I included mine Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte tinted sunscreen with SPF 30 in my Ageless Rejuvenation Kit.
If used, makeup would go over it. I prefer a dusting off mineral makeup on these great products so that no more liquid product is added.
Layering the PM Anti-Aging Skincare Routine:
TO CLEAN with your pH balanced cleanser, warm water and rinse thoroughly to remove makeup, dirt, soiling and product residue to allow your bedtime products to penetrate well while you sleep.
CORRECT and HYDRATE Night steps may vary depending on the products to be used and the tolerance of your unique complexion, as glycolic acid and retinoids can cause irritation. Some people use tretinoin alone, but most will alternate tretinoin with the more easily tolerated Retinol Night Cream in kit. Containing the same highly concentrated green tea antioxidants, Retinol Cream is a two-fer. This means that green tea does not need to be applied when using the retinol cream. Conversely, some people with really tolerant complexions can combine retinol (or even tretinoin) and glycolic acid together. Thus, there are 4 bedtime shift options:
- For my patients who use tretinoin, I have them apply the Green Tea Cream after cleansing, apply with the Daily Face Cream, wait at least 15 minutes, and then apply tretinoin just before the lights go out. (Remember that retinoids are inactivated by light.) Waiting longer than 15 minutes helps reduce the risk of tretinoin-induced retinoid dermatitis, a common problem for many tretinoin users.
- On the nights that Retinol Night Cream is used, my patients apply the Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream right after cleansing, and then apply the daily moisturizing night cream
- For those complexions that can tolerate retinol plus glycolic acid at the same time, I have them apply retinol night cream followed by glycolic acid face cream.
- Complexions that tolerate tretinoin and glycolic acid typically overlay green tea and then glycolic acid. They wait 15 minutes and apply tretinoin before turning off the light. (Tretinoin requires a prescription, so your doctor must approve this combination!)
A skin expert’s note on Tretinoin use:
Some doctors say there is no need to wait 15 minutes before using tretinoin. I find that sensitive complexions need the 15 minute wait. Also, tretinoin and retinol are inactivated by light, so I advise people to put them on as close to bedtime as possible, before turning off the lights. Of course, tretinoin is a prescription drug and its use must be directed by its prescribing physician. – Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
You can see why antiaging skin care is complicated and confusing for many people. Since most of us want to maximize the results of our antiaging skincare routine, we want to use the best, most effective products our skin can tolerate and be very specific about how we layer them.
Thank you for asking such an excellent question that many people need to know.
To learn more about my Ageless Rejuvenation Skin Care Kit, click here.
Cynthia Bailey MD, dermatologist
Disclaimer: Please note that using the opportunity to get answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey and get your questions answered, no doctor-patient relationship with Dr. Bailey reasoned. The one from Dr. Information provided by Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical condition (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey provides in her practice to existing patients in her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice about anything you read here; This information is for general informational purposes only.