If you have sensitive skin, you still can use a retinoid. It can help keep your skin looking young for longer, undo some of the sun damage, even out the skin tone, and reduce breakouts. It is best to start a retinoid regimen when your skin feels calm, well-hydrated and you do not have any signs of active irritation. You can read more about retinoids in sensitive skin care here .
Chances are that the skincare routine you have in the period when your skin feels happy, calm and is not sensitized is actually a good basis for a retinoid regime. Just add a product with a low concentration of retinoid to your evening step, after cleansing and before moisturizer every third night to start with. In about two weeks, apply your retinoid product every other night if your skin is tolerating it well. Finally, after another 2-4 weeks you should be able to use the retinoid every night without much irritation.
Here is an example of a beginner-level retinoid routine for sensitive skin alone with tips on what to look for as you are choosing specific products for a well-rounded retinoid regime:.
Retinoid product: go for a low concentration of retinoid and a minimalist product formula. In other words, it is best if there are no other active ingredients in the product beyond the retinoid - with an exception for moisturizing compounds like emollients, humectants and ceramides. When it comes to which retinoid to choose, the best options are retinal (retinaldehyde), hydroxypinacolone retinoate , and retinol . There is no solid reliable independent research to tell us which one of these retinoid forms is less irritating. Each person's skin can react differently to them as well. You can pick any of the three to start with, and watch your skin's reaction closely. Stop if your skin reacts with more than just a bit of dryness or flaking in the first weeks of using it, take a two-weeks break, and try another retinoid.
For the example routine, we have chosen Ystheal Anti-Wrinkle Cream from Avene . It contains about 0.1% of retinal delivered in a heavy-duty moisturizing formula. The thick moisturizing consistency will buffer the retinoid, slowing down the absorption which means less irritation.
Broad spectrum sunscreen that you can (and do) use every day . Any sunscreen - mineral or organic (so called "chemical") can work - as long as your skin tolerates it well and you can stick with wearing it daily.
For the example routine, we went for T oleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer UV SPF 30 from La Roche Posay. This sunscreens is using organic UV filters. it doubles as a day moisturizer, helping to streamline the morning routine. We like that it also contains niacinamide which can additionally support the skin barrier.
Gentle cleanser . Especially when using a retinoid, over-cleansing is your enemy. It is best to go for a very gentle but effective cleanser and stay away from the double-cleanse method. If you are wearing makeup, you can, of course, remove it though first, especially from your eyes and lips, before applying a cleanser all-over.
For the example routine, we have selected Don't Be So Sensitive Post Procedure Cleanser by Prescribed Solutions because of its gentle and minimalist formula.
Non-retinoid moisturizers to support your skin barrier. Even if the retinoid product you use comes in a moisturizer form (like the product from Avene), you would still need additional moisturizer - or even two - in your routine. You might find than after 30-60 minutes after applying your retinoid moisturizer, your skin starts feeling dry again - and this is the time for another dose of moisture support. If you go for a retinoid product with a light texture, you will need to apply a moisturizer right after it. When it comes to moisturizers for a retinoid regime, you can apply them as often as you need during the day.
Go for products that contain a well-rounded complex of skin barrier support ingredients such as emollients, humectants, and "extras" like ceramides, niacinamide, peptides, colloidal oatmeal or centella asiatica extract. All of these ingredients have been shown to strengthen skin barrier function that needs additional help when you are using a retinoid.
For the example routine, we have included two moisturizers:
Honey Ceramide Full Moisture Cream by Cosrx . It contains a ceramide complex, adenosine, as well as great emollients and humectants
SoonJung Cica Balm-Panthensoside 5 by Etude House . It contains active compounds of centella asiatica extract that has been shown in studies to speed up wound healing, reduce inflammation and strengthen skin barrier functions. (One note of caution for centella asiatica though - while this ingredient can work wonders for many people with sensitive skin, it can still lead to contact dermatitis (skin irritation) in others, so please discontinue if you notice any reaction from it - e.g. dryness or redness).