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Sensitive Skin and Retinoids: You Can Use Them!

The best products to pair with a retinoid

Is there an anti-aging equivalent of FOMO? Because I’ve had it. Truly. What’s a sensitive skin girl to do when the #1 ingredient to include in your anti-aging skincare routine, the “gold standard” ingredient, with a ton of supporting evidence in the literature, is also known for being irritating?

#skincareFOMO. It’s definitely a thing.

Luckily, everyone can use retinoids, even if you have sensitive skin. My current favorite retinol product is  the new Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum from one of my favorite brands, Kiehl’s. My skin tends to love every product they make, so when they recently released their first retinoid product, I was very interested in trying it out, especially when I learned that it was specially formulated to be gentle enough for everyone to use it.

If you also have sensitive skin, I’m sharing my tips for using retinol without the redness, peeling and irritation – common side effects of most retinoid products.. No one likes to have burning when they apply skincare products, and there’s no reason you should suffer through that nightly. The secret really is in product choice. The products you pair with your retinoid are just as important as your actual retinoid.

Choose a Gentle Retinoid

Not all retinoids are created equal. It used to be that over-the-counter formulations were pretty much just one strength, and that strength was strong. Luckily skincare companies have wised up, and they’ve started making retinol that sensitive skin can handle. Kiehl’s has formulated their Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum to have a daily strength micro-dose of pure retinol. Which means even my sensitive skin can handle it nightly.


Go with the Flow

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that your skincare routine should be the same every night. Instead, I think about what stresses I have put my skin through that day and how it looks at that time. Did I spend extra time in the sun? Was I in the dry environment of the hospital all day? Or maybe I have a little irritation from my products.

I vary my routine slightly depending on how my skin currently looks or what I anticipate it might need. I might add a few drops of my favorite facial oil for extra hydration. A spot treatment if I have a blemish starting. And when I’m using a retinoid, I vary how frequently I use my retinoid. Most retinoids I use every 2-3 nights, backing off with any redness or irritation. I’m able to slowly increase my use as I’ve used the product longer. The Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum I ramped up very quickly to using every night, and I didn’t experience any issues.


Go Gentle

While your chosen retinoid might not be irritating, there’s no need to tempt fate. When using a retinoid, I opt for gentle companion products and active ingredients. A cleanser that cleans the skin without overdoing it, a super hydrating facial cream… you get the idea. I look for ingredients like peptides and ceramides to pair with retinol. Kiehl’s has formulated the Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with ceramides and peptide.

Add Some Moisture

When using a retinoid, you can help your skin tolerate it better by layering over a moisturizer. A moisturizing cream won’t interfere at all with absorption of your retinoid, and will also add much needed moisture! The Ultra Facial Cream is my go-to for pairing with my retinoid product.

Protect yourself

When I’ve been good about using my retinoid, I notice that my skin is a little more sensitive to the sun. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen daily, but that’s extra important if you’re using a retinoid. Super Fluid Daily UV Defense is my family’s favorite sunscreen. It’s what we slather the girls with before they jump in the pool, I carry it in my bag at the zoo, and I apply it daily underneath my makeup. It is lightweight and doesn’t feel sticky, but works great as a daily sunscreen as well.

Be Patient

While you can start to see effects in as little as 6 weeks of a retinoid, it will take up to 6 months before you really see the full range of changes. Retinoids are the gold standard anti-aging ingredient for a reason. They increase cell turnover and offer tons of anti-aging benefits. The effects are well worth the wait, you’ll see more even skin tone, improved texture and firmness, and fewer fine lines and wrinkles.

What’s your nightly retinoid and which products are you pairing with it?

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

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