Moisturizer with Retin-A - Apply Which First?

The Retin-A package insert instructs patients to allow 15-30 mins between washing face and applying the cream. Due to dryness/irritation caused by the product, I would like to use a moisturizer in addition at some point in my nightly skincare routine, so long as doing so would not minimize the anti-aging effects of the Retin-A. Is it acceptable to introduce a moisturizer into a Retin-A regimen, and, if so, in what sequence should each product be applied, subsequent to face-washing?

Doctor Answers 14

How to Apply Retin-A (Tretinoin Cream)

Treatment with Retin-A (tretinoin cream) should be individualized with factors such as age, skin type, degree of photodamage, and presence of other skin conditions taken into consideration. Therapy should start with a lower concentration to minimize irritation and redness. Tretinoin cream should be applied in the evening to clean, dry skin at least 20 to 30 minutes after washing. The affected area is covered lightly and evenly. Temporary warmth or stinging may be felt. Sensitive areas to be avoided include around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Spot treatment should be avoided due to reduced efficacy and blotchiness.  Patients are warned to expect temporary irritation with peeling that usually lasts up to 6 weeks. If the irritation becomes excessively bothersome, a several day break from treatment can be done. Maximum effects will be seen after 6 to 12 months. Maintenance application is 2 to 3 times per week after the maximum results have been achieved.


South Burlington Dermatologic Surgeon
4.6 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Moisturizer wth Retin-A

It's great that you are using moisturizer with Retin-A.  This is the key to your skin not becoming dry and irritated.  Studies have shown that it doesn't matter which one, the moisturizer or the Retin A, you put on first.  It's just important that you use moisturizer with retinoids.  I generally recommend that they are used at least twice daily.

Dina D. Strachan, MD
New York Dermatologist
3.3 out of 5 stars 10 reviews

Retin-a and moisturizer

I frequently will suggest that a pea-sized amount of the retin-a be mixed with at least as much moisturizer as retin-a, and the mixture applied like a moisturizer to the face at bedtime.  If irritation continues, then increase the ratio of moisturizer to medication.  A simple over-the-counter noncomedogenic moisturizer such as Cetaphil will do.

Bryan K. Chen, MD
San Diego Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Moisturizer under Retin A for photoaging

I recommend an oil-free non-comedogenic moisturizer for sensitive skin.  You can apply it under the Retin A to minimize irritation.  It will not interfere with the action of Retin A.  Make sure you use the Retin A at night time only as it makes your skin sun sensitive and the sun degrades the active ingredient in the cream.  Start using it twice a week and slowly build up to every night.

As your skin gets used to it and as the weather gets warmer, you will be able to use Retin A more often and then under the moisturizer.

Emily Altman, MD
Short Hills Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 reviews

Retin-A and Moisturizer

Yes, you can definitely use a moisturizer with Retin-a (tretinoin) cream. Retin-a is a great topical, prescription, anti-aging product. It can be irritating when you first start it. I have a whole sheet of recommendations, but in a nut-shell.  I tell patients to start it every THIRD night. Wash your face, apply moisturizer, and then wait a little bit (if you can) and then apply a 1/2 to 1 pea size of Retin-a. Once you  have gotten used to it, it can be applied first, before the moisturizer. Also, you CAN apply it under the eyes - but use a little bit only, and dab it on. You can increase your use to every other or every night as tolerated. It will make you a bit more sun sensitive, so be sure to wear sunscreen and use Retin-a at night, not in the morning. 

Retin a has been shown in studies to reduce lines, pigment, and sebaceous glands (pores). I recommend it to most of my patients. It is safe on all skin types. You have to use if over years to have it be effective.

Jennifer Reichel, MD
Seattle Dermatologic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 42 reviews

How to Apply Retin-A

Retin-A, and other retinoids, can be drying if it is not applied to your skin properly.  I recommend that all of my patients use only a pea size amount, and begin by applying it every other night.  I encourage them to increase the frequency as tolerated.  It is important to use a moisturizer in combination with the Retin-A.  For patients with very dry skin, they may apply a moisturizer both before and after the Retin-A.  Other patients can simply moisturize on top of the Retin-A.

Eric Schweiger, MD
New York Dermatologic Surgeon
3.8 out of 5 stars 13 reviews

Moisturize with Retinoids to minimize irritation

Apply the moisturizer first, then apply the topical retinoid; this should minimize any irritation with the retinoid without affecting the results.

Thomas W. Bender, III MD
Mobile Dermatologic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 reviews


Dr Schwartz has covered all bases. The only thing I would add is that moisturising before (30 minutes before) can reduce irritation. This also increases the efficacy of retinoid penetration. You should titrate your post retinoid moisturising frequency according to your skin sensitivity and frequency of application. Dr Davin Lim. Brisbane. Australia. 

Davin Lim, MBBS, FACD
Brisbane Dermatologist
4.7 out of 5 stars 70 reviews

A good combo

Most of my patients that use Retin-A benefit from applying a moisturizer. Simply wait one minute or longer for the Retin-A to penetrate and then apply your favorite moisturizer.

Michael Valdes, MD
Morristown Plastic Surgeon

Replenish retinoids + Elevase Moisture Booster

In our office, we use Replenish and Replenish CX as both a moisturizing retinoid and an exfoliant. The combination is well tolerated by our patients in Los Angeles. I would suggest Elevase Moisture Booster with all retinoid use.

Raffy Karamanoukian MD FACS
Los Angeles

Raffy Karamanoukian, MD, FACS
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 94 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.