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how to layer products with tretinoin

How Do You Layer Skin Care Products With Tretinoin?

Hi Dr. Bailey,

Hope you're having a wonderful summer!

I wanted to ask if the Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy can be used before tretinoin and what the benefit is? I'm also wondering if a moisturizer can be applied either before or after using tretinoin? Thanks! Robin 

Hello Robin,

Layering skin care products is an important way to customize your skin care. It's also the best way to accurately address your unique skin problems. That is because strong, professional skin care ingredients often don't live well when formulated together, and dispensed into the same container. 

Product layering is tricky though, and you need to do it right! Application timing, and product combinations, can make or break results with this sort of a skin care routine. Often you won't know thing aren't working for weeks or months. It's why I'm so specific about the products and regimens that I recommend.

Tretinoin (Retin A) is one of the most dermatologist-recommended products to fight skin aging.

Tretinoin cream (tretinoin is the generic name for Retin A or Renova) is one of the best skin care products you can use to fight many of the common facial skin problems:

  • It can reverse the signs of skin aging and sun damage,
  • Help uneven pigmentation
  • It is a great ingredient to treat acne,
  • It has proven benefit for reducing skin cancer risk.

All of the tretinoin benefits have excellent scientific proof:

  • The mechanism of how tretinoin stimulates collagen formation to reverse wrinkles is fully worked out.
  • The different ways that is helps to reduce unwanted pigment problems such as melasma and sun spots have been identified.
  • The way that it works to alters skin structure to brighten the complexion and give it a dewy and youthful appearance is also well understood.

best retinol cream for fighting skin agingTretinoin is a retinoid, and these are also one of the most complex skin care products to add to your regimen. Retinol is in the same family, also has good scientific evidence for the same skin benefits, and is the best retinoid that is available without prescription. It is converted to retinoic acid in your skin (which is what tretinoin is). Retinol is less irritating than tretinoin. It's nice to have a non-prescription retinoid to fight skin aging! 

Tretinoin cream (like retinol) is applied at night.  It breaks down on exposure to light so it's best to put it on right before you turn out your light to go to sleep.  It also causes irritation if you apply it to skin that is damp.  Because of these two particular tretinoin 'issues', the steps of my night time skin care regimen for tretinoin users are as follows:

  1. Wash
  2. Apply any other skin care products
  3. Wait at least 15 or 30 minutes
  4. Apply tretinoin right before turning out the light

best skin care product with green tea antioxidants to help tretinoin retin a - green tea and skin careThis means that in step 2, I would recommend applying Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy and then a moisturizer if needed.  This is followed by step 3, which is to wait at least 15 minutes before step 4, the application of tretinoin right before 'lights out'.

The benefit to nightly application of Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy is to get all the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that it offers. Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy is simply the best antioxidant green tea skin care product made in my opinion. It contains a patented form of highly concentration green tea polyphenol (ECGC type) antioxidants.

ECGC green tea polyphenols have proven benefits to skin including,

  • an ability to fight inflammation,
  • lower sebum production,
  • reduction in the P. acnes germ that causes acne,
  • and blocking key steps in the formation of non-melanoma skin cancer. 

I like this product applied to skin twice a day. My Retinol Night Cream contains the same amount of this patented high concentration of ECGC green tea polyphenol antioxidant. It thus combines retinoid skin benefits with green tea benefits, and does not require a prescription. It is much less irritating than tretinoin and can be applied in place of the Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy. Moisturizer can be layered immediately, and you can then turn off the lights and go to bed!

best moisturizer for all skin types with oily skinMoisturizer gets applied after Green Tea Skin Therapy (or my Retinol Night Cream), because I like thin products applied under richer base products. My preferred moisturizer for this skin care combo is one of my Daily Face Creams (Normal to Oily Skin or Normal to Dry Skin) which contain important skin lipid replenishing ceramides.  Moisturizers are always applied within 3 minutes after toweling dry.

When tretinoin is used, the moisturizer is applied and then skin is allowed to wait 15 minutes before tretinoin application. Then it's 'lights out'. Yes, tretinoin is in a moisturizing base, but because it causes irritation if applied to damp skin, it can't be your moisturizer!

For more information on Retin A (tretinoin) use and what I tell my patients, click on the links below:

Does Light Break Down Retin A?

Layering Skin Care Products with Dimethicone

How To Correctly Use Retin A for Acne and Anti Aging Skin Care

Tretinoin is a tricky product but the results are so worth the trouble. I've been using it since I was 27 years old (and I'm just about to turn 53 - actually while updating this post I must admit that I am now 61!) and I think my skin looks better now than it did when I was 26 (even at 61!).  In fact, my office staff found my Dermatology Residency application photo in a file drawer and they were shocked at the difference!

(Dr. B note added in 2018 and still accurate as of 2020: I now alternate tretinoin and my Retinol Cream depending on my nightly schedule of washing before turning out the lights. Results are the same! Yep, retinoids are still helping me fight the signs of 60 years of age on my fair complexion, and my early sun tanning years.)

Precise and powerful skin care directed at exactly your skin problems can transform your skin. Keep up the good work and thanks for a great question, I hope my answer helps.

Warm Regards,

Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

If you have questions about skin care or skin health please send them to me using the Contact Dr. Bailey button at the top of the page.

Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.