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how to layer tretinoin with other skin care products

How to Layer Tretinoin with Other Skin Care Products

How to layer tretinoin is such a frequently asked question that I'm going to address it today. I received this excellent question from a reader as a blog comment and I wanted to make it into a blog post. It takes a village!

Dear Dr. Bailey, Thank you so much for your very informative blog. I have learned a lot from reading your articles, but I am still a little confused with regards to when to apply all the products. Do I understand correctly that if I put on the Green Tea Antioxidant Cream right after washing my face then I can layer either with vitamin C, glycolic acid or tretinoin cream? And then moisturizer on top of this?

Do I need to wait before layering one skin care product or can one go on top of another right after applying?

Say if I use Green Tea Cream, then prescription tretinoin and then moisturizer, will this not dilute the effect of the tretinoin? Alis

Hello Alis, You ask an excellent question that everyone shares. The answer is actually part of the 'fine points' of a powerful anti-aging skin care routine. Good for you for picking up on this, and thank you for creating the opportunity to help others with it as well! The reason you are confused is that, honestly speaking, no studies have really been done regarding individual product applications. Plus, opinions even among dermatologists will vary. This is why you get conflicting recommendations.

I have created customized, complex layered skin care routines for years for my patients and the proof is always in the results. I've learned what works and what doesn't. 

I also created my Anti-Aging Antioxidant Skin Care Kit with all the products one needs for powerful anti-aging skin care. You can add everything you need for a routine like I am going to describe below including moisturizer and additional products that are all compatible. I use all of these products for my own skin care routine to keep my now 61 year old skin as healthy and glowing as I can.

Dr. Bailey's Anti-Aging Antioxidant Skin Care Kit

The secret to creating a powerful skin-transforming skin care routine is to build what I call Complete Skin Care. This means giving the skin everything it needs to transform. That means addressing the 4 essential steps of

  1. Dr. Cynthia Bailey's Complete Skin Care Secret

In building a routine I also use common sense and the principle of applying thin to thick (a.k.a., water-based to heavier or oil-based products) for the sake of diffusion into the skin. 


best skin cleansing for tretinoinCLEANSE with a cleanser matched to their skin type such as my favorite combo that I call Skin Cleanse Zen. This is what I use and my skin loves it! best antioxidant for skin care

CORRECT by apply the Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy (a very light water-based product) right after washing. I let that dry to the touch. I then layer the Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Serum OR Glycolic Acid Anti-Aging Face Cream right on top of it. I recommend waiting a minute or so to let it dry a little.

best vitamin c serum to fight wrinklesbest glycolic acid face cream for wrinkles and bright skin

HYDRATE: With the Vitamin C we need a moisturizer too and that goes on top such as Daily Moisturizing Face Cream Dry/Normal or Oily/Normal. The Glycolic Acid Cream is in a moisturizing base so serves for this important step.

PROTECT:  Mineral zinc sunscreen is applied next.

If used, makeup would go on top. I prefer a dusting of mineral makeup on top of these great products so that no more moist product is added.


CLEANSE with Skin Cleanse Zen

CORRECT Green Tea Cream

HYDRATE with Daily Moisturizing Face Cream matched to your skin type. If Tretinoin is used, you must wait 15+ minutes or more and apply Tretinoin right before lights out - meaning the CORRECT step is done twice. Yep, tretinoin is just a big inconvenient - but worth it!  Glycolic and tretinoin can be combined at night if skin can tolerate them both meaning you could use the Glycolic Acid Cream for HYDRATE.

An easier alternative to tretinoin is Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Night Cream. Non-prescription but with the same retinoid benefits.


best retinol cream to fight wrinkles and skin aging

CLEANSE as above

CORRECT with Retinol Night Cream (it contains Green Tea so it is a 'two-few')

HYDRATE with Daily Face Cream or Glycolic Acid Cream

A skin expert's note regarding how to use tretinoin:

dr cynthia bailey tips on how to use tretinoinSome doctors say there is no need to wait fifteen minutes before applying tretinoin. I find that sensitive complexions need the fifteen-minute wait. If your skin is not sensitive and you don't need the wait, tretinoin can be applied after the Glycolic. Incidentally, tretinoin and retinol are inactivated by light, so I tell people to put them on at bedtime. Of course, tretinoin is a prescription medicine and usage must be guided by one's prescribing physician.  - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

See why it's so complicated? A really precise anti-aging routine is something we want to give a deep think to.


Thank you for asking such an excellent question that many people need to know.

Warm Regards,

Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

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.