Which Products Should I Use After Retinoids?

Personal/Inspirational, Skin Care

Submitted via the FutureDerm.com Facebook page:

What products do I use after retinoids?


Philosophy Miracle Worker Miraculous Anti-agin...
Philosophy Miracle Worker Miraculous Anti-aging Retinoid Pads and Solution (Photo credit: L'Adamant Fille)

Dear Ieva,

One nice aspect of many retinoid creams, including prescription isotretinoin, is that they often dry thin and quickly enough to apply other beneficial treatments afterward.

What to apply after a retinoid cream chiefly depends on your other skin concerns, as well as your skin type.  Here are some options:

Sagging skin – Apply peptides

Estee Lauder Perfectionist
Admittedly, Estee Lauder Perfectionist does not have the highest concentration of palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 I've seen on the market. However, it feels silky smooth and luxurious on the skin - highly desired after applying a retinoid!

There are numerous peptides proven to have different effects on the skin. [Read more:  What are the Differences Between Peptides?]

Palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 has been demonstrated in multiple publications to stimulate new collagen synthesis and to result in an increased production of extracellular matrix proteins (both types I and II collagen, as well as fibronectin).  In a 2005 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 was found to significantly improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as overall moisturization levels.  It has also been shown continued use of palmitoyl pentapeptide increases skin firmness over time (Cosmeceutical Peptides, 2007).

Palmitoyl pentapeptide-3 is available in an array of skin care creams, including:

Dry, Uneven Skin – Apply niacinamide

Olay ProX

Not surprisingly, many health-conscious women in their 40s and 50s no longer have telltale signs of aging like sagging skin or obvious wrinkles.  Instead, many have uneven skin tone and age spots from years of cumulative sun damage.

Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a water-soluble component of the vitamin B complex group. According to Dermatologic Surgery, niacinamide does it all: reduces fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (yellowing), and increases elasticity.  A separate study from the International Journal of Dermatology found that 2% niacinamide was more effective than petrolatum in reducing water loss from skin and increasing its moisture levels.

I also like niacinamide because Olay has made it one of the cheapest ingredients in skin care today.   Many of their creams, including Pro-X and Regenerist, have about 4% niacinamide (from my best estimate).  If you prefer something higher-end, it is also found in many Dermalogica products, including their Dermalogica Pure Night moisturizer.

Dry skin – Apply moisturizers with emollients, humectants, or occlusive agents

Atopalm MLE: A patented formula with numerous hydrators that is surprisingly light and non-greasy. I'm a big fan.

There are three major classes of moisturizers:

  • Occlusive agents coat the skin and prevent trans-epidermal water loss. Examples include petrolatum, mineral oil, triglycerides, sunflower oil, soybean oil, jojoba oil, evening primrose oil and olive oil.
  • Humectant moisturizers absorb water from the atmosphere and also from the lower layers of the skin, making the upper skin more touchable and moisturized. Examples include glycerin, glycerol, sorbitol, urea, and lactic acid.
  • Emollient moisturizers work by softening the skin.  So they don’t just treat the symptom (dryness) but also treat the cause (damaged barrier).

If you’re looking for specific products, I have found great success for dry and/or sensitive skin with Atopalm MLE Intensive Moisturizing Cream ($16.45, Amazon.com).  The cream contains a clever meld of occlusive agents, humectants, and emollients that is hydrating to the skin, but surprisingly non-greasy.  Once a week, I also like the Dermalogica Colloidal Oatmeal Masque ($79.00, Amazon.com).  One of the few cosmeceutical ingredients regulated by the FDA, colloidal oatmeal has been shown in research studies to be anti-inflammatory, soothing, and hydrating.

Bottom Line

The “right” product to use after a retinoid depends on a number of factors, including your chief skin concerns as well as your skin type.  The products above should help to get you started.

Also, you may note that none of the products above contain active ingredients that are acidic.  In general, I do not recommend using retinoids in conjunction with acidic ingredients because the pH optimal for retinol esterification (which may be thought of simply as activation) is between 5.5-6.0 (Journal of Investigative Dermatology).  However, the optimal pH for alpha hydroxy acids is significantly lower, approximately 3.83, whereas for beta hydroxy acids it is 2.97 (Cosmetic Dermatology, 2007).  Therefore, I simply don’t use retinoids and acidic ingredients together.  [Read More:  3 Surprising Combinations of Ingredients You May Not Want in Your Skin Care]

What products do YOU apply after a retinoid?  Let us know in Comments!

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  • natochtli@gmail.com

    Hi! what about hyaluronic acid after retinoids?

  • Cátia

    Is it ok to use firming and liftinf cream from algenist afterwards the use of retionol?

  • @Cara – I honestly don’t know the percentage on CeraVe products. However, I assume that it is about 4% – similar to Olay – because of its very high placement on the ingredients list. Hope this helps!

  • @Emilee – The general rule is “lighter to heavier” when applying products. As long as your DMAE serum is slightly thicker than your retinol cream, that order should work. I also have never come across a study that showed DMAE and retinol causing irritation yet, so I assume it is fine. Patch-test on a small area or check with a dermatologist if you want to be extra sure!

  • Cara

    What percentage of niacinamide do both the CeraVe AM and PM lotions have? I use these because of the niacinamide and ceramides in them. Thanks!

  • Emilee

    Would it be ok to apply a DMAE serum? I’ve never known when it was best to apply DMAE.

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