Still think you can’t use retinoids on sensitive skin? Guess again!


For a while now, you’ve probably been hearing about the wonders of retinoids. It seems like there’s nothing they can’t do, between regenerating the skin, plumping it, smoothing it, fixing discolouration, tackling acne…

And yet every time we read about this miracle formula, we’re met with the same warnings: if you have sensitive skin, suffer from rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, inflammation, dryness, sensitivity or a delicate complexion, it is not advised that you use retinol as it may irritate already sensitive skin.

woman eye

But what of you could use retinol, or at least some form of it, sensitive skin or not?

First things first, let’s get our understanding of retinol and its uses down:

Retinol is a form of retinoids, which varies in strength. It’s a derivative of Vitamin A and the strength of the form of retinoid depends on the concentration of the Vitamin A present. Their order of strength from strongest (top) to weakest (bottom) is;

•           Reinoic acid (also known as Retin-A or Tretinoin) which is prescription grade and is used to treat severe acne as well as ageing.

•           Retinaldehyde

•           Retinol

•           Retinol esters (like retinyl palmitate).

Because this derivative is a very strong substance, it needs to be mixed with something else, and shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin like a toner. It’s much more powerful than that. Its benefits include;

•           Improved cell turnover

•           Collagen stimulation

•           Increased elastin production

•           Increase firmness and plumpness

•           Improve uneven skin tone

•           Treat pigmentation

•           Smooth skin surface

Because its so strong, retinol typically aren’t recommended for those with sensitive skin. But really, that depends on a few factors: the form of the retinol, the potency of the retinol and how you’re applying it.

Firstly, you should always patch test any new product you’re using to make sure your skin can handle it, especially something like a retinoid. Retinoids make the skin more sensitive to UV rays, meaning you need to use sunscreen or some form of SPF after use, especially if you have already sensitive skin.

selective focus of woman in red lipstick

Secondly, you need to give you skin time to adjust to the introduction of this product. It’s recommended that it’s only used once or twice a week at first in order to allow your skin to adjust and to avoid flaking, redness and drying out the skin. Avoid using it on places where the skin is thin, like your undereyes and around the nostrils.

Sensitive skin and retinol doesn’t have to be a tricky combination. You want it to be effective, but your skin can’t handle concentrated amounts of the product or it will get irritated. That’s where the different types of retinoids come in.

Sensitive skin needs a retinol ester, the least concentrated type of retinoid. And while this means it may take a little longer to see results, it’s a much safer way for your skin to still use retinoids without becoming dry and irritated.

girls face with blonde hair

Sensitive skin also needs to be mindful about how the retinoid is applied. Experts recommend layering your moisturiser onto your skin first before applying your retinol ester on top of it. That way your skin has a barrier of moisture to protect it from any of the harsh effects of retinol. Again, this may make the process a little slower, but in the long run you’ll be grateful for the tip!

The last really important thing to remember when choosing a retinoid for sensitive skin is the form that it comes in. You’ll want to stay away from retinoids that come in serum, oil or gel form – those generally have higher concentrations of retinoids and are very potent. It’s also important to look out for the ingredients that contain acids, especially glycolic acids as those aren’t ideal for sensitive skin. Steer towards creams instead as they again have a moisturising element that will protect your skin.

Check out our top cream retinol suggestions below!

Avène Physiolift Smoothing Regenerating Night Balm for Ageing Skin (RRP €35.00)

A smoothing night balm for sensitive ageing skin, the Physiolift Night balm is enriched with vitamin A precursor, that is clinically shown to reduce appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, plump the skin and help reduce appearance of fatigue. Visibly firms and plumps the skin whilst restoring a luminous and firmer skin tone. Suitable for sensitive skin with its less concentrated Retinaldehyde: Vitamin A derivative that stimulates cell renewal and rejuvenating the skin.

La Roche-Posay Redermic Retinol Night Moisturiser (RRP €23.81)

Moisturise and target wrinkles with Redermic Retinol Night Cream: Help regenerate skin overnight by applying in the evening on face and neck, alone or in combination with a moisturising cream. Specifically formulated to combat the visible signs of anti-ageing including wrinkles, uneven skin tone, crows feet, dark spots, forehead and lip lines, the award-winning Redermic R, with 0.3% retinol, has clinically tested anti-wrinkle efficacy. Specifically formulated for sensitive skin and enriched with 0.3% Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative which has been shown to help stimulate collagen and elastin to firm and smooth the skin. An added retinol booster complex made up of retinol linoleate and adenosine works in synergy to enhance the efficacy of the formula

Olay Regenerist Retinol24 Night Face Moisturiser With Retinol & Vitamin B3 (RRP €44.99)

Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Facial Moisturiser penetrates deep into skin’s surface layers. Their proprietary blend combines Vitamin B3 + Retinoid complex. It hydrates skin for 24 hours and comes with a bounty of benefits. You’ll see visible improvements in fine lines and wrinkles, smoothness, brightness, firming, dark spots, and pores. This fragrance and dye free moisturiser absorbs quickly and goes deep into your skin’s surface layers so you wake up every morning to younger-looking, radiant skin.

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