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Today I wanted to share with you my tretinoin skincare routine. Tretinoin is a retinoic acid; the prescription-strength version of retinol (more about this in my retinoid comparison post), but these products and ingredients could be a great shout to compliment any form of Vitamin A. Let's jump into it...

- TIPS -

We all love retinoids because they can help with fine lines, skin texture and hyperpigmentation, but they can cause peeling, irritation and extreme dryness, especially at this sort of strength, so that's really what my routine focuses on. I prefer to keep things simple when I'm using something like tretinoin; it just limits the potential for irritation. I keep things fragrance-free, because I don't like combining compromised skin with something potentially sensitising. I also don't use other active ingredients in the routine because that's just far too much for my skin personally. I won't go into all of the warnings and disclaimers around retinoids, because you can't get tretinoin without a dermatologist signing it off, but if you're considering a cosmetic retinoid, please check out that post linked above. For me, personally, it's worth it because I see such amazing results, but I don't use tretinoin continually; I'll spend maybe 3 months on it, 3 months on a lower-strength retinoid and rotate it around to get the perfect balance of results vs. comfort.

It's really important to apply the tretinoin as per the instructions that come with your specific prescription but there are some general guidelines that are in the instructions for mine and that I typically follow with all retinoids. The product is designed to be applied to dry skin, and this is a good rule of thumb; if you want to increase absorption then apply products to damp skin, if you want to reduce irritation then avoid doing this. My instructions say to apply this all over the face, avoiding the eye area. This is because the skin around the eyes is generally thinner and more sensitive than it is on the rest of the face. Some people are fine to take their actives around this area (I'm not one of them!) but it's generally not something I'm comfortable telling people to do. Likewise, the skin on the neck tends to be thinner and it's generally not advisable to apply retinoids to this area, unless the product in question says it's ok to, in which case you can assume it's been formulated for this use (likewise with a retinol eye cream). I also tend to avoid the area immediately around my mouth, because I get irritation there quite easily.

Another thing you might want to do is 'buffer' the retinoid, particularly if you've got sensitive skin, if you're only just starting on it or have recently stepped up to a more direct or concentrated formula. To do this; simply apply your moisturiser and then your retinoid afterwards, to minimise irritation. Or, you can do a 'retinoid sandwich'; apply a thin layer of moisturiser, your retinoid and then a second thin layer of moisturiser, allowing each step to fully absorb before going on to the next layer.


I start by removing my sunscreen and any makeup I'm wearing using a gentle, oil-based formula. My current go-to is the Ordinary's Squalane Cleanser | £13.90 (supersize) | full review | which is a sort of creamy balm. Squalane is a skin-similar plant-based oil that's moisturising and won't cause any sort of irritation. As you massage it in, it melts down to more of an oil that's going to lift and loosen the makeup. Emulsify it with some water so it turns to a milk and remove everything with a damp cloth. The Inkey List's Oat Cleansing Balm* | £9.99 | full review | and the Curel Makeup Cleansing Gel* | £12.50 | full review | are also great similar options if you can't find the Ordinary's in stock. Once the stuff sat on the surface of my skin has been removed, it's time to cleanse the skin underneath. Some people are very specific that they only want to use a second cleanser that's water-based (if that's your preference, try the Dr Sam Bunting Flawless Cleanser | £16 | full review), but I don't really feel that way! My skin is so dry at the moment and it's loving the creamy, non-foaming Skingredients PreProbiotic Cleanse* | £23 | full review. This is so nourishing and softening on my skin, making it perfect for before tretinoin. It's formulated with prebiotics, probiotics and PHAs. Prebiotics induce microorganism activity on the skin and probiotics are the live bacteria itself. PHAs do technically exfoliate the skin but they're very gentle and actually quite hydrating (plus it's a wash-off product); I wouldn't go in with a salicylic cleanser before tretinoin but something like this is fine for me.

Next I tone, just as another hydrating step, but this is totally optional and you might want to skip it if you find that more products lead to an increased risk of irritation for you. I like the Honest Beauty Calm & Go Face Mist | £20 | because it's non-fragrant and has a simple formula that provides lasting hydration with ingredients like shea butter extract, panthenol and replenishing lipids. The next step is also optional, but how I like to buffer my tretinoin when I need to is by applying a serum before it. My personal go-to is the Niod Modulating Glucosides | £21 | full review. This milky emulsion is designed to calm and soothe the skin with a lipid complex, making it a winter skin favourite.

Now I'm ready to go in with my retinoid. I'm personally using Skin + Me | £20 / month | right now and my personal prescription to start off with contains 0.006% tretinoin, 4% niacinamide and 4% azelaic acid. It's prescribed to you based on your personal skin needs but you can find their list of their ingredients here. Mine is geared towards a smoother, more even skin tone and texture. What I really like about this system is the 'daily doser' you simply twist the base of the product and it dispenses the exact amount you need for a single application and also shows you how many days left of product you have in your current course. This has given me such amazing results but I do find tretinoin very, very drying on my skin, which is why I do all I can to try and counteract that feeling. You do have to use it nightly too, so there's a bit of a wall you have to break through whilst your skin gets used to it. In future, for my skin, because I get so dry during winter I'm probably going to time my periods on tretinoin so they don't coincide with the coldest time of the year, because it's a bit of a double whammy!

After my tretinoin has absorbed into the skin, I use a nice, rich, fragrance-free moisturiser. My personal favourite is the Kate Somerville DeliKate Recovery Cream* | £69. I also recommend the Medik8 Advanced Night Restore* | £55 | full review | or - if you're on a budget - the Beauty Bay Thirst Class Rich Moisturiser | £7 | full review. The DeliKate cream is like that moisturiser you know you should be using because it's good for your skin but reimagined in an elegant formula and as a luxury experience. It's formulated with ceramides, shea butter, cucumber oil, rice extract and other amazing, nourishing, skin-replenishing ingredients. Plus, it leaves my skin so soft and smooth after use; it's an absolute treat to apply! It really forms that nourishing layer on the skin that helps with the dryness of winter weather coupled with retinoid use.

Finally, I have two options; if my skin feels overall dry, then I'll apply a couple of drops of the Apothaka Comforting Oil Booster | £40 | full review. This is formulated with antioxidant Q10 and soothing oils like calendula and cucumber. It's not greasy and really softens my skin and seals everything in so I don't wake up dry and flaky in the morning. If my dryness is more localised (on my skin, it's pretty much always going to be around my mouth) I'll use a bit of the Disciple Go-To Balm | £20 | full review | on those areas. This can also be used as a buffer around the nose, mouth, eyes and other sensitive areas you want to protect. This is a really simple oil-based formula that works for me in terms of moisturising those areas. The La Roche_Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 | £14 | full review | is also a great option if you don't want something oil-based.

Do you use retinoids in your skincare routine? What do you like to pair them with?

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Read more posts from this series here!


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