skin care concerns Should Retinol Come Before or After Moisturizer?

Find out when and why the order matters.

May 18, 2022

As far as major skin care questions go, whether you should apply retinol products before or after moisturizer is right up there at the top of the list. While we’ve seen arguments on both sides of the coin, we tend to believe that the answer isn’t so simple. 


Retinol has numerous well-researched and reported benefits, but in order to reap them, you have to use it correctly 一 and that could depend on several factors. To understand when in your skin care routine to use retinol, and to make sure your attempts to use retinol don’t go awry, keep reading.

Is It Best to Apply Retinol Before or After Moisturizer?

There is no hard and fast rule about using retinol or moisturizer first. The order you should apply it in depends on the actual product you’re using. Retinol can be included in all sorts of different formulas, such as retinol creams and retinol serums, and how you apply them will vary. 


The general rule of thumb is to apply a retinol product the same way you would any other skin care product —  from the thinnest consistency to the thickest. While we can’t give you a foolproof answer as to whether you should always apply retinol before or after moisturizer, what we can do is break down when to apply retinol, based on the type of product it is. 


Here’s your easy guide to nailing your skin care routine order every time.

When to Apply a Cleanser With Retinol

Cleansing is the first step of any skin care routine, and that holds true if you have a cleanser formulated with retinol. Wet your face and hands, then massage the cleanser over your skin. Rinse with lukewarm water.

When to Apply a Serum With Retinol

To apply a serum with retinol correctly, smooth it onto clean skin after you cleanse and before your moisturizer. Your serum will have a thinner consistency than your moisturizer, which is what determines the application order. 


To use the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Night Serum, 0.3% Pure Retinol, apply two to three drops to freshly-cleansed, dry skin at night and follow up with your moisturizer. 


Editor’s tip: If your routine consists of more than one serum, again, apply from the thinnest to the thickest formula. We love pairing our retinol serum with L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum to ensure the skin is hydrated. Apply the hyaluronic acid serum first, then use the retinol. 

When to Apply a Moisturizer With Retinol

If you’re using a moisturizer formulated with retinol, like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Pressed Night Moisturizer with Retinol, Niacinamide, application will be similar to your normal moisturizer. Cleanse, apply any serums in your routine, then layer your moisturizer. In this case, you don’t have separate retinol and moisturizer steps — you’re knocking out two steps in one.

When to Apply an Eye Cream With Retinol

An eye cream or eye treatment is meant to be applied just like your other skin care products 一 in order from the thinnest to thickest density. A formula with retinol, like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Eye Treatment, should be applied after your serums and before moisturizer due to its consistency. 


Apply it in small dots around your eyes. Then, tap gently with your ring finger until it’s thoroughly absorbed into the skin. You want to treat your eye area delicately, as being too rough can contribute to fine lines — and they’re probably one of the reasons you’ve reached for an eye cream with retinol in the first place. 


Next: 10 Best Wrinkle Fighting Creams for Smoother Skin

Edited by: Alyssa Kaplan, Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn, Associate Creative Director: Melissa San Vicente Landestoy, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Associate Creative Producer: Becca Solovay, Associate Content Director: Shalwah Evans, Makeup Artist: Jonet Williamson, Hair Stylist: Akihisa Yamaguchi, Wardrobe Stylist: Alexis Badiyi, Props: Katrina Rozeville, Photo Assistant: Sam Kang, Digital Technician: Kyle Thompson, Production Assistant: Tiarra Nero, Model: Sarah Hart