skin care concerns

How to Use Retinol: Should Retinol Come Before or After Moisturizer?

This anti-aging ingredient can do wonders for your complexion when you use it correctly.
March 27, 2023
When To Use Retinol

As far as major skin care questions go, most things concerning retinol products, like when to use retinol or how to use retinol are at the top of the list. There are many different answers to these questions because skin care is so personal and your skin type really determines how and when you should use a product.


Retinol has many well-researched and reported benefits, but in order to reap them, you have to use it correctly and that can mean different things for different people. To understand how to use retinol in your skin care routine, we’re sharing how to use all the different forms in your routine.

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What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, often sold in the form of a topical cream or serum that is used to treat a variety of different skin concerns, such as wrinkles, acne and hyperpigmentation. In a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information on the effects of topical vitamin A, formulations containing retinoids (a form of vitamin A available by prescription) enhance the promotion of keratinocyte proliferation and collagen synthesis, improvement of the epidermal barrier, inhibition of collagen degradation and transdermal water loss. 

In less sciency-speak, retinoids and retinol are best known for the way they help to boost collagen and elastin production (proteins that keep the skin strong and decrease with age), promote cell turnover, minimize fine lines and wrinkles, fade dark spots and overall, leads to a more youthful appearance.

When Should I Start Using Retinol?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, look to retinol to address acne scars, pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. There’s no rule as to when you can start using retinol in your routine, but it is better to start before your skin starts to show signs of aging. It’s best to discuss this with your doctor before adding retinol to your skin care routine.

How Often Should I Use Retinol?

Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient, but it can be irritating to the skin, per the Cleveland Clinic. Because of this, it should be introduced into your routine and built up as your skin can tolerate it. This means using it once a week and bumping up the usage every few weeks based on how your skin reacts. While you may want fast results, retinol works quickly at the surface, but it takes time to see visible results. Typically with retinol, you should expect to see results around the three-month mark with consistent use. It’s tempting but avoid amping up the usage in favor of quicker results because this can do more harm than good to your skin.


Is Retinol Good for Your Skin?

When used correctly, topical retinol can bring tons of benefits to the skin. Those include exfoliation, minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, a brighter complexion and increased collagen and elastin production, which helps to strengthen the skin, per the Cleveland Clinic. If your retinol is not causing significant irritation, it can do a lot of good for the skin. If it’s causing irritation, then you need to decrease usage and get to a place where it’s not irritating to see its benefits. 

When to Use Retinol in Your Skin Care Routine

Retinol is typically applied at night, but it can be safely applied in the morning if the formula was made for that. The L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Day Lotion SPF 30 is a great example of this, it’s a day moisturizer that contains pro-retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and SPF 30.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), shares that retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Because of this, you have to add an SPF to your morning routine if you use it. You should be using SPF daily regardless, but if you’re using retinol, consider it of paramount importance. At night, apply your retinol after washing your face, onto clean skin. In the morning, apply an ample layer of SPF, like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Invisible UV Fluid after cleansing and before you apply makeup.

Is It Best to Apply Retinol Before or After Moisturizer?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, if your retinol is irritating your skin, you should apply a thin layer of moisturizer before applying it to give your skin a little barrier. If your retinol is not irritating your skin, then depending on the formula, you can apply it before your moisturizer. But ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule about using retinol or moisturizer first and the order you should apply it 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. 


A good rule to follow is to apply retinol products in 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.  

When to Apply Retinol Serum 

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. We like this serum because it contains a pure retinol formula and includes hydrating ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid to counteract the potential drying and irritating effects of retinol. 


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, layer on the retinol serum before moisturizer.

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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, or the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Anti-Aging Moisturizer, 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.

Using a moisturizer with retinol is a great way to get the anti-aging effects of the ingredient without the common dryness and irritation that some experience. Keep in mind that if you’re moisturizing with a retinol cream, you don’t need to apply an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or any other type of active serum before your moisturizer as this could lead to irritation.

When to Apply an Eye Cream With Retinol

An eye cream or eye treatment is typically applied before or after moisturizer depending on the consistency. A formula with retinol, like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Eye Treatment, should be applied after your serums and before moisturizer because it has a lightweight texture. 


Apply it in small dots around your eyes. Then, tap gently with your ring finger (because it has the gentlest touch) 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, which is probably one of the reasons you’ve reached for an eye cream with retinol in the first place. 

Next: How to Get Rid of Clogged Pores

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