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The 6 Best Moisturizers To Use With Retinol Cream, According To A Dermatologist

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By Maria Del Russo and The Commerce Team
Updated: 
Originally Published: 
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Because of its ability to treat acne, reduce fine lines, and fade hyperpigmentation, many consider retinol to be the holy grail of skin care ingredients. But, like most things in life, that miracle-working can come at a price. "[Retinol creams] can definitely be drying and irritating," says Dr. Hadley King, a dermatologist in NYC. "So you are likely to need to use moisturizers, particularly during the winter or in other low-humidity environments." Luckily, the best moisturizers to use with retinol cream are fairly easy to spot — if you know what to look for.

According to Dr. King, you want to look for what she calls "bland moisturizers." That means a moisturizer that only hydrates — and not much else, because, as she explains, "the retinoid will already be doing the work." Humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin are key ingredients to look out for because they actually pull moisture from the air and hold it against your skin. "But you definitely need an emollient to lock in the moisture, or the humectant can make your skin even drier if it attracts water from your skin and then evaporates," Dr. King says. Emollients to keep an eye out for are shea butter, plant oil, bee's wax, and ceramides.

As far as ingredients to avoid? Stay away from alpha or beta hydroxy acids for a couple of reasons. "They'll probably be too irritating if you're already using retinoids," Dr. King says. What's worse? They may actually de-activate the retinoid, which defeats the purpose of using one. So keep your moisturizers simple, and you'll be in good shape.

One important note: if you're not going to buy a moisturizer with SPF in it, be sure to apply sunscreen each morning, as retinol can make your skin extremely sensitive to the sun.

Ahead, find the six best moisturizers to use with a retinol cream.

1

A Dermatologist-Recommended Cream Moisturizer To Use With Retinol Cream

According to Dr. King, the best moisturizer to pair with a retinol is CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream. Why? "It's non-comedogenic but very moisturizing," she says. So even if you've got the oiliest skin on the planet, this rich cream won't clog your pores. It's also chock-full of ceramides, one of the emollients that Dr. King suggests to keep the moisturizer locked in your skin. The fragrance-free formula also contains hyaluronic acid, an all-star ingredient known for its ability to hold nearly 1,000 times its weight in water. It's oil-free and hypoallergenic, too, so basically, no matter what your skin type is, you can't go wrong with this stuff. Just ask Amazon reviewers, many of whom use the cream with their retinol routine. “Very moisturizing, soaks in to the skin unlike any other face cream. Great for sensitive skin,” reported one reviewer. “Anyone using retinol creams, you need this in your life!”

2

A Popular Gel Moisturizer To Use With Retinol Cream

Moisturizer doesn't have to break the bank. Case-in-point: Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Water Gel. Its main hydrator is hyaluronic acid, which Dr. King counts as one of the best moisturizers for use with retinol, with glycerin to lock it in. Her recommendation is backed up by a number of Amazon reviewers who swear by the moisturizer, giving feedback such as “Im a retinol user and since using this product I have not had a single piece of dry skin,” and “This works perfectly in combination with a retinol cream. My skin has never looked so nice!” The gel moisturizer is non-comedogenic, oil-free, dye-free, and fragrance-free, so it's about as basic a moisturizer as you can get. And it's a lightweight gel, so it's great if you've got oily skin. If you're looking for a cooling sensation, you can pop this jar in the fridge to keep the gel nice and crisp.

3

A French Pharmacy Moisturizer To Use With Retinol Cream

Another product Dr. King recommends is Vichy's Aqualia Thermal Rich cream because of its ability to soothe your skin. That's thanks to the mineral-rich thermal water in the formula, which comes from Auvergne, France. Not only does it help calm skin that might be irritated from the retinol, but it also keeps your skin moisturized for up to 48 (!!!) hours with hyaluronic acid, plant sugar, and shea butter. It's oil-free, silicone-free, and paraben-free, which makes it suitable for folks with sensitive skin, too — and who doesn't love a good French pharmacy product? According to one Amazon reviewer who uses a retinol product, this moisturizer is one of the best they’ve ever used. “Smells nice not overpowering and leaves my skin so supple. I use the cleanser and a toner, followed by a retinol OR Vit C serum and it works well with both.”

4

A Moisturizing Facial Sunscreen To Use With Retinol Cream

It's super important to use sunscreen with a retinol cream, because it can make you more photo-sensitive. If you love a good two-in-one moisturizer/sunscreen combo, it doesn't get any better than the cult-favorite EltaMD UV Daily Sunscreen. Not only does it have a nice, high SPF of 40, but it's also intensely moisturizing, thanks in large part to the hyaluronic acid in the formula. This is one of the most highly recommended facial sunscreens from dermatologists, and it has a near-perfect rating with over 10,000 reviews — including one that reports, “My skin felt super dry and flaky and I put this on. About 80% of the dryness was gone and my skin felt smooth and soothed immediately. [...] And the 40 spf is a definite plus as retin a lea[v]es you more [susceptible to sunburn].”

5

A Vegan Moisturizer To Use With Retinol Cream

With two different types of hyaluronic acid and glycerin to add moisture to your skin, plus squalane and jojoba to lock it in, this gel cream from Honest Beauty is undeniably hydrating for skin that’s dry from retinol use. This makes it easy to see why the dermatologist-tested moisturizer has a 4.4-star rating on Amazon, from more than 3,000 reviews. “I use retinol and have a hard time finding products that don't sting,” wrote one reviewer. “This is one of them.” The moisturizer is vegan and cruelty-free, and it avoids potentially irritating ingredients like synthetic fragrances and dyes, as well as parabens, petrolatum, mineral oil, and silicones.

6

A K-Beauty Moisturizer To Use With Retinol Cream

This ceramide-centric moisturizer from Korean skincare brand COSRX is full of hydrating ingredients that make it absolutely incredible to use with retinol cream. It has multiple humectants (both glycerin and sodium hyaluronate), as well as a bunch of emollients to lock in that moisture — we’re talking everything from ceramides, to beeswax, to a few different plant oils. Amazon reviewers who are retinol users suggest that the moisturizer is especially effective to use if you’re experiencing irritation from using your retinol. “I get some peeling, irritation, redness,” wrote one reviewer. “I scale back and use this cream to calm my skin down and heal.” Another reviewer added, “I purchased this cream after experiencing a retinol burn on my neck from increasing the dosage. [...] However, after using this product, it really helped speed up the healing process.”

Expert:

Dr. Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist