Because of its ability to treat acne, reduce fine lines, and fade hyperpigmentation, retinol is considered to be, by many, 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, coconut 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.