“Only apply a small pea-sized amount to the entire face to minimize the potential for irritation, and to be sure to follow with a moisturizer to help nourish the skin,” Dr. Garshick says. “Some people are now doing retinol sandwiching, where they apply a moisturizer before and after the retinol for extra nourishing effects.”
Also, pay attention to the other ingredients in your routine. “Avoid using other drying agents—such as salicylic acid, toners, and astringents—at the same time as the retinoid, as this can increase your chance of irritation,” Dr. Hibler warns.
“Because most formulations of retinoids are broken down by ultraviolet light (sunlight), I recommend using them at night because they can also be drying and make you more sensitive to sunburn,” Dr. Hibler adds. “You want to reap the full benefits of a topical retinoid in an undisturbed environment, so applying it at night when your skin is repairing itself—along with a moisturizer—is the optimal method.”
In terms of a full skincare plan, Dr. Hibler says he likes to keep things simple. “In the morning, use an antioxidant and sunscreen, then follow my suggested nighttime retinol routine. If you are treating acne or hyperpigmentation, you may have additional steps. If you want to add a serum or an eye cream you can, but I consider the aforementioned regimen a good foundation for healthy skin.”