Skin-Care Tips

The Retinol Sandwich Is the Easiest Way to Start Using the Active Ingredient

Photo: Getty Images/Utah-based Photographer Ryan Houston
Traditionally, retinol and sensitive skin have been frenemies in the skin-care world—but as formulas get more advanced, they're now able to enter BFF territory. When they're getting along, they'll give you mirror-finish skin. And when they're not, well, let's just say the words "red" and "dry" come to mind. While pairing your retinol with other products certainly works, a dermatologist recently introduced me to a retinol regimen hack that you can try using things that are already in your beauty cabinet—namely, your everyday moisturizer.

Enter: the retinol sandwich method. This essentially, involves making a "sandwich" on your skin using moisturizer (the bread!) and retinol (the meat!). I know, it sounds weird, so allow dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein of Downtown Dermatology to explain:  "After washing your face, apply a layer of moisturizing cream," she says, calling out Simple Replenishing Rich Moisturizer ($10) and Dove Dermaseries Overnight Face Cream ($18) as two of her fave soothing topicals. "Then apply a pea-sized amount of retinoid, and then another layer of moisturizer on top." Et voila: a retinol sandwich perfect for sensitive skin. Or any skin, for that matter.

"Studies have shown that this base layer of moisturizer does not dilute or reduce the efficacy of the retinoid and helps with tolerability," says Dr. Marchbein. "Look for ingredients such as glycerin to help hydrate and protect the skin from the drying [effects] of a retinoid." 

Even if you don't use the sandwich technique (I love using the phrase "sandwich technique" so much), be sure to always at least immediately follow up your retinoid with a moisturizing cream that contains glycerin or hyaluronic acid as key ingredient. "This helps ease dryness and is especially important in the winter months," says Dr. Marchbein. 

Basically, you should always combine your retinol routine—which can be drying—with something hydrating and nourishing, regardless of what type of skin you have. Treat yourself to a "retinol sandwich" at least at least three times a week, and your skin will be feeling as nourished and full as if you were to feed it an actual sandwich. Less delicious, sure, but arguably just as nutritious... at least, as far as your skin is concerned.

Derms say that retinol is the one ingredient everyone should have in their skin-care routine. But if that's not realistic for you (even with the sandwich technique employed), try bakuchiol for the same glow-tastic results without the potential burn. 

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