Can you use retinol if you have sensitive skin? The dermatologist’s recommendations

In this blog, you will find out how to recognize if you have sensitive skin, what causes skin sensitivity and what are the best products for you, if you happen to have sensitive skin.

sensitive skin

How to know if you have sensitive skin?

While a number of people might adopt the opinion that sensitive skin is merely skin that is easily irritable, there are other features that are characteristic of this skin condition. With sensitive skin, it is not uncommon to notice that various factors can be the catalyst for a number of skin reaction, such as irritation, sudden redness, itchiness, inflammation and undesirable break-outs. Experts point out, that currently there is no universal checklist, which would be instrumental for a definitive “diagnosis” of sensitive skin type; instead, experts that the best way to know if you have sensitive skin is to pay close attention to your skin’s reactions and how it reacts to certain cosmetic, skincare and haircare products, as well as environmental factors, such as wind, snow, exposure to sun or pollution.

Now, even though there is no universal checklist, according to Dr Katz with Forefront Dermatology, there is a number of symptoms that, if experienced regularly, could be a sign that you might have sensitive skin. The first sign that you might experience higher skin sensitivity than others is the high reactiveness of your skin. This means that your skin is highly responsive to any product you might be using, not only cosmetic, skin or hair care products, but also such household products as soaps, detergents, fragrances and perfumes, which might trigger your skin to react in dryness, reddening or itchy sensations.

Another sign that is very common among people with sensitive skin is redness, which can appear in a number of different forms, such as rashes, red bumps, blushing or visibly dilated blood vessels. While these kinds of redness might be very annoying and sometimes, even painful, there is no need to worry. As soon as the agent of irritation is removed, the redness will go away, and if not, there is a number of easy treatments, that will free you and your skin from unwanted bumps, rashes and otherwise inflammation.

Excessive dryness is another sign you might be suffering from sensitive skin. Sensitive and dry skin can often co-occur together and can sometimes lead to choosing the wrong products when all of your skin’s needs are not taken into account. Furthermore, when not taken care of, dry skin with raised skin sensitivity can lead to acne breakouts, cracking and flaking of the skin. It is not unlikely for your skin to act out and become more dry and itchy in cold, dry weather and when exposed to wind. Making sure you use a gentle moisturizer daily can prevent your skin from becoming overly dry and damaged.

If you frequently notice that your skin is prone to develop rashes quickly, it might be another sign that you’re dealing with sensitive skin. When exposed to an irritant, your skin might flare up, appear red, flaky, dry or develop a bumpy rash. Anything can act as an agent of irritation, however, it is more likely to occur when you use no-rinse products that are left in your skin for extended periods of time, such as facial creams, serums and toners. Likewise, if you are allergic to something, it is important to check the ingredients on the skincare products you’re using as these products may contain the components you are allergic to and make your skin react with rashes and inflammation.

Another sign you might have sensitive skin is frequent breakouts, which can often look like acne with red bumps and pustules. Moreover, choosing the wrong acne products may only worsen the acne and the overall condition of the skin. Likewise, frequent sunburns could also be a sign of raised skin sensitivity. Whether you have sensitive skin or not, it is important to wear sunscreen, toning or moisturizing products with added SPF, preferably with 30 SPF or higher. This will ensure that you’re skin is sheltered from overexposure to sun, flaking and itching. Since some ingredients in sunscreens can cause allergic reactions, look for ones with the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Sensitive Skin

What causes sensitive skin?

Raised skin sensitivity can be brought on by a myriad of different reasons. First of all, if you have dehydrated and dry skin, it can easily become sensitive as a result of the damage brought to the skin when the skin’s moisture barrier is disturbed. This can lead to your skin feeling itchy, rough to the touch, flaky appearance and sometimes crack and bleed causing you painful sensations. In order to prevent this, you need to heal your skin’s moisture barrier by applying moisturizing creams, toners and replacing harsh scrubs with gentle cleansers.

Eczema is another reason why you might be suffering from overly sensitive skin. Eczema, or as it is also known, atopic dermatitis, is a condition that makes your skin appear very dry, red, cracking and swollen. It can harm your skin’s capacity to shield you from irritating agents, such as germs in the air, environmental pollution or chemicals in your laundry detergent. Moreover, eczema can also result in increased skin sensitivity to products that usually would be considered harmless, like soaps or cosmetic products. For some cases, rich moisturizing creams, ointments or an over-the-counter topical treatment are enough to tackle eczema by applying it to affected areas, while for other, more severe cases, it is best to consult with a dermatology practitioner when choosing your treatment.

Another reason for developing higher skin sensitivity is irritant or allergic contact dermatitis, which appears as a red, itchy rash with dry, scaly skin, which can be developed as a result of your skin’s protective layer contacting a damaging irritant. Contact dermatitis can affect a number of areas, usually, it is developed only in the area that had direct contact with an irritant. While contact dermatitis usually clears up on its own within a couple of weeks after its development, it is very important to identify the trigger of your irritation to prevent further flare-ups of the condition.

There are other reasons for developing a skin sensitivity, however, general guidelines for everyone struggling with different levels of skin sensitivity suggest avoiding harsh astringents and exfoliants, using a gentle, fragrance-free soap as well as using essential oils instead of perfumes and using a fragrance-free laundry detergent. Moreover, it is important to always use a shaving cream or gel when shaving and always test new products on a discreet area of skin at least one day before trying a full-application.

Effective Acne Treatments

Is retinol bad for dry or sensitive skin?

Retinol, among other retinoids, is a Vitamin-A derived acid, that is available in skincare products in different strengths depending on its concentration. Retinoid products are widely used in the treatment of different skin conditions, such as acne or hormonal breakouts, however, they are also generally used for reversing the signs of aging and sun damage, as well as maintaining your skin’s collagen production and overall health.

While retinoid-based products are often suggested for providing relief in the treatment of various skin conditions and are seen to be generally beneficial for all skin types when it comes to very sensitive or easily irritable skin, expert urge to pay attention to the concentration of retinol in the products and use it with caution, which prevents your skin from getting irritated.

Contrary to many beliefs about the dangers of using retinol, according to experts, it is perfectly safe to use on your skin when used correctly and only when used improperly it can cause some unwanted side effects.


What is the best retinol product for sensitive skin? How do you use retinol for sensitive skin?

Retinol products help stimulate your skin’s collagen production, enhance cell turnover, brighten and even out the skin tone, reduce pigmentation and the appearance of fine lines. With the correct use, retinol has been shown to be effective and provide relief for sensitive skin as well. In order to avoid unwanted side effects and achieve the best results, experts suggest introducing retinol into your routine gradually. Start with using retinol products that are low in concentration, allow your skin to get used to the effects of the product and then, gradually, raise the concentration. Moreover, specialists advise applying a gentle moisturizer before applying the retinol treatment on top of it. As we have outlined before, for beginners it is best to start with a low-concentration product, such as First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum with a retinol concentration of 0.25%, which is a gentle serum that promotes collagen production and retexturizes the skin for an even-looking complexion.

If you have been using retinol treatment for a while and are looking for a more potent solution that would fit all skin types, you can try Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum, which provides skin improvement in as little as two weeks, decreases the appearance of fine lines and boosts radiance, while hyaluronic acid plumps the skin with moisture.

Dermoi! recommends Indeed Labs’ Bakuchiol Retinol pads, which can be implemented in your daily routine and are easy to use even on the go. Bakuchiol Reface Pads give all of the anti-aging benefits of retinol, without any of the sensitivity or irritation, that could be worrying for those who struggle with sensitive skin. The pads use clinically backed anti-aging ingredient Bakuchiol, which acts similarly to retinol but does not irritate the skin. Other ingredients include niacinamide, antioxidants, and hydrating actives to repair aging, sun damage, and scarring, while soothing and plumping the skin. The product is free from phthalate and sulfate, silicone and parabens, fragrance and artificial coloring, as well as alcohol and mineral oil-free.

Another great treatment that is recommended and available at dermoi! is a series of products by Osmosis Care, that use the least irritating form of retinoids – retinaldehyde. Retinaldehyde encourages skin cells regeneration and collagen production, as well as smoothens skin’s complexion to encourage quicker skin rejuvenation. Correct Preventative Retinal Serum is a Vitamin A serum, which has been created to reduce the signs of aging and sun damage. Other ingredients include peptides, which rebuild and repair damaged cells and signal the skin to produce collagen, as well as hyaluronic and lactic acid, which help the skin to attract and retain moisture and brighten skin’s tone. Another Osmosis Skincare retinaldehyde product is Renew Advanced Retinal Serum, which is a potent solution, which is formulated with the highest concentration of retinaldehyde while remaining the gentlest solution as retinaldehyde is the least irritating form of Vitamin A. It helps to stimulate elastin and collagen production on a cellular level, reversing the signs of fine lines and wrinkles along with thickness and tone of the skin. Moreover, Renew possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which ensure that the skin is soothed whilst the skin is undergoing epidermal remodelling. Both retinaldehyde serums are vegan, free of parabens, gluten, SLS, toxic chemicals, and artificial fragrances. Moreover, both products rely on hyaluronic acid, which is widely used for skin types with high sensitivity, as it allows to retain moisture and has a light texture, which does not clog pores or contribute to excess oils. Likewise, lactic acid which is used in both products helps deal with dead skin cells which is highly instrumental in dealing with inflammation, acne and facial scarring.

Dermatologists suggest using these products, as they contain lower doses of retinol or use retinol-alternative solutions, that provide you with the best results, while at the same time are safe and unlikely to cause irritation and unwanted side effects than purely retinol-based treatments.

acne skin

What is the best moisturizer to use with retinol?

As we’ve mentioned above, specifically for sensitive skin, experts urge to use moisturizer prior to topical application of the retinol treatment. Neutrogena Hydro Boost water gel is a light-textured solution, which is non-comedogenic, oil-free, dye-free, and fragrance-free, which is best for use with retinol.

Hopefully, using our guidance you will be able to start implementing retinoids in your skincare routine safely and effectively. And remember, there is no time like the present because according to dermatologists is best to start using retinoids around your 20s to achieve the best results and prevent signs of aging at its root.

acne treatments before chemical medicine

Author: Maria Ageeva