A Guide to Sensitive Skin & Retinol

Retinol is EVERYWHERE these days, it seems like younger and younger people are using retinol to reduce wrinkles and & fight acne. The truth? Retinol is incredibly effective and increases cell turnover in our skin, in turn reduces wrinkles & blemishes in the process. However, this is not something to be used without careful consideration, it is a powerful active that might not be safe for all users, this is why we’ve created a guide on using retinol when you have sensitive skin. 

First things first, what are Retinoids?

The term “retinoid” refers to all Vitamin A derivatives. Retinols are potent & powerful, and used to only be available via prescription. Retinols have been proven to reduce wrinkles, improve skin texture, fight acne & hyperpigmentation and even help the skin produce collagen. It has been researched for decades and Dermatologists alike view it as a safe and effective means for achieving myriad benefits.

How to Pair Your Retinoids 

When beginning your retinoid journey, it is important to figure out which products work best in tandem with retinoid use. Many retinol products today contain ceramides and other fatty acids to help create a buffer between your skin barrier and the retinol. However, you should always apply a moisturizer underneath your retinol. Our line of microbiome friendly oil based serums are a fabulous way to create a hydrating barrier on your skin beneath your retinol. 

When using retinoids, always, always, did we mention always? USE SUNSCREEN! Retinoids fasten the pace of cell turnover on your skin thus leaving your skin with more “new” skin cells that are ultra sensitive to sunlight and require SPF to keep safe. Here are 2 of Elsa's favorite suncreens, Pipette Mineral Sunscreen & Eleven by Venus Williams Ace the Day Face Lotion .

Start Small & Slow 

When beginning with a new active ingredient, like retinoids, we always recommend patch-testing your skin first. Either on your hand or on your cheek, to see how your skin reacts. This method will avoid allergic reactions and other problems you may encounter when implementing retinols into your skincare routine. 

If you have sensitive skin, start with one day a week usage of retinoids. This might sound too slow, but if you have sensitive skin, it will be the perfect time to allow your skin to adjust to retinols. 

If once a week works and you feel ready to take it to the next level, start by slowly ramping up to twice a week, with retinol-free days in between. If this doesn’t irritate your skin you can start to do it every other day. Research shows that every other day is incredibly effective at producing all the desired results from retinoids, and everyday use is not necessary. 

Percentages Matter 

You should consult your dermatologist when deciding which retinol percentage is the best for you to use. However, it is safe to assume that starting with a low percentage and working your way up to full strength is best practice. Retinol percentages can range from .025% - 1% depending on the product. 

Keep in mind that just because it is a lower percentage, doesn't mean it's less effective. It might take longer to see results but the retinol is still working on your skin. It is more beneficial to your skin to consistently use a lower percentage retinol than to periodically use a harsh, more concentrated version. 

How Much is Enough?

Pea sized! You’ve probably heard “pea-sized” before when it comes to measuring out skincare, but using this metric is very important when it comes to retinol. Especially when you are first exploring the world of actives, using a small amount is imperative to keeping  your skin happy & calm. Using more than a pea-sized amount won’t make the retinol more effective, it will only increase possible irritation on your skin. 

If your skin is angry and irritated with small amounts of retinol, it is possible that your skin is not cut out for this powerful active. No fear! There are other wrinkle-fighting alternatives that can help your skin, retinol is just one of many options.

Bakuchiol is a new alternative that is reciving a lot of buzz, for good reason.  Bakuchiol is natural, while retinol is synthetic. Bakuchiol is a natural extract of the babchi plant, whereas retinol is a chemical compound that's synthesized from the breakdown of beta-carotene. Because it tends to gentler on the skin than other anti-aging ingredients (like retinol), bakuchiol can be used every day, and in fact, when used twice a day, bakuchiol has been studied and shown to be just as effective as retinol
Remember, always pair your actives with a gentle moisturizer, our Bio-Restore is a favorite for active-paring. 

We hope you found this guide helpful and best of luck on your retinol journey!



I’m interested in trying Bakuchiol but can’t find any that are fragrance free. Could you share your recommendations?


Thanks for this, what are the retinol alternatives for wrinkles you mention in this post? Thanks.

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