Top 15 Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin (2018)

Updated 4 years ago

Do you suffer from sensitive skin? When your skin feels dry and rough or have patches of redness, it could be due to a weakening in your skin’s natural barrier. This is where the superstar skin saver, retinol, comes into play. Here, we look at the best-performing retinol products to help restore your skin by boosting cell renewal and collagen production to help your skin look its best.

Best Retinol for Sensitive Skin

Geneva Naturals Advanced Anti-aging Retinol Cream

Approved by leading Swiss dermatologists, users swear by the effectiveness of this retinol cream in resolving their skin sensitivity concerns such as dryness, acne and uneven skin tone. Formulated with anti-aging Edelweiss plant extract and hyaluronic acid, the cream also doubles up as a moisturizer with sun protection for daytime use.

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5% Refining Night Cream

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This gentle night cream is suitable for those who are starting their foray into the complex world of retinols. Its 0.5% concentration aims to minimise blemishes, fine lines and discoloration while prepping the skin to adjust to the continual use of retinol. First-time users are recommended to use it only once or twice a week before gradually increasing the frequency.

NCN Skincare All-Trans Retinol Cream 2.0% Formula

Regular users looking for something stronger can consider this heavy-duty cream. For those who might be apprehensive of the possible irritation that comes with using higher retinol concentrations need not fear. By encapsulating the stable retinol in liposomes, it ensures that the retinol is time-released upon application to reduce the risk of irritation to your skin. Skin-soothing ingredients like cucumber and comfrey extract have also been added to ensure minimal irritation.

Yeouth’s Retinol 2.5% Serum

A popular skincare product among retinol users, the serum promotes collagen stimulation to help your skin achieve a younger-looking complexion. The vitamin A-rich retinol helps to unclog pores, diminish fine lines and accelerate skin turnover. Added with aloe vera and vitamin E, these ingredients work in tandem to protect the skin from harmful UV rays while keeping it well-hydrated.

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment

This well-loved product lives up to its name of delivering smoother, firmer skin for the user due to its combination of highly active ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and peptides. Specifically for night-time use, the active ingredients showed immediate results for users such as evening out skin texture and lightening dark spots.

TruSkin Retinol Serum 2.5%

A cult favorite among retinol users, the serum is well-known for its proven results in improving one’s skin texture, hyperpigmentation and wrinkles. Made with 97% natural and 72% organic quality ingredients, this plant-based serum is suitable for those with sensitive skin. Its lightweight consistency also ensures that the product goes on well underneath your makeup without pilling.

Amara Organics Retinol Serum 2.5% with Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin E

Users swear by this serum for effectively combating acne, reducing eye bags and helping with blemishes. It provides visibly noticeable results within a few weeks. A little bit of the product goes a long way making it value-for-money.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer

This drugstore formulation may sound a mouthful but it definitely lives up to its name according to rave reviews from users. The night cream dramatically reduced users’ fine lines and crow’s feet within days of application and continual usage has only shown better results over time. Time to say goodbye to stubborn wrinkles with this fast-acting product!

Eva Naturals Retinol Serum 2.5%

This natural serum is unlike any other as it deeply penetrates four layers of skin to deliver nutrients right to where your skin needs it the most. Users vouched for the effectiveness of this star product as they observed visible improvement in skin tone and fading of blemishes and fine lines after initial usage. Its gel-like consistency also makes it easy for your skin to absorb quickly before proceeding with the rest of your skincare regime.

LilyAna Naturals Retinol Cream Moisturizer

Formulated with gentle ingredients like hyaluronic acid and green tea, this retinol cream provides added hydration while reducing redness and blemishes for dry, sensitive skin. The thick and scentless cream goes on smoothly and is easily absorbed without any residual stickiness.

Tree of Life Retinol Serum

Crafted with 72% organic ingredients, sensitive skin users claimed this cream helped them effectively combat discolouration, acne, sunspots and early signs of ageing. Its non-greasy formulation prevents pilling when layered underneath your makeup.

Baebody Retinol Serum

Besides retinol as the key active ingredient, this serum also contains soothing ingredients like vitamin E, jojoba oil and green tea which makes it suitable for those with sensitive skin. Used day and night, reviewers loved this product for its dramatic results in rejuvenating their skin for a glowing, healthy look!

InstaNatural’s Retinol Moisturizer

Combining retinol and antioxidant-rich green tea, the moisturizer serves to holistically fight sun damage and hyperpigmentation. This is a must-try for individuals with oily skin who are looking for a non-greasy moisturizer to calm their skin without leaving any oily residue after application.

Poppy Austin Retinol Cream for Day & Night

With a blend of 2.5% retinol and organic aloe vera, reviewers loved this gentle formulation for helping them with skin sensitivity concerns without causing further irritation. The incredibly lightweight texture is perfect for day and night use as it absorbs quickly to give you that smooth, healthy glow.

Radha Beauty Retinol Moisturizer Cream

Users have raved incessantly about this cruelty-free beauty in treating dry & rough patches, acne scarring, sun spots and fine lines. Free from fragrances, parabens and dyes, this cream has a 2.5% retinol complex to help with more advanced skin concerns. Remember to use it with sunscreen for optimal results.

With so many choices available, you will be sure to find the right one to solve your skin concerns.  

What’s the difference between Retinoid vs Retinol?

There is a ton of confusion surrounding retinols and retinoids. What is the difference? Retinoids is an umbrella term used to refer to products that contain the vitamin A derivative. It helps stimulate cell turnover to increase new cell growth and boosts collagen production which makes it an effective anti-ageing skincare ingredient. Retinoids can also stop melanin production and fade brown spots which makes them suitable for pigmentation issues.

Retinol: A Skin Saver

Retinol is form of retinoid with the same skincare benefits but more commonly found in OTC products. Due to its lower concentration of active retinoic acid, retinols are more gentle and less likely to cause irritation and flaking that are commonly associated with using prescription retinoids, hence making it more suitable for those with sensitive skin. However, do not be mistaken that a gentler formula would not be effective as retinols are widely proven for their results with long-term use.

As retinols can cause an initial process of ‘retinization’ whereby the user might experience dryness, flaking or redness, you should slowly introduce the retinol into your skincare regime. Start off by using the retinol only once or twice a week as tolerated by your skin. If your skin does not show any signs of irritation after two weeks, slowly increase the frequency to once every other day. After the initial four weeks, if your skin is still tolerating it well, you can consider using the retinol daily.Another tip shared by dermatologists is to wait for a few minutes after using the retinol to ensure the product has been absorbed into the skin before following up with a moisturizer. Doing so will help to avoid dryness or flaking.

To ensure maximum efficacy of the retinol, avoid using it immediately with benzoyl peroxide and alpha hydroxy acids as these can deactivate the retinol.

How to Apply Retinol for Best Results

The first step is to cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser. Wait for a few minutes to ensure that your face is completely dry before applying a pea-sized amount of the retinol in upward and outward motions. If the skin is damp, the moisture will cause the retinol to penetrate deeper into the skin which will increase the likelihood of skin irritation. Follow up with a moisturizer to prevent dryness or flaking. If you are wearing retinol in the day, remember to apply a high-SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin.

Here’s a guide to choosing the right retinol:

  • Serums and gels are suitable for oily or clogged skin due to its lightweight consistency
  • Creams and oils are best for dry, itchy skin for a boost in hydration
  • Lotions work well for normal to combination skin

How to use both acids and retinols in your routine?

Some users may prefer to use both acids and retinols for maximum results. Experts proposed some alternatives that will help reduce the risk of irritation when using both:

  • Acids Morning, Retinol Evening: applying acids and retinols at different times of the day minimises the risk of over-aggravating the skin.
  • Alternating Nights:  you can consider using acids one night, retinols the next in order to avoid over-sensitising your skin.
  • Wait 30 Minutes:  if you are still keen on using both at the same time, it is best to wait between layers. Apply the one with the lightest texture first (typically acids have a lighter consistency than retinols) then wait 30 minutes to ensure the first active has been absorbed before layering with the second active.

How much retinol should I use?

There is a wide range of retinol products with different concentrations available on the market. Choosing the right concentration will help you to reap the best benefits:

    • Low-Strength: start off with baby steps if you are new to the game. You can first try a 0.01 to 0.03% retinol to see how your skin responds to retinol. Rest assured that a lower concentration is just as effective in enhancing your skin complexion and fighting pesky skin issues.
    • Moderate-Strength: if you have previously used a retinol and are looking for a stronger product, consider trying a 0.05% to 0.1% concentration. These moderate levels of retinol are effective in combating more stubborn skin concerns such as obvious bumps and flaws, loss of skin firmness and uneven skin tone.

  • Higher-Strength: to address more serious skincare issues, look to 0.5 to 2.5% concentrations. It is advisable to use higher concentrations with caution. This is because even though a higher-strength retinol may give greater results, the risk of irritation is also greater.  

Finally, when should you not use retinol?

  • Avoid using during pregnancy or breastfeeding: research has shown that consuming a high dosage of vitamin A during pregnancy can harm the fetus and cause birth defects. Even though retinols are applied to the skin, it is better to be safe than sorry!
  • Exfoliation:  even though you might initially experience flaking when using retinol, this does not mean that the retinol is exfoliating your skin. Some flaking is completely normal due to the retinol regenerating your skin. As such, you should still include a good exfoliator in your skincare routine, but make sure to space it out from the retinol to prevent over-irritation.

Dermatologists recommend using retinol to those in their 20s and above. With consistent use, retinol will help sensitive skin users combat issues like redness, hyperpigmentation, clogged pores, dryness and wrinkles. If you have just started using retinol, be patient and you will soon see positive results over time.

What Causes Sensitive Skin?

Healthy skin has a slightly acidic pH balance of  ~5 to protect it from harsh alkaline like soap. The skin’s natural barrier is essential to providing moisture so that your skin feels smooth and soft. When the barrier is weakened, it can disrupt the skin’s regulatory processes and interfere with cell regeneration. This makes skin susceptible to chemical, physical and microbial damages as well as UV light. This creates a slew of sensitive skin issues.   

More reasons for your sensitive skin

  • Hormonal Changes: a change in the level of your hormones can also affect the skin’s regulatory processes and protective system.  
  • Stress: a chemical response that decreases the body’s ability to heal skin problems.
  • Insufficient Sleep: Growth hormones production associated with sleep is reduced which affects skin repair during the night.    
  • Extreme Cold/Heat: when it is too cold, the secretions that maintain your skin moisture is reduced while excess heat promotes sweating which eventually evaporates, leading to dryer and easily irritated skin.
  • UV Rays:  UV rays can cause skin redness, inflammation and increased melanin production in skin which leads to pigmentation. Increased exposure can also diminish the skin’s moisturizing ability resulting in dry and rough skin.
  • Air Pollution: free radicals can weaken the skin’s natural barriers which increases the skin’s sensitivity.
  • Excessive Washing: washing frequently actually strips down the skin’s protective layers hence making it more sensitized.
  • Chemical Peels & Granular Exfoliators: using it on already sensitive skin can worsen it as peels and exfoliators will remove the protective hydrolipid layer.

In order to resolve sensitive skin, one should adopt a healthy lifestyle such as getting sufficient rest, using sunscreen, and managing one’s stress levels. Skincare experts also recommend a diet rich in antioxidants like vitamins A to help restore the skin’s natural barriers. So what’s the best way to deliver vitamin A straight to the skin? The answer lies in the vitamin A-rich retinol.