Should You Use Tretinoin Before or After Moisturizer?

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Tretinoin is fast becoming the most talked-about beauty product thousands of women swear by for clear, glowing, acne-free skin. While this retinoid it is a prescription medical ointment, there are generics on the market that can be used effectively as a part of your daily beauty routine.

But how do you use Tretinoin? And when should it be applied in your routine? Do you use Tretinoin before or after moisturizer?

Let’s look at Tretinoin while focusing on the following three aspects of this miracle product:

  • What Tretinoin is
  • Why you should use Tretinoin
  • When and how to use Tretinoin


Tretinoin 101

Before we go into the details of when and how to use this powerful cream, it is important to know what Tretinoin is and why many are using this as their go-to for beautiful, acne and wrinkle-free skin. 

Tretinoin is a retinoid acid prescribed to treat acne, sun-damaged skin, fine lines, and wrinkles and to boost the skin’s natural collagen production, which reduces the signs of aging.

This magical cream or ointment is a highly concentrated form of retinol and is available by prescription only. 

The Dreaded Purge

One thing to be aware of with Tret is the Tretinoin purge.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but for many people, when they start to use Tretinoin, their skin will get worse for several weeks, before it finally gets better than it was when they started (usually after about three months). Many retinol products have a similar phenomenon, known as the Retinol Uglies.

One thing to be aware of with Tretinoin is the Tretinoin purge.

You should be prepared for your skin to go through a valley of acne before climbing the mountain of clear skin. If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid the purge. But you should be prepared for it before you start using Tretinoin or any retinol product.

Why use Tretinoin or Retinoid Acid?

Retinoid acid has three great benefits for the skin:

  1. Treatment of acne
  2. Reducing the effects of aging
  3. Increases skin’s ability to produce collagen

Retinoid acids are vitamin A compounds, and as we all know, vitamin A is essential for the elasticity of your skin. 

Harsh cleansers, astringents, and some moisturizers strip the skin of all oils. This can cause overproduction of oil, which leads to acne and pimples.

Adding a retinoid acid like Tretinoin or another retinol to your skincare routine will help combat the effects of these products and restore your skin to its natural beauty. 

Once Tretinoin has cleared up your skin, often you can retain the clear skin after you stop using Tret! However, your wrinkles will likely come back.

When to Use Tretinoin in Your Routine

One of the most asked questions about Tretinoin is when to use it in your skincare routine. Should it be applied before your moisturizer? Or after?

When you use Tretinoin depends on how long you have been using it and the effects it has had on your skin. 

1. Before Moisturizer

Most people that use Tret have reported dry, red, flaky, and rash-like irritation from the cream mentioned above. This mostly occurs in the first month or so of use as it penetrates pores and cleans them out. 

If you have just started using Tretinoin, it is advisable to use moisturizer before and after applying the ointment. This method of moisturizing acts as a double-duty hydrater to replenish your skin and counteract the possible side effects of the ointment. 

2. After Moisturizer

Use the ointment as prescribed by your doctor. Once you have noticed your skin improving and the flaky redness disappears, you can apply Tretinoin after your moisturizer. 

Moisturizing your face is essential to hydrate your skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Moisturizing your face is essential to hydrate your skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

In this way, Tretinoin is similar to other retinol products, which should usually be used before moisturizers

How to Use Tretinoin

Adding this miracle ointment to your skincare routine is easy. Here are the steps you should follow:

Step #1: Start by washing your face thoroughly with a gentle facial cleanser. Pat the face dry with a clean towel and wait a few minutes for your skin to be completely dry. 

Step #2: Use a small amount, roughly a pea-size, of ointment and start applying it to your forehead. Apply to the rest of your face, taking care to avoid the eyes and lips. The forehead is the least sensitive part of your face and will not react negatively to any excess Tretinoin application. 

Step #3: Allow the Tret to soak in for at least 20 minutes. Using too much of the product will leave a residue and can be removed with a cotton pad. 

Step #4: Apply your moisturizer.

Moisturizers To Use with Tretinoin

While there is truth to the thinking that any moisturizer is better than none at all, using the best moisturizer that you can afford will dramatically increase the effectiveness of using Tretinoin and hydrate your skin properly. 

Avoid moisturizers that contain alcohol and fragrances and those that contain exfoliants like Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide

Many people think that using these products will treat acne, but they are known to strip moisture from your skin and cause irritation or dryness with prolonged use. 

Choose a moisturizer that is recommended for sensitive skin, is fragrance-free, and contains soothing ingredients that will hydrate and prevent irritation. 

Cetaphil and CeraVe are always good places to start in these cases.

Can Retinol and Tretinoin be Used Daily?

Retinol, too, is a retinoid and can be used daily to treat and prevent acne, breakouts, and sun-damaged skin. It is, however, less concentrated than Tretinoin and is available over the counter, and can be found at your local drug or beauty supply store. 

Retinol is a retinoid and can be used daily to treat and prevent acne, breakouts, and sun-damaged skin.

Use retinol as part of your daily skincare routine and notice a remarkable difference in only a few days. Your skin will be less oily, less prone to breakout, and will have a healthy glow.

Side Effects and Precautions

No beauty product is one size fits all, and side effects or reactions to any ointment or product vary from one person to the next. 

The most common side effects of Tret are the already-mentioned Tretinoin Purge. The common experience of the purge is:

  • Rash-like irritation
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Dry lips
  • Pigmentation of skin, either light or dark
  • Darkening of the skin

If you notice any more than one of these side effects, it is best to speak to your doctor to establish if these are normal or if treatment with Tretinoin should be discontinued. 

Do not use Tretinoin on broken skin, and note that not all side effects are listed on the product packaging or insert. Always speak to the prescribing doctor or a pharmacist if you notice any other side effects not listed or are concerning. 


Tretinoin is the most effective treatment for acne and sun-damaged skin and is available only by prescription from a doctor. Using a moisturizer while on Tretinoin is essential to hydrate and reduce the red, flaky, rash-like irritation that this ointment can cause. 

Exactly when you use it in your daily skincare routine depends on how long you have been on the treatment and the effects of Tretinoin on your skin. 

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).