If you were to ask us what our favorite skincare ingredients are, retinol would definitely be high on the list. It’s a powerhouse, best known for its ability to help firm the skin, reduce the appearance of discolorations, and combat other visible signs of skin aging. And despite what you might have heard about retinol causing dry skin, the reality is that there are retinol products for all skin types (provided, of course, that you use them properly). If you’re prone to dryness, this means making sure that the rest of your skincare routine is focused on keeping your skin feeling hydrated and comfortable.
Here, we’ll teach you how to use retinol and minimize dryness. We’ll also introduce you to our best retinol serum for all skin types and provide recommendations on the best Kiehl’s products to use alongside it. Settle in and keep reading for our guide to using retinol products.
What Type Of Retinol Product Should You Use?
To minimize the discomforting effects sometimes associated with retinol, we recommend reaching for our gentle serum, Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide. Suitable for retinol lovers and newbies alike, this effective face serum contains a precise daily dose of pure retinol alongside hydrating ceramides and glycerin. The unique formula helps promote gentle skin surface turnover to reveal smoother, more youthful-looking skin with minimal dryness or irritation. It’s clinically-demonstrated to visibly reduce wrinkles and firm the skin, and it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.* Plus, you can use the creamy, fast-absorbing formula daily.
*Results based on expert grading in a clinical test for subjects showing improvement after 12 weeks of use.
Kiehl’s Tip: There are tons of different retinol skincare products on the market, and they come in a range of different potencies, from relatively mild to rather strong. Stronger doesn’t necessarily equate to better, though, and overdoing it with retinol can leave your skin feeling extra dry. It’s important to find what’s right for your skin and not jump straight to using the strongest option.
How To Use Retinol and Minimize Dryness: 5 Steps
The benefits of retinol are vast—but for the best results, you have to use it properly. And that includes making sure the rest of your skincare routine is solid, too. Keep reading to learn how to use retinol and keep your skin looking (and feeling) its best.
Cleanse and Tone Your Skin
Before putting any skincare products on your face, you’ll want to make sure your skin is clean. Since all retinoids provide some degree of exfoliation, we suggest starting with a non-exfoliating, cream-based cleanser, such as our classic Ultra Facial Cleanser. It’s made with squalane and avocado oil and helps remove surface debris without stripping the skin’s natural moisture barrier. The mild cleanser is also pH-balanced and dermatologist-tested for safety on all skin types. To use it, wet your skin with lukewarm water, then massage a dime-sized amount of the creamy formula onto your face to create a light lather. Rinse with lukewarm water (not hot, as hot water can dry out your skin) and pat your face dry with a clean towel.
Then, use a clean cotton round to apply a hydrating toner, like Ultra Facial Toner, to your entire face. The alcohol-free formula tones without over-drying the skin, leaving it feeling soothed, balanced, and primed for moisture.
Smooth On a Hydrating Serum
If you’re prone to dryness, we suggest prepping your skin with a hydrating facial serum. This has dual benefits: It helps hydrate your skin while also providing a buffer between your skin and the retinol product (fun fact: dermatologists call this application technique the “sandwich method,” since you apply hydrating products both before and after using your retinol).
The type of hydrating serum you use for this step is up to you. Those with normal or combination skin can try Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum. The lightweight formula contains 11kDa hyaluronic acid, an engineered form of hyaluronic acid capable of penetrating skin’s deeper layers. It absorbs quickly and is clinically-demonstrated to double skin’s strength while helping to boost resiliency and radiance.* The powerful formula also has anti-aging benefits, too: Over time, it helps diminish the appearance of fine lines and uneven skin texture.
*Based on a four-week clinical study of 58 subjects tested in urban and polluted environments. Skin strength index = composite average score of clinically-graded parameters after using the product for four weeks vs. one week of use.
If your skin naturally tends toward the drier side, try Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum as your buffer instead. This ultra-gentle hydrating serum helps encourage the skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid and improves the visible signs of dehydration. It’s suitable for all skin types and gentle enough for use even around the delicate eye area. For maximum benefits, we suggest applying your chosen serum while your skin is still a bit damp to help trap in moisture. Let the formula absorb for a minute or two before continuing to the next step in your routine.
Apply Your Retinol Serum
Now you’re ready to use your retinol serum. Applying it is pretty straightforward: Just dispense two to three pumps of the creamy formula onto your fingertips and smooth it over your face in a thin, even layer (avoid the area around your eyes and lips). If this is your first time using a retinol skincare product, you may want to start slow, using the serum only three times per week. As your skin acclimates, you can gradually increase to once-daily usage.
Lock In Hydration
Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane
After using your serum, you can go ahead and finish the aforementioned “retinol sandwich” with a moisturizer. We recommend reaching for a creamy moisturizer that contains emollients, such as Ultra Facial Cream with Squalane. This best-selling formula absorbs quickly, nourishing the skin with instant hydration that lasts up to 24 hours. The lightweight cream is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for softer, visibly healthier-looking skin over time.
Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream
Those with sensitive skin can try Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream instead. Made with Centella asiatica extract and shea butter, this soothing moisturizer offers intense, lasting hydration to help protect the skin. It’s also clinically-demonstrated to help repair the moisture barrier of compromised skin and is dermatologist-tested for safety and gentleness.* Plus, it’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores.
*Based on an instrumental test of the skin barrier and clinical grading in an eight-week study. Tested for tolerance on subjects with self-perceived sensitive skin.
Lastly, nourish the skin around your eyes with a gentle eye cream, such as Avocado Eye Cream. The ultra-creamy formula provides instant and long-term hydration to help prevent the early signs of aging. It’s clinically-demonstrated to de-puff and brighten the under-eye skin in a single use and can be used morning and night for a visibly smoother, more even-looking eye area.* For added hydration, DIY an under-eye mask with the creamy formula once a week (just apply a thick layer and leave it on for ten minutes before wiping off any excess and patting the rest in).
*Results based upon expert grading evaluated with product in a four-week clinical test.
Apply (and Reapply) Sunscreen
Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+
Sunscreen is always a must, but it’s especially important if you’re using retinol products since retinol, like alpha-hydroxy acids, can increase your sensitivity to the sun. Every morning, whether it’s winter or summer, sunny or rainy, we recommend completing your routine with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, like Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. The lightweight formula for all skin types helps protect against UVA and UVB rays. It also provides defense from free radicals, another major contributor to visible skin aging. Apply a generous layer of the non-greasy formula to all exposed skin every morning (at least 15 minutes before leaving the house) and reapply at least every two hours for continued protection. Lastly, be sure to follow other sun-safety measures—like wearing protective clothing and sticking to the shade whenever possible—as well.