'Retinol sandwiching' could be the secret to reaping the benefits without irritation

Sensitive skin types, your time has come

Digital Beauty Editor / February 06 2023

Hands up if you're afraid of retinol? Ah yes, almost everybody... especially you sensitive skin types! As amazing as it is, retinol is a highly effacacious ingredient that often comes with as much risk as it does reward. But what if we told you there was a way to minimise the chances of reaction and reap only the benefits instead? 'Retinol sandwiching' could offer just that and here's everything you need to know...

What is retinol sandwiching?

An application technique that refers to the method of 'sandwiching' your retinol in between layers of moisturiser, it was created as a way to minimise some of the more unpleasant side effects that retinol can bring with it. Because while we all want to experience the rejuvenating benefits that retinol has under its belt, redness, peeling, and flaking aren't exactly on our goal list.

It's a great idea if you’re new to retinol or deal with general skin sensitivity, as retinol sandwiching addresses the possible side effects of retinol at both ends. Pre-empting your retinol with a light layer of moisturiser can help to slow down any negative reactions, and finishing with the same helps to lock moisture in, hence limiting the amount of dryness left when the retinol is done working.

Of course there are alternative ways to reduce irritation when working with retinol – starting with a minimal strength product (to build tolerance) is always a smart option -  but if you’ve found a formula you trust, the sandwiching method could be a winner.

Does retinol sandwiching make retinol less effective?

Well yes, a touch, but that’s half the point. Retinol sandwiching is a great way for those who didn’t think they could work retinol into their repertoire to do exactly that without damaging their skin barrier. It dilutes the retinol, softening the blow without cancelling out the benefits, making it a strong ‘introductory’ or ‘lite’ retinol option.

How to try retinol sandwiching

You probably get the gist by now, but just to be clear, you’ll want to apply your retinol of choice between two layers of moisturiser (one prior and one following). As for the amount of moisturiser to use, it depends how much you want to dilute the main ingredient. A thinner layer will just take the edge off, whereas a thicker one will help you play it particularly safe.

You don't have to 'sandwich' your retinol all over the face either. Dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe suggests only applying your moisturiser to more delicate/easily irritated areas: think around the eyes or in smile lines. Options abound, all able to freshen the face sans stress.

So give sandwiching a whirl if you're so inclined; it's a win for sensitive skin types worldwide.

Main image credit: @alishaboe

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Delaney Loane is BEAUTYcrew's Beauty Editor (and resident winged liner lover). An expert in everything from sensitive skin solutions to superior lip gloss formulas, her words have also appeared across mastheads such as ELLE and marie claire.

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