If You Have Sensitive Skin, Try Applying Barrier Cream Before Retinol. Here's Why

Retinol is a staple in many people's skincare routines. It is, after all, a powerhouse ingredient to have in a serum or cream form. Retinol helps boost the production of skin cells and has plenty of benefits for those looking to improve their skin, per Cleveland Clinic. This ingredient can exfoliate and unclog pores, helping to reduce the appearance of acne as well as any scarring. It can also be used as an anti-aging product as it reduces wrinkles and fine lines. Thanks to the fact that it stimulates the production of collagen, it can leave you with a complexion that looks more plump and youthful.

Though retinol has many benefits, it can have a major side effect: irritation. Retinol can potentially lead to skin that's red, dry, and peeling. Most irritation from retinol will go away on its own with time, but for those with sensitive skin, the issue can persist, especially with repeated use. But having sensitive skin shouldn't keep you from reaping the benefits of retinol. Fortunately, the solution is to simply add a barrier cream to your skincare routine. Using a barrier cream along with retinol can offer your skin protection so you can still enjoy the anti-aging and clear skin benefits, minus any irritation.

What is a barrier cream?

Your skin on its own is a barrier that helps to keep bacteria out of the body. The outermost layer of your skin barrier is called the stratum corneum and is made of keratin and dead skin cells, per DermNet. The skin barrier is meant to keep moisture in the body and keep irritants out. A barrier cream helps to protect and maintain this layer and keeps the skin from drying out too much. While these are important products to ensure your skin retains moisture, they're essential if you have any conditions that may affect the skin barrier.

There may be a number of reasons why your skin barrier doesn't work the way it should, including having certain skin conditions, being in an environment that is either too dry or too humid, spending too much time in the sun, exfoliating too often, and being exposed to harsh detergents, soaps, or chemicals, per Healthline. Applying harsh products, such as retinol, may only irritate the skin further, exacerbating issues rather than addressing them. 

It's important to note that barrier creams aren't moisturizers. Where a moisturizer hydrates, a barrier cream protects or repairs the skin barrier. Moisturizers add some hydration to your skin, but barrier creams don't necessarily do this. Instead, they create a seal that prevents moisture — whether from water in the body or hydration from products — from seeping out of the skin.

How to use a barrier cream in your routine

Retinol products can dry you out, especially if your skin is sensitive. So, if you've been trying to incorporate it into your skincare routine but have been dealing with irritation, you don't necessarily have to stop using it. Instead, simply add a barrier cream. Do your typical skincare routine of cleansing and using gentle serums as you normally would. Then, add a thin layer of barrier cream to your skin and allow it to soak in a little before adding your retinol product. Then continue with the rest of your routine, finishing with a moisturizer.

You don't necessarily have to have sensitive skin to benefit from using barrier creams. Even if you have normal or oily skin, you can apply a barrier cream to areas of the face that are usually thinner, like around the eyes, under the nose, and around your lips, which are often at risk of drying out. Selective application can also ensure these delicate areas aren't negatively affected by potentially irritating products. Those with combination skin can also benefit from this technique. Using a barrier cream on your dry patches can help heal those specific areas.