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Retinol Sandwich Method According to Dermatologists

Tiktok Trend or Truth: Does the Retinol Sandwich Method Work?

This article is a part of our “Tiktok Trend or Truth” series where we consult with the experts to unpack viral beauty trends. 

If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably seen the viral retinol sandwich technique in your Tiktok feed. While retinol has been used for decades to fight the signs of aging, it can be harsh on sensitive skin and it can take time for your skin to adapt.

Since we all deserve to reap the youthful benefits of retinol even if our skin is sensitive, read on to learn what exactly is the retinol sandwich method and if dermatologists approve. 

What is the Retinol Sandwich Method?

The retinol sandwich method is a skincare technique that involves layering a retinol between two layers of moisturizer. This method is believed to reduce irritation caused by retinol, which can be harsh on sensitive skin. The idea behind this technique is that the moisturizer acts as a buffer, allowing the skin to gradually adjust to the retinoid over time. 

The retinol sandwich technique has been around for years but has recently gained popularity on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Many influencers swear by this method for achieving smoother, clearer, and more youthful-looking skin. But, what do dermatologists have to say? 

Dermatologists Weigh In: The Retinol Sandwich Method

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty, the retinol sandwich method is a helpful technique for sensitive skin types. She explains, “First, you cleanse the skin, then you apply a lightweight moisturizer that doesn’t have ingredients like petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or dimethicone because you want the moisturizer to buffer the retinoid from the skin, but not block the retinoid entirely.”

Dr. Bowe goes on to explain, “Next, you apply the moisturizer to the areas that are most sensitive to retinoids like the eyes, smile lines, chin area, and the neck. Then, the next step is to use your retinoid. Use a pea size amount of your retinoid and dab all over the face, take another pea size amount for the neck, two pea sizes for the chest, and rub it in,” she said. 

“Finally, it’s time for the top of the sandwich. You take your lightweight face moisturizer and avoid slugging with ingredients like petroleum jelly so you don’t push the retinoid unpredictably into the skin and drive irritation. As your skin adjusts to the retinoid over time, you can skip the first step and apply the retinoid directly onto dry skin. This will increase the potency.” 

What are the pros and cons of the Retinol Sandwich Method? 


Reduces skin irritation

Reduces the drying effects of retinol

Keeps skin hydrated and nourished


Reduces potency of retinol

Avoid moisturizers with crude oils

Not appropriate for slugging

The Verdict on The Retinol Sandwich Method

If you are going to use a retinoid and you have sensitive skin, the retinol sandwich method may be right for you. Retinol sandwiching is an excellent way to get all of the anti-aging benefits of retinoids without having to worry about irritation or sensitivity.  Simply apply a light moisturizer to clean skin, apply your preferred retinol, then apply another layer of moisturizer. Once you are finished with the retinol sandwich method, be sure to apply sunscreen before leaving the house.  If your skin adapts to the retinol and becomes less sensitive over time, you can start applying retinol directly to the skin to increase results. 

Bottom Line: 

With a lightweight face moisturizer, you’ll reap the rewards of retinol while reducing skin dryness and irritation. If you are looking for a gentle, plant-based alternative to retinol, you can also try a face product with bakuchiol which has similar effects to retinol with less irritation.

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