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What Is the Retinol "Sandwich Method" and How Effective Is It?

What Is the Retinol "Sandwich Method" and How Effective Is It?
Does this skincare method really work?

When it comes to reducing wrinkles and acne treatment, retinol is the popular go-to solution. It’s well-known for reducing fine lines, wrinkles, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation. Plus, it’s easily accessible and you can find a lot of retinol-infused products on the shelves.

Although retinol does give beautiful results, it has some downsides to it. Because retinol is such a potent ingredient, there is a chance of irritation (dryness, redness, and peeling) or purging. Purging can result in a few minor pimples here and there, but in some cases, it can turn into a full-on acne breakout. These side effects only last a couple of weeks, and once it goes away, you’re left with better skin than when you started using retinol. 

Some people are fine with waiting for the purging and irritation to go away. Others will try to keep these side effects at bay by doing the sandwich method. But what exactly is it? And does it really work?


What is the sandwich method?

Originally, the sandwich method is done to ensure that your skin is as hydrated as it can be. Applying lighter, often water-based, skincare products first and then layering thicker products, such as occlusives (petroleum jelly, butter, or thick oils), on top will help lock in the moisture. 

Retinol sandwiching has the same principle. You first add a layer of moisturizer before applying retinol to ensure that your skin becomes hydrated, then you add another layer of moisturizer after the retinol to lock everything in. This method not only ensures that your skin is well moisturized, but it is also said to prevent the negative side effects of retinol from happening. 

Is the sandwich method effective?

Technically, the sandwich method is effective at locking in moisture and avoiding irritation from retinol. That’s because the moisturizer acts as a barrier from retinol being fully absorbed into your skin. The problem with this method is that it keeps the retinol from doing its job.

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Dr. Robyn Gmyrek talks about why you should stop using the sandwich method in a Tiktok video. She says that by doing this method, you are not only minimizing the effects of retinol or potentially stopping it from activating entirely, but wasting time and money as well. She suggests that if you want to keep your skin moisturized while using retinol, buy retinol products that already contain moisturizing ingredients in them instead. This way you get the results the brand promises, while keeping your skin hydrated. 

To avoid irritation from retinol, instead of using moisturizer to stop the retinol from penetrating your skin, here’s what you can do instead:

Tips to avoid retinol irritation:

1. Buy gentle retinol products

    There are tons of different retinol products on the market with different retinol percentages. Choose a gentle beginner-friendly retinol product with low levels of retinol. Products with 0.1% to 0.3% are safest for beginners.


    2. Only use the suggested amount of retinol

      Retinol is very potent, so a little goes a long way. If the directions tell you to only use a pea-sized amount of retinol for your entire face, then do so. If the product is only supposed to be used every other day, do not use it every day.

      3. Avoid sensitive areas 

        Most brands suggest avoiding putting retinol on sensitive areas of your face, such as the corners of your eyes, nose, and lips, to prevent irritation. 

        4. Be patient

          Good things take time, especially when it comes to skincare. It may take months before you see the full benefits of retinol. Going slow and sticking to the recommended amount of use is the best way to avoid irritation.

          5. Make sure your skincare products are compatible

          Certain skincare products shouldn't be used together with retinol.  If you're going to add retinol into your skincare routing avoid using skincare products with AHAs and BHAs, salicylic acid, vitamin C, and benzoyl peroxide. Mixing these ingredients with retinol can cause further irritation. 


          6. Consult a dermatologist

            If your skincare routine isn’t giving you the results you want, or it’s making your skin problems worse, it’s best to consult a dermatologist. This is especially true if you have sensitive skin, as not all skin types should be using retinol.

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