If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you’ll know I have insanely sensitive and dry skin. Like, sometimes, it just flakes off my face in the middle of the day for no reason, or my eyelid will start swelling up in response to some nonexistent threat (I AM BEAUTIFUL). So, obviously, retinols and I have never been on good terms, seeing as their main function seems to be to irritate and destroy your skin.
Of course, retinols are not out to get you, despite the flakes you’ve probably endured in the past. In reality, they’re actually just trying to stave off Mother Nature for a few more years by speeding up your cell turnover to give you newer, fresher, younger-looking skin. The downside to this, of course, is that they’re not exactly gentle in the process, meaning anyone with dry and-slash-or sensitive skin (*raises hand*) has to be especially careful with the strength of the retinol they use and how they use it.
A good rule of thumb, says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD and assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, is to use a pea-size amount of your new retinol to clean, dry skin once a week for one week, then twice a week for two weeks, three times a week for three weeks, and then, only if you’ve had zero irritation thus far, apply it every other night indefinitely. If this idea still freaks you the hell out, or if you’ve tried this method and your skin cracked and flew away, then try applying your retinol over your normal nighttime moisturizer (after waiting 20 minutes for it to sink in) to partially dilute the formula.
Also, don’t get discouraged if your skin flakes for a few weeks after you add retinols into your routine. “Generally, it can take up to four weeks before your skin starts adapting to the retinol and building its tolerance,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. So yes, you need to fully commit to your retinol for at least a month while your skin adapts—so no going rogue or getting lazy on your skin.
And lest you go pick up some random drugstore retinol and burn your skin off, we asked Gohara and Zeichner to tell us their absolute favorite retinols for dry, sensitive skin. Each of these seven products are derm- and beauty editor-approved to be safe for your skin (provided you use them correctly—there’s only so much we can do, here), and all of them will keep annoying little wrinkles at bay for, well, as long as you use them.