Life is full of things you learn to tolerate: Taking public transit, the burned-out light bulb in your bathroom, and nightly phone calls with your mom. You can walk, buy a new light bulb, and cut back on communication with your family, but you know what can’t be adapted? The ingredients your skin type can handle. Retinol has been touted by dermatologists as the most effective ingredient for reversing signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles, along with dark spots and even acne, but using retinol for sensitive skin can leave your face feeling tight, dry, and tender.
Sure, the ingredient may be proven effective, but it’s also notoriously irritating. So, is retinol good for sensitive skin? Jeannine Downie, MD, FAAD, dermatologist and director of Image Dermatology P.C. in Montclair, New Jersey, confirms that retinol can be harsh on sensitive skin because it it can be drying, but the skin type can still benefit from using it.
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One of my bathroom drawers is full of rejected products like retinol moisturizers formulated for sensitive skin and retinol creams for sensitive skin that I tried either just once or a handful times before I cast them aside. All of my failed starts with the ingredient led me to believe that my skin is too sensitive to experience the wonders of retinol.
Although dermatologists will say that any initial irritation you experience when using retinol products is just an initiation period, I believe that skincare products shouldn’t make your face hurt from using them. My skin’s texture looked like flaky, peeling school glue after every retinol-based product I tried, so I threw my hands up and stopped trying to make the ingredient work for my skin. It’s when I stopped looking that Sunday Riley’s Luna Sleeping Night Oil ($105; sephora.com)—the exception to its retinol predecessors—came to me when a sample of it landed on my desk.
Sunday Riley is a skincare brand whose products I, and the rest of the internet, know and love. Each one has a unique ingredient cocktail, quirky name, and sophisticated minimalist packaging.
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Luna Sleeping Night Oil is no exception. The retinol-based formula is meant to be used nightly to treat signs of aging and acne as you sleep. It’s also laced with soothing chamomile and blue tanzy, which gives the oil its rich, inky color. The calming ingredients reduce redness and promote a brighter, more even-toned complexion.
Still, even though the brand’s alien-themed acne line has changed my opinion about salicylic acid and quickly kills any zit that decides to invade my face, I was skeptical that I would have as much success with Luna Sleeping Night Oil, despite its status as a cult-favorite skincare product.
One month into using the oil bi-weekly during my nightly routine and it hasn’t made my skin feel tight or dry. The oil sinks into my skin so that my face isn’t greasy in the morning, and its blue tint doesn’t leave my pillows with Windex-like splotches on them. In fact, the dark spots on my jawline from past breakouts are drastically lighter and the one laugh line I’m unreasonably hung-up on is a lot less noticeable since I started slathering Luna on before bed.
When you have sensitive skin like I do, Dr. Downie recommends using retinol products twice a week to minimize the risk of dryness. Easing into a new product will also help you avoid or flag any irritation you might experience from its other ingredients.