Layering Skin Care Products With Dimethicone

Ask a dermatologist a questionHello Dr. Bailey,

My moisturizer contains dimethicone and I am just wondering if that would prevent the tretinoin (Retin A) that I use from penetrating my skin?  Should I apply tretinoin first then my moisturizer? Does it really matter if I apply it before or after the tretinoin?

Thank you very much for your time.  Sincerely, Rui

Dear Rui,

This is an excellent question.  The skin care products that you apply, and their ingredients, do affect each other in a number of ways.  Absorption is one of them.  We layer products because some ingredients can’t be placed together in the same bottle, tube or jar.  The layering order is important to product results, but it’s also difficult to be absolutely certain that we know what’s actually going on at the skin level.  That’s because it’s not possible to study all the product or ingredient combinations.  At some point, we have to think things through with general scientific principles as best we can.  As a general rule I recommend water based products first and thicker/oil based products last. Individual ingredient combinations need to be considered one at a time.

Dimethicone is added to skin care products because it helps them to glide nicely over your skin.  A little dimethicone on your skin also gives it a wonderful silky feel and softens the appearance of fine wrinkles.  It improves your skin’s ability to retain moisture and helps to protect it from irritation. Dimethicone may even slightly improve the thickness of the top living layer of your skin called the epidermis.

Because it acts as a barrier however, dimethicone can affect Retin A penetration into the skin. It depends on how much dimethicone is in the product though. Products with a large amount of dimethicone could well block tretinoin if they are applied first.  Products with a very small amount of dimethicone, like in most moisturizers including the Daily Moisturizing Face Creams that I recommend, should not have any practical effect on Retin A penetration.If you have any doubts about your products, you can always test them because Retin A will irritate your skin every now and then if it’s penetrating.  When I help my patients figure out this product combination I tell them that if they’re on the strongest level of Retin A cream and they never get irritated then either they have really tough skin or something they are doing before application of the Retin A may be affecting it’s penetration.  For example, I personally use the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Oily to Normal Skin, which has a little dimethicone in it. The order that I use to layer my evening skin care products is Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy – Replenix Power of Three Cream, Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin, I wait 15 minutes or more then I apply my tretinoin/RetinA.  I can and do get very chapped from Retin A from time to time and so I know that the Retin A is getting through the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream.

There is no point in applying your moisturizer after Retin A because moisturizers need to be applied immediately after toweling your skin dry in order for them to work.  Retin A on the other hand is to be applied after waiting 15 or more minutes after toweling dry and applying other products (including your moisturizer).  This is why I apply my moisturizer, wait 15 minutes or more and then apply my Retin A last.

This was a great question that shows you understand quite a lot about skin care ingredients.  I hope my answer helped.

Warm Regards,

Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

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If you found this helpful then you may also want to read:

How To Treat Dry Skin From Retin A Use In The Winter

Serious Anti Aging Skin Care-The Winning Strategy

Skip The Tan And Eat Your Veggies For Beautiful Skin Color

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10 Responses to “Layering Skin Care Products With Dimethicone”

  1. Ariana Davidson January 17, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    That was a very informative answer. I’ve long been applying petroleum jelly a couple of hours after adapalene. Thank you for putting your best efforts into educating your readers and making this an addictive blog.

  2. Cynthia Bailey MD January 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Ariana, Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot. It’s my pleasure to write these articles when I know that they are helpful to and appreciated by my readers. Your comment lets me know I’m on the right track!

  3. Robin January 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Great article as usual Dr. Bailey. I use German Nivea before Tazorac at night. It has mineral oil i believe. Would the same be true for this type of moisturizer?

  4. Brent January 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Great article! I had often wondered about this.

  5. Cynthia Bailey MD January 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Hello Robin, Mineral oil may interfere somewhat with Tazorac penetration, but again you can test your skin. If you get irritated every now and then you know the Tazorac gets through. Tazorac is very strong and I bet enough gets in. Sometimes I use pure jojoba oil on my face before waiting the 15 minutes and applying tretinoin, and my extremely sensitive skin still gets irritated. This means the jojoba oil does not keep the tretinoin out.

  6. Cura Pelle January 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Isn’t irritation a pro-oxidative state? I use 0.025% tretinoin cream one day and adapalene .01% the next two days to avoid irritation because I’d always thought it was pro-oxidative. Is this a smart strategy, in your opinion? Also, I’ve read that the RAR-γ subtype accounts for nearly 90% of RARs in the human epidermis, whereas the RXR-α subtype accounts for nearly 90% of the RXRs. Therefore, for the most part, the normal human skin is regulated by paired heterodimers composed of RAR-γ and RXR-α. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699641/)

    So, if 90% of the RARs are of the gamma subtype, what is really the point of bothering with the alpha and beta RARs? I mean, why bother with Retin-A and Tazorac if we can just go with Differin for the gamma receptor binding and bypass the irritation somewhat at least?

    I was also told: Adapalene and tazarotene also have some anti-inflammatory activity because they can inhibit chemotactic and chemokinetic responses in human polymorphonuclear leukocytes. They inhibit 5-and 15-lipoxygenase pathways and also cyclooxygenase activity, which tretinoin doesn’t… Is this true?

    I’m trying to decide on the lowest irritation, highest benefit plan. Thanks for your help.

  7. Cynthia Bailey MD January 18, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    You have really done your research and have given your retinoid therapy a lot of thought. What’s important most to me is what I see on my patient’s skin when they use these various options. I’ve had patients use differin, Tazorac and Retin A alone, alternating, at varying strengths, every night, alternating nights you name it. I consistently see better results with Retin A/tretinoin cream applied every night, with patients slowly finding the highest strength their skin can tolerate and then staying there. (We always search for, and find, that dose and interval that is below their threshold for inflammation and irritation.) After a few years there does not seem to be a diminished result if they drop to every other night, but there is no problem staying on every night either. Over the years I have been most impressed by the tretinoin cream literature for anti cancer benefit and collagen/skin structure benefit in the clinical in vivo data. This is how I have arrived at this regimen.

  8. Robin January 18, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Wow! lots of very interesting responses.

    Since Tazorac got mentioned again I just wanted to share why I use it. I’ve used both Tretinoin and Tazorac. Both strengths 0.5% and 0.1%. I find that even though Tazorac is stronger it doesn’t seem to dry my skin out as badly as Tretinoin can. I’m thinking this is because it is in a Mineral Oil base perhaps? Also, the Tazorac website suggests that you use a moisturizer first and wait an hour before apply the retinoid. They may be refering to patients using this for acne but it’s something that i do and find that it does help with irritation. I also find that it helps if I alternate strengths.

  9. Cynthia Bailey MD January 18, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Robin, Those are great tips!

  10. Cura Pelle January 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    It’s true. There’s no substitute for empirical evidence. Thank you for indulging my curiosity as I hijacked a thread on layering and took it in a retinoid direction. My apologies. I see that your end recommendation is tretinoin every other day. I will change my schedule. Thank you.