Can You Use Retinol with Salicylic Acid?

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IDI November 28, 2020

can you use retinol with salicylic acid?

Yes! Contrary to popular belief, you can use Retinol with Salicylic Acid to treat breakouts and help reduce the appearance of skin aging without causing irritation. But proceed with caution when you’re using a leave-on treatment.

retinol vs. salicylic acid

If you’re dealing with the ups and downs of adult acne, you likely want the best ingredients available in your skin care arsenal: Retinol is the gold standard for reducing the appearance of skin aging, while Salicylic Acid is one of acne’s greatest enemies. In theory, this dynamic duo is exactly what you need to beat adult acne. But traditional Retinol and Salicylic Acid formulas can irritate skin when used together – forcing you to complicate your skin care regimen by applying them at different times of day or sacrifice one skin care benefit for another. Here’s why:

how retinol works on skin

Retinol works by going into the follicle and communicating with cell receptors to help stimulate skin renewal and increase cell turnover. This helps reduce visible signs of skin aging.

how salicylic acid works

Salicylic Acid removes skin cells superficially (on the skin’s surface), and helps kill breakout-causing bacteria. It is an extremely effective Beta Hydroxy Acid that helps clear blockage in follicles, such as excess oil and debris.

how to use retinol and salicylic acid together

Traditional Retinol formulas can be extremely unstable: they break down upon exposure to light. Furthermore, they don’t play well with Salicylic Acid on skin because the combined effect can be too harsh (think redness, dryness and flaking). To get around this problem, most skin experts recommend using acids only during the day if you’re using Retinol at night. Fortunately, recent product offerings have found a way to get around that limitation .

you now have two things to look for to treat adult acne + premature skin aging:

One is an oil-based Retinol product with salicylic acid. It has a soothing oil base, and combines the benefits of both powerhouse ingredients while helping keep irritation at bay. The oil base also mimics skin lipids, helping to deliver actives deeper into the skin’s surface and trap moisture. This makes it ideal for breakout-prone adult skin, which is often susceptible to dryness and sensitivity.

Or, you can continue to use separate Retinol and Salicylic Acid products. If you choose this route, try not to apply them at the same time. Use Salicylic Acid in the morning and Retinol at night. Those with more sensitive skin may need to use these products on alternate days, or reduce Salicylic Acid use to once a week or on an as-needed basis.

Last but not least: Retinol and Salicylic Acid can both increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so always wear sunscreen. If your current sunscreen feels like it’s generating too much heat (i.e. if you feel a burning sensation), switch to a physical or mineral-based sunscreen.

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