Whether you’re obsessed with skincare, love experimenting with a few classic products or are just getting started with your skincare routine, you might be wondering how to know which ingredients may deliver the most significant transformation for your skin. Not all ingredients are compatible with one another, and knowing which products work well together and which you should avoid using in the same routine will help you save money while keeping your skin looking like glass.

Knowing when and if you can combine potent skincare products like salicylic acid and retinol is essential for building a skincare routine that meets your needs, particularly if you have sensitive skin. These two prominent substances are well-known for their acne-fighting properties; however, when used simultaneously, many people question whether they will complement one another or cause irritation.

Meet the Expert: Dr. Diana Rangaves writes for 21Ninety’s as a health and wellness expert. She is a pharmacist, philanthropist, and ethics professor turned writer, holding a Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of California. She also serves as the Executive Editor and Chief Content Officer for Healthcare Worldwide Central and has published several works in medical and pharmaceutical publications, academic books, as well as, scholarly articles.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin. The substance is derived from willow tree bark, although most salicylic acid is synthetically produced in a laboratory. When applied topically, it helps break the connections holding dead skin cells together on the skin’s surface. With weaker attachments, they are much easier to remove from the face, lowering their chance of accumulating.

This exfoliating effect is beneficial since most breakouts happen when pores become blocked with dead skin cells and other debris, trapping germs inside. With fewer dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, your complexion will appear brighter and more radiant, clearer and more even.

Salicylic acid is also oil-soluble. Solubility refers to how quickly one thing dissolves into another. Salicylic acid is soluble in oil; therefore, it is most easily dissolved. This ability makes the substance so effective, as oil (sebum) is a prevalent skin surface component. Because salicylic acid can go deeper into the pores and interact with the skin’s natural oil, it exfoliates from within.

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a type of vitamin A, which the body requires for various functions. However, when administered topically, the chemical provides additional cosmetic benefits. Retinol’s most notable effect is its ability to speed up the skin’s cell turnover. Under normal settings (which vary depending on your age), the body naturally produces and cycles through new skin cells every 30 days or so.

When you accelerate this process, you see fresh, younger skin cells rather than older, dead ones. This means you can smooth out your complexion, reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and dark patches (hyperpigmentation) while improving the texture of your skin overall.

Can Salicylic Acid And Retinol Be Used Together?

So, can you use salicylic acid with retinol? The short answer is yes, as long as you are aware of the risk of dryness.

Each ingredient on its own has the potential to unduly dry or dehydrate the skin; combining them practically doubles that danger. However, this should not deter you from making use of their benefits. To avoid the danger of dry skin, use salicylic acid and retinol separately in your skincare routine. The most straightforward approach is to apply your salicylic acid product in the morning and retinol in the evening.

It’s also essential to incorporate a good moisturizer into your routine. As your skin reacts to both chemicals, it is conceivable that your moisture barrier will be damaged. Keeping your skin as hydrated as possible by applying moisturizer and hydrating will help prevent problems from occurring.

When using salicylic acid and Retinol combined, you should watch for severe skin dryness and introduce one more skincare product into your routine: sunscreen.

Everyone should use sunscreen before leaving the house, regardless of the skin care products they use, and this is especially important when using retinol. Specifically, retinol’s tendency to accelerate skin cell turnover makes the skin more sensitive to UV damage. That implies you must include sunscreen in your everyday skin care regimen.

Keep in mind that not all sunscreens are created equally. When selecting sunscreen, there are a few key variables to consider. A good choice should include:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (from UVA and UVB radiation)
  • An SPF of 30 or higher
  • Water resistance

Anything else may be insufficient to protect you from the sun’s short-term and long-term effects.

Skin inflammation is another potential adverse effect to consider when mixing salicylic acid and retinol. Because both products are very effective, the skin may have trouble adjusting at first. You can lower the risk of irritation by introducing the products gradually and individually. Try using salicylic acid no more than once or twice per week and once your skin has acclimated, apply retinol. If your skin becomes inflamed at any stage, reduce or discontinue use and allow it to heal.

What Are the Advantages of Combining Retinol With Salicylic Acid?

Combining retinol with salicylic acid is a wise choice if your main skin issues are blemishes or fine lines and blemishes. The advantages of utilizing retinol and salicylic acid together are:

Removing Blemishes

Salicylic Acid and Retinol help remove potentially pore-clogging dead skin cells. Thus, they will act together to lessen the likelihood of breakouts. Spots arise when old skin cells prevent the oil in your skin from flowing freely; without this possible barrier, new breakouts are less likely to form, and existing ones will heal faster.

Minimizing Dark Marks

Spots rarely vanish entirely. After the inflammation, redness, and pus have been removed, what is usually left is an area of darker skin (also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). Salicylic Acid and Retinol aid in clearing up blemishes by removing old, marked skin cells from the surface of your complexion, resulting in fresher-looking skin.

Enhancing Anti-Aging

If you apply your serum to non-exfoliated skin, the active ingredients will not be able to perform as well. Salicylic acid opens the door for Retinol to work its magic.

What Is the Best Method for Layering the Two Ingredients?

If you combine salicylic acid and retinol in one routine, salicylic acid will always come first. This exfoliating phase should come after cleansing, enabling the rest of your skincare (such as your retinol serum and moisturizers) to penetrate the skin more effectively.

You don’t need to leave a large gap here; simply allow enough time for your salicylic acid product (often in the form of a toner or gel) to absorb before going on. If you use salicylic acid in a cleanser, the same guidelines apply, and retinol still ranks second.

There are a few extra rules to follow when using salicylic acid and retinol. Retinol is a night-only substance because it degrades in sunlight, so it must always be part of your nightly routine. Not everyone’s skin will be tough enough to take these two vital substances one after the other. To reduce the risk of irritation or overloading your skin, apply them alternately in the evenings or use salicylic acid in the morning and retinol at night. As always, SPF is a daily requirement.