Combining Skincare Ingredients: Can I Use Retinol with AHAs or BHAs?

We often believe all skincare products are good for us, and that the more we use, the better. In reality, we need to be conscious of the ingredients we choose to combine. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about retinol, AHAs, BHAs, and combining them.

If you’ve started diving into the world of skincare for more than simply keeping your skin clear and clean, you’ll have come across two different ingredients: retinol and AHAs. You’ll likely also have some understanding that not all ingredients mix well, and even a great product, when combined with another with the wrong ingredients, can leave your skin inflamed or tight and dry.

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So, what about combining retinol and AHAs or BHAs?

What is Retinol?

First, let’s cover the basics. Retinol is often used as a term to describe topical products containing a vitamin A derivative. However, it’s technically a type of retinoid, which works to increase collagen production in the skin and speed up the rate at which cells regenerate. It’s a powerful ingredient, even if you’re not prone to wrinkles or acne.

What are AHAs?

And, what are AHAs? Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water-soluble, plant-based and animal-derived hydroxy acids that are often used in daily anti-aging products, toners, serums, chemical peels, and creams. They’re included because they have molecules in them that exfoliate the skin.

There are seven types of AHAs that are commonly used in skincare products, which include malic acid (from fruits), glycolic acid (from sugar) and lactic acid (from lactose or other naturally occurring sugars).

While all AHAs offer up effective exfoliating properties, it’s important to note that regardless of which AHA you choose, its powerful exfoliating effects can make your skin more sensitive to the sun because they strip away the outer layers of the skin.

What are BHAs?

Beta-hydroxy acids, or BHAs are also often used in skincare products. Just like AHAs, BHAs can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as reducing inflammation and penetrating deep into clogged pores. They have a less dramatic effect on the skin’s sensitivity, and are less likely to make your skin sensitive to environmental stressors. Having said this, it’s still a good idea to wear an SPF every day in order to prevent sun damage.

What are the differences between AHAs and BHAs?

AHAs are water-soluble, whereas BHAs are oil-soluble. AHAs are effective in promoting blood flow to the skin, and exfoliating, whereas BHAs are generally used for acne and sun damage, or for daily use on oily and combination skin.

AHAs and BHAs can be combined. In fact, one 2009 review stated that the combination of the two acids can increase the production of collagen, thus yielding fuller-looking skin. Having said this, both AHAs and BHAs are exfoliators, so it’s not a good idea to layer them on top of one another as this may cause irritation and dryness. Instead of using them both at the same time, it’s a good idea to alternate products, perhaps using the more intense AHAs once or twice a week, and BHAs the rest of the time.

Can I Use Retinol with AHAs/BHAs?

There are a lot of common myths around retinol and whether or not it should be combined with AHAs and BHAs.

One common misconception is that retinol cancels out the effectiveness of both AHAs and BHAs, for example, that you have to choose between glycolic acid vs retinol. This is not true, in fact, there is no research anywhere that indicates that retinol deactivates either. The confusion about using retinol alongside AHA or BHA products comes from the belief that the acidity of AHAs lowers the skin’s pH, and hinders the anti-aging properties of retinol.

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There’s also a false belief that the skin’s natural pH neutralizes acidic skincare products. A neutral pH is 7, however, skin is acidic, actually sitting between a level of 4.7 and 5, so this isn’t true.

It is absolutely worth using products that contain retinol if you’re also using AHAs or BHAs. However, it’s also worth noting that you need to use them in the right order if you want to see the benefits of both.

When Can’t I Use Retinol and AHAs/BHAs Together?

For the best results, always use your AHA product or BHA product before your retinol. The reasons are easy to figure out – your AHA/BHA product will strip your skin of most of the retinol products you’ve just applied, even if it was a few hours ago. Your best choice is to treat your AHAs as a specialist treatment you do once a week, and then apply your high-moisture creams and your retinol.

You should also be careful if you’ve got super-sensitive skin, as you may find your skin reacts strongly after an AHA treatment and will only tolerate the most soothing of moisturizers and serums. If this is the case, and you want to use a treatment to help your skin absorb your other products, switch to a BHA product, as they’ll be gentler.

Despite conflicting advice, you absolutely can use retinol with AHAs and BHAs, you just need to know how your skin reacts to these products and any other ingredients in them. As always, if you have sensitive skin, use just a little of a new product before covering your whole face to ensure you don’t have a bad reaction.



This article came from Cherie, credit to user @mikaela.z

Jen Roberts Glowing Gorgeous

Jen Roberts

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About our Chief Editor

Jen Roberts, is a passionate beauty specialist and blogger with a deep love for skincare and wellness. More about me here.


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