Establishing the right skincare routine can be quite a journey. If your skincare goal is to address some boring skin concerns like uneven skin tone, acne (and acne scars!), fine lines and wrinkles, or dullness, you will likely stumble upon two potent ingredients: glycolic acid and retinol.
Although these two active ingredients share the goal of revealing smoother, more radiant skin – they still take slightly different routes to get there.
On one side, there is a glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) renowned for its exfoliating prowess. Adding glycolic acid into your routine will help you slough away dead skin cells, leaving your skin looking brighter and more even. On the other hand, retinol is a derivative of vitamin A, celebrated for its ability to increase cell turnover, reduce fine lines, and tackle acne.
But, can you use glycolic acid and retinol together in one routine? Is this combination a good idea or would it be too strong for your skin type?
Read this article to find out the right way of incorporating these two skin care ingredients into your routine, without any adverse reactions and irritation.
Can I Use Glycolic Acid And Retinol Together?
Yes, you can use glycolic acid and retinol together in your skincare. But – there’s a small catch – it’s best not to use them together in the same routine, at the same time.
Instead, consider alternating them (using them at different times) to reap their individual benefits without causing potential irritation.
In the past experts advised against combining these two due to potential irritation. However, new researches suggested that alternating these two ingredients, say using glycolic acid in the morning and retinol in the evening (or every other day), can provide a dynamic skincare duo that’s more effective than using just one.
Can You Use Glycolic Acid And Retinol At The Same Time?
No, it’s generally not recommended to use glycolic acid and retinol at the same time in your daily skin care routine.
These two powerful ingredients, when combined, can potentially increase the risk of skin irritation and sensitivity. You should especially avoid this if you already have dry or sensitive skin.
To make the most of their benefits, it’s best to make some alternative routine of using them. For example, use glycolic acid in the morning and retinol in the evening, or even better – apply them on separate days, on alternative evenings.
This way, you can enjoy the advantages of both ingredients without overwhelming your skin.
Should You Use Glycolic Acid Before Or After Retinol?
Again, we need to highlight this one: to ensure a safe and effective skin care routine, it’s best not to use glycolic acid and retinol at the same time (whether it’s night or morning).
So, you are now probably wondering, which one goes first and when?
Well, there is no before or after with these two. You should rather use retinol and glycolic acid at different times or even different days. Do not use one before or after the other.
By using, for example, glycolic acid in the morning and retinol in the evening (or on separate days), you can achieve a balanced and harmonious skincare routine that keeps your skin happy and healthy.
PRO TIP: Retinol can make your skin dry and flaky, especially at the beginning. That’s why it’s helpful to combine it with moisturizing ingredients that can soothe irritated skin. One of the best combos is retinol and niacinamide – it will help you minimize negative effects of retinol treatment (like skin purging).
How To Use Glycolic Acid And Retinol In A Safe Way?
There are so many ways you can combine glycolic acid and retinol – without the fear they will irritate your skin. Note that, at first, it would be best if you could start really gradually, with lower concentrations and frequency of use.
Use each ingredient per week to see your skin’s tolerance and reaction. Then, you will find the best way to combine them. Let’s go over the possible combinations!
1. Alternating Days
If you’re new to using these potent ingredients, it’s wise to introduce them slowly, especially if you have sensitive skin. Start by using glycolic acid product one evening and retinol products the next day.
This gives your skin a chance to adjust (and you to see how your skin reacts), and minimizes the risk of irritation. In the beginning, you can first try with one-week test periods, like mentioned above.
2. Morning With Glycolic Acid, Evening With Retinol
Some skincare enthusiasts opt for a morning glycolic acid routine, using a cleanser with glycolic acid (not a leave-in product) to gently exfoliate dead skin cells. This can be followed by a moisturizer and a high SPF sunscreen to protect your skin from UV damage.
In the evening, your daily skincare follows applying retinol since it can make your skin photosensitive.
3. Alternate Evenings
While some dermatologists suggest using glycolic acid in the morning, others recommend using it in the evening. If you choose this combination, apply glycolic acid as part of your evening skincare routine, whether as a cleanser, to remove dead skin cells, or cream, followed by a moisturizer.
On alternate evenings, use retinol at night to continue your skincare regimen. In that way, you will use both retinol and glycolic acid in the evenings.
Extra Tips For Using Glycolic Acid And Retinol Together
While the studies have shown that this combination as tolerable as other topical retinoids and treatments3, you should still take some small steps to ensure its safety and tolerate these two without irritation.
- Give your skin time for adjustment
First, of course, like mentioned before – start slowly. Begin by using them just once a week and gradually increase frequency as your skin adapts. It is probably better to start with glycolic acid if you are just starting, or if you have sensitive skin, as it is less potent than retinoic acid.
But, in any case, you should introduce retinol slowly. Also, it’s a good idea to do a patch test on a small area of your skin before applying glycolic acid or retinol onto your face.
- Start with lower concentration
Another tip for the start – choose gentle formulations of glycolic acid and retinol, especially when you’re just beginning that skincare journey. Start with low concentration. Higher percentages of active ingredients can wait until your skin is ready!
- Remember about rich moisturizer
As both parts of this glycolic acid-retinol duo can dry out your skin, make sure to generously moisturize it while using glycolic acid and retinol. Following up with moisturizer helps keep your skin hydrated and reduces the risk of peeling or flaking.
- Always use sunscreen
The same goes with sun protection. Both glycolic acid and retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun (damage).
Therefore, be diligent about applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from the UV rays and sunburn – and to reverse this sun sensitivity.
- Talk to your dermatologist
In the end, if you’re uncertain about the best way to incorporate glycolic acid and retinol into your skincare routine, it’s always wise to seek guidance from a dermatologist.
Benefits Of Pairing Glycolic Acid With Retinol
As you can probably conclude already, pairing these two ingredients can really be beneficial and help you achieve that youthful looking skin. Here are some of the benefits:
Glycolic acid and retinol both promote skin cell turnover, ensuring that your skin continually looks fresh and youthful. Therefore, if you have dull skin with uneven texture, go for it! You will see why in the following part, too.
- Improved skin tone and texture
This combination can help smooth out rough skin texture, reducing the appearance of acne scars and other imperfections.
Furthermore, your complexion will get brighter, as glycolic acid helps fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation, while retinol can contribute to a more even skin tone.
- Acne control
Both these ingredients can help you with acne management, as they prevent clogged pores – and reduce inflammation related to acne. So, definitely a good choice for acne-prone skin!
Retinol, in particular, is renowned for its anti-aging properties, diminishing the look of fine lines and wrinkles, thanks to its ability to boost collagen production.
On the other side, glycolic acid works by increasing cell turnover and increases the absorption of other skincare products. So, for the mature skin, this is a great benefit.
While this combo offers impressive benefits, it’s essential to introduce them gradually and listen to your skin. Make sure you follow the above-mentioned and explained tips of their safe use to avoid irritation. Also, it’s always recommended to consult your dermatologist before you start with a new ingredient.
Everything You Need To Know About Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is the form alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), natural acid found in sugar cane. This clear, water-soluble acid is celebrated for its ability to exfoliate your skin gently, increasing skin turnover – all contributing to skin firmness.
Glycolic acid, as a chemical exfoliant, works by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be shed more easily. This process promotes a brighter, smoother complexion and can even help with issues like acne, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation4.
Benefits Of Glycolic Acid
Alpha hydroxy acids, and particularly glycolic acid, have so many benefits for your skin. Let’s go over some of them:
It removes those dull, dead skin cells, revealing the fresh skin underneath.
- Acne control
It can unclog pores and reduce the risk of breakouts.
It helps fade dark spots and evens out your skin tone and improve uneven texture.
- Anti-aging effects
It can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Who Should Use Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid can be beneficial to most skin types and skin conditions. However, it’s especially loved by those looking to brighten their complexion, or looking for a gentle chemical exfoliator to improve skin texture, or tackle acne.
Should You Use Glycolic Acid In The Morning Or At Night?
The timing of glycolic acid in your skincare routine largely depends on your skin’s needs and your personal preferences. As it can increase skin’s sensitivity to the sun, it would be better to use it as a part of your nighttime routine.
If you use it during the day, make sure you use SPF. And regardless of the time of the day you use it – make sure you follow it with a moisturizer.
Side Effects Of Glycolic Acid
Note that there are a few side effects you can encounter while starting glycolic acid product.
- Skin sensitivity
Some individuals may experience increased skin sensitivity, particularly in the form of redness or stinging.
- Peeling, flaking, dryness
Glycolic acid can be drying, leading to flakiness and peeling, especially when used in higher concentrations.
- Sun sensitivity
It can make your skin more vulnerable to the sun, so sunscreen is crucial during and after use.
- Initial breakouts
In some cases, glycolic acid may cause an initial breakout as it unclogs pores, but this usually subsides over time.
Overuse or high concentrations can lead to irritation, including burning or itching.
What Not To Mix With Glycolic Acid?
In general dermatologist advise against mixing glycolic acid with benzoyl peroxide, physical exfoliants and alcohol-based products.
Be very careful when combining glycolic acid with vitamin C or other AHAs – alternating them on different times of the day or even different days might be the best option!
If you plan on mixing glycolic acid and salicylic acid – read this article first to learn how to do it in a safe way!
Everything You Need To Know About Retinol
Retinol is basically a derivative of vitamin A, precursor of retinoic acid, renowned for its ability to encourage skin renewal and improve various skin concerns.
Retinol works by increasing collagen and elastin production, increases cell turnover, and helps to diminish fine lines, wrinkles, and signs of aging. It also aids in reducing acne and improving skin texture.
Benefits Of Retinol
Retinol has several proven benefits for your skin. But what are those, exactly?
Retinol is well known for its anti-aging properties, helping reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkle, by encouraging collagen synthesis, and increasing cell turnover.
- Improved skin texture and even skin tone
Regular use of retinol can lead to smoother skin, minimizing roughness and enhancing overall texture. Plus, it can fade dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and sun damage, resulting in a more even and radiant skin tone.
- Fighting acne
Retinol helps prevent clogged pores, making it an effective tool in managing acne breakouts and reducing the formation of new pimples. Plus, it minimizes the enlarged pores!
- Prevention of future sun damage
Regular use of retinol can also help protect your skin from future damage, such as UV-induced aging.
Who Should Use Retinol
Due to its versatile benefits, retinol can be a great option for many. However, it’s especially beneficial for those of you with mature skin, with first signs of aging, for acne-prone skin and acne scarring – or those of you with uneven skin tone and rough texture.
Retinol – Side Effects
Retinol is a great ingredient – but it comes with certain, potential side effects. Before you start using it, especially if you have sensitive skin or specific skin conditions – make sure you consult your dermatologist. Here are the potential side effects of retinol:
- Dry skin
Retinol can cause dryness, flaking, and peeling. To minimize this, start with a lower concentration and use a good moisturizer.
- Redness and irritation
Some individuals may experience redness and irritation. Gradually introduce retinol and avoid using it on the same nights as other strong actives.
- Sun sensitivity
Retinol can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Always apply sunscreen during the day when using retinol to protect your skin from UV damage.
And sun sensitivity is actually the main reason why it’s best to use retinol at night.
- Initial breakouts
As it unclogs pores, retinol may cause an initial breakout. Be patient, as this often improves with continued use.
What Shouldn’t You Mix With Retinol
There are a few ingredients that are a bit no-no for people who are using retinol:
- Other retinoids (e.g. Retinoic acid)
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Strong physical exfoliants
- Products based on alcohol
Dermatologist also discourage to mix retinol with acids in one skincare routine (but it’s ok to use them in separate routines).
Be careful when trying to pair retinol with:
- Alpha hydroxy acids
- Beta hydroxy acids
- Vitamin C
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