salicylic acid and retinol

Salicylic acid and retinol are both known to help minimise blemishes, but using this paring as part of the same skincare routine requires some expert knowledge and close attention.

That’s why we’ve created this guide to salicylic acid and retinol. We’ll cover all the key questions like ‘can you use salicylic acid and retinol together?’, as well as explaining how each of these potent ingredients can benefit the complexion. 

We’ll also provide practical tips for those who want to mix salicylic acid and retinol, alongside some targeted product recommendations.


Can I use salicylic acid with retinol?

Salicylic acid and retinol are often used to target the same skin concerns such as acne-prone skin and post-blemish hyperpigmentation. For this reason, many people wish to use retinol and salicylic acid together. However, these two active ingredients are usually not used together at the same time because they have the potential to offset each other without proper precautions.

There are several reasons retinol and salicylic acid should not be used at the same time. Since retinol is such a potent ingredient, it already creates the potential for temporary dryness, redness and flaking. When applied at the same time with salicylic acid, the chances of these effects are increased.

Secondly, retinol is a vitamin A derivative, which means it needs to be converted into an active form of vitamin A on the skin to produce benefits. Applying it at the same time with salicylic acid can hinder this process.

Lastly, salicylic acid is best absorbed into the skin at a low PH level. If it’s applied with retinol, this will increase the skin’s PH and therefore reduce absorption.

The good news is that if you do want to include both these ingredients as part of your regular skincare routine, there are ways to do so. It’s also worth noting that both retinol and salicylic acid are good ingredients to use with ceramides, which makes them well-suited to form part of one broader routine.


How does salicylic acid benefit the skin?

Now you know why using salicylic acid with retinol requires caution, let’s look at how salicylic acid actually benefits the skin. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that falls under the category of beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). It’s found naturally in willow trees and some other plants.

The benefits of salicylic acid for oily and acne-prone skin are due to its ability to remove excess sebum (skin oil) and dead skin cells – two key causes of blemishes. Salicylic acid can also penetrate existing clogged pores to help clear them and helping minimise rough and bumpy skin. Overall, this makes the ingredient well-suited to minimising blemishes in acne-prone skin.

How does retinol benefit the skin?

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative with dual benefits for signs of ageing and blemish-prone skin. This ingredient speeds up skin cell turnover, which can lead to less blemish-causing dead skin cells. Retinol also helps boost collagen production, which in turn helps minimise the appearance of wrinkles and visibly improve skin texture. 

Because it’s a highly potent ingredient, it’s important to know how to apply retinol in a skincare routine and how to use retinol for sensitive skin. Incorrect usage increases the risk of retinol causing temporary redness, dryness or flaking, as does using salicylic acid and retinol together at the same time.

How to use retinol and salicylic acid together

If you’re going to use salicylic acid with retinol, there are some steps you can take to help ease the process. Here’s how to use salicylic acid and retinol as part of a wider morning and evening skincare routine.

Use salicylic acid and retinol on alternate days

One way to avoid interactions between salicylic acid and retinol is to use each ingredient on alternate days. Since these two ingredients are both potent, using each one every second day while your skin adjusts is also a good way to avoid overwhelming your complexion.

Use salicylic acid in the morning and retinol at night

Another way to use both ingredients is to use them in separate parts of your routine. Retinol is known to increase the skin’s sun sensitivity, so it’s best used in your evening routine. This leaves salicylic acid for your morning routine.

Can you layer salicylic acid and retinol?

Due to the interactions explained above, we don’t recommend layering retinol and salicylic acid in the same routine. If you’re wondering ‘can I mix salicylic acid and retinol?’, the answer is that it’s also not recommended.

Incorporate retinol and salicylic acid into your routine with CeraVe

In the morning, start your routine with our CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser. This cleanser gently yet effectively removes excess sebum and impurities. Next, follow up with our CeraVe SA Smoothing Cream, a salicylic acid moisturiser formulated for rough and bumpy skin. You can also bring the benefits of salicylic acid to your feet with our CeraVe Renewing SA Foot Cream.

In the evening, include retinol in your routine via a well-formulated face serum. Our CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Anti-wrinkle serum also contains three essential ceramides and chicory root to support and comfort the skin.

Learned from this guide? Read our next article to learn the Ideal Skincare Routine for Combination Skin.




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