How Do I Use a Retinoid and AHAs/BHAs Together?


Using retinoids and an AHA (e.g. glycolic acid) or BHA (e.g. salicylic acid) actually diminishes the effectiveness of both ingredients. So how can you benefit from the potential anti-aging effects of each ingredient? To find the answer, I consulted with the site of Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D., a practicing dermatologist and the co-founder and chief of the Cosmetic Dermatology department at the University of Miami School of Medicine. According to Dr. Baumann:

“Your question about order is a great one. Retinoids should not be mixed with BHA (i.e., salicylic acid) or AHA (i.e,. glycolic acid) because the BHA and AHA can inactivate the retinoid. Always use retinoids at night because the sun can also make the retinoid less effective.”

Dr. Baumann suggested as skin care routine using AHA/BHA products exclusively in the morning under a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen, and retinoids exclusively at night.

Of course, as would be expected from Dr. Baumann, this makes perfect sense.

Daytime AHA/BHA Products

Since AHA/BHA make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and so more susceptible to UV damage, you should always use AHA/BHA under a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. You should reapply it frequently and, if you can swing it, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

These are some AHA or BHA products I like:


MD Formulations Daily Peel Pads (with 10% of the AHA glycolic acid, $49.50,


DermaDoctor Ain’t Misbehavin’ AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser ($25,


Paula’s Choice Exfoliating 2% BHA Lotion ($19.95)

[RELATED: Spotlight On: Alpha-Hydroxy Acids]

Nighttime Retinol Products

Some nighttime retinol products that I like from lowest concentration to highest:


Neutrogena Healthy Skin Night Cream (with a 0.025 concentration of retinol, $13.99,


Afirm 2x (with a 0.3 concentration of retinol, $58.86,


FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5 (with a 0.5 concentration of retinol, $54.95,


Green Cream Level 6 (with a 0.6 concentration retinol, $44.65,


Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0 (with a 1.0 concentration of retinol, $60.00,

Remember, the higher the concentration of retinol, the higher the risk of skin irritation. Studies show that 0.5 is the ideal concentration to start at for minimum irritation with maximum benefits. Start with a small application every two to three nights, working up tolerance to using it nightly. Ask you develop a tolerance, you can use higher concentrations of retinol. And remember, it’s always best to consult your dermatologist before you start using any new product or ingredient.

[RELATED: What is Retinol Metabolism?]

Bottom Line

Using retinoids and AHA/BHA products at the same time can lower the effectiveness of both ingredients. But if you use them at separate times during your routine — AHA/BHA in the morning and retinoids at night — you can get the benefits of both without decreasing the effectiveness of either.

by Nicki Zevola

23 thoughts on “How Do I Use a Retinoid and AHAs/BHAs Together?

  1. Emma says:

    THANK YOU! I can stop searching! Finally some solid advice on how best to use these two treatments in a regular skincare routine. I have read lots of info (on various sites) on why not to use them together but until now I have been unable to find any info on how to use them both in a regular routine. Very much appreciated.

  2. Joyce says:

    Thank you for this post! I have been using a toner with salicylic acid every morning and evening. At night, I alternate between a 5% benzoyl peroxide gel and Differin 0.1% gel. Now, I know that I should use Differin all by itself at night. Can I still use salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide at the same time? Thank you again!

  3. KG says:

    To answer the question about Salicylic acid and Benzoyl Peroside. Yes you can use them together in the morning. For example, the Obagi Clenziderm normal/oily skin kit has them in together which is what i use.

  4. sofi76 says:

    Great info but there is so much contradictory stuff out there. My derm actually tells me it’s ok to use my Retin-A with the AHA cleanser he’s recommended. I even asked him about my research about diminished effect when using together and he just scoffed and said it wasn’t true. I prefer not to use them together because my skin can’t take them both- yet!

  5. mu2 (name on makeupalley) says:

    PS….can you also post what articles/scientific research journals that you read that support your position…I am sure the makeupalley group will want to know

  6. Ramona says:

    I use Retin A every night and I use a AHA/BHA exfoliating cleanser about 2-3 times a week in the morning. Is this okay or is it diminishing the effects of both the Retin-A and the exfoliater? Thanks!

  7. BD says:

    First off, great blog…very informative!

    My nightly routine is cleanse, tone, serum, vitamin K spot treatment and moisturize my skin every night, religiously. I use Jason Vitamin K on my cheeks and under eye areas and it have helped my broken capillaries and dark circle considerably…love it! Btw, you can visit my blog for review on this ( Anyway, I want to add Vitamin A eye cream to address the lines under my eyes. I feel like this is a lot of layering…something gotta give. Should I drop serum when I use retinols OR keep the serum and alternate between the Jason Vitamin K and retinols?

  8. Pingback: L’Oréal Youth Code Product Review «

  9. Dr. Mathew Smith says:

    There are newer companies launching salicylic acid products mixed with retinol that are stable and eqaully active in the skin. What Leslie talks about above was quite a while ago.

  10. Divine says:

    I use AHA facial wash every morning and before bedtime. After washing in the morning with AHA I apply rejuvenating cream and sunscreen. In the evening I wash my face with AHA again and applied retinoid acid cream. Is their any side effect to used both of them everyday? Are their effectiveness in the affected or less effect to the skin? Thank you …

  11. Jamie says:

    First, I want to say that I really like your blog. I enjoy reading your article posts all the time. Thank you very much for your service.
    I have question for you, regarding using Tazorac, Glycolic acid serum and C serum.
    I start using Tazorac about 3 weeks ago because I start breaking out crazy after stop taking birth control pills. As reading all the posted from you site, it seems like that I can still use Glycolic acid serum in the day time and use Tazorac at night, if I am correct. Could I also switch with Glycolic and C serum in the daytime? Also, could I use Beta Hydroxy acid during the time I use Tazorac? I did it couple days ago only about 2 mins. and my face have many little brown scabs all over!! Oh man oh man, it scared me. I really need some answer from you. Thank you!

  12. Catia says:


    Since you are saying you should never use together retinoids and AHA/BHA what do you think about peter thomas roth unwrinkle nihgt (wich combines them both)? Is it worth my money or will it not work or worse will it damage my skin?
    P.S: I love your blog, It’s really helpfull.

  13. sean says:

    hi,i been use vichy normaderm (cleanser,toner,moisturizers) ,i been so concern if product above is safe to use with retin-a at night?thank you

  14. Kelly says:


    If I use AHA for a week at night and use salicylic acid on the alternate week at night. Will this make either treatment less effective?

    Thank you!

  15. Nicki says:

    @Sean – Just saw this comment now, sorry. Vichy Normaderm is fine to use with Retin-A. Truth be told, AHAs/BHAs still work with retinoids and vice versa, just not as well as if each were used alone.

    @Kelly – Nope! :-) That’s an ideal strategy :-)

  16. Lauren says:

    Using a face wash with AHA in it is pretty pointless since it just gets washed down the drain, however, those types of ingredients need to be on the skin for a longer period of time to actually do their job. The upside of using that type of face wash (the only upside) is that you can use your retinol products with it, since the AHA is not left on the skin to interact with the retinoid.

  17. Kelly C. says:

    I am currently using Peter Thomas Roth glycolic acid 10% moisturizer and i got some retin-a 0.025%. I am not sure if I should use them in combination since it seems that it will diminish their effectiveness? What are your takes on that?

    Also, will certain face washes make my face a bit itchy in combination of PTR moisturizer?


  18. John Su says:

    @Kelly C.

    I wrote a post on using acidic products with retinol here: I’d recommend reading it. It should give you a much clearer understanding of this topic.

    Also, because the PTR moisturizer does thin the stratum cornuem due to the 10% GA content, you may be more prone to irritation. However, a cleanser could be irritating your skin all by itself depending on which ingredients are present in the formulation.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>