Recently, researchers have found that using retinol and an AHA (like glycolic acid) or BHA (like salicylic acid) together diminishes the effectiveness of both ingredients. But both of these types of ingredients are highly recommended to keep skin looking youthful. So how can a patient still benefit from the potent anti-aging effects of retinol and AHA/BHAs?
To find the answer, I checked out what Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D., had to say on her site. Dr. Baumann is 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 then proposes a skin care regime in which AHA/BHA products are used exclusively in the morning under a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen, while retinol is used exclusively at night.
Of course, as would be expected from Dr. Baumann, this makes perfect sense.
Just a note: AHA/BHAs do make your skin more sensitive to the sun, and so, more susceptible to UV damage. That said, use AHA/BHAs under a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 (I prefer 50+ myself) and reapply frequently.
Some AHA or BHA products I like include:
DermaDoctor Ain’t Misbehavin’ AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser ($35.00, amazon.com)
Paula’s Choice Exfoliating 2% BHA Lotion ($22)
Some nighttime retinol products to try include (in order of concentration of retinol):
Please note that since retinol can be irritating, it's best to start with a 0.5 concentration or below. That said, start with a small application every 2-3 nights, gently working up to nightly tolerance. And, of course, it is always best consult with your dermatologist before starting use of retinol or any other new skin care ingredient.
Just because you can't use retinol and AHAs/BHAs like glycolic acid and salicylic acid together doesn't mean you can't get the benefits of both by using them at different times. While these ingredients can be less effective when used together, if one is used at night (retinol) and the other in the morning (AHAs/BHAs), you can benefits from the anti-aging effects of these dynamic ingredients.
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*Editor's Note: This post contains affiliate links.