Why Not to Use Retinol and Alpha Hydroxy Acids Together

Skin Care


Photo source: TreatmentSkincare.com

Recently, I have received some concerned questions as to whether or not it is okay to use retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) together. For the answer, I turned to the advice of my favorite dermatologist, Dr. Leslie Baumann. On Dr. Baumann’s blog, she states:

Retinol is a highly effective ingredient, but it is unfortunately not a terribly stable one! Alpha hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid and lactic acid) inactivate retinol, and the two should not be used together.”

As such, even products I love, like M.D. Forte Skin Rejuvenation Eye Cream, Alpha Hydroxy Acid with Vitamins A & E ($62.00, Drugstore.com), are less effective than formulations with retinol alone or alpha hydroxy acid alone. Good call, everyone, and thank you for calling this to my attention! 🙂

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  • Curt

    Hi. I see a question/response that indicates that alpha hydroxy acids will inactivate retinol when the two are used together. I wonder if beta hydroxy acids will inactivate retin a when the two are used together?

  • Joyce

    Ok, alpha hydroxy acids should not be used with retinol. Sometimes, I use salicylic acid for cleansing. Plus, I always use benzoyl peroxide and adapalene at night for acne. It’s all right to use those ingredients daily, right?

  • jac

    thank goodness for you nicki! i have been doing AHA during the day and Retin A at night for about a week. my skin already looks better. only thing is, my skin is only a little bit dry. i was expecting rawness. i think i want a higher dosage of retin a. when i was younger and treating acne, my skin burned and was raw. it was definitiely harsher. the retin a i am using is .025%. i think i want 1%. what do you recommend?

    my aha product is 10% and ph level of 3 i think. i want higher concentrations on both! which aha products are the best?

    do you receommend a rotating facial brush? how much cleansing is too much? i wear make-up everyday.

    last concern. pores. i know there is nothing i can do, but thought i might ask. can i do anything to shrink them?

  • As a rule of thumb, retinol just does not work well with any other actives. That is why it is really bad to see an A with other active ingredients (I see alot of multi-vitamin products with A,C + E…this is bad). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use other products when using a retinoid. The best scenario is retinoid at night and all other products in the morning. If that just doesn’t fit your lifestyle, then you can apply the retinoid and then wait 15 to 30 minutes to apply the other products.

    There are a lot of studies that suggest that you should use an AHA or BHA with a retinoid to gain maximum effect of both products. Just don’t use them at the same time. I think my ultimate scenario is to use a retinoid nightly and a AHA or BHA once a week to enhance penetration. However, if you are treating acne, you may need the BHA more often.

  • Curer

    Thanks allot Nicki, i have been doing so with the AHA morning time and Retin-A micro night time every other day for few weeks now and my skin is looking very nice better than usual.
    so maybe its not a bad idea. and of course Sunscreen is a big big must.
    thank you again for the great effort you put and healthy skin we have following your tips 😉

  • sofi76

    thanks for answering my previous question so quickly. I guess I have been obsessed lately with retinols and also trying to get the most out of them. I have read that using AHA’s in the morning is ok (can’t remember where?) but sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen- of course. I have even read that if you use a benzoyl peroxide product you can wait at least 1/2 hour and still use retinol effectively. Thanks for all your well research info.

  • Hi Curer,

    Thanks for your question.

    I honestly don’t know the “official” answer to this one, as I have never read it anywhere. Taking my best educated guess, I would say that using AHA in the morning and retinol in the evening should be fine. I say this in particular because benzoyl peroxide and retinol are also incompatible, and I have read dermatologist recommendations for using benzoyl peroxide in the morning and retinol at night.

    You may want to ask an already-licensed dermatologist, just to be sure.

    I hope that this helped!

  • Curer

    Hello Nicki, thanks for all these reviews and information.
    Regarding Retinol and AHA, what if i use them on different times ? i use the Peter Thomas Roth unwrinkle peel pads which is full of AHA in the morning and then i use the Retin A mico at night every other night.
    will the AHA used in the morning inactivate the Retin-A used at night ?
    thank you dear.

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