Ingredients You Can and Can’t Use with Retinol
When it comes to skincare, retinol is the gold standard. Nothing stimulates collagen production, boosts elasticity and firmness, fights fine lines and wrinkles, targets acne, removes sun damage, and inhibits hyperpigmentation like vitamin A. Essentially, if you don’t already have this superstar ingredient in your routine, now is the time to get it.
Benefits of retinol aside, it can be a tricky ingredient to incorporate into your routine. By itself, retinol can cause sensitivity and peeling (that’s why it’s a good idea to ease into it with a low concentration), but when you layer it with other active skincare ingredients, you could develop further irritation or counteract the ingredient’s benefits—both of which you don’t want.
Still confused? No worries! We’re here to break it all down. Below, we’ve highlighted the ingredients you can and can’t use with retinol, so it’s all in one place. Turn back to this blog post whenever you need a refresher on what to mix with your trusty vitamin A.
Ingredients You Can Use with Retinol
Below is a list of ingredients you can use in the same routine alongside your retinol. Everyone’s skin sensitivities differ so with these pairings, keep in mind your own skin type and goals. If a combination doesn’t work for you, don’t worry—others that will!
Niacinamide (aka vitamin B3) is one of those beloved ingredients that work well with all other skincare actives—and retinol is no exception. If your skincare goals include anti-aging and treating acne, then niacinamide is a great ingredient to pair with retinol. Niacinamide can also help improve skin barrier function, thereby reducing the likelihood of irritation caused by retinol use.
Contrary to popular belief, vitamin C and retinol can be used together. In fact, many skincare products formulate these two powerhouses together. Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants, so it can help boost retinol’s protection against environmental stressors and UV damage. This is a fantastic pairing for those who want to target hyperpigmentation and premature aging.
With that said, the combination can be too drying or sensitizing for some skin types. If you fall into this category but still want the best of both worlds, stick to using vitamin C in the AM and applying your retinol at night.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a humectant that increases skin hydration by drawing water from the outside environment into the skin. HA – alongside other hydrators like glycerin – can be used in the same routine as retinol to help minimize dryness, flaking, redness, and irritation.
Salicylic acid and retinol are both anti-acne, so they are a superb pairing if you’re trying to treat breakouts. However, while the ingredients can complement each other, using a salicylic acid serum or cream alongside retinol is typically not advised, as the combo can be too dry for most skin types. If you’re using a wash-off salicylic acid (BHA) cleanser, then it’s totally fine to use it alongside your retinol.
Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid that helps with skin conditions like rosacea, hyperpigmentation, and acne. Retinol and azelaic acid can be used together, but if you develop any dryness with the pairing, scale back your use.
Peptides and Ceramides
Skin barrier supporting ingredients like peptides and ceramides can also be safely used with retinol in the same routine. Because these ingredients help with the skin’s moisture content, they can help you better tolerate the drying, irritating side effects of retinol.
Sunscreen is essential to anyone’s skincare routine but especially if you use retinol. Wearing sunscreen daily will help you see better benefits from retinol, especially in regard to sun damage and hyperpigmentation. The flip side is true too. Not protecting your skin from the sun will essentially reverse all the skin benefits of retinol use.
Ingredients You Can’t Use with Retinol
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
Exfoliating AHAs such as glycolic and lactic acid are effective at treating uneven skin texture and tone, but they shouldn’t be mixed with retinol. Both types of ingredients exfoliate the skin and, when used in tandem, can disrupt the skin barrier and trigger dryness, irritation, or even a rash. For best results, stick to using AHAs once or twice a week at most and skip retinol on days you use these liquid exfoliants.
Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective acne-fighting ingredients on the market. However, using benzoyl peroxide and retinol (this includes prescription-strength tretinoin) in the same routine is counterproductive as the two ingredients neutralize each other, decreasing their effectiveness. To minimize their interaction and get the most out of your skincare, use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and keep retinol in your nighttime routine.
Ready to Add Retinol to Your Routine?
Remember, retinol can be irritating for some skin types. So take it low and slow, building up the concentration and frequency of use over time. And if you want to minimize your risk of irritation, pair it with hydrating ingredients that support the skin barrier. If you’re a retinol pro, you can boost your routine with any of the approved combinations above.
Read more about retinol and its benefits here.