Glycolic acid and salicylic acid are excellent ingredients in skincare with proven results. These two can be combined with retinol but you have to note some things.
Just like retinol, you have to check the strengths or concentrations of these ingredients because you skin also needs to adapt to them, and it’s advisable to start with lower concentrations especially if you have sensitive skin.
The AHAs and BHAs tend to show results faster compared to retinol so you can start with the one you want e.g. Salicylic acid for acne or Glycolic Acid for anti-aging and skin refining, and then slowly introduce your Retinol after your skin adapts to the AHA or BHA.
You will likely notice dryness and skin might feel flaky or itchy but this goes away after few days as your skin builds tolerance to the combination of AHA and Retinol or BHA and Retinol.
As a general rule, in the first 4 weeks while your skin is getting used to retinol, stop using AHAs and BHAs then you can tell as your skin adjusts to retinol and re-introduce these other products. Use them at different times to minimize the risk of irritation.
When you introduce these formulations at different times, you will tell which ingredient is reacting badly with your skin and which one sits well with your skin from the onset. For instance, if in one week you apply Clear Skin serum + AHA serum + Lactic Acid Serum + Salicylic Acid Solution + Vitamin C Serum, you will not even have a clue what is causing that skin rash or the breakouts that you’ve just woken up to!
For some users, after your skin adjusts to the combination of retinol, Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid, you can apply an exfoliant directly then follow with a retinol. This actually increases the benefits of retinol when you layer AHA + Retinol + Moisturizer. However, you have to be careful with this approach and go slowly monitoring your skin for any irritation.
If your skin can tolerate everything you throw at it, then use the combinations at night in an alternating manner. This is applicable for users whose skin can tolerate the combinations of Retinol, AHA and BHA.
Example: Regimen for Oily Acne Prone Combining BHA, AHA and Retinol
Week 1: Apply clear skin serum which combines Retinol + Salicylic Acid + Vitamin C + Niacinamide then follow with moisturizer. See how your skin adjusts by week 2.
Week 2: Introduce AHA serum that combines Glycolic Acid + Lactic Acid + Malic Acid. Apply serum then follow with a moisturizer. Use every 2 days alternating with the clear skin serum and see how your skin adjusts to this ritual.
Continue with this regimen if no irritation occurs and gradually, you will be able to layer one on top of the other, i.e. AHA serum + Clear Skin Serum + Moisturizer
Example: Anti-Aging Regimen for Normal-Sensitive Skin Combing AHA and Retinol
Week 1: Apply AHA Serum Every Night and follow with your Moisturizer your skill will adjust to the glycolic acid by week two. Apply the serum then follow with your moisturizer.
Week 2: Start introducing Retinol slowly into your nightly ritual by using it every other night, first on its own, then start alternating with the AHA serum. Apply serum then follow with your moisturizer.
Week 3: if your skin has adjusted, keep using in alternating nights and you can tweak the regimen as you see fit. Gradually, you will be able to layer one on top of the other, i.e. AHA serum + Retinol serum + Moisturizer
For Dry Skin, just layer your serums or moisturizers with thicker creams or facial oils to seal in the moisture and prevent dryness. For instance, users with dry kin might still experience dryness when using retinol serum + retinol cream. To increase hydration and wake up to skin that looks more plump by layering retinol serum + retinol cream + facial oil like Amaki Japanese Tsubaki Antiaging Facial Oil
The Take Away: You’ll get better and faster results if you use exfoliating acids in your anti-wrinkle routine on opposite nights. Retinol works by enhancing cell renewal where it pushes dull, sun-damaged skin cells to come to the skin surface for removal.
Using an exfoliating AHA or BHA serum at least twice a week accelerates the removal of these dead cells. When dry, dead cells are regularly removed from the skin’s surface, vitamin A is more easily absorbed. You’ll definitely want to start using an exfoliating acid serum like Glycolic + Lactic Acid Serum.
Therefore, using a combination of AHA + Retinol or BHA + Retinol helps reveal smoother, even-toned, refined skin texture and a healthier youthful glow. If you have an exfoliating toner like The Ordinary Glycolic Toner, you can use it as a pre-treatment or primer to allow your retinol anti-wrinkle serum or cream to absorb deeper into skin.
Exfoliating Acids also help correct surface dryness caused by age, travel, or products and speed up cell turnover. The dry, tired and dead cells on the surface of the skin want to come off, and applying a facial oil or thicker creams may not help much. Exfoliating acids speed up this process by taking out the dead cells faster to allow newer healthier cells to be revealed.