Can I Use Salicylic Acid with Retinol?
Expert Answers & Advice
Among the many active ingredients available in skincare products today, salicylic acid and retinol stand out for the multiple benefits they offer; salicylic acid for blemish and excess oil control, retinol for its ability to reduce the visible signs of ageing. But can they be combined together in the one routine?
Yes they can! However... before you dive in, read this article.
As well as understanding the properties and benefits of each ingredient used on its own, it's important to know the tips, tricks, and limitations of combining them, so that you structure your regimen in a way that reaps the benefits of both whilst minimising the risk of unexpected consequences.
Understanding Salicylic Acid
WHAT IS SALICYLIC ACID?
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from salicin, a compound found in willow bark. BHAs such as salicylic acid are oil-soluble, enabling them to penetrate clogged pores more deeply. This makes them useful for oily skin types or blemish-prone skin. Salicylic acid is appropriate for any skin tone.
THE BENEFITS OF SALICYLIC ACID
- Exfoliation: Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant, helping shed dead skin cells from the skin's surface and promote skin cell turnover - a process that naturally slows as we age. Chemical exfoliation refines the appearance of pores for brighter skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin texture.
- Oil Control: Salicylic acid helps regulate the skin's natural oil (sebum) production and remove excess oil, thus decreasing the likelihood of breakouts.
Potential side effects
Whilst salicylic acid is generally safe for any skin type, it can cause mild, temporary discomfort, increased dryness, and increased sun sensitivity. Individuals with dry or sensitive skin should use salicylic acid in moderation.
SkinCeuticals salicylic acid products
Blemish + Age Defence is a targeted, oil-free serum for ageing skin prone to breakouts that contains a blend of both alpha and beta hydroxy acids, including 1.5% salicylic acid. It reduces excess sebum production and unclogs pores to improve the appearance of blemishes, fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. Ideal for acne-prone, oily, combination, and ageing skin types.
Blemish and Age Cleansing Gel is an exfoliating cleanser featuring a conditioning surfactant and blend of acids including salicylic acid, plus glycerin and sorbitol, to remove excess oils and makeup, while unclogging pores and brightening skin. Formulated for oily, combination, and ageing skin prone to breakouts.
Blemish & Age Toner is a clarifying toner ideal for combination skin or oily skin. Containing both salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA), it removes excess residue and dead skin cells to unclog pores. Designed for ageing skin prone to breakouts.
Silymarin CF is our vitamin C serum for oily and blemish-prone skin that combines 0.5% silymarin (milk thistle extract), 15% vitamin C, 0.5% ferulic acid and 0.5% salicylic acid to help prevent oil oxidation that can lead to breakouts. It improves skin clarity, radiance, and uneven texture, and minimises the appearance of pores.
WHAT IS RETINOL?
Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, is a topical retinoid available as an over-the-counter alternative to more powerful prescription retinoids like retinoic acid and tretinoin. The benefits of retinol are many, and it's been used in skincare for decades.
BENEFITS OF RETINOL
- Antioxidant: Retinol's small molecules penetrate deeply to reach the skin's dermis layer, where it reduces oxidative stress in the skin. Oxidative stress occurs when UV exposure and external aggressors cause a build-up of free radicals. Over time, free radicals contribute to cellular damage and accelerate skin ageing.
- Elastin and Collagen Production: Oxidative stress also contributes to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, leading to the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. Collagen is the fibre-like protein that gives skin much of its structure, and elastin is a coiled spring-like protein that provides skin elasticity. Together these two proteins help keep your skin firm, plump and smooth-looking. Within the dermis, retinol helps boost both elastin and collagen production, processes that naturally decrease with age.
- Skin Renewal: Retinol is effective at boosting skin cell renewal and faster skin cell turnover for a smoother and more radiant skin texture. This ability helps reduce blemishes caused by pores clogged with bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells, making it beneficial for mild acne-prone skin and ketosis pilaris (aka "chicken skin"). It can also reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
Potential side effects
As a potent skincare ingredient, retinol requires careful introduction to skincare routines to minimise unwanted effects like excessive dryness and skin sensitivity. Regardless of skin type, a 'Low and Slow' approach is recommended to allow the skin to develop tolerance through use of lower concentrations and less frequent application initially. Nevertheless, skin dryness, redness, irritation, and increased sun sensitivity can occur, usually during the first 2-3 weeks of use.
SkinCeuticals retinol products
SkinCeuticals has a range of facial creams containing retinol at different concentrations, and a targeted treatment for the neck. They feature a delivery technology to ensure slow and steady release that minimises skin irritation.
Retinol 0.3 is suitable for all skin types and recommended for first-time retinol users. With 0.3% pure retinol it promotes skin cell turnover and improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, discolouration, pores, and blemishes. A retinol treatment deal for ongoing use or for conditioning skin prior to moving up to Retinol 0.5.
Retinol 0.5 contains 0.5% pure retinol. Recommended for first-time users and ideal for continued use or pre-conditioning prior to moving up to Retinol 1.0. Suitable for all skin types, in particular ageing and mild acne-prone skin.
Retinol 1.0 is our highest-concentration retinol, ideal for ageing and sun-damaged skin that's been pre-conditioned using Retinol 0.5. Formulated with 1.0% pure retinol and comforting chamomile-derived bisabolol, it helps diminish the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, sunspots, and skin discolouration, whilst minimising blemishes and the appearance of pores.
Tripeptide-R Neck Repair is a firming cream featuring 0.2% pure, slow-release retinol and a 2.5% tripeptide concentrate to promote collagen production and improve both early and advanced signs of visible neck ageing.
Combining Retinol and Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid and retinol each target a range of different skin concerns. Learning how to use retinol and salicylic acid together can help to address both blemish and ageing concerns. It's important to approach this combination with knowledge and caution. Listen to your skin, and if in doubt, consult a healthcare professional.
HOW TO USE RETINOL AND SALICYLIC ACID TOGETHER SAFELY
- Staggered Application: Instead of using both ingredients at the same time, apply them on alternate nights.
- Gradual Introduction: If you're new to either ingredient, introduce it slowly to your routine. Start with lower concentrations and at reduced frequency, then gradually increase these as necessary and as your skin builds its tolerance levels.
- Moisturise: Both ingredients can be drying to skin. Ensure you moisturise adequately to keep your skin hydrated with either a lipid-rich moisturiser such as Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, or one containing hyaluronic acid.
- Sun Protection: Both ingredients can increase sensitivity to the sun. Daily application of a broad spectrum, high SPF sunscreen should already be part of your daily routine, and it's even more important when using these ingredients.
SKINCARE ROUTINE FOR COMBINING SALICYLIC ACID AND RETINOL
How you combine products containing these two ingredients in your routine may depend on the products you choose, their concentrations, and those of the other ingredients they contain. Your skin type will also play a part. Be mindful of the staggered application and gradual introduction advice above.
Because skin does most of its repair work overnight, retinol products are better suited to night time application. Using retinol every second or third night to begin with is a good idea.
For the first 2 weeks we also recommend 'sandwiching' your retinol product between two layers of Triple Lipid Restore (Triple Lipid, Retinol, Triple Lipid) to buffer the retinol. This is especially worthwhile for sensitive skin. See A Guide to How Much and How Often to Use Retinol for a full set of considerations.
Because of its ingredient combination, Blemish + Age Defence serum is better applied at night, so this product should be used on alternate nights to your retinol product.
To discover the ideal products for your own skin type and get advice about how to use them, use our online Routine Finder, or visit one of the SkinCeuticals Authorised Australian clinic locations.