Can I use AHAs/BHA and Retinoids Together?

retinoids and ahas bha

We all want beautiful, clear and healthy skin and there are several ingredients used in skincare products that can help us achieve just that. But even though some ingredients can be very beneficial alone, using them together may actually make them lose effectiveness. Is mixing AHAs/ BHA and Retinoids one of these combinations to avoid?

What are AHAs and BHA?

Alpha Hydroxy Acids(AHAs, like Glycol Acid and Lactic Acid) and BHA (Salicylic Acid) are exfoliants. They work by ungluing the substance that holds skin cells together, allowing the dead ones on the surface to gently come off and, because they can penetrate the skin, they benefit it more than most cosmetics scrubs that only stay (and exfoliate) on top of it.

AHAs and BHA greatly improve the way skin looks and feels: they improve skin’s texture and uneven pigmentation, unclog pores and allows the skincare products you are going to apply next to be better absorbed. Salicylic Acid is great for those that are prone to breakouts as it can exfoliates both inside the pores as well as the surface of the skin, diminishing whiteheads and blemishes. If instead your skin is thick, dry or sun damaged, opt for AHAs.

However, because of their exfoliating action, AHAs and BHA can cause irritations in some people, especially those with sensitive skin. In addition, they also make skin more susceptible to sun damage, but this can easily be fixed by always wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen in conjunction with products that contain AHAs or BHA.

What are Retinoids?

I’ve already written about the benefits of Retinoids in a previous post, but here’s the gist of it: Retinoids have powerful antioxidant properties. They can increase collagen production as well as decrease its depletion (which naturally occurs over time), preventing new wrinkles from forming and helping reduce the ones you already have (but don’t expect miracle results overnight, it’ll take a while to see just a small improvement).

In addition, Retinoids also exfoliate skin and speed up the skin’s natural cell turn over (the process by which skin replaces itself), helping fade hyperpigmentation spots. However, Retinoids can be irritating too, so at the beginning using products with small concentrations every other day. Once your skin has got used to them, you can start using products with higher concentrations daily.

Can I use AHAs/BHA and Retinoids together?

Using AHAs/BHA and Retinoids together isn’t a good idea for two reasons. First, both ingredients could potentially be irritating, so using them together may greatly increase chances of your skin getting irritated. However, some people can tolerate both of them really well, but still it’s best to avoid using these ingredients together.

AHAs/BHA (just like sun exposure) can, in fact, inactivate Retinoids, making  them less effective. But don’t worry. You don’t have to choose between AHAs/BHA and Retinoids. You can still use both in your skincare routine, just at different times. Apply AHAs/BHA in the morning (and don’t forget to put on your sunscreen as well!) and products with Retinoids only before going to bed at night. This way, your skin can get the best of both worlds without the side effects. :)

Do you use products with AHAs/BHA and Retinoids? Share your experience in the comments. :)

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  1. says

    I wouldn’t use AHA/BHA and retinoid together though, even in the same day. There’s so much exfoliation my skin can take. Salicylic acid doesn’t work that well on me anymore but I really want to try Derma Doctor’s Poetry in Skincare, which is a 1% retinol lotion.
    Dao´s last blog post ..Chanel no 5- I Get It NowMy Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Dao, I know a lot of dermatologists recommend using AHAs/BHA during the day and Retinoids at night, but I think it also depends on how sensitive one’s skin is. I know people that use both AHA and Retinoids in the morning and although I don’t think it’s a good idea as they are less effective used together, their skin can take it well without being irritated. While other people can’t tolerate them at all even when used separately.

      I think Salicylic Acid works well if one is only prone to breakouts or has mild acne, otherwise Retinol or Benzoyl Peroxide will probably work better. I hope the Derma Doctor lotion works well for you.

  2. says

    I use some products with Salicylic Acid, but I don’t think any of the skincare items I’m currently using contain retinoids. Like I said before, I definitely need to start paying more attention to the ingredients. I do make sure to wear sunscreen every single day though.
    makeup morsels´s last blog post ..A Tale of Lipstick and Lost LoveMy Profile

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Makeup Morsel, Retinoids are among the best anti-aging ingredients. Of course there are lots of anti-aging ingredients on the market but if one wants their skin to be in great condition as they age, they’re definitely something to consider. At the moment I go through phases of using them and then I stop to test something else, but in a few years’ time I’ll start using them a lot more diligently.

      And good for you for always using sunscreen. That’s the best antiaging product ever as it can avoid so much damage being done on our skin and so keeps us looking younger. :)

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Tanveer, that’s a great combination. I do prefer Retinoids to AHA/BHA as well. For some people, using them together can prove too much so using AHA or BHA every fortnight is a great compromising and way to include all those beneficial ingredient in a skincare routine. :)

  3. DINA says

    Hi, I do not have sensitive skin and my skin seems to tolerate just about anything. I have been using 2% retinol and 12% alpha hydroxy after cleansing my skin at night. I apply the 12% alpha hydroxy first, then apply the 2% retinol. I have no skin irritation or sensitivity. I am also using a broad spectrum sunblock during the day. Should I be concerned about over treating my skin? My skin looks and feels really good.

    • Gio says

      Dina, that combination may be too harsh for some people, but if your skin feels fine I don’t see any reason why you should stop.

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