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Can you use Glycolic acid with Retinol – What’s better for your skin?

If you are a skincare freak, you must be having Retinol & Glycolic acid products in your bathroom cabinets or somewhere. And you are confused about will Glycolic acid with Retinol work for your skin or can it rather damage it?

Let’s see what science has to say about this

Glycolic Acid Retinol
PH is 3.6 PH is 5.5
Strong active ingredient Strong active ingredient
Glycolic Acid vs Retinol PH table

When the PH of two strong active ingredients is in conflict, it’s not going to make either of the ingredients effective for your skin. Also, ingredients in Hydroxy acids (Glycolic acid) can compromise the stability of Retinol. So yeah, the combination of applying them together one after the other is tricky ladies. I’d suggest you don’t do it. Nevertheless, if you still want to try this combo together, you need to have strong skin built-up.

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid which is water soluble & is naturally derived from Sugarcane. Since it has smaller molecular structure, it can go deep in the skin layer from epidermis to dermis & functions from within, hence if you have highly sensitive skin, either skip Glycolic acid or start with a very low concentration.

Picture of a girl with bright even skin tone from consistent usage of Glycolic acid

Bright even toned skin from the constant usage of Glycolic Acid

What are the benefits of Glycolic Acid?

  • It is the mildest chemical exfoliator which breaks all the congestion of the skin like sebum, dirt, oil & cleans the damn pores from within
  • It resurfaces the texture of the skin overtime.
  • It promotes cell turnover which stimulates collagen production of the skin & eliminates wrinkles & fine lines
  • Repairs the uneven skin tone & clears the dullness of the skin

What are the side effects of Glycolic Acid?

  • It makes your skin sensitive towards UV rays of the sun, which means it increases your photosensitivity of the skin. Hence always wear sunblock when you’re out in the day.
  • The temporary side effect could be peeling or flaking, so start with a low Concentration

What to know more before start using Glycolic Acid?

  • Don’t use Glycolic Acid on damp skin
  • Avoid doubling up on Glycolic Acid ingredients as you can over exfoliate
  • Don’t use it every day in the beginning, 3 times a week is a good start
  • Don’t scrub or exfoliate your face after using Glycolic Acid
  • If you’re pregnant or nursing, use glycolic acid under 7%

How to use Glycolic Acid?

Facewash daily
Toner 3 nights a week under 7%
Serum 3 nights a week under 10%
Peels Once in 4 weeks 20%
Masks Once a week Under 10%

What is Retinol?

Retinol is an oil soluble derivative of Vitamin A which just doesn’t work on the surface but goes deep into the layers of the skin & exfoliates from within by eliminating dead cells & bacterial growth which ultimately leads to regeneration of fresh young cells & clean pores which helps tremendously in acne control.

What are the benefits of Retinol?

  • Boosts Collagen & Elastin production by speeding cellular turnover.
  • Treats acne & acne scars.
  • Works wonders for fine lines, ageing & wrinkles & hyperpigmentation.
  • In short, it slows down ageing & cures acne!!

Picture of a girl with hyperpigmentation cure stages with regular usage of Retinol

Hyperpigmentation cure stages with regular usage of Retinol

What are the side effects of Retinol?

  • It increases the photosensitivity of the skin; hence you always need to apply sunblock when stepping outside otherwise you can burn your skin easily.
  • Newbies generally tend to develop irritation/burns/flakiness/redness when starting the retinol journey, hence start with a very low concentration & increase gradually.

Any important tips to take care of when applying Retinol?

  • Always apply sunblock when you’re out in the day.
  • Apply just a pea sized amount
  • Don’t use Retinol on damp skin
  • Don’t mix Retinol with any other ingredient except Hyaluronic acid, Azelaic acid & Niacinamide
  • Do not use it very close to your eyes, mouth, nose
  • Avoid using any other potential irritants like acids or chemical exfoliants when you’re just starting off on Retinol. This can minimize your excess flaking.
  • Use the Sandwich method of ‘moisturizer-retinol moisturizer’, Means a layer of moisturizer then Retinol then moisturizer again. This will prevent any possibilities of irritation.
  • Don’t use Retinol when you are pregnant/Nursing
  • You can start using Retinol from early 20s with proper precautions
  • Start with a concentration of .025% – 0.1%, 2-3 times a week. Can go up to 1% gradually when your skin feels ready.

What is Retinol Family?

Diagram of a Retinol family tree

I have made this complete Retinol family tree for your easy understanding

Retinoids are divided into 3 classes for buying purposes

Does Retinol Packaging matter?

Retinol packaging is literally everything, Air Exposure means Retinol death. We don’t want that pls!

There are 4 types of packaging in the market.

  • Tubes (Best)
  • Pump bottles (Better)
  • Serum bottles (Okay)
  • Jars (NAH)

Tubes are undoubtedly the best & the safest form to use Retinol. Beware of the Jars form, they don’t make sense.

tube packaging of retinol

Tube packaging

How to store Retinol to maintain the shelf life?

Retinol is not a very stable ingredient in nature & perhaps they like staying in cool, dark places. Quite away from Sunlight, to extend & maintain its shelf life. Hence your bathroom cabinets work just fine.

How to handle Retinol/Glycolic Irritation?

Girl with a chemical reaction from the careless usage of acids like retinol and glycolic acid

Irritation is caused mostly when you don’t use the ingredient carefully

Don’t Panic, your skin will be back to normal state within a few weeks.

Just take care of these points

  • Take cold showers or ice your face (wrap in a in a thin cloth). Avoid hot showers at any cost.
  • Use Thermal spring water to calm the skin (Try from La Roche Posay)
  • Avoid using scented cleansers or moisturizers.
  • Give a lot of moisture to the skin. Apply moisturizers loaded on Ceramides & Hyaluronic acid.
  • Seal the skin with a light layer of Vaseline. It locks in all the goodies & lets the skin heal faster.
  • Stop using any other exfoliants, acids, AHA’s, BHA’s, peroxides, salicylic acid until you are completely healed.
  • Glycerin & Aloe vera, both are great soothing & calming agents for the skin.
  • Product suggestion- Try Avene- Cicalfate + restorative protective cream
  • Apply sun block before stepping outside.

A picture of a happy healed skin of a girl from retinol/glycolic acid irritations/burns

The Conclusion

What’s better for your skin?

If you want to exfoliate & resurface the texture of the skin, go for Glycolic Acid.

If you want to increase collagen production of the skin & are looking for acne treatment, go for Retinol.

Can you use them together?

NO. You can’t use Glycolic acid with Retinol. Use them maybe at different times of the day but not together.

Hope this solves some of your skin confusions, Love~ Beauty Stroll

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