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Salicylic acid and Retinol Together – Amazing Skin or nightmare?

Can you use Salicylic Acid and Retinol Together?

While both the active ingredients are hugely popular, the internet is split on whether you can use them together or not. Let’s clear up this confusion today.

Combining Retinol and Salicylic Acid together?

Both the ingredients are active & have an exfoliating tendency which makes them NON-COMPATIBLE to apply together. It can lead to even more skin complications than you already have. Yeah, no Dermatologist uses them together.

All our skin problems would have been solved if they had worked together but alas, both are individually strong & can over-rip the skin. If you still plan on using them, use salicylic acid in the morning & retinol in the nighttime to gain the maximum benefits.

Salicylic Acid – Beta Hydroxy Acid!

This guy is dumped in literally every other product nowadays. It is obviously found over the counter & the reason for its popularity is, it’s a boon for acne-prone, oily skin.

Woman applying Salicylic Acid


 Salicylic acid benefits 

  • This FDA-approved beta hydroxy acid is oil soluble which is why it is ideal for oily, acne-prone skin types.
  • It dissolves excess oil, dirt & dead skin cells, unclogs pores & cleans the skin by going into a deeper layer.
  • Salicylic Acid has an anti-inflammatory & mild anti-bacterial property which kills the bacteria which basically chews up on oil & calms the inflammation.
  • It is ideal for treating blackheads & whiteheads by dissolving the keratin that clogs the pores causing them.
  • It works as a great exfoliating agent by reducing the overall sebum production, keeping the skin’s oil production low & bacteria free.
  • It comes in different forms- Gels, Masks, Spot treatment, Face cleansers, Toners.
  • It is a much better ingredient to be tolerated by our skin for acne compared to the other potent ingredients because it is milder.

Diagram explaining how salicylic acid works


How S.A works on the skin

How to use Salicylic acid correctly?

  • Do not mix salicylic acid with some fancy serum you have just discovered online. It doesn’t gel up with every ingredient. It’s friends with only selective people ha-ha
  • Always do a patch test before applying on your face directly for the first time. It may save you from loads of trouble.
  • Start with a lower concentration like 0.5%, then gradually when your skin feels ready, you can increase to 2%.
  • Salicylic acid makes the skin sensitive to UV rays so, don’t step out without Sunscreen.
  • Avoid using it near your eyes, nose, and mouth. (Extra tip – layer the corners of your eyes, mouth with Vaseline & then apply salicylic acid).

Which ingredients are salicylic acid compatible with?

  • Niacinamide
  • Hyaluronic acid

Who should not use Salicylic acid?

  1. Don’t use it if you’re pregnant or nursing.
  2. If you have fresh cuts, scrapes or rashes on the skin, please don’t use Salicylic acid on those.

Does Salicylic Acid have any side effects?

  • Dryness
  • Peeling skin
  • Mild burning sensations

These could be a few side effects; you might have when either using it for the first time or using it incorrectly. but mostly it’s not severe.

How to cure any irritation from salicylic acid?

A picture of a girl with Irritation caused by salicylic acid

  • Avoid scented cleansers and moisturizers on the face.
  • Avoid makeup for a while.
  • Use Thermal spring water to calm the skin (Try from La Roche Posay)
  • Take cold showers or ice your face (Wrapped in a thin cloth). Avoid hot showers completely.
  • Don’t use any exfoliating fancy gadgets to wash the face, simply hands.
  • Now give a lot of moisture & hydration to the skin for it to feel better. Like moisturizers loaded with ceramides & Hyaluronic acid.
  • After Moisturizer, seal the skin with Vaseline. It locks in all the goodies we have given & lets the skin heal faster.
  • Stop using any other exfoliants, acids, AHAs, BHAs, peroxides, and retinoids until you are completely healed.
  • Cica Balms, Glycerin, and Aloe vera are great soothing and calming agents for the skin.
  • Product suggestion- Try Avene- Cicalfate + restorative protective cream
  • DO NOT forget to wear sunscreen daily before stepping outside. Remember your skin is already in a vulnerable state. UV radiation at this point can make it worse.


Diagram of a Retinol family tree


Retinol Family tree for your easiest understanding, (Retinoid is the Head of the family with 7 kids)

Here comes this high gold standard guy of skincare industry, highlight of every skincare topic!

  • As we all know, Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A.
  • It does not work just on the outer layer of the skin but goes deep into the dermis & exfoliates dead skin cells, regenerates fresh ones & This is what slows down the ageing!
  • It is found over the counter.
  • Retinol comes from the family of retinoids & is 1 of the 7 kinds of retinoids.

What are the benefits of Retinol?

  • Boosting Collagen production by speeding skin cell turnover.
  • Solving adult acne & acne scars.
  • Takes care of visible signs of premature skin aging issues like wrinkles, sagging skin, and fine lines.
  • Works great for hyperpigmentation & discoloration problems.

Working stages of Retinol on the skin in a diagram form


Retinol takes a few weeks-months to get the desired results

What are any potential side effects of Retinol?

Over peeled skin due to exceeding the retinol application quantity


Over Peeled skin

  • Increases skin’s sensitivity towards UV light, hence always use sunblock in the daytime.
  • Do not mix Retinol with any other ingredients without reading properly about it as it doesn’t gel up with most of the ingredients & causes reactions.
  • Use it at some distance from your eyes, mouth & nose as they’re sensitive areas.
  • Always start with low concentration, like .025% – 0.1%.
  • Do not exceed the quantity of more than a pea size. Too much does more harm than good.

What ingredients are Retinol compatible with?

Don’t mix Retinol with any other ingredient except – Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid, Azelaic Acid

Don’t use Retinol in your skincare routine under the following conditions

  1. If You’re Pregnant or Nursing 
  2. If you have a sensitive skin type or skin conditions like Eczema & Rosacea. Retinol will make your dry skin worse.

Any Retinol shopping tips?

3 classes of retinoids


Retinoids are divided into 3 classes, over-the-counter, prescription, and cosmetic.

Conclusion- Salicylic acid and Retinol

The conclusion is, to take the benefits of both the ingredients, just separately. Apply Salicylic acid in the morning & Retinol at night. Both together will over-peel the skin.

A few related Articles

If you loved reading this article, you will probably also enjoy reading:

  1. Can you use Glycolic Acid with Retinol?
  2. Should you apply Retinol before or After Moisturizer
  3. Can you use Benzoyl Peroxide with Retinol?
  4. Can you use Azelaic Acid and Retinol Together
  5. Can you use Retinol And Hyaluronic Acid Together?
  6. Can you use Niacinamide with Retinol?
  7. Can you use Vitamin C with Retinol?

Have beautiful skin. Love ~ Beauty Strol

By Aayushi S
By Aayushi S
Aayushi is a New York based freelance writer and a content strategist. She is a computer science graduate, a health and skincare fanatic and is also the founder of “Beauty Stroll “. She aims to make science-backed skincare easy to understand for her readers.

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