"Avoid mixing retinol with acne treatments containing salicylic acid as they cause drying and redness as well," said Dr. Engelman. "Avoid mixing benzoyl peroxide with retinol as it has been shown that the two ingredients together have a tendency to deactivate each other." But there is an exception to this rule: if the products have been specifically formulated to be used simultaneously, then it's OK.
Starting retinol doesn't mean you have to give up AHAs and BHAs forever — it's just until your skin fully adjusts. "Over time, the skin acclimated to vitamin A derivatives like retinol and retinoids and gentle exfoliants containing AHA/BHAs can be slowly incorporated into your routine."
The Rule #4: Don't Mix Vitamin C With Retinol
If you're using retinol to fade acne scars or hyperpigmentation you may be thinking retinol and vitamin c are the perfect skin brightening mix, but that's not the case. "Retinol users should avoid vitamin C products that sting when applied to the skin," said Rouleau. "Most vitamin C products out on the market use the acid forms of the vitamin, like Ascorbic Acid." That doesn't mean you need to choose one over the other — you just need to be strategic in application.
Retinol should always be used at night, follow by a sunscreen in the morning. Vitamin C, on the other hand, should be used in the morning to protect against free radical damage and provide your skin with antioxidants. You never want to layer them together in the same routine.
The Rule #5: Don't Start Retinol Too Early
Yes, retinol is an amazing product, but unless you're directed to by a professional, you don't want to start using it too early. "Some patients start using retinoids earlier to combat acne issues," said Dr. Engelman. "Others I advise to start later to treat signs of aging. Timing depends on what skin issue we are targeting."
The Rule #6: Be Careful When It Comes to Prescription Retinol
You may think that prescription products are always better, but that may not be the case for your skin. The main difference between over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription retinol is the first is a weaker form of vitamin A and therefore more forgiving on the skin. "Retinoic acid (what you find in prescription products) is the most active form of Vitamin A," said Dr. Engelman. "Biochemically, retinoid and retinol, have the same effects — it may just take longer to see results with retinols, since they are weaker."
But Rouleau only recommends using prescription retinoids if you're over 35 and your skin can handle it. "Most people have a certain degree of skin sensitivity, which is why I suggest using a non-prescription retinol first," said Rouleau. The exceptions to this are if you have certain skin concerns, they may require a more heavy-duty approach, like someone with indented facial scarring from acne or melasma.
When in doubt consult with your dermatologist to find out what's best for your skin.
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