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Mixing Lactic Acid With Retinol? Read This First!

by Ella Goodman 29 Feb 2024

Ladies, don't even think about swiping left on this beauty exclusive! 

We're about to dive into a skin-credible saga that is as enticing as your favorite Netflix series—and no spoilers here, we promise! 

We're lifting the veil on the 'lactic acid meets retinol' drama with a scientific twist. 

In our 20s and 30s, our skin deals with plot twists like late night parties, stress at work, and the ever-confusing "what should I have for dinner?" question, much like us. 

So, buckle up and grab your cosmetic diaries because you're about to join a beauty bonanza like no other: Can you really mix lactic acid with retinol or is it just a skincare urban legend? 

Let's glow, gorgeous!

Can you use retinol and lactic acid together?

Firstly, a quick recap just in case you've been buried in a beauty blindspot. 

Retinol is a form of Vitamin A which tackles issues like aging, acne, and sun damage, while lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that's loved for its gentle exfoliating, hydrating and brightening capabilities. 

Stellar on their own, but what happens if these two join forces?

Skincare buffs often caution against combining these two potent ingredients, primarily because of the risk of irritating your pretty face. 

But, we're not here for rules, right? We're here for results! So, let's spill the tea.

Can you use retinol and lactic acid together? Yes and no. It's a delicate balancing act. It primarily depends on how well-acquainted your skin is with these star ingredients. 

If you're a retinol rookie or lactic acid novice, it's wise to use these products separately to avoid skin irritation or sensitivity. 

But for those retinol regulars or lactic acid lovers, you might be progressive enough to combine these babies. 

Do it wisely and start slow; your skin needs the patience of a saint to handle this power pairing. Coordinate their use, that is, use lactic acid in the morning and retinol in the evening or alternate days, so you don't bombard your skin.

But wait...why even consider this dynamite duo? 

Well, lactic acid provides gentle exfoliation, leaving your skin prepped and ready to absorb the retinol's reparative awesomeness. They have the potential to work harmoniously together to deliver smooth, rejuvenated skin that will leave your friends asking if you've found the fountain of youth.

However, no two complexions are the same, babes! Thus, pay attention to your skin's response. If you notice redness, itching, or any signs of sensitivity, back off. Your skin sets the boundaries! 

Work with a skincare specialist to fine-tune your routine, and remember - sunscreen is non-negotiable when using these power players!

So bottom-line, it's not a complete "no-no" to pair retinol and lactic acid, but it's also not a "slam dunk". 

It's a cautious "maybe", depending on your skin's tolerance and your usage strategy. 

To quote the skincare commandments, "Thou shalt listen to thy skin!" — and always patch test before diving in.

Which goes first: lactic acid or retinol?

Now, another age-old skincare conundrum — which goes first: lactic acid or retinol? 

Here's the tea: These skincare heavyweights play different positions in the game of beauty. 

Lactic acid, a top pick for our splashy AHA team, is a speedy exfoliator. It lifts off the dead skin cells hanging out on the surface of your complexion, giving you a fresh, radiant appearance faster than you can say "skin glow."

In the post-game interview, we have retinol. Star player of the retinoid squad, retinol’s key strategy is to plunge deep beneath your skin's surface to work its magic. 

It's a go-to cosmetic quarterback as it encourages the production of new skin cells and collagen. 

However, retinol is a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of ingredient— it might keep a lower profile for weeks while it’s doing its ground work.

Let's imagine your skincare routine is a night at the club. Lactic acid is your limelight-loving BFF, taking center stage immediately and clearing up the floor— or, in our case, your skin. 

Retinol brings up the rear, slipping past the surface fuss to get to the heart of the skin party, rebooting your cell function and stimulating collagen.

So, the million-dollar question: in the sequence of prepping your skin for the night out, who's on the first: lactic acid or retinol? 

Well, here comes the plot twist: while you can certainly use both in your routine, they shouldn't be stepping out together. 

Think of them as solo artists, not a skincare duet. They need their own time to shine under the spotlight, each in its designated routine.

If you want to experiment with both, try alternating these star ingredients— lactic acid one night, retinol the next. 

Given their trajectories and the potential for a pesky interference penalty (also known as skin irritation), this is your best play.

So, remember, your skin is no battleground for lactic acid and retinol to duke it out. Each has its product time midway between cleansing and moisturizing. 

Whichever one you decide to dance with, remember to slather on your SPF in the morning (no, we’re not sorry for saying it again) because both make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure.

Now, you're ready to rock n' glow!

Which acids cannot be used with retinol?

Alright, lovely ladies, we've got to talk about the 'dos' and 'don'ts' of adding acids to your skincare regimen—specifically with retinol. 

So trendsetters, let's dive into unchartered waters and demystify which acids cannot and should not be used in conjunction with our beloved retinol. 

Can we start with a drumroll, please? 

Our top spot goes to Glycolic Acid! 

Yep, you read that right—Glycolic Acid, the poster child for chemical exfoliation and a long-time favorite, should generally not be mixed with retinol. 

It’s a power player, no doubt, but when introduced to retinol—another heavy hitter of skincare—it leads to a power clash. 

The result? Over-exfoliated, dry, red, and irritated skin that's not cute in any decade. Using these two concurrently can lead to a damaged skin barrier, which is a big skincare no-no. 

We're all about the glow, but not the painful kind, you know what I mean?

Next in line is Salicylic Acid. A darling for anyone battling pesky pores—ahem, guilty as charged—Salicylic Acid may come off as harmless, but it’s a little trickster when you pair it up with retinol. 

It penetrates deep into the skin, exfoliating the lining of our pores. Pair it with retinol, and it's just bad news bears, guys. The excessive exfoliation and retinol’s tendency to accelerate cell turnover could lead to red, flaky skin. It's not worth the risk, if you ask me.


Lastly, let's discuss our old friend, Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA). 

Not exactly a daily staple in everyone's routine, but definitely a player worth mentioning. 

TCA peels are known in the beauty community for their deep skin renewal properties, providing impressive, smooth, rejuvenated results. 

But, ladies, combining it with retinol? It’s a hard pass. 

Why? This dynamic duo creates excessive peeling and skin sensitivity. Unless your goal is looking like a sunburned snake shedding its skin, it’s not recommended.

Now, reminder babes, every rule has exceptions. While it's generally not suggested to blend any of these acids with retinol, it doesn't mean it's an absolute non-starter for everyone. Each skin type responds differently. 

What might send your skin into heated battle might be someone else's Holy Grail combo. The key is to be cautious, listen to your skin and seek professional guidance.

Remember, while we love radiance and the pursuit of eternally youthful skin, your skin's balance is priority numero uno. 

In the skincare game, haste often leads to harm, so it's better to take it slow and steady. 

Long story short? You can't rush perfection, so let's show our skin the love it deserves! 

Be smart, be gorgeous, and always ask before mixing retinol—if you want to keep your dewy glow, that is.

What else should you not use with retinol?

Alright, so we've just figured out that exfoliating acids and retinol are often not BFFs. Now, let's chat about the other guys that might not play as well with retinol – because we don't want any drama on our skin, do we, girls? 

First off, while Vitamin C is totally the it-girl of skincare right now (hello, brightening and anti-oxidant properties!), she can be a bit complex. She doesn't mingle well with retinol. 

They're kind of like those two friends you have that are both awesome, but just can’t seem to get on the same page. 

Vitamin C prefers a low pH environment, while retinol likes it a bit higher. Using them together can result in irritation and reduce their effectiveness. So, it's better to keep these starlets apart – like using Vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night. 


Next on the naughty list is Benzoyl Peroxide. 

You know, that go-to ingredient for treating acne? 

Well, it’s seriously infamous for clashing with retinol. 

Benzoyl Peroxide can oxidize retinol, reducing its effectiveness dramatically. Kind of like that frenemy who always manages to upstage you, right? If you’re using retinol, it might be time to dump Benzoyl Peroxide from your skincare squad.

And finally, tread carefully with physical exfoliants (like scrubs and brushes), because they can be too harsh when combined with retinol. Imagine two divas trying to take the spotlight—total skin chaos, right? 

So, now we’ve dished the dirt. Even though some of your skin's favorite superstars might have to perform solo, remember it’s all about keeping your skin feeling happy and looking fabulous, and let’s be real – isn’t that what we all want? 

Make sure you listen to your skin because she’s the queen of your beauty routine and should be treated accordingly.

One final takeaway? You've got this, girl! Skincare shouldn't feel like a skincare SATs. 

With a pinch of information and a huge dab of listening to your skin, you'll be perfectly prepped for a healthy, glowing future!

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