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What Can You NOT Mix With Retinol?

by Ella Goodman 07 Nov 2023

Retinol’s great.

It makes you look younger, it mixes well with hyaluronic acid, it… well, you know the drill.

But this ain't your grandma's guide to retinol; this is the modern-day gospel with flashing warning lights on it.

Because today we're going to unravel the mysteries of what you CAN’T mix with retinol.

Hopefully you aren’t cross-pollinating your retinol routine with any of these!

Pump the Brakes on Benzoyl Peroxide

So, you’ve got your retinoid cream for your face all primed and ready, and you’re feeling like the commander of your complexion.

But hold up, are you thinking of adding benzoyl peroxide into the mix? Let's hit pause on that idea.

It's all about the chemistry, baby.

Let's break it down: Retinol, the star of your nighttime ritual, is like a fine wine that needs to be sipped slowly – it works best when given the space to do its thing.

It's in it for the long haul, gradually refining your skin’s texture and tackling those pesky signs of aging.

But benzoyl peroxide? It's the tequila shot of acne treatments – fast-acting, potent, and not one for mingling.

When you mix retinol and benzoyl peroxide, it's a skincare standoff.


Because benzoyl peroxide is an oxidizing agent – it slays bacteria by introducing oxygen into your pores, which is great for annihilating acne. But retinol is like an undercover agent working in the shadows; it's sensitive to sunlight and air.

Benzoyl peroxide can oxidize retinol, rendering our anti-aging hero less effective — kind of like turning your superhero into a sidekick. I mean, can you imagine if Shrek followed Donkey around all day instead? They’d never have made it out of the swamp.

But wait, there's more. The clash of these titans doesn’t just potentially weaken your retinol cream's potency; it can also send your skin into a frenzy of irritation. Think redness, peeling, and dryness that makes the Sahara look moist.


So here’s the deal – play your skincare routine like a strategic game of chess.

Apply your retinoid moisturizer or retinol cream when the moon's out, then come sunrise, hit those breakouts with benzoyl peroxide.

They both get to reign supreme in their respective domains, and you? You get to enjoy the spoils of their work without the drama.

Vitamin C: When It’s NOT the Zesty Add-On

Look, Vitamin C is basically the queen bee of the antioxidant world. It's got a rep for being bright, zesty, and the ultimate skin defender, right?

And while it’s usually your ride-or-die for a glow that doesn't quit, combining it with retinoid creams might just turn your skincare routine into a real-life ‘frenemies’ episode.

Let's dish out the deets.

Vitamin C is an acid – L-ascorbic acid, to be exact. This powerhouse is all about neutralizing free radicals and boosting collagen, giving you that 'I woke up like this' radiance.

Now, retinol is like the night owl that's all about the slow and steady, working its magic while you’re off in dreamland, focusing on cell turnover and smoothing out those tell-tale signs of getting wiser (yeah, I mean older).

Mixing these two can be a recipe for a skincare standoff.

How come? Because when Vitamin C enters the club at the same time as retinol, it can get a bit too acidic for the scene. It's like dropping a bass-heavy track when the crowd's vibing to chill tunes – it can throw off the balance. This acidity can mess with the retinol, making it less effective and even leading to irritation. And nobody’s got time for that.

So, what's the game plan?

It's all about timing and balance.

Rock your Vitamin C in the AM – it's like an energy drink for your skin, keeping you shielded from the sun’s rays and environmental baddies with its antioxidant superpowers.

Then, when it's time to wind down, slide into your PM routine with a retinoid moisturizer or retinol cream to work on that subtle skin rejuvenation. It's like having the best of both worlds without any drama.

To put it in skincare-speak: let Vitamin C be the life of the day-party and let retinol turn up the night. Keeping them apart ensures they both can work it out in their own style.

You want that lit-from-within look, not a skincare throwdown that leaves your face wondering what hit it.

The ‘No-No’ Dance with Salicylic Acid

Okay, team, gather round. We need to have a heart-to-heart about the skincare equivalent of mixing polka dots with plaid: salicylic acid and retinol.

If your bathroom shelf could talk, it’d be saying, “Honey, what are you thinking?”

So let's clear the air, shall we?

Salicylic acid, the trusty BFF for anyone with a pimple, is like that friend who dives into your deepest secrets (or, in this case, pores) and brings all the dirt to the surface.

A true oil-soluble exfoliant, it’s basically a bouncer, kicking out those unwelcome zits and blackheads with gusto. A round of applause for salicylic acid, please!

Now, enter stage left: retinol, the velvet-voiced crooner of skincare. It’s got a fan club for its collagen-boosting, skin-smoothing charisma, as we all know.

But retinol is sensitive, a diva that prefers the solo act at night, away from the harsh paparazzi sun rays and definitely away from other strong actives.

When these two forces collide, it's less of a dream team and more of a skincare faux pas.

Why? Because both are hard-hitting exfoliants in their own right.

Salicylic acid says, "Let's shed those dead skin cells," while retinol insists, "No, let me handle the cell turnover." It's a recipe for a red carpet skin disaster - think peeling, dryness, and irritation up the wazoo.

If you've got a crush on both these ingredients (and who could blame you?), play matchmaker with timing, not mixing.

Salicylic acid gets the daylight shift. It’s out there, making sure your pores are as clean as a whistle. Come sundown, it's retinol’s time to shine. The night is when this star does its best work, sans the competition, boosting skin regeneration while you’re off in dreamland.

So, what’s the takeaway? Separate these solo artists and let them have their moments, just as with vitamin C.

A dab of salicylic acid in your morning routine for that deep clean feel, followed by a retinoid cream serenade at night.

It's like choreographing your skincare – when everyone takes their turn, your skin becomes the dance floor of a beautifully orchestrated ballet. No stepping on toes, just poised perfection.

The Complicated Relationship with Peptides

Alright, let's dive into the it's-complicated status of peptides and retinol, the skincare version of a romantic dramedy that keeps you guessing 'til the final credits.

Picture peptides as the nurturing soulmate of your skin’s barrier – they’re all about healing and stimulating collagen like a guru of tranquility and youthfulness.

They’re the chill yoga instructors of skincare, whispering sweet nothings of firmness and elasticity to your cells.

On the flip side, retinol – let’s call it the fast-paced executive of the skin world – is playing the long game for glory with its proven track record in the anti-aging league. It’s the hustler that doesn’t always play nice; it speeds up cell turnover and tells your skin to get its act together, STAT.

Mash these two together, and it’s not the dynamic duo you’d expect. It’s more like a power struggle where peptides could get overshadowed by retinol’s aggressive tactics.

That’s because peptides thrive in a serene environment, but retinol comes in like a whirlwind, potentially disrupting the delicate dance of collagen production that peptides orchestrate.

It's not that they can't ever be in the same room together; it's just that they might not mingle as well as you'd hope. The pH level at which retinol functions best might not be the optimal pH for peptides to do their thing. It's like trying to cook a gourmet meal but getting the oven temperature wrong – something’s just not going to turn out right.

So, what's the move here? Well, it’s getting downright predictable now — give each their time to shine.

Allow peptides the spotlight in the AM, let them pamper your skin with all that goodness, setting the stage for a smooth, plumped, and calm visage to take on the day. Then, when it’s PM, and the moon is high, invite retinol to the party. It’ll work its cell-turnover magic under the cloak of night, with no interruptions.

Oils in the Mix: Slippery Slope with Retinol

Oils in skincare can be like that friend who shows up with gourmet donuts – they can make everything better, or they can overshadow the main event with their richness.

Facial oils are often lauded as the ultimate skin elixir, and for good reason. They lock in moisture, they bring forth a glow that could rival the top of the Chrysler Building, and they smooth things over like a charismatic diplomat.

Now, enter retinol – the tough-love giver in your skincare regime. It’s not just playing around; it’s here to do some serious work.

When these two meet, it’s a bit like mixing a high-octane workout with a meditation session. Not dissimilar to the situation with peptides. Both are good for you, but timing and combination are key, otherwise, you’re left feeling like you’ve got your zen in a twist.

Take oils rich in vitamin A – like the much-revered rosehip oil.

It’s got its own version of retinol’s active ingredients, and it’s all for skin regeneration and radiance.

Mix it with retinol, though, and you could be doubling down on a good thing to the point of bad news. It’s like pouring espresso shots on top of a red-eye coffee; you’re aiming for alert, but you might just end up with the jitters.

The secret sauce? Patience and sequence.

Let your retinol cream sink into the skin’s layers first. Give it time to start its cellular hustle. Then, and only then, when the retinol has been absorbed into your skin’s night club and the dance floor is buzzing, that’s when you let the oils glide in. They’ll be the smooth after-party, ensuring no moisture escapes as you sleep.

In short? Layer like a pro: retinol goes first, then oils to seal the deal.

Sunscreen: The Plot Twist

Here's a plot twist for you – sunscreen isn’t something you should mix DIRECTLY with retinol because, let's face it, the sun and retinol are frenemies.

But, unlike the other ingredients, this is one mix that you SHOULD absolutely get behind – just not at the same time.

Sunscreen is your day-one, ride-or-die pal that you should meet up with every morning. It protects your skin while retinol works the night shift to repair it. Together, they're like the skincare version of a 24/7 bodyguard detail for your face.

So here’s the lowdown: slap on that SPF like your skin’s life depends on it (because it kinda does) after your morning routine, but keep the retinol cream for those PM vibes only. Yep, the “retinol at night” strategy is as reliable as ever.

The Wrap Up: It's All About Balance

If your skincare routine was a playlist, it'd be a finely curated mix of chill beats and dance tracks – everything at the right time.

Remember, it's not about avoiding these ingredients altogether, it's about timing and balance.

Just as you wouldn’t chug a coffee right before bed or hit a hardcore workout without a warm-up, you don't want to throw your skin into the deep end with a wild cocktail of actives.

Now armed with this knowledge, go forth and show your skin the best of all worlds!

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