Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
Can I use retinol after salicylic acid cleanser?

Can I use retinol after salicylic acid cleanser?

Yes, you can use retinol after a salicylic acid cleanser.

The main concern with mixing active ingredients like retinol and salicylic acid is the potential for irritation. Irritation represents the disruption of your skin barrier and is characterized by:

  • Redness

  • Itchniness

  • Flaking skin

  • Excessive dryness

However, if you don’t experience these side effects when using retinol with salicylic acid, then you are free to use them together.

This article will explain everything you need to know about salicylic acid, retinol, and how to use them together.

Salicylic Acid and Retinol

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser with BowTiedFawn branding

Both salicylic acid and retinol are suitable treatments for acne prone skin and oily skin types. However, they work differently and can be powerful effects when used together.

Salicylic Acid

Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant with BowTiedFawn branding

Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant known as a beta hydroxy acid. Because of its lipid soluble nature, salicylic acid can easily get into your skin to dissolve sweat and oil.

This process makes salicylic acid a great acne treatment addition to your skincare routine for:

  • Blemishes

  • Clogged pores

  • Unwanted skin texture

Plus, salicylic acid is typically more suitable for people with sensitive skin than retinol.


CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum and Skin Renewing Retinol Serum Boxes

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative used to treat acne and signs of aging.

When it is applied to your skin, it gets converted to retinoic acid. Then, retinoic acid binds to your retinoid receptors, signaling your body to speed up cell turnover.

Over time, this process has benefits like:

  • Evening out skin tone

  • Turning over dead skin cells

  • Controlling excess oil production

  • Stimulating collagen production

Can I use salicylic acid with retinol?

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

Yes, you can use salicylic acid and retinol in the same skincare routine.

While the two active ingredients can cause skin irritation, there are ways to get around this.

For example, instead of layering salicylic acid and retinol together, you can consider using a wash-off salicylic acid cleanser and following up with a retinol treatment. Alternatively, you could consider using a leave-on salicylic acid treatment during the day, and applying retinol at night.

That being said, as long as you can tolerate layering both products together without signs of irritation, it is okay for you to do so!

Do you use retinol before or after salicylic acid?

If you are using a salicylic acid cleanser, you would wash your face with that first before applying retinol.

On the other hand, if you are layering two serums together, apply retinol first.

How long to wait between salicylic acid and retinol?

SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3 with BowTiedFawn Branding

Generally, you can wait 1-2 minutes after washing your face with a salicylic acid cleanser to apply retinol.

However, if you are layering a retinol serum with a salicylic acid serum, I suggest waiting 2-5 minutes to allow the retinol to fully absorb. To minimize irritation, you may want to wait 2-10 minutes between steps.

This is a trial and error process that may take you some time to figure out what works best.

What can you mix with salicylic acid?

You are safe to mix salicylic acid with humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

Further, soothing ingredients like green tea and niacinamide are also suitable to mix with salicylic acid. Technically, you can also considering layering vitamin C with salicylic acid in the mornings as long as it doesn’t cause you any irritation.

Of course, you always want to follow up any active ingredients with a moisturizer to add nourishing lipids and hydration back into your skin.

What not to mix with salicylic acid?

You should generally avoid combining salicylic acid with harsh active ingredients. This includes alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid and glycolic acid.

Summary: can I use a salicylic acid cleanser with retinol?

Stratia Night Shift with BowTiedFawn branding

Yes, you can use a salicylic acid cleanser with retinol.

While the combination of salicylic acid and retinol can cause irritation, it can also be a powerful treatment for skin concerns like clogged pores and acne breakouts. You can always use soothing skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid and green tea to reduce the chances of potential irritation.

Overall, both retinol and salicylic acid are effective ingredients to treat breakouts and signs of aging.

When you finally decide to it's time to improve your health and appearance, you need to sign up for my Substack below. Find specific skin routines and protocols in My Roadmap or start with my Basic Skincare Guide.

Also, you should be following my other socials for free skincare, health, and beauty content daily: