If you’re struggling with acne, topical tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide are two of the most commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
Using benzoyl peroxide concurrently with tretinoin can be an effective acne treatment, but you may be wondering :
Can I use benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin at the same time? Do they cancel each other out?
Well, I’ve got you covered.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using these two ingredients together in your skincare routine.
Keep reading for all of the secret tips and tricks for getting the best possible acne-fighting results while minimizing irritation.
What is Tretinoin?
Tretinoin is a topical medicine also known as retinoic acid or Retin-A.
It works by speeding up cell turnover and clearing out your pores, which reduces inflammatory acne and prevents breakouts.
At the same time, tretinoin is known for causing side effects like:
While you can’t find it over-the-counter, you can get tretinoin gel or cream by a prescription from your dermatologist.
What is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most popular acne treatments you can find over the counter.
It works by killing the acne-causing bacteria that live on your skin and calming inflammation.
Typically, benzoyl peroxide is used to treat mild to moderate acne and is considered to be more gentle than tretinoin.
Comparing Tretinoin vs. Benzoyl Peroxide
While you can use both benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin to treat acne, they work differently.
In fact, tretinoin works by speeding up skin cell turnover while benzoyl peroxide works by killing acne-causing bacteria.
Tretinoin is more likely to cause side effects like severe irritation, while benzoyl peroxide is more commonly associated with allergic reactions.
However, with the right tretinoin skincare routine, adding benzoyl peroxide can work wonders for treating acne.
Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide With Tretinoin?
Yes, you can use benzoyl peroxide with tretinoin.
In fact, some studies even show that combining the two ingredients can be more effective than using either alone.
For example, one study showed that applying tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide at different times of the day was an effective treatment for acne vulgaris.
Does Benzoyl Peroxide Cancel Out Tretinoin?
At one time, researchers were concerned that combining tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide would make using tretinoin less effective.
However, more recent studies have shown that this is not the case.
Recent research in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that applying benzoyl peroxide in the morning and tretinoin at night does not impede the efficacy of either product.
Can Tretinoin Be Degraded by Benzoyl Peroxide?
While some used to believe that benzoyl peroxide could break down tretinoin if you applied it simultaneously, more recent research proves this is not true.
Current evidence demonstrates that benzoyl peroxide does not degrade or chemically inactivate.
Therefore, you can use the two ingredients together safely.
How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Tretinoin Together
When using benzoyl peroxide with tretinoin, it’s best to apply them at different times of the day.
But that’s not your only option!
Here are some effective ways that you can use them together:
Benzoyl peroxide in the morning, tretinoin at night
Apply your products on alternate nights
Use a benzoyl peroxide cleanser instead of a leave-on product
Alternate Mornings and Nights
One of the most common ways to use these two products together is to use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and tretinoin at night.
You can apply your benzoyl peroxide gel after cleansing in the morning.
Then, at night, cleanse your skin and apply tretinoin.
Just make sure to use a moisturizer with both!
Apply on Alternate Nights
Since it’s best to avoid layering benzoyl peroxide concurrently with tretinoin, consider using them on different nights:
Night 1: Apply your benzoyl peroxide after cleansing
Night 2: Apply your tretinoin after cleansing
Then, just rinse and repeat throughout the week.
Use a Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser
Instead of using a leave-on product, consider using a benzoyl peroxide cleanser like 4% or 10% PanOxyl.
After washing your face and waiting for it to dry, then apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin.
Finally, finish off by applying a good moisturizer to use with tretinoin with ingredients like shea butter and ceramides.
Tips for Using Tretinoin and Benzoyl Peroxide Together
Using benzoyl peroxide with tretinoin can be a tricky combination for beginners, but these tips can help!
Consider the Tretinoin Formulation
Did you know that the type of tretinoin your healthcare provider prescribes may impact the best way to layer it with tretinoin?
In fact, some research shows that microsphere tretinoin slowly releases the medication and may be more compatible with benzoyl peroxide than other forms.
Alternate Morning and Evening Use
Using benzoyl peroxide with tretinoin together can cause too many side effects, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin.
Instead, consider switching between using benzoyl peroxide in the morning and tretinoin in the evening.
Use Non-Benzoyl Peroxide Alternatives
If benzoyl peroxide is too drying or irritating for you, there are other acne treatments to consider.
For example, you can try using:
Salicylic acid – clears pores and exfoliates
Niacinamide – calms inflammation
Azelaic acid – fights acne and soothes redness
All of these ingredients are generally well-tolerated and more suitable for people with sensitive skin.
Salicylic acid and tretinoin can be a powerful combination for treating acne.
Generally, when comparing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, the latter is better tolerated and less likely to cause sensitivity.
Combining salicylic acid with benzoyl peroxide can also effectively treat acne if you’re not ready to use tretinoin.
Just be sure to use them at alternate times of the day.
Niacinamide and tretinoin can be an especially useful combination for people with sensitive skin.
Because tretinoin dries your skin out, it can often cause irritation and compromise your skin barrier.
Thankfully, studies show niacinamide supports your skin barrier and can help reduce the side effects associated with tretinoin.
Azelaic acid and tretinoin are my personal favorite ingredients for treating acne and dark spots.
For example, one study showed that the combination of both active ingredients resulted in a reduction in lesions for patients with moderate acne with minimal side effects.
Another study showed that combining tretinoin and azelaic acid was effective at fighting pimples and post-inflammatory erythema with minimal side effects.
Apply Sunscreen During the Day
Since tretinoin increases sun sensitivity, I recommend always wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the daytime.
Further, be sure to wear protective clothing to cover up any sensitive skin if you’re going to be outside without shade.
Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide Wash With Tretinoin?
Yes, you can use a benzoyl peroxide cleanser or face wash with a leave-on tretinoin product.
In fact, because your cleanser gets rinsed off, it’s less likely to cause irritation when combined with tretinoin relative to a leave-on benzoyl peroxide product.
Summary: Is it safe to use benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin together?
Yes, it is safe to use tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide together.
In fact, evidence shows that these two ingredients are more effective at treating acne when used together than when used alone!
Applying them at alternating times of day or on alternate nights can help you reduce the side effects typically associated with benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin.
Further, using a moisturizer after tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide can also help fight dryness and protect your skin barrier.
Overall, when used correctly, these ingredients can make a powerful impact on your skin!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, you should avoid layering benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin on top of each other to avoid unwanted side effects like irritation and dryness. If you want to use these ingredients together, try using a benzoyl peroxide cleanser instead of a leave-on treatment, or consider applying them on alternating nights.
No, evidence shows that benzoyl peroxide does not make tretinoin less effective or degrade it in any way.
To use benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin cream, consider applying them on alternate nights. On Night 1, first, wash your face, then apply your benzoyl peroxide gel. On Night 2, wash your face and then apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin. Be sure to moisturize after using either ingredient to prevent any side effects like dryness or redness.
While tretinoin is a stronger acne treatment than benzoyl peroxide, it also requires a prescription to get. Instead, benzoyl peroxide is also a suitable acne treatment for mild-to-moderate acne and can be found over the counter at your local drugstore.