Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
The Ultimate Guide to Using Tretinoin and Salicylic Acid Together

The Ultimate Guide to Using Tretinoin and Salicylic Acid Together

If you have acne-prone skin, using powerful ingredients like tretinoin and salicylic acid in your skincare routine can be a game-changer.

There are two of the best ingredients used to fight skin concerns like breakouts and skin aging.

But you might be wondering – are they safe to use together?

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about using salicylic acid and tretinoin together.

What is Tretinoin?


Also known as retinoic acid or retin-A, tretinoin is a vitamin A derivative that works by speeding up turnover of dead skin cells and stimulating collagen production.

In fact, many studies have confirmed tretinoin’s abilities to:

  • Speed up skin cell turnover

  • Reduce fine lines and wrinkles

  • Improve your skin texture

  • Regulate sebum production

  • Improve skin renewal

Additionally, tretinoin is often prescribed by dermatologists as an acne treatment.

However, there are some downsides as well.

Potential Side Effects of Tretinoin

Many people experience side effects when starting tretinoin, such as:

  • Skin irritation

  • Flakiness and peeling

  • Redness

  • Itchiness

  • Dry skin

Studies show that these side effects improve over time as your skin adjusts to retinoic acid.

However, some individuals may still experience lasting sensitivity.

Therefore, it’s important to either “buffer” tretinoin or layer it with hydrating and soothing ingredients.

For example, niacinamide and tretinoin can be a winning combination together.

What is salicylic acid?

Naturopathica Rosemary Salicylic Acid Acne Clearing Moisturizer

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid known for its incredible ability to treat acne and clogged pores.

When you incorporate salicylic acid into your routine, it works by generating deep into your pores and:

  • Dissolving dead skin cells

  • Flushing out oil and dirt

  • Exhibiting anti-inflammatory effects

  • Calming breakouts

Salicylic acid is generally well-tolerated and suitable for people with sensitive skin but overuse can still cause side effects like dryness and irritation.

What is salicylic acid used for?

Salicylic acid is used for treating oily skin concerns such as:

  • Acne

  • Blackheads

  • Dandruff and sebhorreic dermatitis

In fact, salicylic acid is one of the few ingredients approved by the FDA to treat acne!

Can you use tretinoin and salicylic acid together?

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

Generally, it is best to avoid using tretinoin and salicylic acid together as the combination can irritate skin and cause dryness.

However, there is some research that demonstrates the safe and effective use of salicylic acid and tretinoin together.

For example, one study showed that combining tretinoin cream and salicylic acid cleansing pads improved acne with no added irritation.

Another study found that using a salicylic acid cleanser with tretinoin was an effective treatment for acne with minimal side effects.

How to Use Salicylic Acid and Tretinoin Together

Naturium BHA Liquid Exfoliant 2% with box

To use salicylic acid products and tretinoin, you need patience!

First, start by using salicylic acid 1-3 times per week for a month before you start adding in tretinoin.

Then, try using tretinoin 2-3 nights per week with salicylic acid for the first 2-3 months.

If layering both tretinoin and salicylic acid together is too strong for you (and it is for most people!), consider trying a wash-off salicylic acid cleanser or alternating nights.

As your skin continues to build up tolerance, you can gradually increase the frequency of application.

Considerations When Using Salicylic Acid and Tretinoin

Because you’re already using two strong active ingredients, try to avoid other potentially irritating ingredients like:

  • Retinol

  • Benzoyl peroxide

  • Glycolic acid

Be sure to monitor your skin for side effects like redness or dryness.

If you experience these, decrease the frequency or stop using your actives altogether until your skin heals.

Skincare Routines with Tretinoin and Salicylic Acid

FaceTheory Saliatica 2% BHA Exfoliant T6

To get the most out of your skincare routine with tretinoin, follow this order.

Morning Routine with Tretinoin

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser or rinse with water

  2. Apply a leave-on salicylic acid exfoliant

  3. Apply your favorite moisturizer

  4. Finish off with SPF

Evening Routine with Tretinoin

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser

  2. Apply a pea-sized amount of tretinoin and gently rub in

  3. Wait 2 minutes for tretinoin to absorb

  4. Finish off with a layer of moisturizer and facial oil

Tips for Using Salicylic Acid and Tretinoin Together

Follow these tips to keep your skin happy and healthy when using salicylic acid and tretinoin together.

Choose the Right Salicylic Acid Product

To avoid irritation, it’s best that you apply salicylic acid and tretinoin at different times of the day or on alternate nights.

Generally, leave-on salicylic acid products are best used in the mornings and salicylic acid cleansers can be more effective at night.

Then, you can apply your tretinoin on clean, dry skin at night.

Avoid washing your face with salicylic acid after applying tretinoin as you’ll either wash it off completely or cause more skin irritation.

Support Your Skin

Using a gentle cleanser and a good moisturizer are essential when you’re using drying active ingredients like salicylic acid and tretinoin.

The best moisturizers to use with tretinoin have nourishing ingredients like ceramides and squalane.

Further, using hydrating serums with glycerin or hyaluronic acid will help hydrate your skin and reduce the sensitivity typically associated with tretinoin.

Avoid Side Effects

When you combine salicylic acid and tretinoin, it’s essential that you keep an eye out for side effects like irritation and redness.

If you notice any of these symptoms, stop using these actives until your skin recovers fully.

Visit Your Dermatologist

Tretinoin is a prescription medication, and there’s no one better to advise you on how to use it than a board-certified dermatologist.

Set up an appointment to discuss how best to tackle your specific skin concerns.

A dermatologist will consider your skin type and medical history to help you determine the best way to tackle acne or skin aging.

Summary: Using Salicylic Acid and Tretinoin Together

Tretinoin .05%

When used consistently, salicylic acid and tretinoin are an effective combination against acne and aging skin.

At the same time, when you incorporate salicylic acid into your routine with tretinoin, it can cause signs of irritation like redness and dryness.

By slowly easing into your skincare routine and introducing products one at a time, you can limit potential irritation and adjust frequency based on your skin’s feedback.

Trust me, the results will be worth the wait!

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