Salicylic Acid and retinol are two of the most widely used ingredients in skincare, but they’re also two of the most commonly misused.
Salicylic acid (sometimes referred to as BHA) is an exfoliant that clears pores, reduces inflammation and redness, and speeds up cell turnover.
Retinol is a form of vitamin A that stimulates collagen production, improves skin elasticity and tone—all while reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Both ingredients have pros; both have cons; so how do you know when to use them together?
How Long to Wait Between Salicylic Acid and Retinol?
How long to wait between salicylic acid and retinol depends on the strength of your products, your skin type, and whether you have sensitive skin.
The general recommendation is at least an hour, but it’s best to check with your dermatologist before using a new product.
If you have very sensitive skin or are prone to irritation, it might be better for you to wait two hours or even longer.
However, if your skin is more resilient than most people’s, then waiting just 30 minutes may be okay too.
If you’re using both a 1% or 2% salicylic acid cleanser and a 0.025% retinol serum (the lowest strength available), then waiting one hour should be fine for most people with sensitive or dryer complexions who don’t mind some flaking here and there when first starting out with retinol products.
If however, you start out using them together without waiting long enough between applications then this could result in too much exfoliation which could lead to redness & irritation.
How to Use Salicylic Acid and Retinol Together
Here’s how to use salicylic acid and retinol together:
Step 1: Cleanse your face
Cleanse your skin thoroughly with a gentle cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its natural oils.
Choose one that’s free of fragrance and sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulphate.
These ingredients can irritate sensitive skin and cause inflammation, which can make acne worse.
Step 2: Apply salicylic acid pads
Apply salicylic acid pads to clean skin before retinol application. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that exfoliates the top layer of skin and unclogs pores by dissolving dead skin cells, sebum, and pore-causing impurities.
Salicylic acid works best when applied to clean skin.
Make sure to wait at least 30 minutes after washing your face before applying it, so that it can work while you apply other products.
If you’re using other products containing BHA (such as benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid), then wait at least 20 minutes after applying them before applying salicylic acid pads to ensure their effectiveness isn’t compromised by other ingredients in the products you’re using.
Step 3: Wait 20 minutes before applying retinol cream
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that helps skin renew itself more quickly by increasing cell turnover.
It also reduces wrinkles and age spots by speeding up collagen production in the skin’s dermis layer (the middle layer).
This makes it an excellent anti-aging ingredient, but it can be irritating to sensitive skin types if used too frequently or in high concentrations; which is why you should wait 20 minutes before applying it after using salicylic acid products.
Step 4: Use a gentle cleanser after using both products
Salicylic acid can make your skin feel dry and flaky if you don’t rinse off all of it completely after application.
Retinol can also cause irritation if not removed properly.
To avoid this problem, use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin’s moisture after using both products together.
My favorite is CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser ($13).
It’s gentle enough for my sensitive skin but still removes all traces of oil and dirt from my pores without leaving behind any residue or drying out my skin.
Step 5: Follow up with a moisturizer
Follow up with a moisturizer that contains SPF 30 or greater.
This will help protect your skin from sun damage while also reducing irritation from the retinol cream.
Step 6: Be patient
Be patient with this process because it takes time for these ingredients to work their magic on your skin — especially if you have severe acne.
Can You Use Retinol After Salicylic Acid?
Yes, you can use retinol after salicylic acid. However, this isn’t a good combination for acne treatment.
While salicylic acid is effective at treating acne and preventing future breakouts, it’s not typically as effective at clearing up your skin as an over-the-counter product containing benzoyl peroxide or an oral medication like antibiotics can be.
Retinol is an anti-aging treatment that helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles by speeding up cell turnover in the skin’s surface layers.
It also has some mild exfoliating properties that help to shed dead cells more quickly so they don’t just sit around on top of your pores clogging them up—which is why this ingredient works well with other acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide (BP).
Do Retinol and Salicylic Acid Cancel Each Other Out?
You might have heard that salicylic acid and retinol cancel each other out.
However, it’s important to remember that these are two completely different types of treatments.
Salicylic acid works by dissolving the oil that clogs pores; retinol works by increasing cellular turnover in order to clear away dead skin cells and reveal new ones.
So while they’re both exfoliants, they don’t necessarily work against each other—they can actually complement each other quite nicely!
If you’re concerned about using both treatments at the same time (and who wouldn’t be?), start slow.
Try using one product at night followed by another product in the morning (or vice versa), so you get an idea of how your skin reacts before ramping up your usage frequency or dosage levels.
If this seems like too much work, just try experimenting with one product at a time first and see how your skin responds.
Can You Use Salicylic Acid and Retinol Together Everyday?
The short answer is no, you shouldn’t use salicylic acid and retinol together everyday.
The reason why is that both of these products are designed to exfoliate the skin, which means they can cause irritation if used too often.
Salicylic acid dissolves the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, while retinol causes your body to shed those dead cells faster.
Can You Use Salicylic Acid Face Wash Before Retinol?
The answer to this question depends on the type of salicylic acid you’re using.
If it’s a wash, then it’s best to wait 30 minutes after washing your face with salicylic acid before applying retinol.
But if it’s an astringent or toner, you should wait about 15 minutes.
It also depends on how your skin tolerates these ingredients individually and together.
Even though there are no definitive studies on mixing retinol and salicylic acid, one thing is certain.
Both products reduce inflammation on the surface of the skin and can help clear up acne scars as well as treat blackheads, whiteheads and other blemishes caused by clogged pores (which are sometimes referred to as “comedones”).
Is Retinol or Salicylic Acid Better for Acne?
A good question to ask yourself is, “What am I looking to achieve?”
If you have acne, then Salicylic Acid will likely be a better choice for you than Retinol.
This is because Salicylic Acid can penetrate pores, whereas Retinol cannot. It’s also anti-inflammatory and will help reduce inflammation associated with acne breakouts.
On the other hand, if your skin concerns are fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation (dark spots), then Retinol may be a better option for you over Salicylic Acid because it can help reduce these issues by stimulating collagen production in your skin.
So, can you use retinol and salicylic acid together?
The answer is yes! In fact, salicylic acid is actually one of the best ingredients to use after using a retinol product.
It’s also great for acne-prone skin because it helps control oil production while healing blemishes.
You should always follow directions when using these two ingredients at once or on consecutive days in order to avoid any unwanted side effects.