Can Retinol be Used With Lactic Acid?

While retinol shouldn’t be used with lactic acid at the same time, you can use them in separate routines to address skin concerns such as sun damage, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, texture, fine lines, wrinkles, and even active acne.

Typically, I recommend sticking to retinoids for any skin concerns you want to address, whether that’s acne, hyperpigmentation, signs of aging, or sun damage, because retinoids alone can target all that.

But adding lactic acid in the right way can only boost the effects of retinoids, further improving your complexion and getting rid of any existing skin irregularities.

But as always, and especially when it comes to two actives like a retinoid and an exfoliating acid, there could be potential side effects when incorporating them into your skincare routine.

Therefore, here’s how to use retinol with lactic acid for best results.

Can Retinol be Used With Lactic Acid - The Skincare Culture

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How Does Retinol Work?

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Retinol is a component that belongs to the family of retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives.

This component has small molecules and works by encouraging cellular turnover from the deeper layers of the skin.

This action causes the dead skin cells on the skin’s surface to shed faster and be replaced with newer, fresher, and plumper cells.

An additional bonus of increased cellular turnover are clear and decongested pores as well as evened out skin tone and smooth skin texture.

Other than that, retinol is also an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and boosts the production of elastin and collagen, which are the proteins that make the skin elastic and bouncy.

An increase in collagen and elastin production creates a “plumping” effect, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and enlarged pores.

Finally, retinol has also been proven to balance your skin hydration levels, but this phase will come once your skin gets past the initial irritation and gets used to the active ingredient.

How Does Lactic Acid Work?

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Lactic acid is an exfoliating acid that belongs to the family of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs.)

This ingredient is derived from sour milk or sugar-rich foods, and it’s a water-soluble substance that possesses larger molecules, making it slightly different from glycolic acid, which is one of the most famous members of the AHA family.

AHAs are agents that dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells together on the skin’s surface.

This will result in the dead skin cells shedding and revealing a smoother, brighter, and more uniform complexion from underneath.

And as a part of this family of exfoliating agents, the lactic acid does pretty much that, but due to its large molecules, this particular active ingredient won’t penetrate deeper into the skin and will instead work on the surface, which means it will provide lighter exfoliation, making it more suitable for sensitive skins.

Some benefits of using lactic acid include:

  • Smoother and more uniform complexion.
  • Improved hyperpigmentation.
  • Dissolved closed comedones.
  • Evened out skin tone.
  • Refined texture.

How to Use Retinol With Lactic Acid?

How to Use Retinol With Lactic Acid - The Skincare Culture

The best thing to do is start with a low percentage of retinol and allow your skin to build tolerance to the active ingredient.

This process could last anywhere from four weeks up to three months, depending on the product you are using, its strength, and also how your skin adapts to it.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that your skin is sensitive just because it can’t tolerate retinol. It could simply mean that your skin needs time to get used to retinol.

During your time of getting used to retinol, you should very slowly increase the usage, starting from three times a week up to five times a week.

When your skin is able to tolerate retinol up to five times a week, you should then give your skin a short, one-week break before applying a low percentage lactic acid serum one evening.

You should then monitor how your skin behaves for the next two days before continuing your regular retinol application.

From there, you will be good to go with applying lactic acid once or twice a week and retinol on other nights with at least a day break in between that you would reserve for a simple skincare routine that doesn’t consist of any active ingredients.

This is how you will get the best of both worlds without hurting your skin and potentially damaging its protective barrier.

After using lactic acid and retinol for a while, you will notice considerable improvements in how your skin looks.

Skin issues like sun damage, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, uneven skin texture, lines, wrinkles, and even active acne and post-inflammatory pigmentary changes (or post-inflammatory erythema) will be dramatically improved and your skin will have an overall nice, glowy, and healthy appearance.

Side Effects of Using Retinol With Lactic Acid

While lactic acid is generally a gentle ingredient, using it with retinol still has the potential to dry out the skin and cause irritations.

This is because retinoids will rapidly send new skin cells to the skin’s surface, and lactic acid will shed them, which means your skin will be left with young and immature skin cells that can’t prevent moisture loss the same way mature skin cells can.

When your skin cannot retain moisture, it will become dry, dehydrated, and extremely sensitive to external conditions and potential pathogens.

When this occurs, the skin usually becomes red, irritated, or even itchy and uncomfortable when in contact with even everyday chemicals, such as plain water.

Short-term effects of a damaged moisture barrier are peeling, irritation, redness, and discomfort; however, the long-term effects could be extremely sensitive skin and even some permanent conditions such as rosacea or irritant dermatitis.

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