Retinol Guide: Actives, SK-II & Usage

When it comes to skincare, there’s no doubt that retinol is considered one of THE gold standard ingredients, especially for anti-ageing. We don’t blame you for wanting to boost any results from your retinol with other active ingredients - but which ones can you actually use?

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Considering that retinol needs to be introduced to your skin in just the right way, adding any other powerful actives to your skincare routine shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, what other activities can you use with retinol? The truth is, it all depends on your skin. Using other actives with retinol is possible, but it takes a little bit of careful planning and know-how. Here’s our guide to how to use retinol with other active skincare ingredients. 

How to Use Retinol With Other Actives

Can you use all other skincare actives with retinol? How to use multiple skin care actives at the same time is tricky, but it can be done. There are some important tips you’ll need to know when it comes to using retinol and other active ingredients in your beauty routine. 

1) Wait Until Your Skin Is Adapted to Retinol

Before you even consider adding another active to your skincare routine, it's important to have waited at least 3 months from when you first added retinol to your skincare routine. Why? Retinol’s effect on  your skin could mean that you’re much more easily prone to over-exfoliation and irritation, especially when you combine the powers of retinol with a potent glycolic acid or other exfoliating acid product.

To give ALL of your skincare the best chance at working properly and to avoid stinging and redness, you should only add new actives to your routine once your skin is well-adapted to retinol!

This weekly exfoliating treatment from JUVENA uses the powers of AHAs to refine pores and smooth skin.

2) Alternate Active Days

One tip that many people seem to overlook is that it’s okay to use actives on different days, or even on alternating days. It can seem tempting to layer everything on at once, but there are a few reasons why you might not want to do that.

One is the fact that you end up creating a skincare routine that takes a really long time to do. Considering that some actives require a bit of wait time after application, and layering several actives at once can all add up to a seriously long skincare routine.

Another reason is that you’re actually the most likely to encounter irritation if you layer too many actives one after the other. By using your chosen active on different days, you can still get all their benefits while reducing the chances of irritation.

Bring a youthful glow back to your skin with this exfoliating treatment from Omorovicza.

3) Less Is More

Depending on your skin goals, you may find that only one or two actives are really all you need. While each active has a unique set of benefits for your skin, what’s more important than having a lot of actives is actually using them consistently and correctly.

It might be easy to think that piling on actives like VItamin C, Retinol, and Glycolic Acid will help you get your skincare results faster - but the truth is, you may only need one or two of these to help you reach your skin goals. 

Revitalise your skin with the best of the best - at 1% concentration, this retinol serum from Dermalogica works hard to firm skin and soften the signs of ageing. 

Which Actives Can I Use with Retinol?

There are several combinations of actives that you might be thinking about when it comes to using actives with retinol - the ones we’ll cover today include:

  • Retinol and AHA
  • Retinol and BHA
  • Retinol with Vitamin C
  • Retinol with Niacinamide

These are the most common active skincare combinations that we see from skin care fans who want to give a boost to their retinol. How to use these actives the right way in your retinol skincare routine can be tricky, but not impossible - here are our best skincare tips for each category!

Retinol and AHA

This covers retinol and glycolic acid, as well as retinol and lactic acid. This combination works particularly well for anti-ageing and reducing the appearance of wrinkles for youthful skin. Both retinol and AHAs can stimulate collagen production, boosting your skin’s elasticity and restoring firmness.

If you want to use retinol and glycolic acid together, it’s important to remember that you should be using retinol more frequently than glycolic acid. That goes for retinol and lactic acid, too. 

Combining the powers of AHAs, BHAs, and Pitera makes this exfoliating lotion from SK-II the perfect tool for sweeping away dead skin cells and refining pores. 

If you’re at the stage where you’re using retinol nightly, using retinol with AHA in your skincare routine would look like using your AHA product once a week. You could slowly build this up to maybe 2-3 times a week, however, once a week is more than enough for most to help get glowing skin.

When it comes to using retinol with glycolic acid in your skincare routine, it’s best to use them at different times (eg, glycolic in AM and retinol in PM) or even on different days to make sure your skin gets all the benefits of both without getting irritated skin.

Sealed for ultimate potency and freshness, this capsule serum from Elizabeth Arden combines the power of retinol with ceramides to create a rich, powerful serum. 

Retinol and BHA

Using retinol with salicylic acid is best if you want to tackle breakouts while you're on your anti-aging journey, too. Salicylic acid has the unique power to reduce the appearance of pores and tackle blackheads in a way that other ingredients can’t - so if you have acne-prone skin, we don’t blame you for not wanting to stay away from this ingredient. 

Some skincare products are formulated with both in a single formula - making getting the benefits of retinol with salicylic acid fairly straightforward! However, if you’re using an exfoliating toner with salicylic acid, you can use it in the morning once or twice a week, reserving your retinol for use in the evening. 

This facial treatment oil from Dermalogica combines the skin-clearing power of Salicylic Acid with Retinol to create a treatment like you’ve never tried before.

Retinol with Vitamin C

Using Retinol with Vitamin C is an especially powerful combination for anti-ageing and fading the look of hyperpigmentation and dark spots. Using these two actives together is extremely straightforward .

Vitamin C, as an antioxidant, benefits your skin by stimulating collagen levels but also is perfect for shielding your skin during the daytime from the effects of harmful free radicals. That makes it an obvious choice to use as part of your morning routine, while leaving retinol as part of your night time routine to make the most of these powerful ingredients!

One of the best matches for Retinol is Vitamin C - and this powerful Vitamin C serum from Dermalogica is no exception!

Retinol With Niacinamide 

This skincare ingredient combination is fantastic for newbies to retinol. Also known as Vitamin B3, niacinamide is a perfect skincare ingredient to use with retinol!

How to use these together is luckily, very straightforward - there isn’t necessarily a wait time, and the two ingredients work well together to address concerns such as dark spots and pigmentation, while niacinamide actually helps your skin to adapt to retinol in the first place. 

Retinol with niacinamide is the most beginner-friendly option when it comes to using other active skincare ingredients with retinol. How to use them together is simple, without any risk of extra irritation that often comes along with other active skincare ingredients. 

Fortified with Niacinamide and other powerful antioxidants, this serum from Grown Alchemist is like a multi-vitamin for your skin!

Now that you know our best tips about retinol & how to use it with other skincare actives, we hope this blog post has helped you get your beauty affairs in order!

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Or, if you’re not sure where to even start with a skincare routine, try our skin analysis. You’ll get a unique skincare recommendation based on your skin type and goals!

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Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne is a passionate beauty writer with over 10 years of experience. She’s incredibly keen on all things skincare, makeup and cosmetics, with a fingertip on the pulse of the latest global beauty trends at all times.

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