Using AHA, BHA and Retinol Together

Using the hydroxyacids AHA and BHA with retinol

Using retinol and hydroxyacids such as alpha hydroxyacids (AHAs) and beta hydroxyacids (BHAs) together will increase the effectiveness and side effects of both skin care ingredients.

How do you know when you can use these skin care ingredients together?

The best way to know which skin care products to use together is to shop by your Baumann Skin Type- because my advice differs depending on your skin type.


AHA and retinol


AHA vs Retinol in Skincare Routine

What is the difference between AHAs like glycolic acid and retinol?

AHAs and retinol are both used for antiaging, smoothing skin texture, and treating acne. Both exfoliate the skin and increase collagen production.

AHAs and retinol have similar skin benefits but work differently.

AHAs slightly increases collagen production by stimulating desquamation.

Retinol is better at increasing the production of collagen and also decreases the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin.

How AHAs work on skin

Increase exfoliation

Prevents acne causing bacteria from growing on the skin

Humectant properties hydrate skin

Slightly increases collagen production

Texture results are immediate but temporary

How retinol works on skin

Increase exfoliation

Stimulate retinoic acid receptors

Turn on genes that make collagen

Turn off enzymes that destroy collagen

Stimulate toll like 2 receptors

Texture benefits take time but are long lasting

To read more about the science of how retinoids work visit this link.


Can I use AHA and retinol together?

AHA can be used with retinol. Using AHAs and retinol together can increase skin benefits but also makes side effects more likely.

AHA is an acid and retinol turns into retinoic acid in the skin. That means that when you use AHAs and retinols together you are using 2 different acids on your skin.

Acids exfoliate the skin and using too many acids on the skin can cause over exfoliation.

When you thin the top layer of the epidermis with AHAs, this makes more retinol go into the skin.

This is why when you use AHAs and retinoids together you increase the risk of retinoid side effects.


Can AHA be used with retinol?

These are the things that will determine if you can use AHAs and retinol together:

Your Baumann Skin Type

The strength of the retinoid product

If you are using the retinol properly

When you use retinol in the skin care routine

The pH of the AHA product

How strong the AHA product is

Which cleanser you are using

Which moisturizer you use

Do you use retinol before or after the AHA

Types of alpha hydroxyacids (AHAs) in skin care products are:

Citric acid

Glycolic acid

Hydroxycaproic acid

Hydroxycaprylic acid

Lactic acid

Malic acid

Pyruvic acid

Tartaric acid

How strong these AHAs are and how much they thin the stratum corneum layer of the skin depends upon how much free acid is in the product.

How strong a AHA is depends on:

  1. pH
  2. pKa of the acid type
  3. buffers in the formulation
  4. penetration enhancers like hyaluronic acid in the formulation
  5. How much AHA is in the formulation
  6. What type of AHA is in the product

Can I use AHA and retinol on the same day?

It depends upon which Baumann Skin Type you have. Resistant skin types can use 2 exfoliation products the same day, sensitive skin types cannot.

Retinol and AHA are compatible with each other and do not inactivate each other - in fact - they increase the strength of each other.

Using too many exfoliants can irritate skin and cause acne. So many skin types should not use AHA and retinol on the same day.

If you do use AHA and retinol on same day, use AHA in only one regimen step.

I advise my patients to use an AHA cleanser in the am and a retinol at night.

Knowing your Baumann Skin Type helps you build a skin care routine personalized for your skin type.


How to use AHAs and retinoid together

You should not begin AHA and a retinol together when beginning a new skin care routine. It is too much exfoliation.

It is better to begin the retinoid, get used to it, and then add the AHA to your routine.

Retinoids are more important to use for acne and antiaging than AHAs so they should be started first.

Follow directions in this guide to using retinoids

Once you are using a retinoid every night without side effects, you can consider adding a AHA.

In most cases it is best to use a AHA cleanser in the am and a retinoid at night.

Here are some AHA cleansers to use with retinol:

The reason a AHA cleanser is better to use with retinol than a AHA cream is because the cleansers will make the cells of the top skin cell layers separate and loosen their bonds. This allows the product that follows it to penetrate better.

Regimen design and when you use the AHA and retinol is very important and depends on your Baumann Skin Type.

We can guide you and tell you exact regimens steps once we know your skin type.

Can I use AHA and retinol in the same week?

Yes you can use AHA and retinol in the same week if you do not have any of these issues:

Sensitive skin

Stinging skin

Inflamed skin

Peeling or scaling


Can I use retinol after a AHA or BHA peel?

NO! Do not use retinol after a peel until all skin peeling scaling has ended. This may take 4- 14 days depending on the strength of the chemical peel.

Glycolic acid and Retinol

Can you use Glycolic acid and a retinol together?

Retinol and glycolic acid are often used together. They do not inactivate each other. In fact, they make each other stronger. Glycolic acid is a type of AHA.

Should I use retinol or glycolic acid first?

If you are going to use retinol and glycolic acid together, use glycolic acid first. A glycolic acid cleanser is a better choice then a glycolic cream when combining with a retinoid.

Can I use glycolic acid and retinol at night?

If your Baumann Skin Type can handle both, you can use a glycolic acid cleanser at night followed by a retinol and moisturizer. DO not use a both a glycolic cleanser and a glycolic moisturizer. Choose only one glycolic product to use with a retinol.

Do I need retinol if I use glycolic acid?

Most Baumann Skin Types cannot handle both a retinoid and a glycolic acid product.

It is more important to use retinol than glycolic acid because of the long term beneficial effects of retinol.

Lactic Acid and Retinol

Lactic acid and retinol together?

Lactic acid is a AHA. It will increase the strength of retinol. Only use lactic acid and retinol together if you have a resistant Baumann Skin Type and your skin is not peeling, stinging or irritated.

What goes first, lactic acid or retinol?

If you are beginning retinol, do not use lactic acid. If you are acclimated to retinol, use lactic acid first and apply retinol afterwards at night.

Salicylic acid and Retinol

salicylic acid in skin care products....

Can I use BHA and retinol together?

The only beta hydroxyacid is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid differs from AHAs because it:

Is lipophilic so can penetrate through skin sebum into pores

Dries skin

Is anti-inflammatory

Retinol and salicylic acid can be used together if you have an Oily Baumann Skin Type.

The best way to use retinol and salicylic acid together is to use a salicylic cleanser in the am and a retinol at night.

Good salicylic acid cleansers to use with retinol:

Can I use BHA and retinol in the same week?

BHA and retinol can only be used the same week if you have:

An Oily skin type

Calm skin

A strong skin barrier

No Peeling or scaling

No redness

No stinging

No rosacea

Salicylic acid (BHA) or retinol first?

If you are using a BHA products and a retinol together, use the salicylic acid product first.

Do not use BHA and retinol together if your skin is irritated.

Consider a salicylic acid cleanser instead of a BHA cream to use with retinol.

Not all Baumann Skin Types should use both BHA and retinol together!

Want to know if using AHA or BHA and retinol is right for your skin type? We can help you choose each regimen step from many different brands.

Its easy and its free!


Baumann L. Ch. 24 and 27 in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3 (McGraw Hill 2022)

Baumann L. Ch 82 in Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)

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