Can I use lactic acid with retinol? Read my advice on these popular active ingredients and how to use them safely.
Adding new products to your skincare routine is not something to take lightly. After all, each new product puts your face at risk for irritation or allergic reaction.
When you’re working with active ingredients, being cautious about what’s in your skincare is an absolute necessity. While many ingredients can be gentle when used correctly, the wrong combination of products can cause redness, itching, and even chemical burns.
Lactic acid and retinol are common ingredients in the skincare world, loved for their anti-aging effects and improvement of overall skin appearance.
Because these ingredients pop up again and again in the beauty realm, I’m often asked, “can I use lactic acid with retinol?”
In truth, the answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no.
In this post, I’m sharing all you need to know about lactic acid and retinol, their skincare benefits, and how you can safely add both of these ingredients to your beauty routine.
Lactic Acid – What Is It?
Lactic acid is under the alpha hydroxy acid umbrella. It’s used to gently exfoliate your skin, removing the outer layer of dead skin cells.
While it’s naturally made as a byproduct of plant and dairy fermentation, most skincare uses a synthetic version that is just as effective.
Benefits of Using Lactic Acid
Lactic acid serums have several skincare benefits, improving both skin health and appearance. These benefits include:
- Gentle exfoliation – Brightens your skin, improves skin texture, and improves overall skin health. It’s also suitable for sensitive skin types, which is always a bonus!
- Improves moisture – Helps skin stay hydrated, improving its natural moisture barrier.
- Reduces dark spots – Skin cell turnover improves hyperpigmentation, smoothing an uneven skin tone.
- Clears breakouts – A gentle exfoliant helps to clean pores and reduce breakouts.
- Reduces signs of aging – An AHA promotes collagen production and reduces the appearance of fine lines.
Retinol – What Is It?
Retinol, a retinoid, is a form of vitamin A commonly used in skincare.
Quality retinol products can transform the surface of your skin, helping with acne breakouts, signs of aging, and elasticity.
Depending on the concentration, you can use a retinol serum every night. It is important to start off using Retinol very slowly before working up to every night.
You can also receive a prescription for retinoic acid from a board-certified dermatologist. Retinoic acid is harsher, though it can be extremely effective for clearing acne-prone skin.
Benefits of Using Retinol
There’s a reason why retinol is so widely recommended. Here are some of its benefits:
- Good for acne-prone skin – Retinol can help unclog pores, improve skin texture, regulate sebum production, and reduce inflammation. Not only does it help treat acne, but it also helps prevent future flare-ups.
- Anti-aging properties – Increases collagen production and fights free radicals to reduce signs of aging. This includes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improving overall skin texture. Collagen also improves elasticity and firmness.
- Improves discoloration – If your skin’s surface has dark spots or hyperpigmentation, retinol can help even your skin tone through advanced skin cell turnover.
- Regenerates damaged skin – Because retinol encourages rapid skin cell turnover, it can remove damaged skin and reveal a brighter, healthier complexion.
Can I Use Lactic Acid With Retinol?
Lactic acid and retinol both make great additions to your skincare routine. It is possible to use both products regularly, though it’s not recommended to use them on the same night.
Using two strong active ingredients together can cause skin irritation, including redness, itchiness, and burning. Both chemicals can also be very drying, especially when overused.
For best results, I recommend that you use these products on alternate nights.
I find that the best way to use these products is by following a four-day system:
- Night One – Retinol
- Night Two – Rest day
- Night Three – Lactic acid
- Night Four – Rest day
On these rest days, you may want to apply a thicker moisturizer or overnight moisture treatment to balance any dryness you experience from these products.
If your skin feels sensitive or irritated, try having a couple of rest days between lactic acid and retinol days.
Tips for Using Lactic Acid With Retinol
If you haven’t used lactic acid or retinol before, there are a few things you need to know to keep your skin safe and healthy.
Follow these tips to get the most out of these products:
1. Use regular sun protection
These chemical products can make your skin more sun-sensitive. Protect yourself from UV rays and, ultimately, skin damage by applying sunscreen every morning.
I also recommend you use them at night to limit your skin’s sun sensitivity. One of my favorite sunscreens is Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen – it’s invisible and leaves no white cast. Read more on how to ensure sunscreen does not clog your pores.
Some of my favorite sunscreens:
2. Start small
If you haven’t used either of these products before, try one to start and allow your skin to fully adjust to the product before introducing the other.
Also, choose a low concentration to begin with, working yourself up as needed.
3. Don’t combine strong active ingredients
Active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide), and vitamin C will likely cause irritation if combined with lactic acid or retinol.
Check your products, including cleansers, toners, and serums, for these active ingredients. You can space them out by alternating nights or by morning and night.
For example, you may apply vitamin C in the morning, then retinol that night after cleansing.
4. Increase hydration
Retinol and lactic acid can both be drying, especially as your skin adjusts. Remember to moisturize twice a day and supplement with hydrating masks when needed.
Hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient for dry skin, and it can be combined with both retinol and lactic acid. These are some of my favorite moisturizers:
5. Monitor your skin
Depending on your skin type, introducing retinol or lactic acid can be difficult.
For sensitive skin types, you may need to adjust the concentration, use them less often, or stop using them altogether.
While the benefits are great, they are not worth damaging your skin.
If you’re concerned about sensitivity, begin with lactic acid, as it tends to be a gentler product than retinol.
My Top Picks for Lactic Acid and Retinol
I have lots of recommendations for both lactic acid and retinol. Each of these products provides effective treatment for healthy, beautiful skin.
The Best Lactic Acid Skincare
- SUNDAY RILEY | Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment
- SUMMER FRIDAYS | Soft Reset AHA Exfoliating Solution
- THE ORDINARY | Lactic Acid 5% + HA
- INNISFREE | Volcanic AHA Pore Clearing Clay Mask 2X
- BIOSSANCE | Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum
- SHANI DARDEN | Lactic Acid Exfoliating Serum
- TATCHA | The Dewy Serum Resurfacing & Plumping Treatment
- KIEHL’S | Ferulic Brew Rejuvenating Facial Essence
- DERMALOGICA | Age Smart Skin Resurfacing Cleanser
- REN | Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic
The Best Retinol Skincare
- MURAD | Retinol Youth Renewal Serum
- PAULA’S CHOICE | Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment
- PAULA’S CHOICE | 0.3% Retinol + 2% Bakuchiol Treatment
- FARMACY | 1% Vitamin A Retinol Serum
- SUMMER FRIDAYS | Midnight Ritual Retinol Renewal Serum
- DERMALOGICA | Dynamic Skin Retinol Serum
- PEACE OUT | Retinol Eye Stick
- THE INKEY LIST | Retinol Eye Cream
- COLLEEN ROTHSCHILD | Retinol Supreme Eye Serum
Note – Check out my Farmacy Beauty Reviews which includes a Farmacy coupon code and all the details on top Farmacy products!
Frequently Asked Questions
These are the questions I get asked most about using lactic acid, retinol, and other skincare staples.
What is the best chemical exfoliant?
There is no “perfect” chemical exfoliant for everyone. Each skin type has specific needs that different exfoliants can meet.
Some of the most common chemical exfoliants and their best uses include:
*Salicylic acid – Great for oily, acne-prone skin types. It penetrates pores, unclogging them and reducing inflammation.
*Lactic acid – Suitable for dry, sensitive skin. It gently exfoliates while offering some hydration as well.
*Glycolic acid – Good for dry and normal skin types. It improves hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and overall skin texture.
*Mandelic acid – Particularly good for sensitive skin and darker skin tones. It is gentle on the skin and won’t worsen dark spots or hyperpigmentation. Other AHAs can actually worsen hyperpigmentation on darker skin tones!
How often should you exfoliate your face?
You can safely use a chemical exfoliant 1-3 times a week, depending on skin type and sensitivity. Make sure to take breaks in between for recuperation. I exfoliate max twice per week and that is enough for my skin. Less is often more with exfoliation and actives, especially for sensitive skin.
In between these days, simply use a gentle cleanser, serum, eye cream and quality moisturizer.
What percentage of retinol should I start with?
If you’re brand new to retinol, I highly suggest starting with a low concentration of 0.25%.
Providing your skin adjusts well, you can move up to 0.5% and eventually 1%. Note that not everyone’s skin can handle or will need this high percentage.
Final Thoughts: Can I Use Lactic Acid With Retinol?
That wraps up all my thoughts on “can I use lactic acid with retinol?” I hope these tips help you incorporate these products into your skincare routine both safely and effectively.
If you have any further questions about retinol, lactic acid, or all things skincare, please reach out through Instagram or my contact page. I would love to help!