Both salicylic acid and retinol are excellent skin care ingredients for treating acne-prone, oily skin. However, the rumor is that these two don’t get along quite well.
So, the question is, can salicylic acid and retinol be used together?
Continue reading to learn more about using the salicylic acid and retinol cocktail.
Can Salicylic Acid and Retinol Be Used Together?
Yes, salicylic acid and retinol can be used together if there’s no skin irritation or your skin is sensitive; in such cases, it is not a great combination.
A 2016 research showed that, when applied topically, retinol (all-trans-retinol) and salicylic acid improved acne vulgaris and photodamage and that they can be used daily. (1) A concentration of 0.25% retinol is safe and effective in reducing photoaging signs after salicylic acid peeling. (1)
Moreover, a 2019 research reported that topical application of retinol and salicylic acid with lactic acid resulted in acne improvement after 4 weeks, with continued progress after 8 weeks. (2)
Another research reported that acne treatment often included topical salicylic acid and retinol application. (5) Salicylic acid is a peeling agent that treats melasma, lentigines, freckles, photodamage, and acne vulgaris. (6)
Thus, salicylic acid and retinol can be used together.
What Are the Safe Dosages of Salicylic Acid and Retinol?
The safe dosages of salicylic acid and retinol are as follows.
Salicylic acid dosage
Salicylic acid is an odorless, white solid that plunges in and slowly mixes with water. (7) About 1%–2% of the total dosage of salicylic acid gets deposited on the skin at the time of washing. Researchers are looking for more effective deposition systems and more effective deposition systems are sought. (8)
The standard salicylic acid chemical peeling involves using 20% or 30% salicylic acid formulation in an ethanol base. (9) This study examines the effectiveness and safety of a 1.5% salicylic acid cream containing natural skin penetration enhancers and antioxidants for treating facial acne. (10)
Retinol in the form of liquid crystal is safe and has many clinical perks. (4)
Another study found that 0.25% retinol, 0.5% retinol, and 1.0% retinol were effective in improving visual skin smoothness and skin dryness and safe with better/equivalent tolerability and performance than tretinoin creams. (11)
What Is Salicylic Acid and What Are Its Properties?
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid. Its name stems from the Latin word salix, which means willow tree. The source of salicylic acid is white willow’s bark and wintergreen leaves. (7)
As an aspirin ingredient, salicylic acid has multiple health perks. It treats several skin conditions, such as eczema and acne. It is also used widely in numerous cosmetic products, (12) such as shampoos, creams, tonics, and masks. It also removes dead skin cells due to its exfoliating nature.
Moreover, salicylic acid is used in textiles, food, cosmeceuticals, and pharmaceuticals as a raw material.
The following are the properties of salicylic acid:
- It is ideal for removing dead skin cells, reducing photoaging, and improving aged skin. (13)
- It possesses anti-inflammatory properties that prevent sunburn cell formation due to exposure to UVB rays. (14)
- It shows mild to moderate activity against inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions. (15)
What Is Retinol and What Are Its Properties?
Retinol is vitamin A’s synthetic derivative. It is a fat-soluble vitamin found in foods such as dairy products, eggs, fish oil, and meat. (16)
Retinol boosts elastin and collagen production, which is essential for the smoothness and firmness of the skin. It reduces transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which refers to the amount of water evaporating from the skin surface. (4)
Retinal, retinol, retinoic acid, and other related compounds are referred to as retinoids.
The following are the properties of retinol:
- Retinol shows promising results in treating skin aging irritant reactions such as scaling and burning. (17)
- Retinoic acid enhances aged-looking skin. (18)
- All-trans retinol (retinoid acid’s precursor) is a widespread, effective antiaging agent used in skin care products. (19)
- Retinol improves fine wrinkles caused by natural aging. (20)
What Are the Adverse Effects of Salicylic Acid and Retinol?
Unfortunately, salicylic acid and retinol are not free of unpleasant effects.
The harmful effects of salicylic acid include:
- Toxicity to salicylate is a medical emergency.
- Intentional or accidental ingestion/overdose of salicylic acid can severely cause metabolic derangements, making treatment challenging.
- Levels of 100 mg/dL or more of salicylate are considered severely toxic, and the effects can be seen 12–24 hours after ingestion.
- Salicylic acid can damage the basement membranes of the body, leading to cerebral and pulmonary edema.
- In acute salicylic overdose, the symptoms usually occur within 3–8 hours, and the severity depends on the ingested amount. Mild ingestion (40 to 80 mg/dL) causes vomiting, nausea, and generalized abdominal pain. (21)
Note: According to one research, all congeners of salicylic acid showed potential antibacterial properties as they curbed the growth of different bacterial strains. (22) However, the results also showed the inactive nature of salicylic acid against various bacterial strains, including B. subtilis. (23)
The harmful effects of retinol include:
- Skin peeling, irritation, and erythema are the most common retinol effects.
- Severe retinoid toxicity can affect several organs.
- Calcinosis, bone spurs, and bone resorption with hypercalcemia are retinol effects on bone health.
- Long-term dietary vitamin A consumption in high levels encourages bone resorption and stops bone formation, which can lead to hip fractures and osteoporosis.
- Other possible central nervous system effects are vomiting, nausea, and headache. (24)
Can I use salicylic and retinol during pregnancy?
No studies have been done on the topical use of retinol and salicylic acid. However, if absorbed in small portions, they are unlikely to pose risks to a developing baby. (5)
Until a large-scale study is done, using retinol topically must be avoided due to its questionable risk benefits. (25) However, some theoretical considerations discourage the topical use of retinol and other topical acne products during pregnancy. (26)
Oral retinoid drugs are unsafe during pregnancy as they are linked to congenital malformations. (27) Phenol peels, trichloroacetic acid, and salicylic acid should not be used during pregnancy. (29)
If using retinol irritates the skin, how do I avoid it?
According to researchers, if you have sensitive skin, using retinol in high concentrations can lead to irritation. (29) They also suggest avoiding overly drying astringents and toners, as they can irritate the skin severely. (30)
According to some studies, genetic variations significantly affect retinoid and retinol’s bioavailability. Genetic factors govern retinol-induced irritation. (29)
How long after using salicylic acid can I use retinol?
Retinol in 0.25% concentration can be effectively and safely applied right after salicylic acid peeling to improve photoaging signs. (1)
It is recommended to stop using retinoids 1-2 weeks before peeling to prevent pre-peel complications. It should be discontinued days before the peeling procedure. (9)
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid with numerous health benefits and practical therapeutic effects on conditions such as acne and eczema. It also removes dead skin cells and is widespread in the cosmetic industry.
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that boosts elastin and collagen production and thus enhances skin smoothness and firmness. It also reduces transepidermal water loss.
Using the amalgamation of salicylic acid and retinol is beneficial, but people with sensitive or dry skin should avoid this mixture.
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