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In recent years, retinol has become one of the more popular – if not the most popular – skincare ingredients around. It is known as an “anti-ageing miracle” because of its ability to give you the much desired baby soft, glowing skin.

While retinol can provide incredible anti-ageing results in as little as four weeks, it is not exactly beginner-friendly. When combined with the wrong ingredients, retinol can actually cause more harm than good to your skin!

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To help you better incorporate retinol into your skincare routine, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of ingredients that should and should not be combined with retinol.

Benefits of retinol

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Retinol is an exfoliating synthetic derivative of vitamin A that promotes cell turnover and reveals healthy skin beneath the surface.

When retinol enters the skin, it “signals” to living skin cells to produce healthier, younger cells. With a faster cell renewal rate, your pores stay clear and dark spots fade, resulting in acne-free, even skin tone.

It also stimulates collagen production, which, as we all know, begins to decline after the age of 25. Higher collagen production increases skin elasticity, resulting in a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles.

How to use retinol?


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Despite its effectiveness, retinol has a high risk of skin irritation and increased skin sensitivity due to its harshness.

Begin with a low retinol concentration (around 0.5%) and apply it every two to three days, gradually increasing the concentration and frequency as your skin adjusts.

Because retinol makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays and sunlight, it is best applied at night and a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher must be applied during the day.

Ingredients you should mix with retinol

To reduce dryness: retinol + hyaluronic acid/panthenol/glycerin

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Using retinol can lead to considerable transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is the passive evaporation of water through the skin and into the air. The excessive dryness can compromise the skin barrier, causing flakiness, redness, and irritation.

Humectants such as hyaluronic acid, panthenol, and glycerin help to reduce TEWL by attracting and retaining water molecules to the skin’s surface layers.

This combination works well as a single product or layered to provide moisture to the skin while not interfering with the retinol.

To reduce irritation: retinol + niacinamide

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Because retinol can compromise the skin barrier and cause skin irritations, combining it with niacinamide, an ingredient that helps to preserve the skin barrier will reduce the risk of irritation and redness.

Furthermore, niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory with few to no side effects on the skin, making it compatible even with a reactive ingredient like retinol.

To reduce wrinkles: retinol + peptides

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This is the ultimate anti-ageing combination since retinol, a collagen-building ingredient, is able to help increase the skin’s absorption of peptides, which are known to improve skin firmness.

Furthermore, peptide skincare typically comes in the form of creams with a high concentration of emollients. These hydrating ingredients can help counteract excessive dryness, which is a common side effect of retinol use.

Ingredients you should not mix with retinol

Retinol + vitamin C

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Because vitamin C is formulated at a low pH and retinol at a high pH, these two ingredients reduce each other’s potency. When used together, the pH of vitamin C rises and the pH of retinol falls, cancelling out the efficacy of both ingredients.

Moreover, because vitamin C is an ascorbic acid that can cause skin irritation and redness, combining it with retinol, which has similar side effects, will inevitably trigger the skin.

To maximise the efficacy of both ingredients, use vitamin C in the daytime with SPF to protect the skin from environmental aggressors and retinol at night to repair and rebuild the skin.

Retinol + AHAs/BHAs

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Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) act as exfoliants on the skin and are known to be drying.

Examples of AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid and citric acid, while the most common BHA is salicylic acid and sodium salicylate.

While all three products are best used at night, the combined exfoliating effects of retinol, AHAs, and BHAs will be so drying to the skin that flakiness and redness are unavoidable.

Retinol + benzoyl peroxide

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Even though retinol and benzoyl peroxide are both acne treatments, with retinol reducing acne breakouts and benzoyl peroxide used as a topical antiseptic to treat acne, combining these two skincare products only cancels out each other’s positive effect.

Because both ingredients increase skin sensitivity, using them together will leave the skin extremely dry and irritated.