Glycolic Acid and Retinol: Debunking the Myths and Misconceptions

Experts agree that retinol and glycolic acid are two of the most significant skin care ingredients when it comes to fighting, preventing and reversing tell-tale signs of aging. Well, both might be naturally occurring compounds but do they share any other similarities apart from this? In the showdown between glycolic acid vs retinol who takes the trophy? Most importantly, between retinol and AHAs like glycolic acid, what's the right fit for your skin type? Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about either retinol or glycolic acid including whether or not you can use them together.

Glycolic Acid and Retin A

There's  no doubt that both glycolic acid and retin A are superstar skin care and anti-aging ingredients. They are both available in varying concentrations, ranging from powerful and potent prescription-strength formulas to less aggressive OTC (over the counter) options. But that's where the similarities between Retin A vs. Glycolic acid end.

Glycolic acid is a water-soluble AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that is naturally derived from sugar cane pulp. It's typically integrated in a number of skincare products starting from simple cleansers to sophisticated exfoliators. And being a chemical exfoliator, it does not strip the skin of its naturally-synthesized oils, rather, it just loosens the exterior-most layer made of dead skin cells to allow the underlying epidermis to bloom and glow again.

Considering that glycolic acid sloughs off and removes that inhibitive dead skin layer, it inadvertently promotes better penetration of secondary cosmetic products such as Retin A.  In one way or another, it makes treating acne, skin discoloration, large pores and rough texture easier. If anything, if you are dealing with any of these issues, try these advanced Glycolic Acid Pads to kickstart a deep exfoliation stint that is guaranteed to improve your overall texture and skin tone.

Retin-A, on the other hand, is mainly used to treat comedonal breakouts, inflammatory acne and reduce signs of aging such as wrinkles & fine lines. It's also not uncommon for it to be used to fade hyperpigmentation or cosmetically to brighten one's complexion. Nevertheless, when compared to retinol, retin-A tends to be more potent but this added strength is not without its own fair share of side effects which include; peeling, burning, redness and dryness. 

In terms of encouraging cell turnover, the duel between Retin A vs Glycolic acid is definitely a hard fought one. Both seem to be equally poised at reducing the conspicuousness of aging signs although glycolic acid is the milder version of the two.

But what about tretinoin? What’s the relationship between AHA and tretinoin? Well, in case you didn't know, tretinoin is the active ingredient found in the brand name Retin-A. In other words, the two are commonly used interchangeably. In fact, it is not rare to come across comparisons between glycolic acid and tretinoin which, in reality, is a Retin A glycolic acid face-off. Tretinoin works in almost the same way as its brand name equivalent Retin-A, and it's equally capable of speeding up cell turnover, keeping skin pores open and combating comedonal acne.

Tretinoin medications additionally help in fading dark marks, softening fine lines and getting rid of discolorations sustained from sun damage. As a result, your complexion tends to feel smoother, look brighter and incredibly healthier after a tretinoin treatment session. Having said that, its imperative to point out that since tretinoin is basically Retin-A, you may want to stay away from this ingredient if you have very sensitive skin that cannot tolerate prescription-strength retinoic acid.

New to Anti-aging: AHA or retinol First?

If you have recently adopted an anti-aging routine, you could be wondering what's the best product or ingredient to fuel your quest to look younger than your peers. Luckily for you, we have done the hard work for you so you don't have to spend hours scouring the interwebs to work out whether you should use aha or retinol first.

It is important to point out, from the outset, that reducing the impact/signs of aging calls for a combination of potent ingredients which includes broad spectrums exfoliants, sunscreen, exfoliants, emollients, and a couple of cell-communicating ingredients such as retinol. At this juncture, you already know that the ability of the vitamin A derivative to reduce the conspicuousness of wrinkles, reverse sun-induced damage, boost the production of collagen and increase one's overall skin cell turnover is virtually unmatched. Nevertheless, retinol, especially the synthetic version, is rarely torelated well by most people without triggering a slew of nasty side effects. And this is where AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) come into play.

You see, unlike the vitamin A derivative which can be a little too potent for some users, AHAs can also stimulate collagen production and slough off dead skin cells but without predisposing you to the same retinol sensitivity issues. As such, people who are just starting to implement an anti-aging skin regimen may find AHAs better accommodating, especially if they have very reactive skin.

Having said that, it is important to note that retinol still offers unique photoaging protection and can brighten your skin and reduce inflammation in ways that AHAs simply cannot. What's more,  if used in the right concentration and dermatological potency suited for your skin,  it can significantly minimize the occurrence of breakouts and acne while improving the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Therefore, in the alpha hydroxy acid vs retinol argument, the best approach is to integrate both into your skin care routine. Incorporate a well-rounded retinol treatment such as Bloommy Collagen Retinol Cream every night after cleansing your face before bed, then throw in an AHA preparation once or twice a week. This puts you at a vantage position of reaping the best of both worlds for your skin care goals.

Can you Use AHA and Retinol Together?

Arguably, the greatest concern regarding the question of, 'Can you use glycolic acid and retinol together?' stems from the fears of suffering an undesirable drug interaction should you decide to incorporate the two into your skin care regimen. However, comprehensive research shows that using AHA and retinol together does not have to be punitive, restrictive or prohibitive. You actually don't have to choose between retinol and alpha hydroxy preparations as far as giving your skin a first-class treatment is concerned. Here's why.

If you are wondering, 'Can you use glycolic acid and retinol together?', then fret no more. Yes, you can. But you have to be very mindful of how you go about it. Here are some valuable pointers to help you along.

  • Start small and progressively go big: Like anything else in life, it's not advisable to jump into the deep end right away. Start with gentler and milder OTC formulations and progressively work your way to stronger preparations.
  • Never at the same time: Under no circumstances should you use retinol and glycolic acid peels at the same time. Kickstart your anti aging skincare regimen by using an AHA formulation at least once a week while monitoring how your skin responds. Later on incorporate a low-strength retinol product once or twice a week and evaluate your skin's reaction. You can then step up to alternating the preparations nightly as soon as your skin becomes accustomed sufficiently to both ingredients.
  • Go slow if sensitive: If you have perpetually dry or incredibly sensitive skin, you want to go at an even slower pace. You can even consult your physician or dermatologist for their input if you don't feel confident enough to try out on your own.
  • Monitor your skin closely: Keep a close eye on how your complexion responds to the application of these ingredients. While some flaking, peeling, redness or sensitivity is expected and perfectly normal, it does not have to be extremely uncomfortable to the point where it interferes with other aspects of your life. If so, you may want to discontinue using the preparations immediately and consult your physician/dermatologist before taking further action.

You may have noticed that the relationship between retinol and glycolic acid appears to be quite dicey to the point that the question, "Can I use glycolic acid with retinol?" is as multifaceted as it is straightforward.  Part of the reason is because each of these two powerhouses function optimally at different pH levels. The best pH for the activation of retinol, for example, ranges somewhere between 5.6 and 6.1. Glycolic acid, on the other hand, appears to function optimally at a much lower (acidic) pH, below 3.5.

In theory, this may imply that using any of these ingredients at the wrong pH renders them useless. Glycolic acid, for instance, is not as effective at pH levels above 4.4 while retinol has a reduced potency at lower pH levels. This observation, therefore, underlines the recommendation that you should avoid using both ingredients at the same time.

Moreover, it is critical to be aware that retinol and glycolic acid each boost the skin cell turnover rate in different ways. Retinol mainly encourages the proliferation of new epidermal cells and facilitates their travelling rate to the exterior-most layer of the skin. And this explains the visibly brightening effect that retinol-based preparations appear to have on one's skin. Glycolic acid, on the other side of the spectrum, acts on the surface of your skin to loosen the bonds between dead/atrophic skin cells that are no longer needed to accelerate their exfoliation. On paper, it means that the retinol and AHAs actually compliment one another and can enhance the overall impact on each other.

Can I use Retinol after AHA or BHA peel?

Another point of contention in this AHA retinol duel is the little matter of, "Can i use retinol after AHA BHA peel?" For starters, not only can you do it but it is also recommended provided that you adhere to a few AHA with retinol usage directives. And this is especially true if you are attempting to treat acne or getting rid of acne scarring fast. Dermatologists, for example, have figured out that a combination of glycolic acid peels (AHA) and retinaldehyde (retinol) can significantly lessen the number of pimples and spots after one to two months of continuous application. The same combination has proven to be quite useful at treating and preventing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) that is often left behind after the healing of acne scars.

What's more, there is also research that illustrates how using 0.0025% retinoic acid after incorporating 12% glycolic acid peels can improve the appearance of pitted (atrophic) acne scars. In fact, 85% of the patients that undertook this study experienced notable improvements in post inflammatory hyperpigmentation compared to those who did not. This remarkable reduction in the conspicuousness of acne scars just goes to show that using retinol after AHA and BHA peels may boost collagen production and, hence, offer innumerable anti-aging benefits.

Which is Better: Retinol or Glycolic Acid?

Finally, which is better, retinol or glycolic acid, particularly in reversing aging and looking younger? To answer this question as comprehensively and accurately as possible, it is imperative to put into consideration a couple of talking points.

First, either of these skincare superstar ingredients are naturally adapted to solving vastly different types of age-related damage. Retinol, for one, appears to be more effective at combating age-related skin damage. And this is thanks to its unmatched ability to boost the production of collagen and elastin. Glycolic acid, as you would have guessed already, is just perfect for dealing with lifestyle-induced damage such as too much sun exposure or smoking.

Secondly, with careful planning and adherence to a few ground rules extrapolated elsewhere in this article, you can avoid dealing with the small issue of which is better retinol or glycolic acid by integrating the two into your quest to look younger for longer. You actually stand to gain better results this way since each of these powerhouses can help smooth uneven complexion tones, diminish wrinkles, fade age spots and eliminate scarred tissues or unsightly age spots.

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