How to Use Alpha Hydroxy & Retin-A

Woman applying lotion
Layering alpha hydroxy and Retin-A maximizes the anti-aging benefits. (Image: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

Retin-A and alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, work to boost your skin's natural collagen formation while increasing its elastic fibers to improve your skin tone and minimize wrinkles. Because they perform different functions, using the two together improves your skin more effectively than using either product on its own. For example, Retin-A irritates skin while alpha hydroxy acid is an anti-inflammatory that balances the effects of Retin-A. While you can use them together, layering your beauty products requires careful timing to make sure you maximize the results.

Step 1

Wash your face. Starting with clean skin is an important part of any skin care regimen. Use your favorite cleanser or opt for one that contains glycolic acid. If you are just starting to use these products or if you have sensitive skin, start by using a gentle, mild cleanser instead of one with alpha hydroxy.

Step 2

Apply the product that contains alpha hydroxy acids. Common examples include lactic acid or glycolic acid, which exfoliate the skin and stimulate cell regeneration. Don't be alarmed if you feel a slight tingling after applying the alpha hydroxy acids; this is a normal side effect.

Step 3

Wait for approximately 30 minutes to allow the alpha hydroxy to become absorbed by your skin. If you slather the Retin-A on too soon, you’ll minimize the effectiveness of both products.

Step 4

Apply Retin-A, which is generically known as tretinoin cream. Unlike alpha hydroxy acids, Retin-A doesn't exfoliate your skin, which is one of the reasons that they can work together. Instead, this vitamin A derivative works deeply within your skin to improve the production of skin cells.

Tip

Alternatively, instead of layering the products, apply alpha hydroxy acid in the morning and use Retin-A at night.

Because these products can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun, it's important to protect your skin by applying sunblock. Use sunblock that contains zinc oxide, Parsol 1789 or titanium dioxide, which offers a physical barrier between your skin and the sun's rays.

If your skin becomes extremely dry or irritated, decrease the frequency with which you use the products or switch to a milder formula.

Warning

Avoid using other potentially irritating skin care products to minimize skin irritation during the first few months of using Retin-A and alpha hydroxy. Some examples include toners, peel-off facial masks, astringents, bar soap, clarifiers, scrubs and refining lotions.

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