How to Use AHA With Retinol in a Skin Care Routine

Amp up your anti-aging skin-care regimen with a little help from the Vitamin A and AHA families. Vitamin A-derivative retinoids, like over-the-counter retinol products, and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), such as glycolic acid, benefit the skin in a variety of potent ways. They promote increased collagen production, keep pores clear, reduce fine lines, even out skin tone and brighten your visage, turning the clock back on both sagging and sun damage. However, as alpha-hydroxy acids create an undesirable pH environment for retinoids, your skin-care routine can't be haphazard.

A woman applies retinol cream to her face. (Image: Tomwang112/iStock/Getty Images)

Morning Routine

Step 1

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Pat dry with a towel, then let your skin fully dry for 15 minutes.

Step 2

Soak a cotton ball in a gentle toner and press it against your oily areas to remove excess dirt.

Step 3

Pat a pea-size amount of moisturizing eye cream around your eyes with your ring finger.

Step 4

Smooth a moisturizer with at least SPF 15 over your entire face. Let the moisturizer soak in completely before applying any makeup.

Before Bed

Step 1

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat dry with a towel. Let your skin dry fully for 15 minutes.

Step 2

Smooth a pea-size amount of an alpha-hydroxy acid cream over your face twice each week.

Step 3

Smooth a pea-size amount of a retinoid cream over your face only on days you do not use an alpha-hydroxy acid cream.

Step 4

Let your skin dry for 5 minutes. Smooth a gentle moisturizer over your face to combat dryness.

Things You'll Need

  • Gentle facial cleanser

  • Towel

  • Gentle facial toner

  • Cotton balls

  • Eye cream

  • Facial moisturizer

  • Alpha-hydroxy acid cream

  • Retinoid cream


Keep your morning routine AHA-free to to prevent increased sun sensitivity and sunburn, or be sure to use ample sunscreen.

Retinoids break down in sunlight and should always be applied at night.


Retinoids and alpha-hydroxy acids can initially cause redness and flaking. Let your skin adapt to the treatments by starting applications only a few times per week for the first two weeks. Slowly increase usage.

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