Can You Use a Salicylic Acid Cleanser with Tretinoin?

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Salicylic acid and tretinoin are two of the most potent skincare ingredients around that promote effective results on both acne-prone and aging skins. Unfortunately, though, because they’re such powerhouses, if not used correctly (and sometimes if used correctly!), damaged skin and reactions can occur as a result.

If you’re suffering from breakouts or dry and aging skin, then it can be tempting to want to combine these active ingredients to heal your skin faster.

So, you may be wondering, can you use a salicylic acid cleanser with tretinoin? It may not be such a good idea to use salicylic acid and tretinoin!

Read on, as you are about to discover whether it is possible to use a salicylic acid cleanser with tretinoin at the same time.


Can You Use a Salicylic Acid Cleanser with Tretinoin?

Although you may not be pleased to hear this, the simple answer is no, you cannot use a salicylic acid cleanser with tretinoin at the same time. Well, of course, you can do what you want, but you can rest assured that your skin will suffer as a result.

Why is this? Simply put, both are powerful skincare ingredients on their own. Using them together could cause a total freak-out for your skin.

And because tretinoin is prescribed by your doctor, it is best to follow their advice on using it until any breakouts have been eliminated.

Now, let’s take a closer look at how tretinoin works, along with the side effects it can cause, before we offer some alternative suggestions to replace your salicylic acid cleanser until your skin recovers from starting tretinoin.

What is Tretinoin?

Tretinoin is an extremely potent form of a vitamin A retinoid, and it is used for both treating acne and skin aging with impressive delivery and results.

This retinoid comes in three different strengths, so your doctor will make the choice for you as to which one will work best for your skin condition.

The end result will see you benefit from younger and more radiant skin, due to the cell turnover caused by tretinoin. It will take a considerable amount of time for you to see this result, though, as tretinoin will cause irritation. And the irritation will be severe if you don’t use it correctly.

Tretinoin Side Effects

When you first start using tretinoin, your skin will need some time to adjust to it. This means, there will be no hiding from the burning, redness, itching, rashes, peeling, and flaky skin that will most likely result once you begin adding tretinoin to your daily routine.

It’s known as the tretinoin purge, and it is similar to the “retinol uglies“.

There will be no hiding from the burning, redness, itching, rashes, peeling, and flaky skin that will most likely result once you begin adding tretinoin to your daily routine. It’s known as the tretinoin purge.

Fortunately, though, your skin will eventually get used to the tretinoin, and over time you’ll find that the above-mentioned symptoms will reduce. The adjustment period can last for up to about 12 weeks, so this is a long-term strategy, although it will be well worth the transition.

Your skin isn’t destined to be itchy and flaky forever.

Simplify Your Routine

When using tretinoin, it’s extremely important to simplify your skincare, otherwise, you’ll be creating a recipe for disaster. This means you’ll need to use fewer products than you’re probably used to, if you want to avoid unwanted reactions.

You will also want to avoid using tretinoin every single day, though always follow your clinical guidance here. This is because your skin won’t know what hit it, and if you’re using it for acne, it is guaranteed to get much worse.

Try using your tretinoin no more than twice a week to start, and work your way up to three times a week after a month. If your skin is tolerating tretinoin well, then you can apply it every other day. And just know that some people who have used tretinoin for years still only apply it three to four times a week, not every day — and it still works effectively for their skin.

You’ll also need to make sure that you only use tretinoin at night because your skin will be more sensitive to UV damage. Getting sunburned is the last thing you’ll want to deal with on top of your already delicate skin while it gets used to using tretinoin (or any retinoid for that matter).

A very simple routine to start is washing your face with a gentle and sulfate free cleanser at least 30 minutes before you apply a small pea-sized amount of tretinoin. That’s because tretinoin is stronger if your face is wet, which will make it more irritating.

Afterwards, you will need to apply a gentle moisturizer or serum to keep your skin hydrated.

Other Ingredients to Avoid

Basically, any product that contains irritating ingredients is only going to make the side effects of your tretinoin purge worse. Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance that you read the labels of any products you want to use before you use them.

Yes, it’s a pain, but to avoid further irritation, it’s something you must do. As a note, any product made for acne (containing salicylic acid, retinol or benzoyl peroxide, for example) is definitely one to steer clear of. You also want to avoid:

  • Sulfate cleansers
  • Products containing alcohol
  • Essential oils
  • Exfoliators and scrubs
  • Washcloths

If you’re unsure of a particular product, it’s probably best not to use it at all. But if you’re sure the product is fine and you haven’t used it before, then you should probably do a patch test on the back of your ear to see how your skin reacts at least 24 hours before applying it to your face.

Final Thoughts

Keeping your skin moist with a minimal amount of irritation is a top priority when you introduce tretinoin to your daily routine. So, you needn’t ask if you can use a salicylic acid cleanser with tretinoin, if you don’t want to hear no as the answer.

Of course, there will be a time again when you’ll be able to add things like salicylic acid cleanser back to your skincare routine, but not until your face has adjusted to the tretinoin, which as you now know, may take a few months to happen.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).