ahas and retinoids: friends or foes?

cellular deliveryRecently, there was an article written by respected dermatologist, Dr. Baumann (respected dermatologist and author of “Skin Type Solutions”) that stated AHAs and retinoids should be used separately as they can inactivate each other. I’ve been reading some conflicting information on the subject and figured I’d try to shed some light and hopefully cut through any confusion on the subject. Here it goes.

Retinoids: Vitamin A is used in three main forms. Retinoic Acid, the active ingredient in Retin-A and Accutane, Retinol – the alcohol form of Vitamin A that is converted into retinoic acid in the skin, and retinaldehyde, the non-acidic ester form of the Vitamin that also gets converted in the skin. All three forms of the vitamin work to fight free radicals, strengthen the skin and boost cellualr metabolism. When Vitamin A is applied topically, it is escorted by the skin directly into the nucleus of the cell where it charges fibroblasts into action to create more cells. Retinoids are commonly used in skincare for this reason and can be very helpful in treating fine lines, wrinkles, scarring, acne lesions and more.

AHAs: Alpha Hydroxy acids are located everywhere in the human body. When you pump iron at the gym, you are breaking down muscle and feeling the burn. That burn is actually lactic acid being released – an alpha hydroxy acid. AHAs started popping up everywhere in skincare after research showed how the use of glycolic acid stimulated cellular metabolism, softening fine lines and bringing more moisture into the skin in the process. Since then, we’ve experimented with other AHAs and now use lactic (milk and beets), glycolic (sugar and certain fruits), malic (apple) and mandelic (almonds) and found that each hold merit for healthy aging as well as the reduction of hyper-pigmentation and acne lesions. Simply put, AHAs break skin down on the very surface in order to enourgae skin to “bulk up,” growing faster, bigger and stronger (kinda like a gym workout for your face.)

Benzoyl Peroxide: brings oxygen into the skin which kills bacteria – this ingredient is used quite a bit in acne products in order to help the skin eliminate bacteria, thus heling to clear acne lesions.When overused, however, it can cause

BHAs: Beta Hydroxy Acids are actually not hydroxy acids but got the name anyway – so we go with it. Salycilic Acid is really what we are talkin’ about here.

I like all of these ingredients for the skin for different reasons. Based on skin condition and personality, it is best to choose from this list 1 or 2 main active ingredients to add to your home care regime. Always consult with your skincare professional as well!

It is possible for bezoyl peroxide or AHAs to render retinoids less active. So, if you are using a glycolic cleanser, for example, the general recommendation is to use it only in the morning and save the retinol serum or lotion for your evening routine.

Let me break it down a bit more:
Retinol or retinaldehyde are a bit different that retinoic acid or tretinoin. Retinol and retinaldehye need to be broken up and converted into retinoic acid as they enter the epidermis and make their way to the dermis (where all the action takes place.) Retinoic acid requires a prescription and can be very irritating to the epidermis as it travels into the skin. So, If you are using retinoic acid, my advice would be to use it at night, not every night, and not in the same 24-hour period as AHAs or benzoyl peroxide as it can be way too irritating. Think about it, retinoids and acids both stimulate the skin and give it work to do. When you overstimulate the skin – you are defeating the purpose and creating free radicals in the process.

If you are using retinol or retinaldehyde, my advice is to stay with nighttime use and use your AHAs or benzoyl peroxide in the mornings instead (if you have thin or sensitive skin – you may want to alternate days for this as well.)

Tretinoin is the synthetic form of retinoic acid, which in my professional opinion is not as effective or gentle as the real thing.There is even a study out that links topical tretinoin use with increases health risks (especially when used by smokers.) *Please note that tretinoin is NOT the same as retinoic acid or retinol and that Dr. Baumann tends to lump them all together – reading the study’s findings – you will see that tretinoin 0.01% is the only ingredient linked to health risks.

Some products contain very small amounts of retinol (seen on the label as retinyl palmitate, Vitamin A or retinol) along with AHAs (seen on the label as AHA, alpha hydroxy acid, glycolic, lactic, madelic or malic acid, sugar cane extract, etc). In these cases, the retinoids may be in the product for different purposes – like ingredient delivery or cellular communication – and therefore will not interfere with the AHAs.

BHAs generally can be used in conjunction with retinoids or bezoyl peroxide without complications, but monitor your skin for extreme dryness or irritation as these are signs of over stimulation.

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