Can You Use Retinoids and Benzoyl Peroxide to Fight Acne?

July 18, 2022
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal
Derm DMs: Should I Use a Retinoid and Benzoyl Peroxide to Fight Acne?

If you have acne, it can be tempting to stock up on products with acne-fighting ingredients that are proven to banish breakouts, like retinoids and benzoyl peroxide. While these products can help keep your skin clear when used on their own, there are a few things to keep in mind before using retinoids and benzoyl peroxide in tandem. For advice on how to incorporate both ingredients into your routine safely, we turned to board-certified dermatologists and experts, Dr. Kenneth Howe and Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand.

Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Retinoids at the Same Time?

Whether you’re creating an over-the-counter skincare routine or visiting a dermatologist, benzoyl peroxide and retinoids can be helpful when it comes to fighting acne, but it’s important to note that they work in different ways. Retinoids work deep in the pore to keep them from clogging, according to Dr. Howe. “Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, kills the bacteria associated with acne, and reduces oil production.”

While it may seem like using both ingredients would make your acne better, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, applying both at the same time can be detrimental. “Benzoyl peroxide and retinoids should not be used together because they will deactivate each other and make the retinoid ineffective,” says Dr. Houshmand. “The combination is also irritating to the skin.”

How to Incorporate Both Ingredients Into Your Skincare Routine

Even though retinoids and benzoyl peroxide shouldn’t be used directly after one another, that doesn’t mean you can’t use both ingredients in your skincare routine. “I would recommend a benzoyl peroxide wash with a low percentage in the morning and thoroughly rinse off the skin,” says Dr. Houshmand. “Then, use a retinol or retinoid at night sparingly and only several times a week.”

We like the CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser and the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel, which both contain benzoyl peroxide. For a gentle retinol, look to the Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide.

Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide

Depending on your skin type, this routine may still be too aggressive. “A fair number of people will become irritated when attempting to use these two ingredients,” says Dr. Howe. “Signs of this irritation are redness, scaling, dryness or fissuring of the skin. The skin may also feel sensitive or even slightly painful.”

If you notice any of these signs, scale back on the frequency you use the ingredients and make sure you're hydrating with an oil-free moisturizer and wearing sunscreen every morning.


Design: Hannah Packer

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