Just because you have a collection of star active ingredient-based serums and creams in your beauty cabinet doesn’t mean you should be slathering them all on your skin at once. In the case of hyaluronic acid and retinol, however, you’ll be doing your complexion a favor if you include both in your routine.
In the realm of skin care, the two ingredients do totally different things. Hyaluronic acid is an MVP when it comes to hydrating, and retinol is a multitasker that does everything from stimulating collagen and cell turnover, smoothing the skin, and helping reduce breakouts and dark spots. According to dermatologists, they’re a power couple when used together.
“They work together synergistically in achieving healthier skin,” says Dr. Daniel Sugai, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Seattle, Washington and dermatologist expert for DermaGEEK. “Hyaluronic acid can soothe and hydrate the skin while your topical retinoid can be quite drying and irritating for some.” His take? Retinol and hyaluronic acid can join forces to better address fine lines and wrinkles along with skin tone and texture.
Keep reading for expert intel on the unique benefits of using hyaluronic acid with retinol and tips for incorporating them into your beauty regimen.
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What Is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is found in all types of beauty products, from serums to lotions and creams — and that’s because it’s a humectant. “It can hold 1,000 times its weight in water and helps to keep the skin hydrated,” says Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. The ingredient is a molecule that’s naturally found in your skin, too, which makes it particularly beneficial when applied topically.
“Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan, or basically a carbohydrate or sugar molecule, that’s distributed widely throughout the connective, epithelial, and neural tissue,” explains King. In other words: It’s a key component of the deep layers of your skin. When you apply a product that contains hyaluronic acid (HA), your complexion is better able to retain moisture and it’ll appear more dewy and plump.
What Is Retinol?
Retinol — a kind of retinoid — is a vitamin A derivative that increases cell turnover and reduces dead skin buildup that can clog your pores (so it’s good for fighting acne and leaving your skin more even-toned). “Retinols can also decrease discoloration and increase collagen production,” says King. At its essence, retinol is an anti-aging hero that dermatologists love for offering a long list of benefits to all skin types.
The downside to using retinol, of course, is retinization, aka the adjustment period in which your skin adapts to the active ingredient. “During this time the skin may become irritated, resulting in dryness, peeling, scaling, redness, or a burning or stinging sensation,” says King. And that’s where hyaluronic acid comes in.
Retinol And Hyaluronic Acid Together
When skin is dry and flaky, it needs moisture — and so hyaluronic acid works as a remedy to the common side effects people can experience when using a retinol. “Retinols tend to cause dryness, flaking, and mild irritation when they’re first used, and hyaluronic acid can help to increase water content and provide hydration to balance these effects,” says Dr. Corey L. Hartman, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Alicia Zalka, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep, echoes this. “HA offers intense moisturization and can reduce the dry and peeling side effects of retinol,” she tells Bustle.
Certain skin types will actually be better off using hyaluronic acid with retinol. “Sensitive skin and those prone to conditions like rosacea and eczema may be particularly affected by [retinization] symptoms,” says King, who recommends increasing the use of moisturizers — such as those that contain HA — to offset these side effects. “Using hyaluronic acid combined with emollients and occlusives should help make retinoids more tolerable, less irritating, and less drying.” (As a refresher, emollients are moisturizing ingredients that prevent water loss and occlusives form a protective layer on your skin to create a barrier that locks in hydration.)
And there’s no need to worry about combining the two ingredients — Hartman notes that HA and retinol react well together and pose no risk of irritation.
Hyaluronic Acid Before Or After Retinol?
Generally, the consensus is to apply hyaluronic acid before your retinol product. “HA allows the retinol to be applied without the dryness that can accompany normal retinol use,” Hartman explains.
You should also follow the skin care routine order rule of thumb: Apply products from thinnest to thickest consistency. “Hyaluronic acid, which is typically found in a lightweight serum, is best applied on damp skin after cleansing as it works by drawing in water,” says Sugai. Then comes your retinol — just be sure to seal it in. “After a retinol, use a moisturizer that contains humectants, emollients, and occlusives,” says King. Emollients include cholesterol, fatty acids, ceramides, and squalane, while common occlusives are petrolatum, beeswax, lanolin, and zinc oxide. And that will conclude your skin-boosting sandwich.
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Dr. Daniel Sugai, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Seattle, Washington
Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Corey L. Hartman, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama
Dr. Alicia Zalka, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep