Can you use hyaluronic acid with retinol? A dermatologist breaks it down.

In recent years, many have hailed the benefits of incorporating hyaluronic acid and retinol into your skincare routine, and the buzz around these ingredients isn’t unfounded.

Studies have proven that hyaluronic acid creams support the production of collagen and improve skin elasticity. Retinol products have also exhibited positive results in studies — consistent use can help smooth wrinkles and promote an even skin texture. While the individual benefits of these ingredients are undeniable, can hyaluronic acid and retinol be used together?

In conversation with USA TODAY, a dermatologist breaks down how these ingredients work, and explains why you might want to be using hyaluronic acid and retinol to achieve a glowing, radiant complexion.

What is hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid, also known as HA, is a naturally-occurring substance known for its hydration properties. It’s commonly found as an active ingredient in skin and hair products, and it’s also frequently used in the form of an injectable dermal filler that sculpts and restores volume to the face, according to the FDA. It’s a powerful humectant, and while “acid” may be in the name, hyaluronic acid’s “main job is not to do with exfoliation, but actually it's to do with moisture,” says Dr. Aamna Adel, a dermatologist based in the U.K. When hyaluronic acid is applied to the face in the form of a serum, cleanser or moisturizing cream, it attracts water molecules to the skin, locking in moisture and boosting hydration, Adel explains.

If you’re looking to alleviate dryness and achieve soft, supple skin, there are many benefits associated with using hyaluronic acid. In particular, hyaluronic acid serum is effective at restoring hydration, adding plumpness, and dissipating the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, according to a 2021 study.

How to use hyaluronic acid

Whether you’re using hyaluronic acid in the form of a serum or moisturizer, Adel recommends applying your product of choice twice a day. Hyaluronic acid is a gentle ingredient, and it pretty much suits every skin type. “Whether you're dry, oily, combination, or normal skin, any skin type can really use it without seeing negative effects,” Adel tells USA TODAY.

Because hyaluronic acid serums are thinner and lighter, they should always be applied directly after you’ve cleansed, and before you’ve applied a thicker moisturizer, she says. This helps to ensure that the product will absorb into your skin faster. If you’re using hyaluronic acid moisturizer, apply this after your serum set-up, she adds. However, there’s also no need to layer hyaluronic acid products — if you're using a hyaluronic acid moisturizer, Adel says you don’t need to use a hyaluronic acid serum.

What is retinol?

Topical retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A, and when applied to the skin, they help to stimulate collagen and increase skin cell turnover, Adel says. Under the umbrella of retinoids, Retin-A, also known as tretinoin, is a retinoic acid product that treats the effects of photoaging and acne, and it must be prescribed by your doctor, according to Healthline. Retinol, on the other hand, is a milder, over the counter version of this product, per Harvard Health. To compare the two, tretinoin is approximately 20 times the strength of an OTC retinol you could buy directly from the beauty aisle, according to a 2019 study.

Common side effects of using topical retinoids include dry, flaky, irritated skin, and increased photosensitivity, Adel says. Although it’s not as strong as a prescription-strength retinoid, serums and creams containing retinol “can be really quite irritating,” she notes. “What you would expect is that, to some degree, your skin barrier would become a bit damaged and a bit weakened.”

How often can you apply retinol?

There’s no right answer, but ultimately, it depends on how well your skin can tolerate retinol without experiencing irritation. So, whether you can comfortably wear retinol every night, or only three days a week, it’s more important to prioritize “consistency over frequency,” she says.

To apply the product, “you don't need more than a pea-sized amount,” Adel says. “Less is definitely more when it comes to retinoids.” You should always apply retinol at night and make sure you follow it up with sunscreen in the morning.

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Adel explains there’s a common misbelief that using a greater amount of retinol product more frequently will help you achieve your skin goals quicker. The effect, unfortunately, is quite the opposite. “What ends up happening, is because you've developed quite a lot of irritation, you then have to take quite a long break from using it,” she notes. Consequently, if you have to keep stopping and restarting how often you’re using retinol, you won’t see as favorable results, she says.

Can you use hyaluronic acid and retinol together?

Absolutely. Hyaluronic acid and retinol pair well with each other, Adel says. If anything, Adel suggests that using the two ingredients together is “a great way to potentially counter some of the irritation and dryness that you can get with using retinol.” In practice, she recommends applying your hyaluronic acid product first. Once that has completely dried, go ahead and apply retinol.

In general, hyaluronic acid is highly compatible with most other popular skincare ingredients, including vitamin C and niacinamide, Adel adds. Retinol, on the other hand, is more tricky. “There's a lot more limitation in terms of what you should be using in the same routine as retinol, just because it's irritating in itself,” she says. Particularly, Adel would not recommend using exfoliating acids, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, “in the same routine as your retinol, just due to the risk of irritation.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can you use hyaluronic acid with retinol? How to get younger skin