Clash of the Actives: Be Careful When Mixing These Products with Retinol

Credit: Disney/Marvel

Imagine making a smoothie and throwing all sorts of ingredients into the blender, from apples to ice cream and salmon. While these foods taste good on their own, when mixed together, it becomes a big cup of bleh.

Likewise, while skincare actives can be good for you on their own, when you layer on too many, you risk the products clashing. Sometimes, it causes irritation, and in other cases, the actives can cancel each other out. Now that would be a waste, wouldn’t it?

If you are using a product with acne-fighting retinol, such as our almighty Clear Out, here are some common skincare ingredients to be more mindful of:

Benzoyl Peroxide

As one of the most popular products out there for clearing acne, benzoyl peroxide is effective at killing the pimple-causing P. acnes bacteria and shedding dead skin cells. It’s pretty strong stuff, but when combined with retinol, the actives can end up deactivating each other, making them less effective.

What to do: Choose one. There’s no need to have both titans in your routine. But if you’d like to, try using benzoyl peroxide in the morning and retinol at night.


AHAs, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, work by exfoliating the outermost layer of your skin. While retinol and AHA can work well together in a skincare routine, there’s also a chance for them to irritate skin, leaving it red, stinging, burning, and flaking. This is especially a concern if you have sensitive skin.

What to do: Experiment with how your skin reacts to these actives by starting with one of them first. If there’s no irritation, you can start introducing the other active into your routine. Still, it’s best to space these ingredients out. Consider applying AHA in the morning (followed by your sunscreen) and retinol at night.


Similar to AHAs, BHAs such as salicylic acid are excellent exfoliants. BHAs go deep into the pores to break down dead skin cells and oil, which makes them great additions to a routine for acne-prone skin. But, they can also be drying. Depending on the concentration, when used together with retinol, there's a risk of irritation.

What to do: Use BHAs in the morning and retinol at night.

Note: While Balancing Cleanser, our recommended cleanser for those with oily skin, is formulated with glycolic acid and salicylic acid to break down sebum, it is perfectly safe to use with Clear Out every night. This is because we’ve added botanicals to keep the cleanser effective yet gentle to skin. In fact, it is one of the most gentle AHA + BHA washes out there.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a celebrated antioxidant that protects us from the villains out to attack our skin, such as UV rays and pollution. But when mixed with retinol, some might experience irritation and sensitivity.

What to do: Again, this does not mean you need to cut vitamin C out of your routine completely. Simply apply your vitamin C product in the day and use retinol at night.

More Retinol

Retinol, and especially the medical-grade retinol in Clear Out, is already a powerful active. So there’s no need to use it twice in your routine. By doing so, you could even risk irritation.

What to do: Choose one retinol-powered product and you should be good to go!

At the end of day, it’s best to listen to your skin. Your skincare routine should be personal to you so if you find that layering on these potentially clashing actives works for you, go ahead!

Want to be sure your current routine is A-OK for your skin?

Send any questions you have our way via Messenger chat or Instagram DM (@clearlybasics)!

Disclaimer: This article should not be interpreted as personal medical advice. For medical-related matters, please consult your dermatologist.

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