Skin experts say not to combine salicylic acid and retinol

We all know the pore-unclogging, oil-balancing powers of salicylic acid as well as the rejuvenating benefits of retinol. In fact, the two hero skincare ingredients are so potent, that many skin experts advise to only use one or the other, for fear of over-sensitising skin or causing inflammation. Skincare authority Dermalogica claims to have safely combined the two ingredients to create the ultimate skin clearing powerhouse product.

“Typically adults have other skin concerns too, such as premature skin ageing along with increased sensitivity,” says Sally Penford, Director of Education at Dermalogica. “Treating these concerns together can be a complex challenge. Combining skin-friendly time-released Retinol with Salicylic Acid and phytoactive lipids of argan, golden jojoba, and rosehip seed, we can address adult breakouts, premature skin ageing and skin sensitivity – without risking irritation or over-complicated skin care regimens. This high-performance night oil combines Retinol and Salicylic Acid into one skin-soothing formula and is clinically proven to deliver clearer, more vibrant skin overnight.”


My skin will put this product to the ultimate test. It’s oily, and prone to clogged pores and blemishes, but is also sensitive and gets dry and inflamed by too many active ingredients.

Having said that, I love retinol for its skin-smoothing and rejuvenating properties but also rely on salicylic for its balancing benefits. Usually I have to choose between the two ingredients but I’m hoping the new oil will change that.


For £62, the product certainly looks and feels luxury. The ombre, metallic bottle adds an element of elegance, and the dropper applicator feels appropriately apothecary-like.

After cleansing, I apply a few drops to my skin – the oil spreads easily so a little goes a long way. It has a refreshing, medicinal smell (almost minty) and is instantly absorbing, leaving no greasy residue whatsoever – great news for anyone, like me, who is scared of the word ‘oil’ on skincare products.

Usually, I know almost immediately if a product is too strong. The day after application, my skin will be flaky and dry in patches, especially around my nose and chin. However, upon waking my skin looked calm and clear. As well as salicylic acid, the oil contains a time-release retinol, meaning it’s gradually administered over a period of hours to avoid overloading the skin, as well as lightweight lipids argan, rosehip seed, and golden jojoba oils to nourish and soothe.

I made sure to apply a broad spectrum SPF (essential if you’re using retinol) before applying makeup. Throughout the day, my makeup stayed in place perfectly – usually I need to do a midday touch up to ward off excess shine – and my skin didn’t feel tight or dry in the slightest.

After a week of using the oil every other evening (I like to start slow), my skin texture has noticeably improved – it’s smoother, clearer and brighter – and my breakouts are drying up. Very impressive, Dermalogica.

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