Who doesn't want a fresh-faced complexion and a youthful, dewy glow? Most of us long for an ethereal sheen, glass-like skin that boasts good health and vitality, but after a long and harsh winter, the reality can be shockingly different. Danielle Farrell looks at the benefits of adding in an active ingredient to your skincare routine and how to combine them for ALL the skin benefits.

Most of us will be facing spring with skin that is lacklustre and needing a little TLC. A mixture of cold weather outside and artificially heated indoor environments can play havoc with your skin's natural protective barrier, this results in the formation of gaps in the outer most layer that allow water to escape (dehydration) and irritants to get in (sensitivity). If you are looking to give your skin a boost, then adding an active ingredient to your skincare routine can be a game changer.

Two of the most proven active ingredients on the market are the acids and the retinoids, and these improve skin texture by surface exfoliation and an increase in cell turnover, respectively. These ingredients do everything from resurfacing the skin to battling dark spots and softening wrinkles.


What is a retinoid and why do we need it?

Retinoids refer to a family of vitamin A derivatives, including over-the-counter retinol as well as prescription-only tretinoin, a.k.a. Retin-A. They are dermatology's gold standard when it comes to preventing and treating the early signs of ageing and hit the market in the early 1950s. Retinoids encourage cells to turn over rapidly, that is they die, slough off and leave beautiful new skin below. As an added benefit, the collagen that those cells create can be newly stimulated leaving skin plump. Over time, retinoids promise to improve skin texture, soften wrinkles, reduce visible sun damage, shrink enlarged pores, alleviate acne, and banish blackheads - is there anything they can't do?


What are acid products like AHAs and BHAs?

The most common acids on the market can be split into two distinct groups, the alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs include lactic, glycolic, citric and mandelic while only BHA is salicylic acid. These two acid types, when used together, give optimal results. AHAs are water soluble and so can’t penetrate into pores. On the other hand, Unlike BHAs are oil-soluble molecules, absorbing further into skin and pores and giver a more thorough exfoliation. Added to your routine, both acids help kill acne bacteria, remove dead skin cells from the pore and increase skin cell turnover to reveal a brightened and evened out skin surface.


Where to start?

It is best to introduce these products into your routine at a slow pace. With regard to your retinoid, begin by using a pea-sized amount every third to fifth night, whatever your skin can tolerate. Once you have grown accustomed to that, increase application, to every second to fourth night, again depending on your skin, and so on. Slow and steady wins the race, do NOT attempt to start off using a retinoid every night before your skin has become accustomed -- you will only end up with dry, irritated and sensitised skin. Acids should be introduced similarly, observing for irritation and only increasing application once your skin has become accustomed. A broad spectrum SPF should be applied to the skin daily while using an acid or a retinoid.


Can Acids and Retinoids be used together?

The answer to this isn't as clear cut as one might think. While you CAN use these products in the same skincare routine, you should avoid using them at the same time. Firstly, these are potent exfoliators and used together may cause extreme irritation and discomfort; giving results contrary to those you are hoping to achieve.

Secondly, and most importantly, one hampers the effectiveness of the other. If you are using retinol on the skin, then for it to be effective, it needs to be converted to retinoic acid. This happens via a chemical reaction known as hydrolysis, and this requires a neutral pH. If you have just applied an acidic skincare product, such as an AHA or a BHA, then this may reduce or completely hamper the creation of active retinoic acid. Conversely, layering a retinoid over an acid may increase the pH of the skin. Acids work best, read penetrate the skin more effectively, at lower pHs so doubling up with retinol may reduce effectiveness - what a waste of two good products!


Ok, so I said you CAN use together, but how?

The easiest way to use both of these products together is to confine them to different times of the day. Use an acid in the morning and a retinoid at night, this gives the skin time to readjust between applications. (Prescriptions retinol can cause some extreme sun sensitivity and so should be reserved for nightly use only, over the counter products can also cause sensitivity but also are less photostable, meaning they will not work as well if used in the daytime and you are at risk of severe irritation). If you find your skin particularly sensitive, then the second way is to alternate nightly use, that is, use a retinoid one night and acid the next. Combine use as you see appropriate, depending on what your skin can tolerate, remember these are both exfoliators and including them in your skincare routine should be done with caution. I treat acids as a deeper exfoliation and use once a month or once a week at most; however, as said above, they can be used more frequently but with caution.


Casmara Wedding Beauty Secrets, Renovating, €59.99, Edenbeautygroup.com
This set includes an exfoliating gel that contains a synergic mix of two AHAs (glycolic acid and lactic acid) and a BHA (salicylic acid) as well as a regenerating serum. Used together daily, they promise renewed skin in just 28 days.

Pixi Glow Tonic, €23.50, Marks & Spencer
Containing 5% Glycolic Acid, PIXI Glow Tonic leaves skin radiant thanks to its gentle exfoliating formula.

Clarin's Gentle Exfoliator Brightening Toner, €32, Brown Thomas
Super gentle, this toner also contains a mix of AHAs (glycolic and tartaric acids and BHA (salicylic acid) to gently, yet effectively remove dead skin cells for a brighter complexion.

Pestle & Mortar Superstar Retinoid Night Oil, €76, PestleandMortar.com
A rich retinoid night oil, this oil is formulated using two types of retinol in a base of cold-pressed, organic and steam distilled oils. Superstar balances oil production stimulates collagen production and refines the skin’s surface without irritating.



SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3 Corrective Treatment, €63.45, lookfantastic.com
A highly concentrated retinol night treatment, this product delivers spectacular results. Apply a pea-sized amount to clean, dry skin in the evening, avoiding the eye area and wait at least 30 minutes before applying other skincare products. Limit initial use to once or twice a week, gradually increasing frequency as tolerated.

Murad Retinol Youth Renewal eye serum, €85, Debenhams
The eyes are the windows to the soul, and the delicate skin around the eye is one of the first places to show the signs of ageing. Murad has created a retinol serum specifically for this sensitive area, and it promises to target the vital signs of ageing by minimising the look of wrinkles and crow's feet while visibly firming skin and brightening dark circles in just four weeks of use.

NEW Origins PLANTSCRIPTION RETINOL Night Moisturizer with Alpine Flower, €65, Arnotts
Formulated with three potent “age erasers” – Anogeissus, Alpine Flower and Retinol - PlantscriptionTM Retinol work to combat multiple signs of ageing to help restore skin’s youthful appearance.

-- Danielle Farrell