Yikes! Can you mix Lactic Acid and Retinol? Will it hurt or will it get you better anti-ageing results?

In Anti-Ageing & Protective Skincare, How to mix skincare by Cheryl Woodman MChemLeave a Comment

Can you use lactic acid and retinol?

My friend I know it might feel like you’re just guessing at skincare right now – but trust me – you’re asking ALL the right questions. You’ve got this 🙂

Because yes – use the wrong skincare products together (we’re talking more about if lactic acid and retinol are a ‘wrong un’ soon) then you could be;

  • At risk of causing your skin redness, irritation and ageing
  • At risk of burning your skin
  • At risk of causing your skin to be a heck load more sensitive to the sun
  • You could even be cancelling out your skincare

You’re right to be concerned. You’re right to be asking can you use retinol and lactic acid together.

And I’m here as your award-winning scientist friend to get you the answers you need. So… shall we get to this? 🙂

Can you mix lactic acid and retinol safely? To get big skincare benefits? Like anti-ageing 😊 Here's what published science papers say.

Lactic Acid and Retinol

Whether you can use lactic acid and retinol together in your skincare routine depends on their chemistry. Welcome to the skincare dating agency 😉

Because what you’re really asking when you Googled can you use lactic acid and retinol? is are lactic acid and retinol compatible? Do they mix well? Are they a love match?

Now if you’ve been hunting on Google you will find answers on both sides of the fence;

Yes, you can use lactic acid and retinol.

No, you can’t use lactic acid and retinol – yikes – steer clear.

It’s so confusing eh.

Do not worry my friend. I’ve got your back and I’m laying out the lactic acid vs. retinol fact sheet for you right here, right now. Because once you know the lactic acid vs. retinol facts you have everything you need to decide for yourself and to start getting the healthy, happy skin you’re after. Wahoo.

[And yes – I’ll give you my scientific opinion too :)]

When it comes to mixing skincare it’s easiest to think of each new active ingredient you’re adding to your routine like a person. A person with likes and dislikes.

I always remember how one of my best friends from school hated hot weather. Literally hated it. Her idea of an amazing holiday would be flying into an Icelandic winter. Whereas I’m the complete opposite. I LOVE summertime. I love hot weather. I love the sunshine. Maybe it’s got something to do with being a June baby 🙂

Here’s the thing about lactic acid and retinol, they have different loves. Take a peek at this;

Retinol loves to be at a pretty neutral pH – somewhere around 6.

Lactic acid loves to be at a pretty acidic pH – somewhere around 3.8.

Retinol loves summertime and lactic acid loves wintertime 😉


Just like I feel so much more comfortable in summer weather – oh to be cosy in just shorts and a T-shirt 🙂 – whereas one of my best school friends, well she feels most comfortable in winter weather. And no – we’ve never been on holiday together. 😂

I get happy in hot weather. My friend gets happy in cold weather.

So when you mix lactic acid and retinol, at different pH levels, one’s going to be super happy and one’s going to be super grumpy. Skincare actives don’t work their anti-ageing powers so well when they’re grumpy.

But – I don’t want you to just take my word for this. Take a peek at this science study quote – and please, please don’t worry if it sounds super techy, I’m explaining everything after;

The retinol that was incorporated into the liposomes degraded significantly slower than the free retinol or retinol with α-tocopherol at pH 7 and 11. At pH 3, where the free retinol degrades rapidlyJ Biochem Mol Biol. 2002 Jul 31;35(4):358-63.

Can You Mix Lactic Acid and Retinol?

Did you see it my friend?… ‘At pH 3… retinol degrades rapidly’.

Psst – pH 3 is acidic and close to the pH lactic acid likes to be at.

This science quote – it’s lifted from a study where scientists are trying to stabilise retinol – because just like apples brown quickly after you cut into them, retinol also loves to go off super quick.


It’s a bit like an avocado. Blink and you go from ripe and green to black and mushy. 

To stabilise retinol (which is a type of retinoid) they’re testing out a kind of encapsulation which is a bit like wrapping retinol up in a sleeping bag so stuff like oxygen can’t get to it. The scientists then test out how effective these sleeping bags are by putting them at a pH level retinol likes to be at aka around 7, and then putting them at a pH level retinol hates to be at aka pH 3.

The fact is retinol hates to be at an acidic pH level. It makes retinol go off quicker.

Which means fewer anti-ageing benefits for your skin. Booo.

Psst – make sure you grab a free copy of my 5 Best Anti-Ageing Actives by clicking here – don’t rely just on actives that can go off quick 🙂

Can You Use Lactic Acid With Retinol?

In my scientific opinion, I do not recommend using lactic acid with retinol because lactic acid and retinol have the bad kind of chemistry – they’re like a toxic relationship – they love each other but they also hate each other so much they’ll argue and shout till one wears the other out… till lactic acid makes retinol ‘go off’.

But there is a workaround some special skincare serums use.

Let’s be clear, this is not a workaround you’ll be finding in cheaper formulas like the lactic acid and retinol from The Ordinary. In pricier formulas, you can get a form of anti-ageing retinol that’s like the one we just spoke through in that science quote.

Do you remember how it was testing out retinol covered (aka incorporated) into liposomes? And that those liposomes are like sleeping bags for the retinol to hide inside?

This kind of chemistry is called time-release skincare because after your skin absorbs the retinol liposomes, the sleeping bags gradually dissolve away – and boom – retinol is free again but this time inside your skin.


Here’s the deal – if you’re using a time-release retinol serum – you may just be able to get away with using it in the same routine as lactic acid. That’s because by the time the retinol sleeping bags start to fall off – your skin pH will likely be back to a level retinol loves. Wahoo.

Can I Use Lactic Acid And Retinol?

The safest way to do this is to use lactic in your morning routine and retinol in your evening routine. Remember – you can’t use retinol in your morning routine so this is the way around it had to be. For other anti-ageing actives which can be used at any time of the day (yay!) be sure to grab your free copy of my 5 Best Anti-Ageing Actives by clicking here 🙂

Doing it this way is a bit like me taking my best bud who loves cold weather to the hot springs where they also have a cold plunge pool. I get the heat, she gets the chill and we’re both loving life… maybe even with a perfectly ripe avocado 😂

Which retinol and lactic acid serums are you currently using? Or thinking about using or mixing together? Tell me in the comments below…. oh and if you have a friend who’s trying to get into skincare, will you forward her this blog by using that big green button below? You are the best 💛