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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Based on 26 reviews
Skin Type: Normal
Comments: Any ideas on how to get rid of brown skin damage
Skin defence

Marks of sun damage are still there they haven't faded much after using twice a day for 60 days. . I will continue until product is finished. I'm a bit disappointed

Skin Type: Combination

I am so happy that I stumbled upon clearly basics on instagram. I was skeptical at first but decided to give it a try and bought clear out clarifying lotion. It's been 2 months and my skin has improved a lot. I can see significant reduction in pores and acne.

Skin Type: Combination

After years of medication and products, I decided to try clearly basics. In just 6 weeks my skin has calmed and I am now able to treat scarring.

So glad to have found these products!

Finding products that helped to control my acne without irritating my sensitive skin has always been a huge challenge. The clearly basics products have been my saviour, I can't recommend them enough ☺️

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Excellent and actually works

I am so incredibly impressed with the TLC for pore minimising - it 💯 works and has transformed my skin.

I’m in my 50’s and always had hormonal flare ups with larger pores as I age - this is a game changer and have just reordered my 3rd bottle !


not bad but I thought the formula has changed since what it was previously (i had it maybe 2 years ago) and I found it less effective now

Skin Type: Combination
This is the stuff.

So, long time sufferer of acne. Started when I was 12 and I'm 28 now still battling it. I've tried all kinds of different things to try and get it under control and besides birth control, nothing has helped long term. I never want to take birth control ever again and I just happened upon this brand and decided well, why not try? To my amazement, it has helped more than anything else I've tried, I'd say it has improved my skin to the level it was at when I took BC. Of course I still get pimples every now and then, and tiny flare ups during PMS but my skin is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I highly recommend this company. To those who are considering trying this out, be aware that during the first week or so your skin will go through a purge and your acne will appear to get worse at first. Stick with it! Once that phase is over is when your skin will begin improving. I do need to use it every night for it to be fully effective, but even when I do forget, the pimples don't get too out of control. I just can't say enough good things about this product. It has helped my confidence improve immensely and I definitely recommend trying it to those who have skin as finicky as mine.

Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry
The only moisturiser I trust

I am super sensitive and this is the only moisturiser that I trust honestly incredible.

Skin Type: Combination

I use this product and with the clear out and it has really helped my hormonal acne.

Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry
Here one day, gone the next!

After success with Clearly Basics for my acne scars, I stocked up with all of the active acne products to prepare myself for how angry my acne would get when going off hormonal birth control. I have tried and failed twice as my acne comes back so bad that I just start taking it again. This time I have been using clearly basics without fail every day (lighten up and clear out). I have had 3 pimples start to form and I use ‘Stop Spot’ and the next day instead of a much redder, much angrier pimple with a big white head - the pimple is gone! I have been very happy with this product. I’m one month down (typically when acne gets the worst) - let’s do this!

I love that these products are gentle on my daughter skin.

This skin care routine is the o lay one that has helped clear up my daughters skin.

My daughters skin is really starting to look better!

Skin Type: Oily
So far so good

Bought this for my daughter that has struggled with acne for years. She has seen improvement and less frequent breakouts.

Best moisturizer I have found!

Lighten Up Redness Rescue Cream
Veronica Ilenya Ranieri
Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry

Has changed my skin from acne pro to almost perfect 😍😍

Skin Type: Combination
Obsessed !!

Obsessed with this cleanser!! It left me feeling fresh and prevented break outs. It is incredible . Loved this product so much

My skin feels so soft after using this moisturiser!

My skin feels so soft after using this moisturiser!

Skin Type: Combination
Fresh and clean!

My face is filled with energy and feels so fresh and clean!

Skin Type: Normal
excellent item!

have been using this for years! so good for my skin :)

So Fresh pH Balancing Cleanser
Carmelinda Di Manno
Skin Type: Combination
Fresh Feeling

My skin feels so clean and still hydrated when I use this cleanser. It’s balancing and refreshing. My skin has responded really well to it and at times my skin can be sensitive. I highly recommend this product to anyone with relatively oily t-zone area

Skin Type: Combination
Very happy!

Love the texture, the minty scent and the lather.
I wish the bottles were a bit bigger HOWEVER they are just small enough to fly with.

Skin Type: Normal
Comments: The only thing I now need to use to keep my skin clear.
The holy grail for clearing hormonal acne.

This is the only product that I have needed to keep my skin clear since discovering it about 2 years ago, after suddenly developing cystic hormonal acne at the age of 25. I now only need to use it every second night, so it's incredibly affordable. It has also never irritated my sensitive skin and it has faded previous acne marks to truly clear my skin. After years of trying expensive supplements/products/harsh prescription creams, Clear Out was the only thing that gave me long-lasting results.

Skin Type: Oily
Clearly Basics is the only product that has helped my Adult Acne

I have always struggled with dehydrated acne prone skin. Every month like clockwork I would get a new breakout on my chin or cheek area. These included large cystic acne that by the time they came to a head would take me months to clear. With new breakouts each month this created more & more spots before the first could heal leaving more hyper pigmentation spots that never have time to clear. Clearly basics changed all that for me. It gave my skin a chance to heal and reduced the number of breakouts each month. When I do get a new breakout it resolves itself quickly with less scarring and redness. Now that the acne is under control the products are helping to eliminate the remaining hyper pigmentation spots left from years of acne. I have not been using the product for long but I will continuing relying on this product and look forward to the day I can happily look in the mirror at a smooth clear & even complexion some day soon.

Skin Type: Combination
Comments: Product consistency in terms of smoothness/coarseness/stickiness/ is sometimes a miss, don't believe it affects the result provided.
Great Combo

Have seen great improvements by using these 2 items concurrently, hard to fault and wil continue purchasing.

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