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Can You Use Retinol and Red Light Therapy Together?

A woman in a white tank top smiles as she applies retinol to her face after using red light therapy at home.


What’s your favorite hobby?

For many, skincare ranks high. Advanced skincare routines have become commonplace over the past few years, and lots of people take pleasure in improving the health, vitality, and resilience of their skin.

Retinol and red light therapy are two skincare treatments that have leapt into the spotlight, and many are curious about whether these treatments might work together. So, how do retinol and red light therapy fit into your skincare routine? And is it okay to use them simultaneously?

Keep scrolling to find out!

What Is Retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A. After its discovery in 1909, it took scientists nearly 40 years to replicate it, and another decade to create a more stable version with limited uses for commercial products.

Though it’s been commercially available since the 1960s, retinol has only recently taken off as a skincare superproduct. Technological advancements allow skincare brands to add retinol to moisturizers, eye creams, serums, ointments, gels, and even cosmetics.

Quote Card: Can You Use Retinol and Red Light Therapy Together?

Benefits of Retinol

Whether you apply it topically or ingest it, retinol has many benefits for the skin.

Cell turnover is one of the main benefits of topical retinol therapy, which helps your skin heal faster and more efficiently. Other benefits of topical retinol include:

  • Smaller pores with less clogging
  • Healed acne breakouts
  • Reduced signs of aging, such as wrinkles and fine lines
  • Reduced appearance of scars, stretch marks, and dark spots

Topical retinoids (retinol derivatives) can also address other skin conditions, such as Kaposi sarcoma (a rare cancer), melasma, and psoriasis.

Prescription retinol products are available in higher concentrations than over-the-counter options. Interested? Talk to your dermatologist about whether prescription retinol is a good option for you.

Meanwhile, orally ingested retinol supplements can aid several important body functions, including:

  • Immune function
  • Reproductive function
  • Bone health
  • Eyesight
  • Overall growth

Retinol supplements may also reduce cancer risk, treat inflammatory bowel disease, and promote wound healing.

Herpes and Acne

If you’re looking to treat specific skin conditions like herpes or acne, retinol may be the holy grail you’ve been searching for.

As far back as the 1980s, researchers have been studying the effectiveness of retinol therapy in shrinking and healing lesions caused by the herpes simplex virus. Additionally, many clinical studies have demonstrated that retinol treatments are highly effective at healing both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne breakouts.

Of course, no one treatment can do it all. You may see vastly improved herpes or acne with retinol treatment alone, or you may want to try it in combination with another compatible therapy.


Retinol and Red Light Therapy

So, can you use retinol and red light therapy together?

Not only is the answer a resounding yes, but together, these two treatments can produce incredible effects on your skin.

Want to combine retinol and red light therapy? Follow these seven simple steps for the best results:

  1. Wash your skin with a gentle cleanser using soft, circular motions.
  2. Pat your skin with a dry, clean towel.
  3. Treat your skin with a red light therapy home device as instructed. Give your skin five to ten minutes of rest before starting the next step.
  4. Wash and dry your hands to avoid transferring bacteria or other irritants to the area you’re treating.
  5. Follow the instructions listed on your retinol product and apply it to your skin. If possible, wait 10–20 minutes to allow the product to fully absorb.
  6. Continue your skincare routine by applying your favorite moisturizer, eye cream, and any other treatment products.
  7. Apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 before applying cosmetics.

Since retinol promotes cell turnover, the new skin will at first be thin, fragile, and more easily damaged by direct exposure to sunlight. Always wear SPF 30 or higher during the day when using retinol products!

If you complete your retinol and red light therapy treatments at night, you can skip applying sunscreen until morning.

Infographic: Can You Use Retinol and Red Light Therapy Together?

Possible Side Effects

While red light therapy has little to no harmful side effects, topical retinol products may have several, especially products with higher concentrations.

When using topical retinol for the first time, it’s helpful to know that you may experience:

  • Dry, scaly, or flaky skin
  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Redness
  • Peeling

After red light therapy only, you should have no issue with sun exposure. However, retinol treatments will make your skin more sensitive to the sun — which is why an effective SPF is key!

Handle With Care

Even though retinol and red light therapy are safe and effective to use together, always be careful when adding treatments to your skincare routine. If you have major skin issues, such as severe acne, always consult with your dermatologist before trying anything new. 

Your dermatologist can help you determine the best options for your skin type, problems, and goals. You may need to experiment with various products and treatments before finding the best combination.

Vet each new skincare product by using it on a small patch of skin before applying it to your entire face. This is a safe, low-stakes way to find out whether you’re allergic or sensitive to a product.

If you’re ready to move forward, start by applying the product just once a day, or even every other day, to acclimate your skin to the ingredients and avoid a negative reaction. Remember, skin is more absorbent after washing, when the pores are open and ready to devour a new product.

Follow these simple guidelines when trying any new skincare therapies together and you may just find a new go-to dynamic duo — perhaps retinol and red light therapy!

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