Combination Superficial Peels With Salicylic Acid and Post-Peel Retinoids

J Drugs Dermatol. 2016 Apr;15(4):442-50.


Background: Salicylic acid (SA) and retinoids, tretinoin (all-trans retinoic acid [ATRA]), and retinol (all-trans retinol) are widely used as topical agents for the improvement of photodamage and acne vulgaris. They can be used in daily take-home products or as part of an in-office procedure, combining the benefits of a keratolytic (SA) and a retinoid.

Objective: The objective of this research was to compare the efficacy for ameliorating photodamage of topical tretinoin (0.25%) and retinol (0.25%) to baseline and with each other when applied after a 30% salicylic acid peel on human facial skin.

Methods: Twenty female subjects received a full face 30% SA peel followed by the overnight application of tretinoin to a 1 randomized half-face and retinol to the opposite side (split-face study). The identical procedure was repeated at week 2. Double-blinded subject and investigator assessments of the results were captured at weeks 2 and 4.

Results: By investigator evaluation, both peeling regimens were effective in improving photodamage parameters compared to baseline. (ATRA P-values at week 4 were: P=.00008 texture, P=.00013 roughness, P=.00221 pores, P=.00098 dryness, P=.02770 erythema, and P=.00008 overall appearance. Retinol P-values at week 4 were: P=.00019 texture, P=.00053 roughness, P=.00221 pores, P=.00147 dryness, P=.02770 erythema, and P=.0043 overall appearance.) By subject self-assessment compared with baseline, both tretinoin and retinol were effective in improving overall appearance (ATRA P=.0229 and retinol P=.0190). By investigator evaluation comparing tretinoin with retinol, tretinoin was slightly better than retinol at week 4 in improving texture P=.00506, roughness P=.01171, and overall appearance P=.00506. By subject self-assessment comparing tretinoin with retinol, there was no difference in overall appearance (ATRA P=.2367 and retinol P=.3613).

Conclusion: Either topical tretinoin (0.25%) or retinol (0.25%) can be used safely and effectively when applied in office immediately after SA peeling to ameliorate signs of photoaging.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Chemexfoliation / methods*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Retinoids / administration & dosage*
  • Salicylic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Skin Aging / drug effects*
  • Skin Aging / pathology*


  • Retinoids
  • Salicylic Acid