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What’s the right order to apply a BHA serum?

Little Rhino asks…I would like to add a B5 Serum into my skincare routine. I use a BHA ( salycic acid 2% ) lotion in the am/pm. I works well with my skin and mild acne. However, I do need a little extra boost of hydration. So the B5 sounded like a great place to start. Can these two products work together.  If yes, serum first-then lotion or vice versa?

The Beauty Brains respondLautrec_woman_at_her_toilette_1889

Lil’ Rhino’s question is really a “two-for-one.” Let’s break it apart and try to answer them one at a time.

What’s the right order to apply products?

The quick answer is that you should apply the BHA product directly to your skin first so nothing interferes with its exfoliating action. Ideally you should let it work for 2 to 5 minutes before applying any other product.

Is Vitamin B5 good for skin?

Ok, now that we know to apply moisturizer after a BHA treatment we need to find out if vitamin B5 is worth using as a moisturizer. (Note: For the sake of accuracy we need to point out that Vitamin B5 is pantothenic acid. Panthenol, which is typically used in cosmetic products, is the alcohol version of B5. So it’s chemically close but strictly speaking it’s not the same. Okay, now back to the answer…) To be honest, the answer to this one surprised us a bit. As a whole, the use of vitamins is over-rated in skin care and we didn’t expect to find that the B5 provided any specific benefit when applied topically. Surely any moisturizing effect is the result of the other ingredients in the formula and not the vitamin itself, right?

Wrong! At least according to one study which showed that lotions with panthenol helps skin retain moisture. The researchers tested three versions of a moisturizing cream formula: a control version without panthenol and versions containing 1% and 5%. Their results showed that after using the creams for 30 days, both of the panthenol-containing versions reduced moisturize loss through the skin better than the control.

What does this mean?

We don’t think this means you need to run out and spend a lot of money on a Vitamin B5 lotion because this study wasn’t designed to show that it works better than other, less expensive, ingredients. It just shows that B5 does provide protection against moisture loss. Should you buy a B5 cream? IF you know the product contains at least 1% panthenol and IF that product is not too expensive, then it could be worth a try. Just be sure to use if AFTER your BHA treatment.

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Lautrec_woman_at_her_toilette_1889.jpg

Reference: J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Jul-Aug;62(4):361-70.

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  • Laura June 23, 2015, 5:43 am

    I have a similar question about layering (maybe this is worth a post of it’s own?). Specifically, I’m using a 12% Glycolic Acid cream in my PM routine and wondering if I can add a moisturizer on top. Should I respect the same rules for BHA serums or does the fact that I have AHA in a creme change the rules of the game?



    • Randy Schueller June 23, 2015, 6:24 am

      AHA’s are more soluble than BHAs but the same basic rules apply. Be careful though, 12% Glycolic acid is quite strong!

      • Laura June 25, 2015, 9:41 am

        Ok, so layering a more-soluble AHA cream with a hydrating ceramide-based cream should probably be avoided or maybe applied later to give the acid a chance to work?

        I’ve been on the 12% Glycolic for 10 days so far without problems- it’s doing what it should which is melt-away the blackheads to let my skin work the way it was meant to! But this high dosage is not recommended for more than 28 days, so I’m already looking at comparable but more delicate Mandelic and Salicylic (BHA) acids to alternate treatment and keep the momentum (and hopefully collagen production) going.

        I’m having a great time listening to the podcasts and reading the posts.

        Thanks for this very useful resource!