You Should Never Mix These Popular Skincare Ingredients - Here's Why
If you have been immersed in the world of skincare for a while, you are likely a master of everything from toning to face masks. You’ve probably dappled in the ever-popular K-beauty scene and are always game to try the latest and the greatest products and trends.
But being super knowledgeable doesn’t mean you don’t need to be constantly learning.
One thing that seems to be ever-changing and ever-confusing is the layering and mixology game for your skincare products. It seems like dermatologists are constantly changing their recommendations about what goes with what, and when. If you’re confused, don’t worry; you are not alone!
And if you are new to the beauty game, your head is likely spinning from all the information and options out there.
Knowing how to properly layer products may seem like an afterthought in your routine, but it shouldn’t be—it’s extremely important in order to make sure you get the most out of those expensive products you just bought. Second only to choosing the right products for your skin, knowing what ingredients cooperate with one another—and which ones don’t cooperate—are crucial touchpoints.
Skincare layering 101
Layering your skincare is essential to get the best results from your products. Layering refers to the application of one product after another in your routine, and when it comes to serums, it’s best to leave each product to absorb for a few minutes.
Whether you have a simple routine of just a few items or a full 7-step routine, here is how to properly layer.
- Step 1: Cleanser. If you don’t have oily skin, opt for just a warm wash. If you have oily skin, choose a gentle cleanser in the morning
- Step 2: Toner. Toners are a great option as they are tailored for certain skin types, so they can be very effective against specific issues you may have or skincare goals you’d like to attain.
- Step 3: Antioxidant serum. Serums are super-concentrated, nutrient-dense treatments that address specific concerns, so it’s better to keep them as close to the skin as possible. Applying them early on in your routine is the right move.
- Step 4: Eye cream. While many people reserve eye cream for nighttime only, it actually doesn’t hurt to add it to your morning routine as well.
- Step 5: Spot treatment. If you use a spot treatment for acne, make sure to apply it underneath your moisturizer
- Step 6: Moisturizer. Once you have applied all your goodie products, seal them in with a good, hydrating moisturizer.
- Step 7: Sunscreen. The last, and most important step, is sunscreen. Never miss it, even if you don’t plan on spending a ton of time outside. UV rays can still come in through windows and cause damage over time.
- Step 1: (Double) Cleanser. To get both makeup and the day’s dirt off your face at night, double cleansing is highly effective. Start with a makeup remover, and then use a foaming but gentle cleanser to clear off the rest.
- Step 2: Toners & essences. If you choose to use your toner at night, after cleansing is where to do it. Additionally, add in any special mists, essences, or beauty waters at this step.
- Step 3: Eye cream. Aside from addressing crow’s feet and dark circles, eye creams can also serve to protect your delicate eye area from your other skincare products that might cause sensitivity.
- Step 4: Treatments and serums. If you have prescription skincare medications, like those for acne or rosacea, layer them now. Additionally, this is where you would add in any anti-aging serums or retinol creams.
- Step 5: Moisturizer or night cream. Just as in the morning, seal in all the powerful ingredients with a hydrating moisturizer or night cream.
- Step 6: Face oil. A good face oil can go on top of your moisturizer as an extra layer to seal all the goodness of your routine in, and to prevent moisture loss overnight.
Why should certain products not be mixed?
A big part of layering is understanding which products are okay to use one after the other. Fortunately, nothing absolutely terrible will happen if you mix the wrong skincare ingredients—so don’t worry too much!
However, mixing incompatible ingredients can result in overly irritated and dry skin, such as when acne treatment and retinol are used in conjunction.
The other problem that might come up is that active ingredients can sometimes cancel each other out, rendering them ineffective. Not only will your skin miss out on the benefits (and what’s the point of applying skincare if you don’t reap the benefits?!), but you will also be essentially pouring money down the drain by wasting these often expensive products.
What skincare ingredients should you not mix?
So what can you do to avoid these consequences? Educate yourself and be aware of what plays nicely together and what doesn’t when it comes to skincare ingredients.
Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered!
Retinol is a very popular skincare ingredient and is most likely in your skincare routine, especially if you’re addressing aging concerns.
Retinol is key in promoting skin cell turnover, which can improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture, dark spots, and even acne. The only downfall of retinol is that it can be extremely irritating to some users and cause excessively dry skin.
Safe to mix with moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides, as well as SPF. Because retinol can be drying on the skin, pairing it with an ultra-hydrator-like hyaluronic acid is very important. Retinol can also make you more sensitive to the sun, so wearing it in combination with SPF is also a good idea.
Do not mix with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids. AHA and BHA acids are exfoliating, which are great for skin cell turnover but can dry out the skin and cause further irritation if paired with additional drying agents like retinol.
Benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient in acne treatments, will cancel out the effects of retinol, and vice versa. Ultimately, it’s a total waste of product to use these two at the same time since they become ineffective if applied simultaneously.
Vitamin C works to protect the skin from environmental aggressors, and retinol repairs and rebuilds the skin, so it is ideal to use these two popular products are opposite ends of the day. Vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night.
Speaking of Vitamin C, this powerful ingredient protects the skin from oxidative free radical damage and works best if applied in the morning. Vitamin C also brightens the skin's surface and lightens dark spots.
Safe to mix with antioxidants and SPF. When vitamin C is mixed with other effective antioxidants, such as vitamin E, it can boost the efficiency of the product and therefore enhance the results. This is also true for wearing vitamin C products underneath your daily dose of sunscreen. These two products compliment each other to create a powerhouse protectant against that dreaded UV damage.
Do not mix with Retinol. As mentioned above, you want to steer clear of this combo. Retinol and retinoids build up collagen and help repair the skin, so they are best used at night while, as we now know, vitamin C thrives during the day.
AHA/ BHA Acids
Salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids are all effective exfoliants that work to improve skin tone and texture. However, while they are great for the skin, they can also be extremely drying and irritating—so its best to use these in conjunction with a hydrating product rather than another dying product.
Safe to use with moisturizing agents and SPF. Not only is it safe to use these acids with hydrating products, it is actually very crucial to do so. Again, because these acids can be irritating and drying, balancing them with a deep moisturizer will help keep the skin hydrated and keep irritation at bay. Opt for products such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and vegan glycerin to use in combination with AHA and BHA acids.
It is no secret that sunscreen is a must in any skincare routine, and while you are wearing AHA and BHA acids, it is even more crucial. Not only can these products be drying, but they also make the skin much more sensitive to the sun’s rays. So, be sure to layer on that sunscreen, no matter what.
Do not mix with retinol. As mentioned above, it is best to avoid retinoids and retinol while using acids. Both of these ingredients cause excessive skin irritation and sensitivity, so it’s just too much for the skin to use at the same time. You should also avoid using physical or chemical exfoliating washes as well.
Acne sufferers are no stranger to benzoyl peroxide as it is an absolute must when tackling those pesky pimples. The only downside is that this is yet another drying ingredient. If you are a benzoyl peroxide user, you know this all too well. For that reason, it is important to watch what you are using in conjunction with these products.
Safe to mix with hydrating ingredients, SPF, and topical antibiotics. To counteract the drying effects of benzoyl peroxide, it is a good idea to mix with a hydrating product like a moisturizer. But not all moisturizers are created equal, and some are bad for acne. Look for one that is non-comedogenic and won’t clog those pores that the benzoyl peroxide is working so hard to keep clear.
Do not mix with retinol. Opting to stay away from retinol while using benzoyl peroxide should be a no-brainer if you have been reading along! These are both drying agents, and when used together, they can just be too much for your delicate skin.
If you’re using prescription acne medication, use benzoyl peroxide with caution. If your ance is severe enough to warrant prescription, the prescription itself is likely enough, and adding on another drying agent, like benzoyl peroxide, is going to cause some serious flaking and irritation. Furthermore, these two products may also work against each other and render the ingredients ineffective.
If you, or your dermatologist, believe that you would benefit from benzoyl peroxide in addition to the prescription, use them at separate times during the day. Using one in the morning and one at night (making sure to wash your wash in between usage), and you should be fine.
Niacinamide is more commonly known as vitamin B3. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that works to brighten the skin and even out any discoloration.
Safe to mix with almost everything in your skincare routine. Because it is anti-inflammatory, the skin reacts very minimally to niacinamide, and it rarely causes irritation. It is pretty safe to use at any point in your skincare routine and is best used as a leave-on product, such as within a daily moisturizer.
Do not mix with vitamin C. The one ingredient niacinamide does not play well with is vitamin C. Both of these ingredients are popular antioxidants, foundin maby skincare products, but you should take care not to use them right after each other. Their potency is drastically reduced when used together, and doing so will be a waste of expensive products. Luckily, you only need to leave about 10-15 minutes in between each serum to render them effective. Alternatively, use them at different times of the day to ensure no issues.
While it may be tempting to slather as many wonderful products onto your skin as you can, knowing what ingredients play nice with each other is crucial to getting the most out of your routine and avoiding some common pitfalls like over-drying. Now that you’re equipped with this knowledge, go forth and mix appropriately!
Jackie Lutze has been writing about cruelty-free beauty for years and loves finding the best vegan products to help readers build their ultimate beauty routine.
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