Which Skincare Ingredients You Should And Shouldn't Mix

Which Skincare Ingredients You Should And Shouldn't Mix

By Hanna Yowell

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Ever feel like doing your skincare routine feels like a science experiment? From layering serums to mixing acids, it can be confusing to know how well certain ingredients play with others. Read on as our experts break down their top tips on mixing skincare ingredients.

Ingredients You Should Mix

Vitamin C + Sunscreen

Better together because: Vitamin C has a ton of skin benefits — from brightening and fading hyperpigmentation to protecting against free radical damage, so skin is less susceptible to wrinkles, fine lines, age spots. Sunscreen shields skin from UVA and UVB damage — helping prevent sunburn, skin cancer, and premature aging. However, Vitamin C is only really effective when worn with sunscreen. So together, they improve each other’s efficacy, working in tandem to visibly brighten skin and prevent sun damage.

When to apply: Every single morning! 

Routine recommendation: Supergoop! Daily Dose SPF 40
This hybrid serum-sunscreen with vitamin C brightens and protects, giving sun-drenched skin a much-needed antioxidant boost.

Sodium Hyaluronate + Manuka Honey 

Better together because: You may have heard of hyaluronic acid (HA), but allow us to introduce you to its hard-working derivative: sodium hyaluronate; its lower molecular weight allows it to hydrate deeper layers of skin than HA. Sodium hyaluronate is great on its own, but Manuka honey helps it do its job better. The two work hand-in-hand in an humectant-emollient partnership. Sodium hyaluronate (the humectant) hydrates by pulling moisture into the skin, and Manuka honey (the emollient) helps skin hold onto that moisture.

When to apply: Either in your morning or evening routine.

Routine recommendation: Naturopathica Manuka Honey Hydrating Gel Mask
Give your thirsty skin a surge of moisture with this hydrating mask, made with sodium hyaluronate plus Manuka honey sourced from New Zealand.

Lactic Acid + Salicylic Acid

Better together because: “Lactic acid increases cell turnover, so it’s going to be great for brightening. While salicylic acid penetrates within the follicle to decongest pores,” says Heyday Skincare Educator Chrissy Carrano. This duo may be great for those with breakout-prone skin to treat acne through every stage — from active breakouts to hyperpigmentation that can be leftover. However, because they’re both exfoliants, make sure to maintain hydration daily so your skin barrier doesn’t become irritated. 

When to apply: 1-3x per week in your evening routine.

Routine recommendation: Moon Juice Acid Potion
This potent formula uses five different acids (including lactic and salicylic) to minimize fine lines, refine pores, and revitalize brightness.

Niacinamide + Peptides

Better together because: Niacinamide (or vitamin B3) is an increasingly popular ingredient in skincare, and for good reason: it brightens skin, fades hyperpigmentation, boosts hydration, smooths fine lines, and heals acne. Each type of peptide will serve its own unique purpose, but they generally are a powerhouse ingredient for targeting wrinkles. If you feel like you have too many skincare goals to narrow down, this combo won’t make you choose. From treating fine lines to acne to dark spots and more — niacinamide and peptides are a hard-working team. 

When to apply: These can be applied morning or night, but we recommend them in leave-on products, like serums, moisturizers, facial oils and some face masks. 

Routine recommendation: Joanna Vargas ​​Forever Glow Anti-Aging Face Mask
Prolong your youthful glow with this concentrated sheet mask that helps soften signs of aging while infusing skin with hydrating and restorative ingredients like niacinamide and peptides.

All-Star Ingredient Combos


Tread Lightly When Mixing These

The common thread when “treading lightly” with ingredient mixing is retinol; it’s one of the most powerful ingredients we have to work with. We won’t say as a general rule to never pair it with other active ingredients (everyone’s skin is different!) — but you should do so carefully.

Retinol + Physical Exfoliants

Physical exfoliants sometimes get a bad rap for being abrasive, but some formulations can actually be quite gentle and work well with other exfoliants like retinol. Jojoba beads are one of the gentlest physical exfoliation mediums that works to scrub the skin without irritation. Just make sure to use very light touch when applying pressure — like your skin is a balloon you don’t want to pop!

Routine recommendation: Naturopathica Oat Cleansing Facial Polish
This extremely gentle physical scrub can be used as a  2-in-1 cleanser/exfoliant. Or for a gentler treatment, simply leave it on as a mask for 10-15 minutes.

Retinol + Vitamin C

Vitamin C makes its way onto a lot of ingredient mixing no-no lists, but to that we say — just play it safe! This can be a great combo to treat fine lines and hyperpigmentation, but it is quite potent; so make sure to always listen to your skin. Some ways we recommend combining these ingredients include: 

  1. Applying retinol in the evening and vitamin C in your morning routine. 
  2. Using the ingredients on different days.
  3. Using a wash-off vitamin C product, like a cleanser or mask. 
Routine recommendation: Image Vital C Hydrating Enzyme Masque
This gentle, but effective mask uses vitamin C and fruit enzymes to safely digest dead cells, creating a radiant, smooth complexion.

Retinol + AHAs/BHAs

Almost the same advice applies to combining these exfoliants. If you have combination, oily, or acneic skin, this duo may be helpful for maintaining oil production and a clear complexion. But again, proceed with caution:

  1. Apply the products at night — but never on the same night.
  2. Stagger use throughout the week, such as retinol 1-3 nights a week, and your other exfoliants 1-2 nights a week.
  3. A wash-off exfoliating product can lessen chances of irritation.
  4. Maintain hydration with hydrating toners, serums, and moisturizers.
  5. Above all, daily sunscreen is a must!
Routine recommendation: Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser
This exfoliating cleanser uses white willow bark extract, an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory source of salicylic acid, to calm skin and breakouts.

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