Having a dedicated skincare routine can significantly improve the health and appearance of your skin. Unfortunately, many people make the common mistake of overloading products, or using incompatible ingredients, which can lead to more damage than benefits for your skin.
If you are experiencing effects such as irritation, redness, or an increase in oil production and breakouts the answer may be to change up the timing of your products or to simplify your routine.
Compiled here is a complete guide to which skincare products to NEVER mix, and some alternative options to help you in formulating the best skincare routine for your specific needs. After reading, be sure to check your product labels for the potential irritants we warn you about below.
Retinol and Acne Treatments
Both retinol, or Vitamin A, and acne treatments (such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) can be effective independently but using them in combination will cause these products to deactivate each other.
Benzoyl peroxide in particular is a strong over-the-counter treatment and can cause dryness and flaking when used with retinol-based treatments.
Instead, try a combination of retinol and hyaluronic acid.
Retinol accelerates skin cell renewal and the hyaluronic acid will keep the skin hydrated to counter the drying effects of retinol products.
Sunscreen should also be applied diligently when you are on a retinol regimen.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), more commonly referred to as citric, glycolic, lactic, and tartaric acids, and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid, both perform the same function for the skin. So, using them together is unnecessary and can lead to irritation.
However, these types of acids can react differently on different types of skin, so it may take some trial-and-error of applying each one separately to find the right one for you.
Alternatively, benzoyl peroxide can be combined with either salicylic or glycolic acids to clear acne breakouts. The hydroxy acids work to clean out and reduce pores while the benzoyl peroxide gets rid of acne-causing bacteria.
Retinol and AHAs
AHAs and BHAs are both considered exfoliants and combining either of them with retinol, another exfoliating acidic ingredient, can negatively impact the skin’s pH and cause the outer layer of skin to strip.
Using both of these strong products together can break down healthy cell growth and increases the sensitivity of your skin.
Another option is to use ceramides to help restore the skin after using an exfoliant such as AHAs or BHAs. This helps add hydration and protect the skin from bacteria or irritants. Products that combine lower strengths of various AHAs such as this Adaptogens Superfruits Mask can also be used to increase exfoliation without irritating.
Vitamin C and Acids
Vitamin C is a strong ingredient which generally should be used on its own.
Combining it with other acidic ingredients such as AHAs and BHAs can be irritating and also lead to ineffectiveness of the Vitamin C.
You can use these products separately, such as Vitamin C in the morning and an AHA cleanser at night, but never at the same time.
Another option is to use products combining Vitamins C and E which increase efficiency and support the immune system and skin. The Vitamin E boosts hydration while Vitamin C promotes collagen and repairs damage.
This Adaptogens Superfruits Moisturizer combines Vitamins C and E with natural, organic oils such as shea butter and jojoba oil to:
- Decrease the appearance of wrinkles,
- Boost collagen, and
- Fight free radicals.
Vitamin C and Exfoliants
Exfoliants such as benzoyl peroxide and retinol combined with Vitamin C, also an exfoliant, can lead to inflamed, unstable skin.
All of these products cause extremely strong reactions on the skin and therefore, should not be used in combination.
The general rule is to not use multiple exfoliating products as this can strip the skin.
Vitamin C, however, can be paired with a peptide or protein product which is often seen in anti-aging formulas.
Both of these ingredients help create a barrier for the skin to improve the texture and hydration. The Kale Cleanser from Piper Berry is packed full of proteins and antioxidants to improve discoloration while also protecting from future blue light damage.
Retin-A and Peels or Waxing Products
Retin-A, like many retinol products, is deeply exfoliating and can cause dryness or peeling.
Combining this with a waxing product or chemical peel can be extremely painful and lead to scarring.
Retin-A should be used alongside a simple moisturizing product such a hyaluronic acid to counteract the drying effect.
You might consider skipping the waxing appointment in favor of shaving or threading but be sure to check with your dermatologist first.
Niacinamide and AHAs
Niacinamide, otherwise known as Vitamin B3, is often used in acne products due to its abilities to assist in fading hyperpigmentation and texture improvement.
Combining its use with AHAs can mess with the skin’s pH balance and render the Vitamin B3 ineffective. The same principle applies to the combination of niacinamide and Vitamin C, as they lessen each other’s’ potency.
While many of the other listed ingredients do not pair well with retinol, Vitamin B3 is actually a perfect match. The niacinamide helps lessen irritation caused by retinol products since it acts as an anti-inflammatory and evens out your complexion.
Benzoyl Peroxide and Hydroquinone
Hydroquinone is a somewhat controversial skincare product that can be used to fade any dark spots as well as evening skin tone. Benzoyl peroxide can also have lightening effects on the skin, and since both of these products are fairly strong, they can be irritating when used together.
They will also lead to higher sensitivity to the sun which can lead to damage down the line.
Using hydroquinone with AHAs or BHAs can help you deal with hyperpigmentation or acne scarring while also battling active breakouts.
Additionally, while sunscreen should be a part of every skincare routine, reapplying SPF is especially important to pair with hydroquinone as this will ensure the best possible treatment results.
Oil-Based and Water-Based Products
Anyone who loves to cook can tell you that oil and water do not mix, and the same principle applies to your skincare.
If applying a combination of products, the rule of thumb is adding the products with the most water first then move to the oil-based products after.
If applying water-based products on top of oil-based, the former product cannot get through the layer of oil to completely optimize its effects.
Another option is using water-based products in your morning routine and saving the oils for a nightly session.
Since applying your sunscreen should be the final step in your morning routine, using water-based products frees up your face to more fully absorb your sunscreen without being blocked by the film of the oil.
Sunscreen and Anything
Experts recommend using a moisturizer with SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen product, and a foundation with SPF applied in that order with time in between for each product to dry.
Vitamin C can also be used under sunscreen as both products work to protect against sun exposure. Sunscreen deflects UV rays, while Vitamin C:
- Protects against sun damage,
- Fights free radicals, and
- Complements the sunscreen.
Part of a healthy skincare routine is understanding your skin’s specific needs, but also knowing which products can cause adverse reactions when used together.
Now you’re armed with the information you need to keep you skin glowing and healthy.