Your skin care routine is probably loaded with a barrage of serums, moisturizers, and sunscreens. After all, a properly ordered skin care routine ensures we get the maximum benefit from our products, which is why we use them in the first place. But, with all the different ingredients available, choosing the right ones to combine to gain all those benefits — like anti-aging, brightening, acne clearing — can be quite the challenge.
To ensure you’re combining all of the best ingredients and avoiding any skin care pitfalls, we spoke to two dermatologists to get the low-down on how to expertly plan your routine.
Below, are all the skin care ingredients that you shouldn’t combine and the ones you definitely should, plus some expert-recommended options to shop.
Ingredients you should not use together
When creating a skin care routine, it’s important to make sure you’re not combining products that will cause more harm than good. Dr. Scott Paviol of Paviol Dermatology explains to Shop TODAY that there are a few different ingredients that should not be used together – mainly retinol or other strong exfoliants.
Retinol and AHA or BHA
The exfoliating effects of retinol, AHAs and BHAs can be too drying to the skin when used all together, advises Paviol. “If your routine contains AHA/BHA in addition to retinol, wait to use your retinol about an hour after AHA/BHA application.”
Retinol and Benzoyl Peroxide
it is useless to use benzoyl peroxide, which is usually used to treat acne, and retinol together, says Paviol. The ingredients can cancel the positive effects of each other out and leave skin extremely dry and irritated.
Retinol and Vitamin C
When used together, explains Paviol, these two ingredients lessen the potency of one another. “Because vitamin C is formulated at a low pH and retinol is formulated with a high pH, when used together the vitamin C pH rises and the pH of the retinol lowers.” He further explains that overall it’s best to use vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night to ensure maximum efficacy of both.
Ingredients you should use together
To get the most benefit out of your skin care, there are certain ingredients and work best when paired. Paviol and Dr. Jeannette Graf, Board-Certified Dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mt Sinai School of Medicine, weigh-in on the ingredients that help enhance the overall effectiveness of each product.
Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid
When combined, hyaluronic acid helps to lessen the potential side effects and sensitivities of using retinol, an exfoliating synthetic derivative of vitamin A, explains Paviol. The same goes for all acids. Though, using both an AHA or BHA and a retinol at the same time can be harmful to your skin.
“AHA, BHA, retinol, and benzoyl peroxide can be mixed with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and rosehip oil to get effective results — just ensure you are not using retinol as well as AHA or BHA’s during the day,” says Graf.
Paviol recommends this nightly retinol treatment, which boasts 0.5% of pure retinol to help brighten out skin and even out discoloration.
Just a few drops of this serum will leave your skin smoother and hydrated. Although a bit pricier, Paviol recommends it because with usage over time it’ll effectively work deep within your skin’s layers to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Ceramides and Niacinamide
Ceramides help to increase the barrier function of the skin and improve moisture retention, says Dr. Paviol, while niacinamide improves pore size and skin texture. When you combine the two together, the benefits of both complement each other, giving you soft, glowing and even skin.
This serum’s main ingredient, niacinamide, works to vanish fine lines, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, redness, and more, which is why Paviol recommends it for achieving a brighter and moisturized complexion.
Loved by Paviol, this hydrating serum uses four different types of ceramides to soothe redness and irritation, and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier. It can also be easily layered with other serums.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E (Including Ferulic Acid)
In case you didn’t know, vitamin C is the antioxidant powerhouse of the skin care world. However, explains Dr. Paviol, the ingredient is actually highly unstable and needs other ingredients to help make it the most effective. “Ingredients like vitamin E and ferulic acid help to stabilize this brightening ingredient to make sure your skin receives the best that vitamin C has to offer.”
SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Serum
This cult-favorite and Paviol-recommended serum uses ferulic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E to protect your skin from free radicals that cause premature aging. In addition to antioxidant protection, the serum is also known to firm skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and brighten your complexion.
Vitamin C and SPF
When you combine antioxidants with SPF, explains Graf, the antioxidants stabilize the SPF, making it more effective. Vitamin C provides antioxidant protection from environmental stressors—also known as free radicals—that cause increased signs of aging, whereas SPF is essential for protecting against harmful UVB rays. “When layered together vitamin C and SPF are the perfect pair for keeping your skin protected throughout the day,” says Paviol.
Paviol recommends this lightweight vitamin C and vitamin E treatment as it works deep below the surface to nourish, and effectively reduce fine lines, discoloration, and free radical damage. Plus, it’ll give your skin a gorgeous healthy glow.
Graf advises using these vitamin C drops to fight signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. The serum is created with over 20% vitamin C to ensure it delivers maximum penetration into the deepest layers of the skin.
Designed to blend in evenly without any white cast or residue, this lightweight formula provides 50+ SPF protection. And it gives off a universal tint that enhances your skin tone and boosts radiance, which is why Paviol likes it.
This lightweight sunscreen is perfect for everyday use, Graf says. Created with eyfotona actinica, it absorbs quickly into the skin and leaves you with SPF 50+ protection.
Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid
Since salicylic acid is soluble, it easily penetrates into pores to loosen dirt, oil and debris, explains Paviol. “At the same time, niacinamide reduces sebum production by decreasing glyceride and fatty acid production of surface sebum.” Together, they reduce pore size, clear up skin, and improve skin texture.
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid – 2% Salicylic Acid Solution
This TikTok-viral treatment solution uses salicylic acid to exfoliate pores and eliminate blemishes. Paviol recommends using this serum in conjunction with the PCA B3 Brightening Serum, which has niacinamide as the fourth ingredient, for the best results.
Ceramides, Cholesterol, and Fatty Acids
These three lipids are essential for your skin’s barrier function and overall improvement of hydration. “Consequently, you must have all three for barrier repair; using only one or two of this trio can actually delay barrier repair,” says Paviol.
SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore
Infused with all three essential lipids, this anti-aging treatment helps repair elasticity, uneven texture, and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Paviol recommends the fast-absorbing formula for its whole slew of good-for-you ingredients that leave you with tons of benefits.
Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid
“Glycolic acid supercharges vitamin C’s benefits by lifting away surface dead skin cells,” says Paviol. This preps your skin for vitamin C to accelerate cell renewal that’s essential for smooth and glowing skin, he says.
By merging glycolic acid and vitamin C, this serum improves the look of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. Created with a Vita-C complex, it also provides antioxidant protection and helps the skin absorb the ingredients more effectively.
Retinol and Peptides
When you use retinol, explains Paviol, “you are also receiving the collagen-building effects of vitamin A.” Additionally, retinol also works to improve the penetration of peptide creams and serums which can help improve skin firmness. When combined, you’ll improve the efficacy.
By merging peptides and amino acids, this moisturizer is also known to improve skin’s tone and texture as well. Paviol recommends using this in conjunction with the retinol-rich PCA Intensive Brightening Treatment to improve hydration.
AHAs and BHAs
Although the majority of individuals shy away from using both acids, your skin can receive major benefits if these two are layered correctly or in a product that contains both. Some of these benefits, the doctors shared, include keeping your skin bright and reducing hyperpigmentation, sebum production, and superficial fine lines and wrinkles.
Created with both AHA and BHA, Paviol recommends this combination product as his top selection. The water-based rinse-off treatment is intended for improvement of textural irregularities, dullness, and congested pores.
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