Skincare is a science, meaning some ingredients play nice together and some, well, don’t. What does this mean for you?
It’s important to know appropriate layering techniques so you get the benefits of your skincare regimen without any adverse effects.
But we don’t expect you to achieve this education on your own: we’re happy to share our knowledge. We’re good like that.
Proper Technique for Layering Skincare Ingredients
With so many skincare products out there, it’s difficult enough to identify what you need, let alone know how each item in your repertoire should be used to best effect.
But here’s a secret: all of your masks, serums, and face oils must work together in harmony or you’re wasting both time and money.
This means knowing which ingredients complement each other to provide the brightest and smoothest results.
Without a little due diligence, you might be layering ingredients that cancel each other out and provide no visible benefits.
Worse, you could combine products that ultimately cause irritation. Think of these products as people, in which each has its own strengths and weaknesses and needs a friend (ahem, complementary product) to help.
So, what’s the best place to start? With ingredients that can and should be mixed together.
Vitamin A and Hyaluronic Acid
Vitamin A, known more commonly as retinol, is a go-to choice for its anti-aging and acne killing effects. When applied topically as a cream or serum, it ramps up your skin’s natural cell turnover rate.
This is very beneficial, as turning over dead cells more quickly brightens the complexion, reduces the appearance of fine lines, and removes pore-clogging bacteria that lead to breakouts.
But retinol requires some caution because it can overdry and aggravate the skin, this side effect is AKA as purging. When paired with hyaluronic acid (HA), however, these effects become almost nil. HA is a moisture magnet, so it doesn’t only temper retinol, but it also provides a steady stream of moisture to keep skin smooth and soft.
The results of this dynamic duo? Younger, fresher skin that glows from within.
Niacinimide and Almost Everything
Niacinimide, a member of the vitamin B family, rarely gets the skin-loving attention it deserves. Beauty gurus tend to wax poetic about the benefits of vitamin C, and rightfully so, but vitamin B also deserves some praise – actually, lots of praise. It is safe for most skin types, especially dry and/or sensitive skin that needs extra care, and can brighten your complexion almost overnight.
Vitamin B3, of which niacinamide is a derivative, is proven to boost collagen production and gently reduce dark spots. It also helps restore the skin’s natural moisture barrier and is rich in antioxidants to prevent early signs of aging. Additional benefits include:
- Smaller pores
- Balanced sebum production
- Softer skin texture
- More even tone
How to Layer It
Because this nutrient is a pretty easy-going character, it mixes well with almost every skincare ingredient, including retinol and hydroxy acid. The one pairing we don’t recommend is vitamin B and C. They have vastly different pH levels and, when combined, may neutralize each other and reduce their potency. Mixing them can also create nicotinic acid, a substance known to cause skin redness. Your best bet is to keep these two ingredients separate.
AHAs and BHAs
These two cousins – alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid – are product superstars when incorporated into your skincare regimen individually. But mixing them delivers a deep clean that will penetrate to even the most clogged of pores. If you’re going to layer these, start with BHA first, as it’s oil-soluble and will help loosen clusters of dead skin cells. Then follow with the water-soluble AHA to exfoliate your skin’s surface.
We advise you to exercise caution with this potent duo and only combine them once or twice a week. Then follow with a rich moisturizer, preferably one that contains HA. By exfoliating with AHA and BHA, you allow the skin to deeply drink all the moisture HA can deliver. For those with sensitive or dry skin, we recommend you steer clear of the AHA and BHA combo and use these products individually.
Why You Need These Acids
We want to go back to basics for just a moment and remind you why AHAs and BHAs are beneficial to your skin. Both are exfoliating experts without the abrasive, granular textures of physical exfoliants. Instead, they sink into the skin and gently unglue bonded dirt, dead skin cells, and other impurities. AHAs work on your skin’s surface to improve texture, clarity, and tone.
BHAs, on the other hand, penetrate deeply into pores to relieve congested, acne-prone skin. Because they are oil-soluble, they work well with oily skin types and help soothe inflamed skin. The most common BHA on the market is salicylic acid, although many others also exist.
Vitamins C and E
We mentioned vitamin C earlier, but here we get to delve more deeply into this power-packed nutrient. It’s an antioxidant, so you know right away it protects against and reduces the signs of aging. It also stabilizes collagen levels to give skin its firm, elastic, and bouncy appearance. In fact, the connection between vitamin C and collagen is so great that without the former, we wouldn’t have the latter. It is therefore an essential component to your skincare routine.
The downside to this vitamin is its tendency toward instability. Vitamin E stabilizes it and also reduces inflammation, promotes healthy cell renewal, and encourages healing. Together, this vitamin duo safeguards your skin from photodamage, soothes inflamed skin, and protects against environmental toxins.
Ferulic Acid Gives an Extra Boost
If you really want to amp up the potency of vitamins C and E, look for products that contain both of them with ferulic acid. This third ingredient has gained traction in the world of beauty in recent years. It improves the efficacy of other nutrients and gives a boost to collagen production. The result is smooth, youthful skin fully nourished from within.
What Not to Mix
Now that we’ve laid the foundation for what can be layered in skincare, we need to address a few common pairings that don’t go together. Retinoid is a highly beneficial nutrient for your face, but it has only a few colleagues with whom it gets along. Ingredients to avoid with retinoid (retinol) include:
- Alpha hydroxy acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Vitamin C
- Salicyclic acid
Most of these combinations are simply too drying for the skin and can cause irritation. Where vitamin C is concerned, it’s best to use this ingredient during the day and retinol at night. This allows you to still enjoy the advantages of both without counteracting their properties.
The Key Is Avoiding Irritation
When layering products, you want to avoid using multiple forms of the same ingredients. For example, don’t pair a glycolic acid mask with a cream containing mandelic acid. Both of these belong to the AHA family and can disrupt the skin’s fragile barrier.
Exceptions always exist to these general rules. For instance, you might be a person who can layer AHAs without redness. This is where knowing your skin type, and how you commonly react to new products, becomes helpful. Our best advice? Stick to the pairings you know are beneficial and then venture out.
If your skin starts to show signs of damage, come back to what you know and start fresh.