It seems like there’s a product out there for every kind of skin problem. Want to banish wrinkles? Reach for the retinol. Aiming to keep your skin supple and hydrated? Look for hyaluronic acid.

But with so many active ingredients packed into products, knowing what you can and cannot pair can get confusing. If you make a wrong move, ingredients can clash and it’s your skin that pays the price.

Not only can pairing the wrong ingredients lead to irritated, red, and acne-prone skin, but in some circumstances, it can even cause painful burns.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here are the skincare ingredients you should absolutely avoid layering together.

Vitamin C & AHAS/BHAS

While vitamin C is branded as a vitamin, technically it’s an acid. Layering two acidic ingredients, like vitamin C with AHAs or BHAs, can lead to skin irritations including peeling and dryness. These AHAs and BHAs include favorites such as glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids.

Teaming vitamin C with AHAs and BHAs also affects the efficiency of the ingredient, lowing the pH which can also result in redness and inflammation. That means if you do apply vitamin C with other acids, it will become completely useless and won’t have the chance to work its magic.

But how can I reap the benefits of both ingredients, you may cry? A good rule of thumb is to apply AHAs and BHAs at nighttime before bed, as they can make your skin more vulnerable to sunburn if applied during the day. Use vitamin C in the morning to lather your skin so the vitamin C benefits can soak into the skin all day.

Retinol & Retinol

You should never layer retinol products. While you may believe you’ll be receiving an extra special double dosage, instead your skin may become inflamed and sore. Always, always use one retinol at a time.

Even if the products in question are different, double-dosing retinol should be avoided at all costs. Yes, that means you shouldn’t think about applying a retinol serum followed with retinol cream. That’s unless you want to spend a week with an itchy and aching face.

If you’re using a retinol eye cream and a retinol face cream, that means you should be extra careful to make sure you’ll not layering retinoids on the delicate eye area. Remember, the eye area is a common spot to overdo, so be aware when you’re slathering on your products before bed.

Benzoyl Peroxide & Vitamin C

Another bad match is benzoyl peroxide paired with vitamin C. This is because the two ingredients counteract each other’s effects as the benzoyl peroxide can oxidize the vitamin C.

However, if you have oilier skin, you may be able to make it work. If you layer a benzoyl peroxide product such as a toner with a vitamin C product, the ingredients may still be effective. For the best success, it’s important to wait a few minutes between using the two products.

Benzoyl Peroxide & Retinol

Likewise, using benzoyl peroxide with retinol can also result in them deactivating each other’s effects. If you want to keep both ingredients as part of your skincare routine, you’ll need to plan. Consider using acne products in the morning, or if you want to use them at night switch them up and use on opposite nights that you apply retinol.

If you’ve recently undertaken a chemical face peel or laser resurfacing procedure, you’ll need to lay off the retinol for a while too.

Oil-Based & Water-Based

If you still remember the basics from high-school science you’ll know that oil and water don’t mix. Oil resists water, and it’s the same case when it comes to your skincare.

While you’re unlikely to damage your skin, if you use an oil-based formula, applying a water-based product is useless. That’s because the oil-based product leaves a film on the skin which stops water-based products from sinking into the skin.

Retinol & AHAS/BHAS

When teaming exfoliating acids such as glycolic, lactic, and salicylic with retinoids, expect the skin to become sore and irritated. As retinol is a peeling agent, it encourages cell turnover and mixing it with acids can result in dryness and damage to the skin’s moisture barrier – not ideal. Not only that, but the combination also deactivates key ingredients.

Like with vitamin C, retinol can become unstable when paired with acids. In the worst-case scenario, not only are you damaging and aggravating your skin, but you aren’t even reaping the benefits of your formulas.

If retinol is part of your skincare routine and you want to introduce acids, a good idea is to switch up the days you use retinol and the days you use acids.


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