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Skincare Chemistry 101: How to Mix the Right Active Ingredients in Your Skincare

Posted by Sarah Otto on
Skincare Chemistry 101: How to Mix the Right Active Ingredients in Your Skincare

If you’re anything like us, chemistry was definitely not our favorite subject in high school (Balancing chemical equations? We’ll pass). However, if you happened to be one of the special few who loved it, you’re in luck! Today, we’ll be talking all about which skincare actives mix well together, and which ones don’t. Oh, and for all you chemistry-averse readers, no need to worry—we’ll make this completely painless (heck, you might even learn a thing or two to show off to your friends later!).

So, let’s get started. Meet the friends and foes of the skincare world.

Meet the Friends

In other words, when these active ingredients come together, amazing things can happen.

AHAs + Niacinamide

These BFFs were practically made for each other. That’s because AHAs (aka, alpha hydroxy acids) exfoliate dead layers of skin, allowing the niacinamide to penetrate deeper and work better. Niacinamide can also help calm skin and reduce irritation often caused by acids, allowing more sensitive skin types to tolerate AHAs better.

AHAs + Vitamin C

This power couple means serious business, as long as you buy them in separate bottles. Here’s why: in general, AHA products have a lower pH than vitamin C, so it’s better to layer these ingredients instead of looking for them both in a single product. Also, AHAs should only be used at night, while vitamin C can be used both day and night—so, buying separate products makes the most sense.

Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid

These powerhouse ingredients are amazing alone, but even better together. You’ve probably been seeing them everywhere, and for good reason, too! Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid complement each other beautifully, providing the utmost comprehensive skin health (think: ultra-moisturizing, plumping and nourishing). Trust us, these ingredients are not fooling around.

Hyaluronic Acid + Peptides

Say buh-bye to wrinkles and hello to youthful-looking skin—these ingredients are perfect for one another (and your complexion, too!). Hyaluronic acid is what’s known as a humectant, meaning it can absorb and retain moisture in your skin. Peptides, on the other hand, increase collagen production and smooth fine lines. Together, this dynamic duo leaves your skin dewy, plump and better than ever.

Vitamin C + Vitamin E

Both high in antioxidants, these amazing vitamins support each other like good friends should! In fact, they work better together than they do by their lonesome. When combined with vitamin E, vitamin C fights off oxidative damage. Um, oxidative what now? Oxidative damage! Quick biology lesson (try not to snooze): oxidative stress plays a major role in the aging process, mainly caused by UV radiation. Translation? These vitamins pack a powerful punch against stressed and dehydrated skin caused by the elements!

Meet the Foes

Watch out. When you pair these actives together, it’s like mixing oil and water (but so much worse). Proceed with caution...

AHAs + Retinol

You may have heard that acids and retinol don't get along—and you'd be totally correct! That’s because when these two ingredients combine, they cause irritation, leaving your complexion inflamed and sensitive. Oh, and not to mention, retinol doesn't work so well on acidic skin (in other words, the AHA will completely nullify the effects of retinol, and vice-versa!). Therefore, AHAs and retinol should be alternated every other night.

Vitamin C + Retinol

Although both vitamin C and retinol, in theory, would be amazing together (Um...hello! They’re both powerful antioxidants, right?), each one has a particular pH level that allows the ingredients to work on your complexion. The result of layering them together? Irritation, inflammation and increased sensitivity (yikes!). So, just like AHAs and retinol, vitamin C and retinol should be alternated, too. A good rule of thumb? Vitamin C in the morning, retinol in the evening.

How to Layer Actives-Driven Products:

In general, it’s always best to apply water-based actives before oil-based actives. Just to be sure to wait until the water-based actives dry before applying the oil-based actives! Not sure which one is which? We’ll help you out!

First Layer: Water-Based Actives

Use: The Go-Getter Day Serum and The Multitasker Night Serum

  • Niacinamide
  • AHAs (Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Fruit Acids)
  • BHAs (Salicylic Acid)
  • PHAs (Gluconolactone)
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic, Glyceryl Ascorbate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate)
  • Peptides

Second Layer: Oil-Based Actives

Use: The Fresh Start Face Oil

  • Vitamin C (Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate)  
  • Retinol
  • Ceramides
  • Vitamin E

Phew! That was a lot, but I bet you feel a lot smarter now. Did we miss anything? Leave a comment below with all your questions and advice!

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