Let’s face it – skincare can be a real treat to experiment with, but it can be incredibly overwhelming too, especially if you’re a newbie.
The sheer number of products lining the shelves along shopping aisles can be dizzying, and to make things worse, not all ingredients in your routine get along too.
If you’ve never been able to reap the rewards of a product splurge, we’re here to help. We’ve created a definitive list of skincare ingredients and actives to explain what they do and how you should use them in your routine. This way, you won’t make any mistakes by pairing or mixing them.
Alpha-hydroxy acids & beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs & BHAs)
Exfoliating acids such as AHAs and BHAs are used to slough off dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. While they’re all effective exfoliants that can improve your skin’s texture, tone, and blemishes, they can dehydrate and irritate the skin, so you shouldn’t layer them together.
You’ll also want to avoid layering this with hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, retinol, and benzoyl peroxide. Combining them with these actives may cause excessive skin sensitivity, irritation, and redness.
Here are some examples of AHAs:
- Citric acid
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Malic acid
- Tartaric acid
And some examples of BHAs:
- Salicylic acid (or related substances, such as salicylate, sodium salicylate, and willow extract)
- Beta hydroxybutanoic acid
- Tropic acid
- Trethocanic acid
- Here’s what glycolic acid can do for your skin and the 15 best products to try today
- Here’s why you need salicylic acid in your skincare routine if you live in Malaysia
A skin-lightening ingredient, alpha arbutin is typically taken from plants like bearberries, blueberries, and cranberries. It works by targeting melanin-producing cells of the skin to fade stubborn hyperpigmentation.
While it’s generally safe to use on the skin, mixing it with multiple active ingredients won’t do your complexion any good, which is why experts suggest selecting a maximum of two other active ingredients to go with alpha arbutin.
For an added brightening boost, we recommend pairing it with other spot faders like vitamin C.
Related read: Alpha arbutin for skin: Benefits, functions, & review
Both beauty experts and enthusiasts are likely to wax poetic about niacinamide. This water-soluble vitamin is known to visibly minimise the appearance of pores, reduce skin congestion, and calm active breakouts.
The ingredient does all of this while it softens fine lines, evens out your skin tone and texture, and fades dark spots, so it’s clear why it’s a holy grail for most.
However, you should not mix niacinamide with vitamin C as they cancel each other out. You can still use both of these ingredients, but you’ll have to apply them at alternate times.
Since vitamin C boosts your sunscreen’s ability to fend off free radicals and prevent UV damage, we recommend using it during the day. You can then use niacinamide in your nighttime routine.
You can also combine it with zinc, copper, retinol, or folic acid to treat acne.
Vitamin C is a powerhouse antioxidant that brightens your complexion by blocking the creation of excess pigment.
Besides that, it delays visible signs of ageing by stimulating collagen and protects your skin by neutralising free radicals from environmental aggressors. The result? Radiant, glowing skin that’s smooth and flawless.
While vitamin C plays nice with most skincare ingredients, make sure you don’t combine it with niacinamide, AHAs, BHAs, retinol, or benzoyl peroxide. As mentioned, niacinamide renders vitamin C useless, while the other ingredients can cause too much irritation when paired with vitamin C.
Related read: 17 best vitamin C serums that’ll brighten your skin and restore its glow
One of the best skincare ingredients dermatologists love to recommend, retinol (a.k.a. vitamin A) can promote skin cell turnover. It helps to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture, dark spots, and acne. The only catch? Retinol can be extremely irritating.
This is why we won’t recommend combining it with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, AHAs, or BHAs, as the mix can be seriously harsh on the skin.
What you can do instead is keep retinol and other actives separate. Take vitamin C, for example. You can use that in the morning to bolster your SPF protection, and then save your retinol for nighttime to aid your skin while you sleep.
Benzoyl peroxide can be a true game-changer in your skincare routine if you have acne-prone skin.
It kills acne-causing bacteria, removes excess oil to mattify the skin, and sloughs off dead skin cells to allow your serums and moisturisers to penetrate more easily.
The only caveat is that it can be incredibly drying, which is why combining them with other actives may not be a great idea.
Steer clear of tretinoin, vitamin C, retinol, AHAs, or BHAs unless you intend to use these ingredients on different days.
Related read: How to use benzoyl peroxide and make it work for your anti-acne skincare routine
Hyaluronic acid (a.k.a. HA) is a naturally occurring sugar produced by our skin cells that support our skin barrier function. It holds 1,000 times its weight in water, drawing in and holding onto moisture for hydrated, plumper skin.
You’ll be relieved to learn that hyaluronic acid goes with most other skincare ingredients. However, you’re still advised to avoid mixing it with acids with low pH values, such as AHAs, as it can cause irritation.
Like retinol, tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A. Tretinoin and retinol fall into the retinoid category, which means they’re great at treating acne and signs of ageing.
However, tretinoin is 20 times more potent than retinoid, so it works more effectively compared to over-the-counter retinol.
Because it’s so powerful, it’s best to avoid pairing or mixing it with other topical acne ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, or sulfur.
The rise of barrier-building products has shone a spotlight on ceramides. They’re lipids (or fats) that are found naturally in high concentrations in the uppermost layers of our skin.
Ceramides essentially hold and bind our skin cells together, keeping the skin barrier strong and healthy. This way, you’ll reap moisturised, healthier skin.
This ingredient can be combined with a variety of other active ingredients, so you can go ahead and concoct your skincare cocktail!
Related read: 16 best ceramide moisturisers to lock in moisture and rebuild your skin’s barrier
Featured image credit: Karolina Grabowska & cottonbro