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If you’re into skincare, you likely have a vanity full of amazing actives, serums, and moisturizers meant to hydrate, smooth, and slough away stubborn spots or dead cells. And it’s true that a comprehensive routine is necessary if you want to see real results - and you can find the perfect routine for your skin concern and lifestyle here.
But not all ingredients play nice with one another - and while some go together like PB&J, other mixtures should be avoided at all costs. Here, we’ll break down the do’s and don’t of mixing skincare ingredients so you’ll always get the perfect glow, not a face full of oh no!
Generally speaking, when we talk about skincare products that react with one another (either positively or negatively) that reaction usually has to do with the active ingredients in the product.
Active skincare ingredients are the ingredients that actually work to address the problem that the product is meant to target. If you’re getting a serum to treat acne, for example, the active ingredient could be glycolic acid. If you want to fade dark spots, our favorite active for daily use is vitamin C.
And they’re proven to work: generally, active ingredients have been proven effective in a lab, so you won’t be dealing with snake oil. Active categories include:
Again, some of these ingredients are perfectly complementary. Others really are not.
Vitamin C and vitamin E are two antioxidant powerhouses that go together flawlessly - and you won’t have to worry about getting too much of a good thing.
Each vitamin combats different types of UV damage, which means that the combination - especially if you add some real SPF to the mix - will give you ultra-comprehensive sun protection. Additionally, using both will give you double the antioxidant protection to fight free radical damage. In fact, one study found that applying the combination every day can reduce the effects of sun damage - aka dark spots and wrinkles - on your skin by up to 4 times!
Now, let’s address one of the most common concerns here - can’t loading up on double the goodies actually cause skin irritation?
The short answer? No! (yay). Neither product is recommended for particularly sensitive or reactive skin (and vitamin E is not great for oily skin either) but the reality is that we’re not dealing with acids or anything harmful. Instead, we’re talking about regenerative, restorative antioxidants, so you shouldn’t worry about the combination causing any kind of harm.
If you’re following a comprehensive Eight Saints routine, you’re already using these two vitamins (woo hoo!). But just in case you’re not sure what to use (or if you want to double-check that you’re making the most of this powerful duo), you can find:
Roughly 80-90% of facial skin aging is caused by sun damage, which is why sunscreenon its own is such an important part of any skincare routine. A run-of-the-mill sunscreen primarily protects against UVB rays, which cause the reddening that is typically associated with sunburn and, in the long run, skin cancer. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect against both UVB and UVA rays, the rays that can reach deeper layers of the skin and damage collagen and elastin. An SPF 30, in particular, will protect against 97% of these harmful rays (not too shabby).
That said, sunscreen on its own can only protect against about 55% of free radicals caused by UV exposure. Free radicals are unstable molecules (caused by sun damage, environmental pollutants, etc) that steal electrons from within cells to try to stabilize themselves, disrupting the cell membrane, setting the mitochondria on a self-destructive path, and creating errors in the DNA within the nucleus - yikes!
If this process goes unchecked, you’ll have a face full of unstable cells that are destroying their neighbors and stealing from each other. This wreaks havoc on the skin, leading to:
That’s why you should add antioxidants to your SPF - they can help and reduce these free radicals by up to 78%. Plus, many alsoblock harmful UV rays, making SPF and antioxidants the ultimate sun protection duo.
While we don’t have an SPF product yet, we do have plenty of antioxidants. Check out the list above (vitamin C and vitamin E are both antioxidants) to get the rundown.
This is another excellent antioxidant pairing.
Green tea, on one hand, has anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidant effects, and protective benefits. It can help with:
Some research suggests that caffeine enhances the antioxidant effects of green tea polyphenols and that both ingredients together may help prevent free radical production and UVB-induced skin cancer.
Zinc oxide is a physical, mineral sunscreen, which means that it protects the skin from UVA and UVB radiation by reflecting and scattering light.
Iron oxide is not an approved sunscreen, but it is often added to mineral sunscreens to reduce white cast (since more effective mineral sunscreens can often appear heavier and more noticeable on the skin).
The addition of iron oxide to sunscreens also happens to broaden the UV protection of mineral sunscreen agents into the longer UVA and visible light spectrums. In fact, the combination can reduce the amount of UVA rays able to penetrate the skin to 1.5%. You can find the combination in skin-safe Cotz sunscreen products here.
Although this combination may not be suitable for all skin types, glycolic acid and vitamin C make a powerful pairing. They both boost collagen levels in the skin, and it appears that their effects may be additive.
Additionally, vitamin C and glycolic acid are both effective at inhibiting tyrosinase and decreasing melanin production. As a result, when used together, they demonstrated an ability to significantly improve hyperpigmentation and dark spots, as well as reduce pore size and improve skin texture.
Retinoids (the umbrella term for retinol creams) are ultra-potent skincare ingredients that come in a lot of forms. There’s:
While some think that retinoids are primarily exfoliants, this simply isn’t the case. While there’s certainly a lot of peeling, this is a side effect of the irritation - not an intended effect. Instead, retinols primarily work by affecting gene expression and causing enhanced collagen production, skin smoothing, and an evening of pigmentation.
AHAs and BHAs, on the other hand, are chemicals that works to “unglue” the bonds that hold dead skin to the face, thereby helping to gently exfoliate the skin. Over time, they can help:
The problem with using them together? Retinol is extremely unstable and using it with ingredients like acids can be too hard on the skin, causing dryness, sensitivity, and irritation - particularly if you already have sensitive skin or use strong concentrations.
When retinol products are combined with benzoyl peroxide products, their effects can cancel each other out.
Benzoyl peroxide is an effective acne-fighting ingredient that can reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin.
The problem? Benzoyl peroxide and retinols can deactivate each other on the skin. So, if you have to use both, you should do so at different times so the products don’t interfere with one another.
This one isn’t as much a statement about what notto do as it is a guideline about how to mix these ingredients.
Oil and water don’t mix - this is something that we all know from basic chemistry classes. When it comes to skincare, this means that oil-based products leave a film on the skin that water-based products won’t be able to penetrate. So, if you follow an oil-based cleanser with a water-based vitamin C serum, for example, you simply won’t see your dark spots start to lighten, and you’ll likely think a faulty vitamin C product is to blame.
Of course, this is not a hard-and-fast against the mixture. Botanical face oils can be effectively used on top of water-based products at the end of your skincare routine to seal everything in. This can work as a shield for the skin, keeping vitamins and nutrients in, giving actives an opportunity to sink in more deeply, and preventing trans-epidermal water loss.
Niacinamide cancels out all of the good properties of vitamin C and turns it into a substance that causes redness and can trigger acne breakouts when the products are applied directly on top of one another.
If you’re going to use both, space application out by at least 10 minutes between each product to avoid any irritation.
And remember - always pay attention to your skin! If you notice any reddening, irritation, itching, or other symptoms, re-evaluate your routine and get to the bottom of it before the problem gets worse.