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Can I Use This Ingredient With This? A Cheat Sheet

Certain skincare products are successful because they’re filled with potent ingredients that work well together; others don’t. That’s because potent ingredients often interact with one another, which is why no matter how clean or non-toxic the products on your shelf might be, there’s always a fear that combining them could lead to nasty consequences. We’re talking things like irritation, redness, sensitivity, and even breakouts.

Here’s the thing though. You’d probably need to put in hours at the library to read through the available research that pertains to ingredient interactions, and not everybody has time for that. You could always seek out a cosmetic chemist or product formulator, but we’ve done the hard work for you. You may be surprised that some of the seemingly-scary ingredient pairings actually interact quite well together.

The Skincare Ingredients That Play Well With Each Other

Vitamin C + Retinol

This is one of the most talked-about ingredient pairings. The common conception is that one should avoid pairing vitamin C and retinol, but according to skin expert and StackedSkincare founder Kerry Benjamin, that’s a misconception. “This is an ingredient cocktail that a lot of people think results in neither ingredient working, due to the false belief that retinol doesn’t work in an acidic environment. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Vitamin C increases retinol’s effectiveness by stabilizing it, and together they act as powerful protectors against environmental aggressors.” However, Benjamin also warns that depending on the type of vitamin C, this combo can cause irritation, so play it safe and leave the ingredient cocktailing up to the skincare formulators, rather than mixing vitamin C and retinol products on your own.

Vitamin C + AHAs/BHAs (Otherwise Known as Exfoliating Acids)

“Vitamin C and AHAs [alpha hydroxy acids] make a great power couple,” Benjamin says, “but you have to know how to apply them. AHA-based products generally have a lower pH than vitamin C serums. When applied first, AHA products acidify the skin and help dissolve dead skin cells that prevent serums from absorbing fully. If you apply the vitamin C before the AHA product, chances are the vitamin C isn’t going to be able to achieve as much change in your skin than if you reversed the order. Both of these ingredients are acidic, so look for products with a lower concentration of AHAs to keep peeling and redness to a minimum.”

Vitamin C + Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3, which is used to clear blemishes and congestion in the skin. According to Benjamin, niacinamide works well with vitamin C for most people’s skin. “There’s little evidence that supports either ingredient canceling out the other’s efficacy.” Find this combo in our Stroke of Brilliance Brightening Serum.

Retinol + AHAs/BHAs

Seeing as retinol is a potent anti-aging ingredient, and AHAs and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) are strong exfoliators, many people are cautious to combine them. “Contrary to popular belief, these two ingredients do not cancel each other out,” Benjamin says. As we mentioned above, people tend to believe retinol can’t work when combined with acid, but that’s untrue. In fact, according to Benjamin, “AHAs may actually help retinol work better because they remove the top layer of dead skin and allow retinol to penetrate more deeply.” Which is why we included both in The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel.

While combining these ingredients is fine for normal skin types, you should proceed with caution if you have sensitive skin. “The double whammy of these two ingredients can cause irritation and redness, so look for products that contain a heavy dose of anti-inflammatory ingredients,” Benjamin recommends. And start small, working your way up to regular use. “Make sure you’re diligent about sunscreen as both can increase sun sensitivity.”

The Skincare Ingredients That DON’T Play Well With Each Other

Benzoyl Peroxide + Retinol

The only ingredients that Benjamin recommends we never combine are benzoyl peroxide and retinol because they actually counteract one another. “I have never been a fan of benzoyl peroxide to begin with because of its high likelihood of irritation,” she says. “If you’re battling acne and using a retinol prescription like Retin-A or Tazorac to help fight the issue, you’re better off looking for a spot treatment with salicylic acid than one with benzoyl peroxide. Not only is salicylic acid gentler on your skin, it also works well with retinol and will kill the acne-causing bacteria lurking in your blemish.”

If breakouts have got you down, reach for our spot treatment, Nix It Complexion Solution, which uses salicylic acid and tea tree oil to keep pores clear of congestion and calm skin.