Here are the skincare ingredients that you should never mix together

Follow these golden rules and you won't go wrong.
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  • With beauty brands offering more active ingredients in skincare than ever before, we’re all becoming our own at-home beauty mixologists.

    But, without a chemistry degree or dermatologist-approved skincare routine (or night time skin care routine!), do you really know which skincare ingredients you should never combine, especially when brands like No7 and The Ordinary have such broad ranges to mix and match? From acids to retinols, here are the reasons it pays to know which skincare ingredients you should and shouldn’t mix.

    How do I know if I’m mixing the wrong skincare ingredients?

    Generally speaking, combinations of skincare ingredients you should never mix fall into two categories.

    There are the ones that neutralise each other, making them less effective.

    Then there are the ones that are too potent together,  likely to overstimulate your skin and cause irritation.

    The second combination is easier to spot – if you’ve started combining new products and your skin is red, tight, flaky or feels sunburn-like you have probably aggrivated it in some way.  It’s far less obvious if the products you are applying aren’t doing their job effectively, as most active skincare like retinol and Vitamin C is very much a long game anyway.

    That’s why it pays to arm yourself with some expert knowledge to ensure those pricy creams and serums in your skincare routine aren’t going to waste.

    Types of active skincare ingredients

    There are as many skincare ingredients out there as there are faces to be slathered in them, but active ingredients tend to fall into three categories: Ones that protect your skin, ones that replenish it and ones that renew it. A good skincare routine will include a mixture of these three types of skincare ingredients, e.g, protect with antioxidants, replenish with hyaluronic acid, renew with retinol.

    There are countless combinations you can create from these three basic building blocks, with as many or as few stages as you like, for example you can happily include several forms of each element to reach a full 12-step skincare utopia. Equally you can keep things really simple with one of each and still have a solid routine. The most important thing is using the right products for your skin and ensuring that nothing you apply is going to behave badly when mixed.

    Which is where we come in! Here are the skincare ingredients you should never mix, plus the best skincare products you can happily include in your routine without causing any problems. Happy mixing!

    Can you mix Vitamin C + Acids in your skin care routine?

    This combination isn’t an absolute no-no but you need to be careful. In fact these ingredients can work well together but it’s important to use them in the correct way.

    Vitamin C is amazing at brightening, stimulating collagen and protecting against environmental ageing, like pollution. “The best ingredient for brightening up the complexion has to be L-ascorbic acid, which is the purest and most potent form of vitamin C.” says Rowena  Jackson, Aesthetic Practitioner at Mallucci London” But, Vitamin C is an extremely unstable antioxidant and has an acidic PH, so  you have to be careful what you use it with. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (such as glycolic and lactic acid – both found in chemical exfoliants and peels) and salicylic acid (in spot treatments) also have an acidic PH, so when used together the combination can be drying, irritating and far too much for your skin to take.

    Most people who want to use both acids and Vitamin C together get around this problem by using them at different times. Vitamin C is a great morning product as it hekp sward off evironmental damage during the day, then use your alpha or beta hydroxy acid in the evening to make the most of overnight cell renewal.

    What are the pros of mixing Vitamin C and Acids?

    • Vitamin C is a great protective ingredient, while acids renew the skin
    • Used carefully, they can be combined for powerful skin brightening

    What are the cons of mixing Vitamin C and Acids?

    • Both have a low acidic PH, which can dry the skin out
    • Vitamin C can be irritating in high doses and this combination can exacerbate sensitivity

    Beauty editor recommended products


    SHOP NOW: Medik8 C-Tetra Intense Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum, £75, 

    skincare ingredients you should never mix together

    SHOP NOW: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%, £5.50,

    Can you mix Exfoliators + Skin Brightening Treatments in your skin care routine?

    Whether you use an acid toning lotion, peel mask or grainy scrub, exfoliators work by encouraging dry and dead skin cells to be removed – so that your brand new, baby soft skin can shine through. Despite marketing themselves slightly differently, brightening or pigmentation targeting products often contain some form of exfoliating ingredient, usually acids like lactic or glycolic,.

    “Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are a great way to get healthy looking skin, as they exfoliate the outer skin surface layers.” Agrees Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Nick Lowe. But while exfoliation is crucual for healthy skin, a double dose of exfoliation can strip your protective barrier layer, leading to sensitivity and dryness so always read the label of any treatments you’re using to ensure you don’t double up.

    What are the pros of mixing exfoliators and skin brightening treatments?

    • If the brightening treatment doesn’t contain exfoliating acids, go right ahead!
    • Brightening ingredients that play well with acid exfoliators are niacinamide and tranexamic acid

    What are the cons of mixing exfoliators and skin brightening treatments?

    • Brightening treatments often contain exfoliating acids like glycolic and lactic
    • Double exfoliation can cause sensitivity, and weaken our protective barrier

    Beauty editor recommended products

    SHOP NOW: PIXI Peel & Polish Resurfacing Concentrate, £26,

    SHOP NOW: REN Wake Wonderful Night-Time Facial, £34, Feelunique

    Can you mix Retinol + Acne Treatments in your skin care routine?

    Retinols are incredibly effective on so many aspects of how your skin looks. “Skincare with retinols or prescription-only Retin-A creams work to exfoliate, aid in the production of collagen, and fight free radicals. to speed up cell turnover and smooth the appearance of skin and fine lines,” agrees Dr Lowe.

    Traditionally Retinol was prescribed as an acne treatment for its cell-turnover boosting and oil-control powers, but these dayd it’s used as a general skin improver and we need to be careful what we mix it with. Pair this with a pure acne treatment (like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide) that are designed to slough away skin cells and dry up blemishes, and you’re in for a case of extreme dryness, redness and irritation.

    What are the pros of mixing retinol and acne treatments?

    • Gentler skin-clearing ingredients can work well in tendem with retinol
    • Look for PHA acids, which gently exfoliate and have humectant qualities so draw moisture into the skin

    What are the cons of mixing retinol and acne treatments?

    • Acne treatments containing salicylic acid can be very drying, as can retinol
    • Another popular spot treatment, benzoyl peroxide, has been shown in studies to deactivate retinol

    Beauty editor recommended products

    SHOP NOW: The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion, £7.75, Cultbeauty

    SHOP NOW: Malin + Goetz Salicylic Gel, £19,

    Can you mix Retinol + Alpha Hydroxy Acids + The Sun in your skin care routine?

    Using retinol and AHAs together is another recipe for trouble. Both expose fresh skin cells that you should make it your mission to protect at all costs! Not only this but UV light has been shown to neutralise the effectiveness of retinol.  If you’re using any kind of retinol or skin brightening AHA make sure you’re wearing a daily SPF 50, and apply these ingredients in the evening to  lessen the risk of UV damage.

    What are the pros of mixing retinol,  alpha hydroxy acids and the sun?

    • Very few! Prolonged sun exposure is bad news for your skin no matter which products you are using, especially so with powerful exfoliating actives.

    What are the cons of mixing retinol,  alpha hydroxy acids and the sun?

    • Unless you protect yourself, agressive exfoliation + the sun = damaged skin
    • UV light has beern shown to destabilise retinol rendering it ineffective

    Beauty editor recommended product

    SHOP NOW: Skinceuticals Advanced Brightening UV Defence SPF50, £45, LookFantastic

    Can you mix Retinol or AHAs + Hyaluronic Acid in your skin care routine?

    When using a retinol, AHA or other exfoliating product, it’s important to replenish hydration back into the skin. Hyaluronic Acid is great for this, as it draws moisture into the skin and keeps it there helping it feel plump and comfortable. Apply your retinol or acid first, wait 10 minutes if possible then give your skin an instant hit of moisture awith the HA.

    Beauty editor recommended products

    SHOP NOW: Skinceuticals Advanced Brightening UV Defence SPF50, £45, LookFantastic

    SHOP NOW: Skinceuticals Hyaluronic Acid Intensifier, £83,

    Can you mix Vitamin C + Vitamin E (+ SPF) in your skin care routine?

    Up your dose of daily vitamins by using C + E together in your skincare. Both are protective antioxidants so work to limit UV damage, but work particularly well together as they each have particularl strenghts. Studies have shown that Vit E is particularly good at wardIng off some of the unwanted effects of UVB while Vit C works against UVA damage. Naturally broad spectrum sunscreen is still crucial when wearing either – throw that into the mix with C and E and you’ve got yourself a top drawer skin protecting cocktail.

    Beauty editor recommended product

    SHOP NOW: Sunday Riley CEO Protect+ Repair Moisturiser, £60,

    5 Methods to remember when mixing skincare ingredients

    1. Always apply retinol at night, and use an SPF in the day
    2. Lock your skincare serums in with a moisturiser, don’t moisturise first as some serums have smaller molecular size and won’t penetrate through
    3. Hyaluronic Acid is everyone’s hydrating best friend
    4. Only use one exfoliating treatment at a time
    5. If your skin stings, feels tight or looks very red,  take a few days off and only use replenishing ingredients. Once your skin calms down  reintroduce actives one by one, and try using them at different times of the day

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