best skincare ingredient pairings

Best Skincare Ingredients You Should and Shouldn’t Mix


Across the skincare sphere, there are some seemingly apparent prohibitions. Actions like going to bed in make-up, neglecting SPF protection, and habitually rubbing your face are strongly discouraged among skincare enthusiasts. Yet, beyond these apparent missteps, another pitfall most people fall into is haphazardly combining multiple skincare ingredients without knowing their compatibility.

Unlike other skincare don’ts, mixing skincare products seems unavoidable, particularly with beauty brands populating the market with many products. The average beauty enthusiast is spoiled for choice and, in most cases, feels overwhelmed by the advertised benefits of these products. And while some products feature active skincare ingredients that improve the effectiveness of other products, this is not always the case.

Simply put, not all skincare products make a good cocktail; as such, it’s essential to recognize the ones to combine and those that you should keep apart. We’ll assist you with this by highlighting the science behind mixing some of the best skincare ingredients.

Ingredients to Avoid Pairing

Certain active skincare ingredients do not interact well together. More often than not, these components are difficult to keep stable in a formula; thus, when combined, there’s a risk of them neutralizing each other or, even worse, an increased risk of irritation. Here are some scenarios where extra caution should be applied.

Retinol and AHAs/BHAs

Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is renowned for its remarkable benefits in skincare. It’s celebrated for its ability to enhance skin texture, minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and promote collagen production. However, high concentrations of retinol have been shown to increase irritation; this could worsen when mixed with AHAs and BHAs.

Both active ingredients are chemical exfoliants; thus, they carry the potential for irritation, especially in combination with other exfoliants like retinol. When used together, the exfoliating effects of AHAs, BHAs, and retinol can be too drying for the skin. Hence, it’s best to keep them apart; ideally, apply retinol approximately an hour after AHA/BHA application.

Retinol and Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl Peroxide is a widely used topical medication known for its effectiveness in treating acne. It works by drying and shedding the outer layer of the skin, offering anti-bacterial, exfoliating, and oil-regulating properties to help clear and prevent breakouts. As such, you may be tempted to combine both retinol with benzoyl peroxide for a more effective result.

However, both ingredients do not make the best mixture. Typically, benzoyl peroxide can deactivate retinoid molecules, rendering their acne-fighting capabilities ineffective. Your best option would be to use benzoyl peroxide in the morning and retinol at night. That said, products like the Epiduo Forte prove that retinol and benzoyl peroxide can create a stable and effective formulation under the right production processes.

Vitamin C and Niacinamide

Vitamin C is one of the most prevalent skincare ingredients renowned for its brightening effects and antioxidant qualities. It’s typically sourced from citrus fruits or synthesized. The presence of vitamin C in skincare formulations aids in brightening the complexion and shielding the skin from environmental stressors. However, this doesn’t make it compatible with every other active ingredient.

Mixing vitamin C with niacinamide can significantly decrease its effectiveness. The effectiveness of niacinamides relies on maintaining a neutral pH level; however, when combined with vitamin C, which functions best in an acidic pH environment, the acidity reduces. The same applies to niacinamide as it becomes less neutral.

Products with similar activities

You may unknowingly be using multiple products with the same active ingredients. For instance, some folks may apply a retinol sheet mask and top the routine off with a cream containing tretinoin. However, both products contain high concentrations of retinol.

The issue with using two products containing the same active ingredient is the potential for irritation. Most times, an excessive amount of a particular ingredient can be too harsh on the skin, hence disrupting its barrier. Therefore, you should carefully review your product’s compositions and avoid applying too much of one ingredient.

Ingredients to Pair

Despite the apparent pitfalls of combining some ingredients, specific activities work best when paired together. Here are some of the best skincare ingredients that complement each other, maximizing the effectiveness of your skincare efforts.

Ceramides and Niacinamide

Ceramides are prevalent in skincare due to their importance in maintaining the skin’s barrier function and overall health. It’s also highly regarded for its ability to retain moisture, promote skin health, and combat aging signs. On the other hand, niacinamides offer a range of benefits, including barrier repair, oil control, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Both ingredients complement themselves perfectly, and combining them provides soft, even-toned, and glowing skin.  Some products that offer the best of both products are the Glow Recipe Avocado Ceramide Redness Relief Serum, the PCA B3 Brightening Serum, and the Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%.

Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, a BHA commonly used in skincare products, is well-regarded for its exfoliating and acne-fighting properties. Its unique solubility allows it to penetrate the pores easily, breaking down dirt, oil, and other impurities. Similarly, niacinamide improves skin texture by reducing sebum production.

Together, both ingredients can help reduce pore size, clear up the skin significantly, and improve its overall texture. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, and Peach Slices Acne Exfoliating Toner are a few of the most effective formulations with niacinamide and salicylic acid.

Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid

The potential sensitivities from retinol application have been a major downside despite its high effectiveness. Most products now replace retinol with more stable active ingredients like bakuchiol and peptides. However, it’s possible to reduce the side effects of retinol by diluting it with hydrating components like hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid has the remarkable capacity to hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, making it the perfect option for limiting dryness and irritation caused by retinol. If you’re looking to explore the full benefits of retinol with limited side effects, then consider products like the CeraVe Anti Aging Retinol Serum, PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum, or the Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum.

Retinol and Peptides

Peptides serve as short chains of amino acids, used for their ability to help rejuvenate and improve the skin’s appearance. These versatile skincare ingredients provide a wide range of skin benefits, including improving fairness, reducing wrinkles, hydrating the skin, and protecting against environmental damage.

Combining peptides with retinol significantly improves its effectiveness. Not only does retinol offer collagen-building effects, but it also helps improve how well peptide products penetrate the skin. Furthermore, most peptide products contain emollients, which can help limit the side effects of retinol, just like hyaluronic acid does. Some good retinol-peptide combinations include the Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Firming Cream and the Inkey List Peptide Moisturizer.

AHAs and BHAs

While most people avoid combining acids, both AHAs and BHAs can significantly benefit your skin, particularly when layered correctly or formulated in a product. Dermatologists say combining both acids can help maintain a bright skin complexion, reduce hyperpigmentation, limit sebum production, and address superficial fine lines and wrinkles.

If you want to get the best of AHAs and BHAs, consider products like the Drunk Elephant T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel, and Murad Daily Clarifying Peel. However, never use retinol-based formulations alongside any of these products.

Vitamins C and E

While we’re all aware of the benefits of vitamin C in skincare, it’s also one of the trickiest ingredients to combine with other activities due to its reliance on an acidic pH environment. That said, its highly unstable nature requires other ingredients to help make it most effective, and vitamin E perfectly serves this purpose.

Combining vitamin C with ingredients like vitamin E helps stabilize its brightening effects, ensuring the skin receives the full benefits. Other activities like ferulic acid can also achieve a similar result. Some effective vitamin C and E products include Paula’s Choice C15 Vitamin C Super Booster and the TruSkin Vitamin C Face Serum.

Vitamin C and SPF

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, so what happens when you mix antioxidants with sunscreen? Well typically, antioxidants like vitamin C stabilize SPF, making it more effective in protecting against UVA and UVB rays. Vitamin C protects the skin from free radicals, and SPFs protect from harmful UV radiation. When layered over each other, both active skincare ingredients provide comprehensive protection.


When it comes to skincare routines, more isn’t necessarily better. More often than not, combining different activities causes irritation, redness, and breakouts. Hence, the best option is to keep your skincare routine simple and stick to products that work best for your skin. Alternatively, talk to your dermatologist, who can help you build a regimen that works and makes your skin feel the best.

If there’s ever uncertainty regarding the compatibility of two ingredients, it’s advisable to exercise caution and apply them at separate times or on alternate days. And always remember that less frequently proves to be more effective in skincare.