The dos and don'ts of mixing skincare ingredients

How to mix and match ingredients within your skincare regime.

Written by
Ronelle Richards
Medically reviewed by
min read
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When done correctly, mixing skincare ingredients can elevate your skincare routine and have your friends want to know all your secrets. Get it wrong, however, and you could be faced with major skin irritation.

Considering that only 19% of  Australians know how all of the ingredients in their skincare routine work, many of us are probably getting it wrong.

Luckily, we've got you covered as we break down the active ingredients that are favourites amongst skincare enthusiasts and cover how to mix and match your skincare ingredients. Let's start with the skincare ingredients that don't mix.

Skincare ingredients not to mix

Not all skincare ingredients are designed to be used together and in some cases, certain combinations can cause the skin to become irritated or can lessen the effectiveness of products.

Here are the skincare ingredient combinations to avoid.

Retinoids or retinol and benzoyl peroxide

Retinoids or retinol products improve skin texture, reduce acne breakouts and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles thanks to their ability to replace dead skin cells with new ones, making them great anti-ageing ingredients.

Benzoyl peroxide works as a topical antiseptic that is used to treat acne. Sounds like a good match, right? Unfortunately not.

In fact, some research has found that benzoyl peroxide actually renders your retinol useless [1].

Benzoyl peroxide is also thought to typically be a strong enough treatment for acne-prone skin, and mixing these two skincare products can cause dryness, flaking or skin irritation.

Retinoids or retinol and vitamin C

We don't naturally produce vitamin C and this powerful antioxidant is considered to be an essential nutrient for our bodies and a popular choice for treating UV damage and skin pigmentation.

Often listed as ascorbic acid, it's critical in collagen production and fighting free radicals, helping to delay the signs of ageing.

But, it's best to avoid combining retinol with vitamin C together as there is a risk of skin irritation and redness, especially for those with sensitive skin.

If you do want to use them together, start by using only one ingredient for a full skin cell turnover (four weeks) and be sure to look after your skin barrier with rich moisturising ingredients [2].

Try using the products on different days or separate each ingredient into a day and night routine. For example, use vitamin C in the morning and retinol in the evening to avoid layering these products together.

Retinoids or retinol and salicylic acid

Generally, it's recommended you don't mix retinol and salicylic acid in your skincare routine due to the risk of redness or potentially irritating side effects [3].

However, if you have dark spots, acne-prone skin from excess oil production or mature skin it can be beneficial to combine retinol and salicylic acid, provided you introduce them slowly and carefully.

Retinoid or retinol and AHAs/BHAs

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are hydroxy acids that work as an exfoliant for your skin.

Examples of AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid and citric acid. The most common BHA is salicylic acid, but can also be sodium salicylate.

All three products are best used at night, but not on the same day or at the same time as each other to avoid skin irritation [4].

Vitamin C and AHAs/BHAs

Vitamin C should not be mixed with acids, which includes all AHAs and BHAs.

Vitamin C plays a key role in strengthening the outer layer of our skin barrier, but when combined with an acid, it can enhance the potency of your vitamin C and cause severe irritation [5].

Vitamin C and benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide actually oxidises vitamin C which renders them both ineffective. They are best used on alternate days [6].

Niacinamide and AHAs / BHAs

Niacinamide is a powerful anti-ageing ingredient that brightens skin and soothes redness.

Similar to retinol, niacinamide should not be used with acidic skincare ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids.

Ordinary niacinamide combined with an acid can cause a bad chemical reaction of redness and flushing.

You'll want to leave at least 30 minutes between products or keep your niacinamide in the morning and your acids at night.

Benzoyl peroxide and hydroquinone 

Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent and is commonly used to treat hyperpigmentation, whilst benzoyl peroxide fights against acne.

These are two ingredients you should never mix or you run a serious risk of staining your skin and causing some major irritation [7].

Ingredients to mix together

While the above ingredients don't play well when mixed, several other ingredients actually benefit from being mixed with other products.

Vitamin C and ferulic acid

Combined vitamin C and ferulic acid are potent ingredients that give you a brightening agent that helps target signs of ageing like fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

Software's Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum contains a whopping 15% dose of vitamin C to target dark spots and dullness and help even out discolouration.

Vitamin C and vitamin E

Both vitamin C and E work to counteract free radical damage from UV exposure, but they each combat different types of UV damage.

When combined, they give your skin double the antioxidants to fight damage. You can also add in ferulic acid to give you an added boost of protection.

Vitamin C and E and sunscreen

Sunscreen protects skin from the damaging effects of visible light.

Powerful antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E can actually increase your sun protection when used in tandem with sunscreen.

Retinol and hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is often thought of as the holy grail for anti-ageing as it stimulates collagen. And, it's also an ingredient that is used in most hydrating skincare products.

This makes it a perfect match for retinol products that, while targeting acne and ageing, can sometimes have side effects like excessive dryness, flaking, redness and irritation.

Hyaluronic acid complements retinol by soothing skin and it doesn't interfere with the efficacy of the vitamin A product.

Niacinamide and vitamin C

This combination sparks a lot of debate among skincare experts.

Some say that since both niacinamide and vitamin C contain antioxidants, they cancel each other out and might even lead to irritation.

Others believe this idea stems from outdated research and that combining these ingredients can result in great skincare benefits [8].

So, can you mix niacinamide and vitamin C? In short, yes, you can and you might see some serious skin benefits, particularly if it's dark spots and pigmentation that you're hoping to target.

Just keep in mind that this pairing can be quite aggressive, particularly for sensitive skin. It's always a good idea to start slow and patch test to understand what your skin can handle.

Glycolic acid and vitamin C

Glycolic acid and vitamin C have complementary actions: the first one helps to eliminate dead skin cells, making way for vitamin C to effectively stimulate cell turnover.

This combination is great for people who struggle with dullness and are looking for a way to achieve a brighter, more radiant complexion.

Glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid

Both glycolic and hyaluronic acid are powerful hydrators and using them together can be an excellent idea for dry skin types.

Plus, hyaluronic acid can help manage some of the potential side effects of using glycolic acid (things like irritation and redness).

Acetyl hexapeptide-8 and hyaluronic acid

Acetyl hexapeptide-8 and hyaluronic acid both have naturally water-binding properties.

They work perfectly together, as the acetyl hexapeptide-8 can help hyaluronic acid — and ingredient that typically sits on the surface of the skin — to penetrate into the deeper layers and moisture the skin from within.

In fact, research has shown that using hyaluronic acid with acetyl hexapeptide can lead to significantly better results [9].

Software's Multi-Peptide Eye Serum is formulated with acetyl hexapeptide-8 and hyaluronic acid, as well as glycerin and other nourishing ingredients.

It rejuvenates the delicate skin around the eyes, stimulating collagen production, reducing the appearance of dark circles and puffiness, and protecting the skin from free radicals.

Ceramides and hyaluronic acid

Ceramides and hyaluronic acid are another incredibly moisturising pair — perfect if dryness or dehydration are your main skincare concerns.

Software's Ceramide Repair Balm is supercharged with ceramides to protect against external aggressors like pollution and the weather, as well as sodium hyaluronate (a type of hyaluronic acid) to attract, bind and hold on to moisture.

The result? Skin that looks and feels hydrated and healthy.

Always ask for help

Nailing your skincare product combinations can be the difference between happy and angry skin. So, if you have any doubts about your skincare routine or what your skin needs to function healthily, it's best to ask for the help of an expert.

At Software, we offer prescription skincare formulas that are customised to your skin's wants and needs.

You can target acne, ageing or pigmentation with the help of a local Software health practitioner.

Simply complete our text-based quiz, upload a few selfies of your skin and one of our practitioners will create a personalised treatment for you.

This is compounded and delivered straight to your door. And, you can access ongoing follow-up support over the course of your treatment.

That means you can access professional skincare advice and ask any niggling questions you may have about your skin, your skincare routine and what products should be used together and which to avoid.

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