You know not to serve fish with a room-temperature red wine and to skip the chilled Sauvignon Blanc if you’re grilling a ribeye on the grill. You also know how to mix and match the contents of your wardrobe, and what shoes go with everything you own. But when you consider the topical creams, moisturizers, serums and under-eye concoctions you put on your skin each and every day, do you ever pause and think about what’s scripted on the back label? You might not give a second thought to the ingredients in your beauty products, but here’s what a lot of women don’t know: not all skin care ingredients, though potent and effective on their own, work well together, and using them at the same time could be putting your skin on a never-ending loop of reaction, solution and repeat.
“You want ingredients that will mix and not separate like oil and water in order to get an even distribution of the mixture on your skin. Mixing ingredients can provide additive effects to your skin,” explains Dr. Deborah Yu, a cosmetic surgeon with The Plastic Surgery Center. “If ingredients do not necessarily ‘match,’ you should be aware that you could have a less than optimal result.”
So what skin care ingredients are soul mates and which ones should call it quits? Here’s what the experts say:
Dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse MD, FAAD says that because both vitamin C and E are antioxidants, their components create an ideal cocktail that can help replenish and repair your skin cells, especially as your skin begins to get older and less firm. Dr. Yu adds: “Vitamin C performs a variety of functions within the skin: stimulation of collagen, reducing fine lines and wrinkles and aids in protecting the skin from environmental pollutants. Thus providing enhanced UV protection from UV exposure. And vitamin E steps in to help block free radicals from attacking the skin, reducing the signs of aging.”
If you have acne-prone skin, even into adulthood, you might have trouble identifying what will actually get rid of those blemishes before a big board meeting or a promising first date. Dr. Shainhouse says to use a mix of glycolic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to get the job done. “The acids exfoliate the skin, enabling the benzoyl peroxide to penetrate deeper for improved anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect,” she explains.
By the time you reach your late 20s (and possibly before if you’re really ahead of the skincare game), you’ve probably considered adding a retinoid into your regimen. “This is a derivative that unclogs pores, exfoliates, and boosts collagen to reduce fine lines, speed cell turnover, even out discoloration and smooth skin. Results can be seen sometimes as little as four weeks,” Dr. Yu says. But as your skin begins to respond to the treatment and shed its first layer, you might notice that your skin is super-sensitive or especially dry. That’s why Dr. Shainhouse says to add a product with hyaluronic acid to balance your system. “The hyaluronic is hydrating and can help prevent irritation from the retinoid, while allowing it to penetrate and still be effective,” she notes.
When considering what goal you have for the products you’re using, consider their purposes. If you’re using two products that could potentially dry out your skin, then you’re putting your face through the ringer with double the intensity. “You do not want to use two potent ingredients that have the same effect on your skin. For example, retinol and salicylic acid can each cause skin irritation when used on its own,” Dr. Yu says. “Combining these items might make your skin feel dry and sensitive, especially to light.”
Need both of these ingredients? One way to work both into your routine is to use them one at a time. In this case, use your salicylic acid-based spot or acne treatment in the morning and then your anti-aging retinol cream at night.
Dr. Shainhouse says it’s not ideal to have these ingredients in your daily skin care arsenal because combined, they might not provide the antioxidant benefits that you’re hoping for. “Some acids can change the pH of the vitamin C and destabilize it, potentially rendering it inactive,” she explains. How to deal? As vitamin C serums are better applied during the day, consider applying your acid-based treatments at night.
Another argument to why you should study up on the label before adopting a new regimen? You could actually cause one product to cancel out the other, thus not solving for any of your irritations, issues or desires. Such is the case with this unhappy couple: “They have not typically been used together because benzoyl peroxide may reduce the effectiveness of tretinoin. Although one study reports there was no benzoyl peroxide-induced degradation of tretinoin when using the specific concentrations of 0.05 percent tretinoin gel and 6.26 percent benzoyl peroxide gel,” Dr. Yu says.