Creating a skincare routine means finding the right actives for your needs, although you must keep in mind that certain combinations might cause trouble. After reading this guide you will know how to curate the right skincare routine so that you benefit from all the actives you want to start using. Let’s get to it!
Hi there! Today you are finally going to be able to read my guide on one of the topics that about which you ask me the most: what ingredients can I combine in my skincare routines? Normally, when we start to learn about skincare we are overwhelmed by the immense amount of actives and what they can provide, but soon we learn that there are some that must be combined with caution or, otherwise, we will damage our skin barrier. Do you want to know how to combine the different actives of your skincare routine? Keep reading!
I have divided this article into four sections so that you can easily understand everything that involves combining actives:
- The importance of knowing your skin.
- Easily combined actives.
- Potentially irritating actives.
- How to combine potentially irritating actives.
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING YOUR SKIN.
You are the one who knows your skin best. You know what ’s your skin type (and, if you still don’t, you can find out by reading this other post) and what your specific needs are. Why is this so important? Because it is very easy to find countless skincare routines and generic advice, but only by attending to the specific needs of your skin you’ll be able to adjust your own skincare routine to achieve what you really want.
Luckily, today there is a huge variety of cosmetics, so there are alternatives for each of us. I am aware that, at times, that great variety can be overwhelming, you wonder what moisturizer you want to buy and suddenly you see that there are infinite possibilities, which of them will be the right one for you?
When creating a skincare routine it is important to start from a basic routine of cleansing, moisturizing and sun protection. This is the most basic thing you need to start taking care of your skin, and once you find the right products (something that you will notice on your own skin) you can think about incorporating specific products or treatments that help you improve your concerns (such as acne, spots or wrinkles). With your basic skincare routine you will begin to give your skin the love it needs to stay healthy.
Why is it important to have a healthy skin barrier? Because the skin barrier (what we also know as the acid mantle or hydrolipidic barrier) is the outermost layer of our skin, our first line of defense against the world around us (from ultraviolet radiation to pollution). A damaged skin barrier will mean that the skin problems that concern us may be aggravated, but a healthy skin barrier allows us to treat them more effectively. In addition, we must bear in mind that irritated skin will not assimilate the cosmetics we use as effectively (so that it will be more difficult for us to achieve the results we seek) and, in addition, it will age faster.
If we do not take care of our skin or use cosmetics improperly (either because we do not use what we really need, because we want to incorporate many at the same time or because we combine active ingredients without our skin having acquired tolerance) we could end up damaging it in the long term. Therefore, as I have explained in this section, if you want healthy skin it is important that you take time to get to know it and give it the care it needs.
2. EASILY COMBINED ACTIVES.
To really know what an active is, we must understand the three main types of ingredients that our cosmetics incorporate: excipients (the vehicle or base on which the product is developed), additives (which help to improve the preservation or sensoriality of the cosmetic) and active ingredients (which provide the specific result we seek). Today, there is a great trend towards cosmetics centered around a single active, which allows us to find out more easily which of these ingredients are the most suitable for our needs. In other cases we can find cosmetics that incorporate several active ingredients, which allows them to act synergistically and act on several concerns at the same time. In my opinion, there isn’t a better choice, the most important thing in the end is to find those that give you what you really want and need.
When creating a skincare routine, you will begin to read names that were completely unknown to you before: retinoids, antioxidants, peptides, exfoliating acids, etc. At that moment, you may be wondering which ones you really need. In the section “Learn – Ingredients” of the blog you can see different guides on various types of ingredients, so you can learn more about them. Something elementary that you must bear in mind is that there are certain ingredients that are potentially irritating and others that are more easily combined.
Among the easily combinable ingredients are two very popular ones and which you usually ask me about: hyaluronic acid and niacinamide. Hyaluronic acid is a very effective humectant, so it helps draw water into the skin and helps it stay properly hydrated. Here you can see a comparison with my favorite hyaluronic acid serums. For its part, niacinamide is an antioxidant with different properties that make it especially interesting, since it helps to rebalance the oil levels of the skin and prevent redness. Both ingredients can be combined with the other active ingredients that you include in your skincare routine without having to worry about their potential irritation.
And can you combine vitamin C and niacinamide? The belief that these two actives cannot be combined is very common (as I explain thoroughly on my vitamin C guide), taking into account the possibility of niacinamide transforming into nicotinic acid, which may irritate our skin. That transformation, however, requires very specific conditions that do not happen within our skin, so don’t worry, you can combine niacinamide and vitamin C in the same skincare routine.
3. POTENTIALLY IRRITATING ACTIVES.
The list of potentially irritating ingredients is relatively long, and includes (among others) retinoids, exfoliating acids and certain forms of vitamin C. As I mentioned before, that irritation not only promotes the premature aging of the skin, but also reduces the effectiveness of the cosmetics we use and, therefore, prevents us from being able to adequately solve our main concerns. Next, I’m going to talk briefly about those potentially irritating actives so that you are aware of what they can bring you and so you know if they are the incorporation that your beauty routines need.
Retinoids (derivatives of vitamin A) are possibly my favorite set of ingredients in cosmetics. In my guide on retinoids I talk in more detail about them, and if you are concerned about wrinkles and fine lines, sooner or later you will surely try them, since they are very effective in reducing them, as they accelerate the cell turnover process and facilitate the repair of collagen and elastin fibers, responsible for keeping our skin firm and elastic. In addition to this, they are used as a treatment to fight acne. However, we must use them carefully (I recommend you follow the directions in my guide on retinoids), allowing the skin to acquire tolerance, in order to avoid irritation and always being very thorough when using sunscreen (if you still haven’t found a sunscreen that you like, I recommend you take a look at this comparison).
Exfoliating acids, which I talk about in this guide, are a very broad set of ingredients among which we find (mainly) Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA). Exfoliating acids help us to improve the texture and luminosity of our skin by breaking the bonds between the dead cells on its surface, thus favoring the cell turnover process. However, if we abuse them, we run the risk of overexfoliating our skin, seriously damaging the skin barrier. As with retinoids, it is essential to use sunscreen daily to ensure that our skin is well protected from ultraviolet radiation. Each exfoliating acid has particular characteristics that differentiate it from the others, so I advise you to read my guide on how to start using exfoliating acids to find out if you need them, which one is the most suitable for you and the correct way to use them.
Vitamin C (about which you can read more here) is an antioxidant that, depending on its concentration and pH, can also act as an exfoliator. This implies that, depending on the cosmetic we use, when applying it we must follow the same precautions as with other exfoliating acids, avoiding overexfoliation and exposure to ultraviolet radiation, being very consistent with the use of sunscreen.
Although there are more ingredients that can be potentially irritating, these are some of the most common. Now that you know them, you will understand that you must pay special attention when using them to avoid damaging your skin barrier.
4. HOW TO COMBINE POTENTIALLY IRRITATING ACTIVES.
At this point, you are surely wondering what is the appropriate way to incorporate the different actives into your skincare routines if what you need is to combine them. If you have read my guides on retinoids, exfoliating acids and vitamin C you will have noticed that most of them are recommended to be applied in your night routine. This can be conflicting, since you may want to use more than one in your night routine. So what should you do to combine potentially irritating actives?
First of all, I’ll never get tired of insisting on the importance of doing a patch test before incorporating new cosmetics into our skincare routine, since it is a very simple way to find out if our skin can react negatively to their use. This also implies that we gradually incorporate the new products into our skincare routine, allowing our skin to acquire tolerance and gradually get used to their use in order to avoid irritation.
Once your skin has acquired a certain tolerance to the new cosmetic, the first way to use it at the same time as another potentially irritating active is to use them in alternate routines. In this way, if you want to use two products that have to be applied in your night routine, you can have two night routines and alternate between them.
If your skin barrier is in good condition and you have acquired a good tolerance to the active ingredients you want to combine, there is the possibility of using them in the same beauty routine, but this is something you must judge on your own. As I said at the beginning of the article, you are the one who can know your skin best, so you will have to assess whether you really need to combine the two actives in the same routine, in some cases it will be viable and in others it will not be advisable. Keep in mind that each skin is unique (and changes over time), so there are things that will work better for you than for other people and vice versa. Often times, you will find that it is recommended not to combine these potentially irritating actives in the same skincare routine, which is mainly because in many cases there really is no need to do so (if you usually have sensitive skin you will understand). At the end of the day, patience and perseverance are the two keys to achieving the results we seek. In any case, I advise you to be cautious when making these combinations and, at the slightest sign of irritation (redness, burning sensation, itching, etc.) or a damaged skin barrier, return to a basic skincare routine until it’s restored.
Finally, you frequently ask me about cosmetics that incorporate, in the same product, several potentially irritating actives. You must consider that cosmetic formulators take this circumstance into account, so they develop the final formula to be balanced (incorporating other active ingredients with anti-inflammatory or soothing properties, for example) and that, in principle, it does not harm our skin. In any case, by following the instructions that I have included in this article and in the other guides on the blog, you will be able to get the best possible result while protecting your skin.
As you can see, there are many possibilities when it comes to combining different actives, and although some can be potentially irritating, you can always find ways to incorporate them into your beauty routine to give your skin what it needs.
If you liked this article and want to continue learning how to take care of your skin, you will surely be interested in reading these others:
Do you want to learn to take better care of your skin? You can see an index of all my informative posts here.
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I’m Nacho and I’m passionate about skincare. I really enjoy learning and sharing my knowledge about skincare and I read scientific papers so you don’t have to. I want to break stereotypes because I believe skincare has no gender: skin is skin.