A Dermatologist's Guide on "How to Mix Actives aka Acids Together"

Owning the master key to glowing skin is to be able to listen and understand your skin well and to find effective ingredients that fulfill the desires of your skin. It is definitely not easy at all to interpret the skin language. Then, along the way of decoding the skin language, you might accidentally bump into an ingredient that actually works for your skin. That’s how hoarding skincare normally starts because you are encouraged and excited to find more products with other active ingredients that MIGHT change your skin fortune but there is no guide and telling of how to use them. 

The supposedly glowing-skin routines start to slowly transform into haywire-skin routines. Guilty at a charge, and wondering what happened? One of our Meekah’s dearest certified dermatologists, Dr. Ye Thwyn, answers that “Mixing active ingredients together without a proper study or information of how the ingredients work on the skin, and how they work together with other ingredients could be an expensive experiment. Usually, this ingredient cocktail could turn our skin into irritating sensitive skin”. 

With his help, we have put together a dermatologist guide on how to mix and match these popular active ingredients together. First thing first, please do keep in mind that #skincareispersonal. Just because the descriptions of these ingredients are wonderful, it does not mean that your skin needs them all or you should incorporate all of them in your routine. 

Retinol / Retin-A

Of course, Retinol! Who would have thought? Derms love to recommend Retinol for almost all skin issues, due to its superpower in promoting skin cell turnover, to help improve the appearance of acne, acne scars, dark spots, uneven skin texture, fine lines and wrinkles.The only downside of this ingredient is that it can be very drying, which can lead to extreme irritation. 

Dr.’s Recommended Formula : 

Retinol + Hyaluronic Acid / Sodium Hyaluronate / Glycerin + SPF 

“Since Retinol can be drying to the skin, you need to make sure that your skin gets enough moisture from ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid or Sodium Hyaluronate (HA derivative) or Glycerin (or even Snail Mucin: naturally occurring hyaluronic acid) to contain water on the surface layer of your skin. Keep in mind that Retinol can also make your skin more sensitive. So, SPF should be worn diligently every day all year round regardless of the weather. SPF is not only effective at preventing skin cancer, but it is also the cheapest anti-aging product you could buy over the counter,” says Dr. Ye. 

Dr.’s Disapproved Formula : 

Retinol + Vitamin C or Benzoyl Peroxide or AHA / BHA acids

“Just keep in mind that simplicity is key to the harmony of your skin health. While Vitamin C is a great ingredient by itself to protect your skin from UV free radicals and environmental aggressors, it is not the best friend to be put together with Retinol. The best way is to use Vitamin C in the day time for protection, and Retinol for night time for repairing. 

As for Benzoyl Peroxide, it just refuses to work together with Retinol. The effects of both ingredients, in fact, cancel each other out, and you probably won’t get any effect from both ingredients. 

As for AHA/BHA acids, they are used mainly for their exfoliating properties, which dry out the skin. So, if you use both AHA/BHA and Retinol, your skin will suffer further dryness and irritation, which could really turn into some serious skin condition in the long run”.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is the second Favorite Ingredient of dermatologists for its brightening hyperpigmentations or dark spots and protecting free radical damages. It is a very intriguing ingredient for everyone, for sure. However, as much intriguing, as it is, Vitamin C needs its own guidance on how to add it to your routine. 

Dr.’s Recommended Formula : Vitamin C + (Vitamin E) + SPF 

“Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, or L-ascorbic acid, is a widely studied ingredient with so many great properties that could benefit your skin. However, ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid exists in a very potent form, meaning that it is very sensitive to the effect of sunlight and it can be oxidized very easily with exposure to the UV light. That’s why wearing your SPF is a necessity when using Vitamin C products,” says Dr. Ye. 

Dr.’s Disapproved Formula: Vitamin C + Retinol

Some tough skins can handle the combination of Vitamin C and Retinol, but most don’t. If you are not sure whether your skin is tough enough to handle both of these ingredients, it’s always better not to put them together. It’s best to separate them as Vitamin C for your morning routine (followed up with SPF) and Retinol for your night routine.

Benzoyl Peroxide 

If you have an acne-prone skin, benzoyl peroxide can be a game-changer for you. If you realize, there is a pattern to all these active ingredients, DRYING. If you think about it, in order to turn a skin to a new leaf, the old skin needs to dry out and then, the new skin can come to the surface as the old skin is falling apart little by little. In Dr. Ye’s word, “acne treatments, in general, can cause drying and irritation to the skin. So, combining those ingredients with any other ingredients has to be done with caution in every step of your routine”. 

Dr’s Recommended Formula : 

Benzoyl Peroxide + Hydrating ingredients + SPF 

“Just like Retinol, Benzoyl Peroxide should be paired with gentle hydrating ingredients. Usually, we give some prescribed topical treatments to pair with benzoyl peroxide too. My suggestion is to seek out a board-certified dermatologist in your area for your benzoyl peroxide routine since the routine should be built in a careful manner,” says Dr. Ye. 

Dr.’s Disapproved Formula: Benzoyl Peroxide + Retinol or Tretinoin 

Dr. Ye explains, “While retinol and benzoyl peroxide can cancel each other out, some prescriptions for acne treatments can come with benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin together. Of course, this remedy is NOT recommended to practice at home. It needs to be taken with great caution on how much percentage of each ingredient should be applied to the skin to get both effects. Certain expertise is needed in order to build such a routine with both ingredients. If you do not have access to a dermatologist, I would recommend sticking to only one ingredient at a time, such as Benzoyl Peroxide in your AM routine and Tretinoin in your PM routine.”

AHA/BHA acids

Glycolic acid, lactic acids are the common AHA acids, while salicylic acid is the common BHA acid. Both AHA and BHA have their own extinct properties in terms of exfoliation, which can help improve the skin texture, tones, pores, blackheads, whiteheads, and even acne. However, just like any other actives, these acids can also dry out the skin, which can then again lead to irritation. When some ingredients can be drying, always make sure to pair with hydrating ingredients. Simple? Hope so. 

Dr.’s Recommended Formula : 

AHA / BHA + Hyaluronic acid / Sodium Hyaluronate / Snail Mucin / Glycerin + Ceramides +SPF 

“Always make sure that you moisturize and use SPF (if it's daytime) after using AHA and/or BHA. It is essential to do so, because these acids can not only dry out your skin, but can trigger skin irritation almost immediately depending on your healthy skin barrier. Speaking of skin barriers, if your skin has been experiencing itchiness, redness, or irritating patches, your skin is having a weak skin barrier, and using AHA/BHA is NOT recommended”.

Dr.’s Disapproved Formula: AHA / BHA + Retinol

It is a big no-no to this combination. AHA and BHA should not be used together not only in the same routine but also on the same day due to the extreme skin sensitivity, irritation, and redness potentials from these three ingredients. It is best to use on different days when you have both AHA/BHA and Retinol in your skincare regime. 

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Most Popular on Meekah