When it comes to preventing the signs of aging, some ingredients work well together, while others are a recipe for disaster. These days, it seems like everyone is taking matters into their own hands and mixing and concocting what they think is the best concoction for their skin. But truth be told, if you aren’t a chemist or a dermatologist and don’t know what works well, you may be doing more harm than good. For example, it is not a good idea for users to combine certain ingredients, says Dr. Howard Sobel, a board-certified dermatologist. “Specific actives are not compatible, and can dilute one another’s effectiveness, or cause a negative reaction to the skin in the form of redness, swelling, irritation.” Plus, several ingredients are to be worn at specific times of the day to maximize their protective or regenerating benefits, like retinol in the evening, along with avoidance of sun exposure, he adds.
Leave the ingredient mixing to the experts who can advise what to pair together for maximum results. We went so far as to hand-select the best products with a one-two punch to take the guesswork out of it.
THE COMBO: Vitamin C + Sunscreen
WHY IT’S GOOD: Sunscreen is necessary to obtain healthy skin, and vitamin C is one of the most popular and accessible skin brightening agents. “Vitamin C also helps to even out skin color and improve any discoloration,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. So, it’s a given that if you want to limit the signs of aging and discoloration, you need to wear SPF daily.
When pairing sunscreen with vitamin C, the vitamin boosts the sunscreen’s ability to protect. While there are products that combine the two ingredients into a single formula (like Supergoop Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF), if you choose to take a layering approach, Dr. Jaliman says to apply vitamin C first and then sunscreen.
THE COMBO: Peptides + Retinol
WHY IT’S GOOD: Retinol is a long-standing skincare must-have. It’s one ingredient that seemingly does it all —reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, controls acne, bumps up collagen production, lightens discoloration, and smooths out uneven, rough skin.
“Retinol peels of the dead skin cells in the outer layers of the skin,” says Dr. Jaliman. The blending of retinol with a peptide sends the skin’s collagen-stimulating capabilities into overdrive, but in a good way, especially for more mature skin. “When used together, the two ingredients help to keep the skin barrier strong, plump, and firm for a more youthful complexion, a boost in radiance, and reduction in skin irritation and redness,” says Dr. Sobel. Plus, peptides tend to be moisturizing in nature, so if the potential drying effects of retinol are an issue, this combo can help mitigate it.
THE COMBO: Salicylic acid + Niacinamide
WHY IT’S GOOD: Acne-prone skin will appreciate the blemish-busting powers of salicylic acid, a pore unclogging acid, and niacinamide, a skin brightener that Dr. Jaliman says helps to even out skin color. “These two ingredients are a perfect match,” she says, adding that oily skin that’s uneven in color tends to do well with these ingredients. However, be careful not to overdo it with this combo, especially since salicylic acid can be somewhat drying in nature — stick to applying the duo no more than twice per day (once in the morning and once at night unless otherwise instructed). In the end, all that’s left will be clearer skin that glows.
THE COMBO: Hyaluronic Acid + Retinol
WHY IT’S GOOD: For as much good as vitamin A-based retinol offers, its major downside is its potential to irritate and peel the skin. But it works — and well — which is why dermatologists continually prescribe it. “Retinol repairs and strengthens the skin, but it can be drying, especially to more mature, dehydrated, or sensitive skin,” notes Dr. Sobel. That’s why most dermatologists suggest the ‘sandwiching’ technique, which involves a layer of hyaluronic acid, a water-binding molecule that provides serious hydration, applied before and after retinol. Just know that hyaluronic acid can potentially rev up the potency of other products applied after it, so if you are new to retinol, you can expect some dryness and redness. Better yet, you can also use products with hyaluronic acid to cut down on the irritation factor. The one caveat is application time: only use retinol at night because it does make the skin sensitive to the sun.
THE COMBO: Niacinamide + Ceramides
WHY IT’S GOOD: Our skin contains ceramides in the outermost layer, which is why Dr. Jaliman says using a product with ceramides reinforces existing ones. Plus, adding niacinamide to the mix improves skin tone for less discoloration. “Ceramides and niacinamide are soothing, hydrating ingredients that strengthen the skin barrier and promote smoother skin,” says Dr. Sobel. “Studies show that niacinamide can increase the production of ceramides,” he adds. Using niacinamide with ceramides is also the secret formula to achieving glass skin since niacinamide shrink large pores and ceramides provide moisture.
THE COMBO: Retinol + Niacinamide
WHY IT’S GOOD: Unbeknown to many, retinol and niacinamide work well together. “Retinol improves the penetration of niacinamide because the retinol removes dead skin,” says Dr. Jaliman (apply retinol first and then niacinamide when using different products). The pairing can also improve fine lines and wrinkles, making it ideal for sun-damaged, oily, and acne-prone skin with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. However, the twosome may not be suitable for sensitive skin, which is why Dr. Sobel suggests applying this couple every other night to build up a tolerance to the retinol, which can be drying.
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