Combining skincare actives: everything you always wanted to know!

actives, Beauty, Retinol, Skincare, Vitamin C

When you start elaborating your skincareroutine, you quickly run into troubled waters. Which actives can you combine and which you better don’t? One important thing to know is don’t layer acids, accept for hydrator Hyaluronic acid which can be applied with anything. If you take into account some basic principles, you’ll be safe! This article tries to provide some advice! I hope this is useful!


Most of the Acids are chemical exfoliators e.g. glycolic acid (AHA), Mandelic Acid (AHA), Salicilic Acid (BHA), Lactic Acid (AHA),…

AHA or alpha hydroxy acid is water soluble, most common type is glycolic acid. BHA is beta hydroxy acid and it is oil soluble, Salicilic acid it the one we know best. Due to the fact that BHA binds best with oily substances, it penetrates skin deeper. Sebum is an oily substance. So if you’re skin is prone to acne, you better should incorporate a BHA into your routine.

How can you layer Acids?

In the paragraph above I didn’t mention the form L-ascorbic acid or Vitamin C. It’s also an acid. We use vitamin C not to exfoliate but to enhance uneven skin tone, rough texture, fine lines, acne scars, general dullness.

Vitamin C works great with acids because they work in the same pH (measurement for acidity, low pH means highly acid, high pH means base or low acidity). Does this mean you can combine it without worries? NO! If you have sensitive skin combining them might be too much!

How to use them both, I hear you think? You can use an AHA in the evening and use Vitamin C in the morning. Acids make your skin more sensitive to sun rays. Remember: “Use an acid, wear a sunscreen!!”


Niacinamide (B3) makes skin produce free fatty acids and ceramides. They reinforce the skinbarrier. It makes skin loose less moisture. Niacinamide is also anti-inflammatory and reduces the production of histamin. This means it calms the skin. It can be used with rosacea and red zones on your skin, and it helps against itching.

It also has a diminuishing effect on sebum production. You can guess, it’s also good in your fight against acne!

Lots of people use niacinamide, therefor it’s really important knowing how to combine! Niacinamide raises skin pH. So if you use it with acids they start to influence each other, making them less effective.

Niacinamide – Acids Vitamin C

Retinol (Vitamin A)

Retinol is a skincare ingrediënt used to fight acne and in the cure of fine lines and wrinkles. Before spending lots of money on a vitamin A there are some things you should take into consideration.

Vitamin A appaers in a lot of actives, Retinol is only one of them. Vitamin A is however very difficult to store. It looses its effectiveness really quickly due to oxigenation and needs to be stored refrigerated. It should be packaged airtight.

It’s stability is improved in oil (not a very high concentration of vegan oil) or silicones and associated with anti-oxidants. It should stay far away from fragrances.

Beyond all this, with what can you combine? Vitamin A has a high pH, therefor you can’t combine it with acids or Vitamin C. It does combine with niacinamide and peptides!

Retinol – Acids – Vitamin C

Retinol – Peptides – Niacinamide


Always take into account to start your routine with waterbased ingredients, than you layer light creams or serums and the last layar can be a heavier cream or an oil. Don’t ever use oils before waterbased products because oil or a heavy cream seals your skin and the rest will remain on top of it!

This means if your moisturizer is oil based, you should use an oil based sunscreen on top of that, and an oil based foundation! With a waterbased moisturizer a waterbased sunscreen and a waterbased foundation!

How to know! Always check ingrediënt lists! Combining waterbased on top of oilbased can result into productpilling.


A solution when you want to exfoliate and fight acne of fine lines is to use the actives seperately. An example of how you can do:

AM: Vitamin C and Peptides
PM: AHA’s, BHA’s after toning, then a serum with HA and a moisturizer


AM: Vitamin C and Peptides in your routine
PM: Vitamin A, Antioxidants and Niacinamide

Take into account that using each PM a Vitamin A or an exfoliating ingrediënt can be too much. So pamper your skin mostly with soothing ingredients and use once and a while Vitamin A or exfoliants if you experience problems with your skin

Everyone’s skin is different and what works for me might not work for you or visa versa!

Tell me what you think, have you experienced difficulties combining? Next time I will dig into CBD and how to combine!

xx Ilse