Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.
Skincare routines today are not what they were before social media. It used to be if you added a serum before your moisturizer and eye cream you were already taking things to the next level. Today, the average woman uses 16 beauty products on a daily basis. Social media encourages us to layer serum after serum, each often containing potent active ingredients that have the potential to irritate the skin or counteract each other entirely. We are pushed to cleanse multiple times morning and night, sometimes leading to dry, flakey skin. At the end of it all, you’re left with a complexion often worse than what you began with, in addition to an empty bank account.
When a brand formulates a new skincare product, it is primarily designed to fit into their product lineup without any ingredient conflicts. This all goes out the window when you start putting together a routine with products from multiple brands. To make it even more confusing, some brands include ingredients in products that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Your hydrating serum may contain a small amount of Glycolic Acid, while your calming moisturizer may contain a bit of Retinol. By unknowingly applying all these active ingredients, the potential for conflicts and skin barrier damage increases.
Our database of our members’ existing skincare routines suggests that 1 in 2 people have an ingredient conflict from combining the wrong products together. Here are some of the most common conflicts to avoid by alternating when you use them in your routine:
AHA/BHAs and Retinol
With a high potential for irritation when layered, it’s best to alternate these every other night. For example, if you use a leave-on Glycolic Acid serum, wait until the following evening to use a Retinol moisturizer.
Retinol and Vitamin C
This combination has a high potential for irritation if used at the same time in a routine. I recommend using Vitamin C in your AM routine and Retinol in your PM routine. Vitamin C works synergistically with sunscreen to help lessen environmental damage such as sun damage and pollution. Retinol is best kept to PM use as it increases skin’s photosensitivity, leaving it more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the sun.
Retinol and Benzoyl Peroxide
These ingredients render each other inactive, so it’s not effective to use both in the same routine. If you’re using a Retinol product before bed, I recommend spot-treating breakouts with a Benzoyl Peroxide product in the morning.
Niacinamide and exfoliating acids
Niacinamide raises the pH of exfoliating acids, making it less potent, so it’s best to not use these at the same time. In general, I suggest leaving AHA and BHA acids for your evening routine since their photosensitizing potential makes your skin sensitive to sunlight.
AHAs and BHAs
Applying both can lead to overexfoliation when not specifically formulated to be used together, so it’s not recommended to use these too frequently or at the same time. At lower strengths in cleansers and serums, these can be alternated nightly.
Peptides and leave-on AHA/BHAs
These ingredients don't work effectively together because of the differences in their pH that break down the peptides. This shouldn't be a problem if using a gently exfoliating Mandelic Acid cleanser before a serum containing Peptides, but mixing in a leave-on acid product could lead to pH conflicts.
How do I avoid conflicts beyond this list?
If you’re now scouring the ingredient list on all your products looking for surprise additions, the best thing to do is dramatically simplify your routine and focus on core products such as your cleanser, serum, and moisturizer. If you are experiencing signs of a damaged skin barrier (like redness and irritation), it's also helpful to lay off the strong active ingredients for a bit to give your skin a break. After a few weeks you can carefully add in additional products, always making sure to look out for any conflicts and possible reactions from the included actives.
Atolla avoids routine conflicts by custom formulating products that are specifically designed to be used together. You can also use the skincare manager in your account to identify potential conflicts between your custom routine and any skincare products you choose to add. Input your products to get personalized tips on when and how frequently you should use them to avoid any conflicts, while ensuring you get the most out of your routine. The skincare manager has a database of over 23,000 skincare products and 250,000 user reviews, with more being added continuously. Read more about how our patented process works here.