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What skincare products not to mix, according to dermatology experts

Not every product is compatible! Here’s how to make sure your products aren’t working against one another, according to the pros.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 30, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
Skincare Liquids
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 30, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Meredith Hartle, DO
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

While it can be exciting to experiment with different skincare products, there is such a thing as too many products—especially if the ones you’re using aren’t compatible. That’s right: Some skincare products shouldn’t be used with one another because of their risk of adverse side effects or decreased efficacy.

Some potential interactions can do you more harm than good—which is one of many reasons it’s important to understand what you’re putting on your skin! Here, we’ll break down some common skincare product combinations you might want to avoid so you can make informed decisions on your quest to get a healthier, more radiant complexion. 

Avoid mixing these skincare products 

Mixing certain skincare products can have unintended consequences, and may even cause adverse reactions. Here are some key products that you might want to avoid mixing in your skincare routine. 

Products with strong ingredients

First, stronger ingredients and some chemicals should not be mixed together without professional guidance. For example, combining alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) with salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid) may lead to irritation for some. 

In some cases, strong ingredients can be mixed together, but with caution! For instance, research has shown that topical tretinoin or retinol can be used in conjunction with salicylic acid peeling for photoaging improvement. However, this should only be done under medical supervision and not attempted at home.¹

Always remember to patch-test new products before using them and refrain from experimenting with product combinations on your own. Instead, seek the advice of a dermatology provider who can provide personalized recommendations based on your skin's needs. 

Different products with the same active ingredient 

Avoid using two different products with the same active ingredient together; this will help you avoid applying ingredients beyond their usual recommendations and help you avoid redundancy in your routine. 

Vitamin C and benzoyl peroxide

When it comes to combining vitamin C and benzoyl peroxide in your skincare routine, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Benzoyl peroxide may potentially oxidize antioxidants like vitamin C when the ingredients are used together. This oxidation process may render vitamin C ineffective. Research has shown that benzoyl peroxide can deplete cellular levels of vitamin E by up to 95% and vitamin C by up to 70%.² This suggests that using both ingredients simultaneously may compromise the effectiveness of these vitamins in your skincare routine.

While there’s no evidence to suggest that vitamin C and benzoyl peroxide should not be used on the same day, we recommend using them at different times (such as applying one in the morning and the other in the evening) to ensure optimal effectiveness. Separating their application can help minimize any potential interactions and allow each ingredient to work as intended.

Retinol and AHAs

Research shows that AHAs can cause skin irritation,³ while retinol can also be a source of skin irritation.⁴

Given the potential for increased irritation when using these two powerful ingredients together, it’s generally not recommended for those who have sensitive skin to combine them in the same skincare routine. Instead, opt for more gentle combinations to avoid overloading your skin. If you wish to incorporate both retinol and AHAs into your skincare routine, consider using them on separate days or during different parts of your skincare routine. This will allow your skin to adjust and minimize the risk of irritation.

Remember, always prioritize the health and well-being of your skin, and if you have any concerns or uncertainties, consult a dermatology provider first. 

Can you mix vitamin C and retinol? 

Recent research has shown that it can be effective to mix vitamin C and retinol in your skincare routine.⁵

That being said, both vitamin C and retinol are powerful ingredients that can potentially irritate your skin if not used properly. It’s important to use them in appropriate concentrations and follow the recommended usage guidelines. 

Can you mix vitamin C and niacinamide?

Yes! Recent research has shown that it’s generally safe to mix vitamin C and niacinamide in a skincare routine. A study demonstrated that combining these two ingredients, along with another substance called PDRN, was effective in reducing skin pigmentation by decreasing melanin production.⁶

As always, follow recommended usage guidelines and consider consulting with a dermatology provider before incorporating both ingredients into your skincare routine.

Can you mix benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin? 

Benzoyl peroxide may potentially inactivate tretinoin if mixed in the same bottle. However, recent research has shown that this is not always the case, and the combination of benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin in optimized formulations can still be effective for treating acne.⁷

They can also be used separately in a routine, with application separated by at least a few minutes. You can also consider using benzoyl peroxide in the morning and tretinoin in the evening. While the combination of benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin is generally safe and effective, individual reactions may vary. 

Why you should speak with a dermatology provider 

When it comes to your skin health, there are so many reasons to consult with the pros! Dermatology providers have extensive training and experience in diagnosing and treating various skin issues. They possess specialized knowledge in dermatology and can develop a personalized treatment plan based on your unique skin type, concerns, and medical history. This tailored approach takes into account factors such as your skin’s sensitivity, allergies, and underlying health conditions.

Dermatologists and other healthcare providers also have the authority to prescribe medications that are not available over the counter. These medications may be necessary for treating certain skin conditions and require professional evaluation and supervision. Dermatology providers can also track your treatment progress and make necessary adjustments to optimize results. 

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FAQs

What skincare products can I mix together?

When it comes to mixing skincare products, it’s generally better not to do so, as it can potentially alter the effectiveness, stability, or safety of the products.

While some skincare products may be compatible and can be mixed together, it’s important to exercise caution. Generally, products with similar textures, pH levels, and base ingredients can more likely than not be safely mixed. However, it’s crucial to avoid exceeding the recommended amount of active ingredients to prevent potential irritation or adverse reactions.

Instead of mixing products, consider layering them. “When mixing skincare products, you should always allow your skincare products to dry first prior to applying your next product, and always wait 5-10 minutes to apply topicals after washing,” explains Curlogy provider Melissa Hunter, NP-C. This approach allows each product to work effectively without interference. 

Remember, the primary goal is to protect and nourish your skin. Making informed decisions and seeking professional guidance when needed will help you maintain a healthy and vibrant complexion.

What should you not mix with vitamin C?

Vitamin C has an excellent safety profile for the skin and is a powerful antioxidant that offers skin protection.⁸ It’s generally safe to use and can often be combined with a variety of other skincare ingredients. If you decide to use multiple products with vitamin C, apply them at different times of the day or separated by a few minutes within your routine.

What not to mix with hyaluronic acid?

Hyaluronic acid is a highly compatible and versatile skincare ingredient that can typically be safely combined with most other products in your skincare routine. It works well with a wide range of ingredients and can complement the effects of other skincare products. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with a dermatology provider when introducing new ingredients or making changes to your skincare routine. 

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Kligman, D.E. and Draelos, Z.D. Combination Superficial Peels With Salicylic Acid and Post-Peel Retinoids. J Drugs Dermatol. (April 2016).

  2. Bowe, W.P. and Logan, A.C. Clinical implications of lipid peroxidation in acne vulgaris: old wine in new bottles. Lipids Health Dis. (2010, December 9).

  3. Tang, S.C. and Yang, J.H. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. (2018, April 10).

  4. Kim, B.H., et al. The mechanism of retinol-induced irritation and its application to anti-irritant development. Toxicol Lett. (2003, December 15).

  5. Seité, S., et al. Histological evaluation of a topically applied retinol-vitamin C combination. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (March-April 2005).

  6. Park, H.J., et al. The Combination of Niacinamide, Vitamin C, and PDRN Mitigates Melanogenesis by Modulating Nicotinamide Nucleotide Transhydrogenase. Molecules. (2022, August 2).

  7. Del Rosso, J.Q., et al. Absence of Degradation of Tretinoin When Benzoyl Peroxide is Combined with an Optimized Formulation of Tretinoin Gel (0.05%). J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (October 2010).

  8. Al-Niaimi, F. and Chiang, N.Y.Z. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (July 2017).

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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