The term ‘active ingredient’ is a real buzzword in the skincare world, often seen on packaging, and all over social media. It’s often associated with ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, and AHAs and BHAs – powerful ingredients that make real change to your skin. But what often causes confusion is if and how you should combine them; which ones can you use safely (and effectively) at the same time?
The truth is, there are a lot of myths, and honestly, there’s a lot of different opinions on what does work well together and what should be avoided. Ultimately, having a better understanding of how active ingredients interact with each other and your skin will help you create a routine that has the perfect balance of actives, which won’t cause irritation.
The Most Potent Active Ingredients
Retinol: Holy grail of all actives, but also has the highest risk of irritating your skin! Hence, start low and go slow, meaning opt for the lightest concentration and use one to two nights a week. Once you know you can tolerate, increase the nights you use it until you can tolerate it nightly! Then once you’re done with your tube, graduate to the next strength. Retinol is an amazing ingredient that can help to diminish the appearance of fine lines and pores, pigmentation and acne scarring, and it will also help smooth skin and even skin tone.
AHAs and BHAs: These are exfoliating ingredients and when used in the right concentration and frequency, will make a big difference to your skin without doing any harm. Using three to four times a week as part of your nighttime routine. However, if you’re using low-concentration formulas, gentler acids, like lactic acid or PHAs, have been using acids in your routine for a long time, or are not using other potent ingredients, you may be fine to use these daily.
Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant that protects the skin, when combined with a UVA sunscreen, a greater photoprotective effect is added given its antioxidative properties helping reverse the damage accrued from free radicals throughout the day.
Benzoyl Peroxide: This is a topical treatment for acne that can cause dryness. Use this in the form of a face wash, which I’d apply on my face and let it sit for a few minutes before jumping in the shower. Once you wash it off, let your skin dry then you’re free to apply your other actives. Word of caution: it’s extremely drying, so take it easy when combining it with a retinoid.
SPF: SPF ingredients are also considered actives, like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate, and mineral SPFs, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
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