August 2021

Finding the right skin care routine can take a lot of trial and error, especially if you have skin conditions like acne or rosacea that require prescription treatment. But when you’re trying out new products alongside each other, it’s essential to know what you can and can’t mix to avoid irritating your skin and causing more problems.

Here’s what you need to know.

Benzoyl peroxide and retinol

One of the key combinations to avoid when it comes to skin care is benzoyl peroxide and retinol.

Benzoyl peroxide is a common acne treatment that works by removing dead skin cells and excess oil while killing bacteria on the skin that can cause blemishes.

It’s an effective way to deal with problematic skin but it should never be used alongside retinol as it can be irritating and cause redness and dry, flaky skin. Research has also shown that benzoyl peroxide actually neutralizes retinol and makes both products less effective.

If you do want to use both products on your skin, it’s a good idea to use the retinol at night and then use the benzoyl peroxide as part of your morning routine.

AHAs and retinoids

Mixing any retinoids with alpha hydroxy (AHA) acids such as glycolic and lactic acid is also likely to cause some irritation to your skin. Retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives with a number of benefits — they can unclog pores, accelerate turnover, and stimulate collagen production. However, it can be fairly harsh on your skin when you’re first using them, so it’s important to cut out any other exfoliants or AHA skin products.  

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which can help to protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals. It also inhibits the production of melanin, helping to even out skin tone and lighten hyperpigmentation. While it can do a lot to improve your skin, there are a number of other products and ingredients that it shouldn’t be mixed with including retinol, AHAs, and benzoyl peroxide.

Using vitamin C alongside retinol is likely to cause irritation and redness in your skin. If you’re using AHA and vitamin C you’re also likely to irritate your skin and cause it to be dry and flakey.

It’s generally recommended to use vitamin C in the morning and then use retinol or AHA products at night. If you use vitamin C alongside benzoyl peroxide it’s unlikely to irritate your skin, but you’re unlikely to see any improvements from the Vitamin C as the benzoyl peroxide will degrade it and cancel out the effects.

Azelaic acid

If you’re using azelaic acid as part of your skin care routine it’s important to be cautious about using it alongside other acids.

As it’s only recently become a popular skin care ingredient you might be wondering what azelaic acid does — azelaic acid has a number of uses including treating rosacea and acne. It’s also been shown to help fade acne scars by reducing inflammation and it affects melanin production so it can treat hyperpigmentation and melasma.

Tips for using skin care products

It’s important to read through all the information provided when you start using any prescription skin care treatments. Discuss with your doctor if you have any concerns about mixing the treatment with other skin care products and ingredients.

Apply your skin care products in thin layers and allow each product to completely absorb into your skin before applying the next one. It’s usually a good idea to wait a minute or two between applying each product.

While it can be tempting to load your skin up with different products, especially if it’s causing you problems, you need to be careful about which ingredients you’re mixing together. Always take the time to understand what you’re using on your skin and how it might react with other products.

About the author: Andy Boysan (BPharm) is the co-founder and superintendent pharmacist of The Independent Pharmacy, one of the UK’s leading independent online pharmacies. For more healthcare and treatment advice, visit their website.

Andy Boysan (BPharm)

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