How to Layer Active Ingredients in Skincare The Right Way

What a beautiful world that we live in where we can create our own unique skincare routine from a plethora of possibilities. We are frequently confronted with a multitude of items, ingredients, and brands. They come in a variety of actives and percentages, which may be confusing, to say the least.

Read more: Effectively Incorporating AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs in Your Skincare Regime

It’s worse when the companies advise you to use their product before your sunblock or their oil before or after your moisturizer. So, how can you know if a given product combination is appropriate for your type of skin? Worry not,  for we are here with a manual on how to layer your skincare actives in an effective manner.

What are Active Ingredients?

Simply said, an active ingredient in a specific product is designed to combat the skin condition it is meant to address. Because it is an ingredient verified by scientific evidence and shown to create a specific change in the skin, actives are what renders a skincare product effective. Active ingredients are generally found in treatments that have a specific function for certain skin conditions such as UV damage, acne, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.

Most inactive ingredients are oil or water-based because they play an important role in transporting the actives to the skin.

Most famous and potent skincare actives

So, in this section, we will talk about the functionalities of vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, AHA, and BHA, as well as how to integrate them into this ecosphere of ingredients. It’s essentially a guidebook to help you figure out which crucial active ingredients might work well together, but this will vary from person to person.

Vitamin A: Retinol, Retinoid, Retinal, and Retinaldehyde are the most common names for Vitamin A that can be easily found on shop shelves. Adapalene, Differin gel, Tretinoin, and Retin-A are all examples of the same. Although each of these Vitamin A forms differs significantly, they all are antioxidants that help to improve cell turnover, remove fine lines, battle wrinkles, and cure acne.

Read more: Is Fragrance Really the Villain in Skincare?

While Vitamin A has extensively been researched as a miracle component for preventing acne and aging symptoms, it does have a few negative side effects. For starters, this ingredient has a drying impact on the skin. As a result, preserving general skin health necessitates using a thick moisturizer shortly after applying your selected type of Vitamin A.

Vitamin A may also be irritating, and it has been found to make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation. With these considerations in mind, it is recommended to gradually introduce this active into the daily routine while also applying an SPF of 30 in the least.

Vitamin B: Vitamin B, frequently referred to as niacinamide, has lately gained popularity due to its adaptability and skin-calming properties.

Niacinamide illuminates dull skin, eliminates dark spots, and reduces the production of oil in the pores when applied alone.

To erase dark spots and cure breakouts, it is advised to apply niacinamide as a topical treatment.

Because niacinamide has a pH of roughly 4.5, it can be mixed with almost any other active ingredient. Niacinamide, when mixed with other actives, helps to soothe any discomfort caused by stronger actives such as AHA, retinol, or BHA. When Niacinamide is coupled with additional brightening agents like Vitamin C, it produces even more stunning benefits for people with sensitive skin in the same span of time and with less discomfort.

Vitamin C: it is recognized for stimulating the formation of collagen and elastin in the dermal layer of the skin, as well as illuminating the skin on the surface. Vitamin C, like Retinol, is an effective antioxidant that helps our skin combat free radicals and environmental toxins.

L-Ascorbic acid is the purest kind of Vitamin C. This molecule, however, is exceedingly unstable, and some people may get skin irritation as a result of it. For those with more sensitive skin, there are a variety of less powerful derivatives available.

AHA: This class of acids comes from natural sources including milk & fruit sugars. They are mild chemical exfoliants that eliminate dead skin cells to allow for the regeneration of new skin cells. AHAs are commonly used in anti-aging cosmetics to diminish pigmentation, fine wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.

AHAs also aid in the treatment of acne, the illumination of skin tone, and the improvement of general skin texture. Lactic Acid (produced from dairy) and Glycolic Acid are the most often administered AHAs (derived from sugar). Glycolic Acid penetrates past the top layer of the skin because of its lower molecule size, whilst Lactic Acid is a softer and non-irritating exfoliant due to its bigger molecular size, rendering it suited for sensitive skin.

BHA: They are chemical exfoliants similar to AHAs, but they penetrate considerably deeper into the skin, making them excellent for clearing outbreaks and treating blemishes. Because BHAs are oil-soluble, they can reach deeper into pores to eliminate excess sebum, blackheads, and grime, making them an excellent choice for pimple-prone and oily skin. Salicylic Acid is a very well-known BHA for unclogging pores and maintaining clean skin.

Hyaluronic acid: Hyaluronic acid is a humectant with significant moisturizing and rejuvenating effects, making it a renowned anti-aging agent. Hyaluronic Acid is an organically occurring sugar in the body, but its levels drop as we age. However, topical use of this acid may replenish the skin’s hydration and keep it moisturized.

Also read: Everything You Need To Know About Hyaluronic Acid!

It increases the skin’s suppleness to rebuild volume and decrease the impression of wrinkles and fine lines, in addition to its water retention powers. It’s a simple activity to include in your regimen because it blends well with other substances. Hyaluronic Acid is suitable for all skin types, although it is particularly beneficial for dry or dehydrated skin.

Vitamin A Vitamin B Vitamin C AHA BHA Hyaluronic acid
It has been established that concentrations as minimal as 0.01 percent are effective for everyday usage. If you’re employing Retinol for the very first time, don’t use more than 0.03 percent initially. You may gradually increase the proportion of retinol after your skin has become acclimated to it. If you’re new to retinol, start with once a week and work your way up to twice a week depending on how your skin reacts. You can take a niacinamide-based product every day, or even twice a day, once early morning and at night. This active’s ideal concentration is between 2 and 5%. In reality, the greatest accessible concentration is 20%, in most dermal Niacinamide treatments. can always be administered on a regular basis. It’s crucial to apply Vitamin C serum consistently if you want to see effects. It is effective at concentrations ranging from 5% to 20%. If this is your first experience of using AHAs, look for items with a pH range of 3.5 to 4, and make sure the strength of AHAs is somewhere between 5 and 10%. If you’re new to employing BHAs in your skincare, start with dosages of 1-2 percent and use the product once a week, gradually increasing to 2-3 times a week. can well be employed twice a day, depending on your daytime and nighttime skincare routines. Concentrations around 1 to 2 percent are the most effective.
If you use retinol in your regular skincare routine, make sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher since retinol renders your skin more susceptible to UV radiation. Niacinamide can be administered in both mornings and nights. It should be used after cleansing and toning, and it should be followed by hydration or any other treatment that is part of your beauty regime. If you wish to employ this active, include it in your morning routine and always apply SPF thereafter. AHAs and BHAs should not be used in the same regimen as Vitamin C. Make AHAs/BHAs a portion of your nightly regimen if you take Vitamin C in the daytime. To minimize oxidation, keep your Vitamin C items in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. Before using your moisturizer or serum at night, integrate AHAs into your regimen. When utilizing it, stay away from retinol-based products. Salicylic Acid must be included after cleansing and before moisturizing in your nightly regimen. Make it a point to apply Vitamin C in the morning and BHAs in the nighttime if you’re employing Vitamin C and BHA products. It may be administered in both the morning and nighttime regimens. It works nicely with Glycolic Acid and Vitamin C. Topical administration of Hyaluronic Acid has no recognized adverse effects.

Mix and match different actives: things you should know

  1. Vitamin C + Hyaluronic acid= When hyaluronic acid & vitamin C are combined, the skin receives an extra complimentary boost for brightening and moisturizing. The vitamin C element of this combination not only helps with parched skin, but also helps to smoothen out wrinkles, discoloration, and provide an overall brightening impact.
  1. Azelaic acid +Vitamin C= Azelaic acid is not only a skin-friendly chemical, but it’s also a miracle in a vial since it helps to reduce inflammation, destroy acne-causing bacteria, and gently heal post-acne blemishes and hyperpigmentation. When combined with the other, these benefits are multiplied and amplified. This combination is highly recommended if you have any discoloration and wish to brighten and level out your skin tone.
  1. Niacinamide+Retinol= Since niacinamide assists the skin handle the strong effects of retinol, pairing niacinamide and retinol is an excellent combination for people with sensitive skin, particularly if you’re wanting to start a retinol-infused skincare regimen. Because of its anti-inflammatory characteristics, niacinamide not only serves to dilute retinol and soothe the skin but also aids the skin to boost ceramide formation. Ceramides are lipids that keep our skin healthy and protected by holding it together.
  1. Niacinamide+Vitamin C= So this combination has been a contentious subject, and you’ll find a lot of articles advising you to avoid it altogether, but the truth is that that’s more of a myth since it was true once upon a time. And the vitamin C that had been examined in those trials was rather unstable since it was subjected to heat and temperatures that we would not normally expose it to in our daily skin care regimen.
  1. Ferulic acid, vitamin C and Vitamin E= This is the perfect combination of elements. Vitamin C, as we all know, is extremely unstable, but when combined with ferulic acid and vitamin E, it helps to stabilize and improve vitamin C’s potency. It soothes and nourishes the skin, as well as calming any inflammation that may be present. As a result, you’ll see a lot of things with this combo three. And as you use it during the day, it contributes to the formation of a barrier that protects your skin from the climate, UV radiation, and stimulates collagen production.

Matches to steer clear of: things you should know

  1. AHA and Retinol/ Retinoid

A dermatologist’s go-to for anti-aging include vitamin A derivatives like retinoid and retinol, as well as AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids like glycolic acid because they hasten skin cell turnover and stimulate collagen formation for glowing, fine-line-free skin. However, in this situation, more is not merrier.

Read more: Useful Anti-Aging Tips You Need To Know Right Away

They have potentially unpleasant side effects, especially when used together,” as both of these actives exfoliate the outer layer of skin. You’re less likely to adhere to your routine if your skin is inflamed. You do not have to pick between the two. It is suggested that you employ these topicals on alternating schedules (on Mondays, you can incorporate AHA and leave retinoid for Tuesday, and so on).

  1. Benzoyl Peroxide and Retinoid or Retinol

Retinoids are well-known for their anti-aging properties, but they can also help you get rid of acne by exfoliating your skin and preventing clogged pores. As a result, you could be tempted to take benzoyl peroxide and a retinoid at the same time.

Read more: Collagen For Skin: Is It Really Worth The Hype?

Think carefully before you do it. The retinoid molecule may be deactivated by benzoyl peroxide. Meaning: Your excellent intentions to fight acne are backfiring. Newer forms of the retinoid tretinoin have been shown to be stable with benzoyl peroxide, according to previous studies.  However, we suggest using retinol at night instead and benzoyl peroxide in your morning routine.

  1. Retinol+ Vitamin C

One should always use retinoids judiciously. Vitamin C is a difficult component to synthesize since it works best in mostly an acidic pH environment. Retinol is more effective at a higher (alkaline) pH. If you use them simultaneously, you won’t get the best results. The simple solution is to apply both at the appropriate times. Retinol is best used at night because it renders the skin more photosensitive, increasing the risk of sun damage, while vitamin C is best used throughout the day since it’s an antioxidant that guards against the day’s assaults, such as pollution and UV radiation.

  1. Salicylic acid+ Retinol

It’s very normal to have acne-prone aged skin. You’ve undoubtedly been advised that you should use a retinoid to minimize the impression of wrinkles and fine lines. Salicylic acid, a BHA that promotes skin cell turnover, can also be used to keep pores clean and combat acne. Each, however, can parch down or dry out the face on its own, thus they should be used with caution when mixed. Overdrying poses a threat since it can irritate the skin and exacerbate the problem.

Skin will boost oil production to reimburse for being too dry, which can lead to a negative spiral of acne and dryness. The solution is straightforward: In the morning, use salicylic, and at night, retinoid.

  1. Vitamin C and Cleanser (soap-based)

Vitamin C is intended to be taken first thing in the morning. But it’s also important to use the right cleanser beforehand. Although, as previously stated, vitamin C is optimal when made with a low pH.  Using a cleanser (soap-based) with a high pH can reduce the skin’s capacity to retain vitamin C.

Finally, how exactly should you layer the active ingredients?

There are two main approaches to this, and it is highly suggested to use a combination of the two.

#1 Thin to thick, and how to go about it?

Okay, so the general guideline is that you should apply your beauty products starting with the thinnest or the ones with the most watery consistency and working your way up to the thickest, creamiest, or oiliest textures. Water-based products with a thin consistency absorb easily into the skin. Then, extra oils that act as “emollients” will be added to thick-textured products.

Emollients simply aid in the trapping of water or hydration in the skin, as well as the softening of the skin. Moisturizers and these “thicker” substances function as a blanket to ensure that everything you used previously (which are relatively watery) is retained into the deeper skin layers, hydrating the cells. Another way to look at it is when oil and water are combined. 

When you combine the two in a glass, you’ll observe that the oil & water split into two layers, with the oil floating on top and the water settling at the bottom. As a result, it’s a very basic visual portrayal of what might occur on our skin. That’s why you should apply watery consistency first and then finish with oils since we want to seal everything in.

#2 Layering through their pH levels

This is a crucial technique to adopt if you choose to use a variety of active ingredients. Just a quick refresher on what the pH level is: it ranges from zero to fourteen, (acidic to alkaline), and if the item is too acidic on the lower end, you may experience irritated red or inflamed skin, while on the other end of the spectrum, if something is too alkaline, it can cause your skin to be really parched, dehydrated, and flaky and our skin is continually shifting, down and up on this scale, at every step in our regimen, however, the optimal level for our skin is between 4.5 and 5.5.

The intriguing part is that the less or lower the pH, the more probable the product will be absorbed into the skin, therefore AHAs, BHAs, and vitamin C all have lower pH values. So, naturally, you’ll want to use these acids 1st or earlier in your skincare regimen, followed by hyaluronic acid, retinol, niacinamide,  copper peptides, and even skin-friendly plant oils such as jojoba and rosehip oil.

These are on the upper end of the pH scale, with values ranging from 4.5 to 7. This means they’re more skin barrier-friendly ingredients that can assist you to regulate your skin and get it back to its best condition.

Which actives will work wonders in the morning?

Understanding which actives are ideal for your skin is perhaps the most crucial step in successful skincare methods. Active substances may help or hinder your skin, and the risks are significant when you apply them wrong. Before you start stacking serums, lotions, and SPF, be sure you know what each component does.

You must understand when to administer each item in addition to knowing what it is meant to do. Because the manner in which your skin absorbs products during the day differs from how it does at night, certain items will only be beneficial once you’ve gone to bed – and vice versa. It’s possible that you’re not getting the most out of a product that everyone else is talking about because you’re not using it at the appropriate time.

A little information goes a long way, and if you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll have the greatest skin you’ve ever had.

Daytime Actives

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is essential for lesion healing and general brightness because it aids cell turnover and keeps melanin synthesis at a minimum. It’s an antioxidant, and employing it provides your skincare regimen a strong foothold against the everyday environmental assault on your skin. Making a C-infused solution the very first stage in your skincare routine is highly recommended.

SPF: Even on cloudy, cold, or indoor days, using an SPF of 15 or more can help shield your skin from harm, wrinkles, and discoloration over time. Titanium and zinc oxides are two ingredients that give sun protection without permeating the skin’s surface.

Nighttime Actives

AHA and BHAs: You’re missing out if you have to battle with acne, wrinkles, or dry skin and aren’t using AHA and BHA. Although AHA is moderate enough to suit mature skin conditions, it should not be neglected when it comes to acne. Lactic and glycolic acids, which are generated from milk & sugar, are two AHAs that may dramatically remodel your skin.

BHAs, such as salicylic acid, combat acne from the inside out. However, using them during the day might result in even more UV damage. Misuse of these acids can result in peeling, burns, and even permanent skin discoloration or pigmentation, therefore using them at night is essential.

Read more: Useful Nighttime Skincare Routine: All You Need To Know

Retinol: These are strong exfoliants that help repair sun damage, but if you don’t apply SPF after using them, this procedure can actually damage your skin. Don’t forget the sunscreen, please. Retinols are similar to a milder topical form of Accutane since they are powered by vitamin A. This causes flaking skin to shed at an even faster pace, which in many cases helps to effectively cure wrinkles and acne.

Daytime and Nighttime Actives

Hyaluronic acid: Hyaluronic acid, which can very well be used in both am and pm routines, is well placed to provide its moisture-boosting abilities on both occasions.

There are no restrictions on this. Because hyaluronic acid is largely concentrated on the surface of the skin, where it creates a protective barrier of moisture, it gets washed away when you cleanse. It may be used whenever you want, however, some are greasier or stickier than the rest, so it depends on how it interacts with your makeup and other factors.

Niacinamide: Vitamin B gets along well, both with your day as well as nighttime beauty regimes.

There are no restrictions on this. Although its effective range is 2-5 percent, topical B3 has been evaluated as non-irritating and harmless up to a 20% dosage on the skin’s surface.

Does concentration matter?

YES. At different concentrations, different active ingredients function better. It may be inhibiting your skin blockage if you take it too far, but if you take it too lightly, it may have no effect.

  • Hyaluronic acid works best between 1 to 2%
  • Retinol, at 2% or less
  • Benzoyl Peroxide at 2.5%
  • Niacinamide, as mentioned above, between 2-5%
  • BHAs should subside with 2% or less.

FAQs on skincare actives

  1. When my skin is agitated, how can I modify the number of my active ingredients?
  • These are the periods when you should definitely cut back on essential active ingredients and instead focus on nutrients that can support your skin to rebuild itself and return to a healthy condition. Skin-friendly oils such as rosehip and jojoba, hyaluronic acid, and ceramide-containing products will be among them. All of them will really aid your skin in rebuilding itself. In such cases, it is suggested to avoid vitamin C, AHAs, and BHAs since they will only irritate and tear down your skin even more.
  1. Exactly how many of these actives should I incorporate into my very own regime?
  • The question can give rise to a number of answers based on different factors. It all boils down to the issue that needs to be addressed. Whether it is hyperpigmentation, dry skin, or even acne, there is a fix for everything. It is highly advised to check in with your consultant before incorporating anything on your skin.