by CLEF Skincare on Jun 06, 2020

Layering Skincare Ingredients

Let’s be honest: Picking and mixing your own skincare routine with products from various brands or collections is always more enticing than just settling for a single range from a specific brand. Not only do our itchy little fingers get to test more exciting products on the market—we get to enjoy all the different skincare benefits of each product too. “Best of both worlds”? More like “best of all worlds”!

Unfortunately, chemistry is a complicated little thing. Active ingredients in different products can react negatively with one another, leading to skin irritation and reduced effectiveness. So, if your products don’t seem to be delivering the extraordinary promises and claims made on their labels, keep reading to find out why. 


Can I use Niacinamide with Retinol?

Short answer: Yes!

Long answer: While retinol is known for its fantastic anti-aging benefits, it’s also known to be highly irritating. Niacinamide, another skincare favourite, helps counteract the irritating effects of retinol.


Can I use Vitamin C with Retinol?

Short answer: No, thank you.

Long answer: Retinol functions at a relatively higher pH (5.5-6) while vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) requires a pH of 3.5 or lower. However, this doesn’t mean they’re entirely useless. They still work, just not at their full potential—which means you won’t receive the maximum brightening and antioxidative benefits of both ingredients. No one likes wasted potential, so if you have these two in your routine, we’d advise using Vitamin C during the AM, and retinol during the PM. 


Can I use AHAs with Vitamin C?

Short answer: Yes, but …

Long answer: If you’re unfamiliar with the umbrella term “alpha hydroxy acids” (AHAs), you might recognise them by their individual names, such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid. AHAs and vitamin C function around the same pH level and are therefore suitable for layering. While vitamin C can be used both day and night, it’s advisable to leave AHAs for bedtime since they increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s harmful UV rays. So if you’d like to reap the exfoliating and brightening benefits of both acids, make sure you leave the layering for your night routine.


Can I use Retinol with AHAs/BHA?

Short answer: Please don’t!

Long answer: If you’re unfamiliar with beta hydroxy acid (BHA), you might know it as salicylic acid. While retinols, AHAs, and BHA are celebrated for their respective abilities to effectively increase cell turnover (see: exfoliation), layering them might not be the best idea. Over-exfoliating the delicate skin on your face will leave it raw and irritated. Dead cells, despite being well, dead, have a purpose: to protect the newer cells that aren’t ready to expose themselves at the surface yet. When it comes to exfoliation, you want to remove just the outermost layer of dead cells, not all of them. If you swear by both ingredients and can’t let them go from your routine, we’d recommend using them on alternating nights.


Can I use Vitamin C with Copper Peptides?

Short answer: No, sorry!

Long answer: Vitamin C and copper peptides are fantastic on their own, but cancel each other out when applied together. The copper oxidizes the vitamin C and causes it to break down rapidly, rendering it useless since there’s no time for the ingredients to work on your skin. For best results, we’d recommend applying a vitamin C serum only during the day and using copper peptide products (such as Clef’s best-selling Anti-Aging Copper Peptide Mask) at night.


Can I use Vitamin C with Niacinamide?

Short answer: Not exactly.

Long answer: While the dreaded yellow (niacinamide ascorbate) complex formed through the combination of these products is technically still effective for skincare, it doesn’t deliver optimal efficacy. Furthermore, vitamin C turns niacinamide into niacin, a substance that causes flushing and tingling in those who suffer from inflammatory acne.

Vitamin C functions at a pH of 3.5, but niacinamide raises that pH to the 4.5-5 range, thus preventing the former from functioning at its full potential. In a nutshell, this combo isn’t exactly harmful, but we’d advise against it since you won’t be receiving the maximum benefits through this ingredient cocktail.

While some sources claim that introducing a 20-minute wait time between each skincare layer solves all conflicting pH level issues, studies have found that this isn’t the case. It takes way longer than 20 minutes for the skin pH to revert to its natural 5.5—we’re talking 2 whole hours. A 2-hour wait time between each layer? For a 10-step routine? No thanks!

To get the most out of your skincare routine, we’d recommend you avoid layering products with disagreeing functional pHs altogether.


image credit: Andrea Piacquadio