The Rules Of Layering Skincare |
If, like us, your skincare regime consists of a cocktail of lotions and potions, it’s worth knowing that some ingredients are not designed to be mixed. While scores of dermatologists advocate skincare layering for its ability to trap more active ingredients against the skin, the vast majority also agree it’s rarely done properly. So as tempting as it may be pile on the products, read on and follow the rules of what not to mix…
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1. Retinol & Acne Treatments

Retinol (a potent form of vitamin A famed for its anti-ageing properties and cell renewal) and benzoyl peroxide can both ward off acne and prevent the formation of new blemishes, but when used simultaneously, they can counteract each other’s benefits. “Both are drying, exfoliating agents, so when mixed together, they can cause excessive peeling, unwanted pigment, lasting redness and even blistering and scarring,” explains US dermatologist Jennifer Reichel.

The better option? Treat this complexion conundrum with a specialised peel; try Harley Street-trained super-facialist Debbie Thomas, known for her no-nonsense approach to problem skin. Also worth a try is Skinceuticals, a brand created specifically for ageing skin prone to breakouts. Their Blemish + Age Cleansing Gel is a good place to start.

2. SPF & Foundation

This is particularly note-worthy for English roses and those prone to sun damage, who need to be sure their SPF is working at its highest efficacy. As aesthetician Renée Rouleau explains, “A suncream is effectively a drug that has been tested and approved in its final form. Changing its formula by adding moisturiser or foundation will alter the SPF, so you can’t be 100% sure it’s going to protect you with the level it says on the bottle.”

The better option? Buy a foundation or moisturiser with built-in SPF to guarantee optimum sun protection. Try Armani Beauty Power Fabric Foundation, £40, which offers an impressive SPF25 and comes in 15 different shades, or a BB cream such as Bobbi Brown BB Cream SPF35 if you prefer lighter coverage.

3. Retinol & Glycolic Acid

While both retinol and glycolic acid are proven anti-ageing superstars, in this case, two is not better than one. Glycolic acid (a type of AHA [alpha hydroxyl acids] found in face washes, masks, serums and creams) has a lower pH than the skin, which explains its effectiveness in dissolving dry cells on the skin’s surface. While this will leave you with a fresh-faced glow, a retinol-based product on top of this is a recipe for redness and irritation.

The better option? Stick to using either your retinol-based cream or your glycolic acid-based product. If you love both, just use on alternate days. 

4. Cleansing Oils & Treatment Serums

While cleansing oils may seem innocent, you could be flushing money down the drain if you use a specialised treatment serum afterwards. Why? As Rouleau explains, the reason your skin feels baby-soft is because such cleansers leave a residue and barrier on the skin. “If you apply a treatment serum afterwards – with ingredients like beta-glucan, peptides or vitamin C – it will prevent these active ingredients from getting deep into the skin.”

The better option? Use cleansing oils in either the morning or the evening – just the time of day you don’t use a treatment serum.

5. Vitamin C & Acids

As mentioned above, retinol can be too much when paired with acids, but be wary of layering them with vitamin C, too. Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is essentially an acid, even when it rebrands itself as a vitamin. While vitamin C works wonders to brighten and promote collagen production, when applied alongside acids, this can counteract its powers (it’s all down to pH) so for the full impact and quick results, stick to either your acid-based product or vitamin C.

The better option? Use one or the other and always remember to add in a moisturising serum (look for formulas containing hyaluronic acid) when chemically exfoliating to replenish after your peel.

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