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The best ingredients to mix for a beneficial skin care routine, according to experts

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Woman using a rolling skin care item and someone holding up lotion
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

Your skin care routine is probably loaded with a barrage of serums, moisturizers, and sunscreens. After all, a properly ordered routine ensures we get the maximum benefit from our products, which is why we use them in the first place. But, with all the different ingredients available, choosing the right ones to combine to gain all those benefits — like anti-aging, brightening, acne clearing — can be quite the challenge.

To ensure you're combining all of the best ingredients and avoiding any skin care pitfalls, we spoke to two dermatologists to get the low-down on how to expertly plan your routine.

Below, are all the skin care ingredients that you shouldn’t combine and the ones you definitely should, according to experts, plus some expert-recommended and fan-favorite options to shop.

Ingredients you should not use together

When creating a skin care routine, it’s important to make sure you’re not combining products that will cause more harm to your complexion than good. Dr. Scott Paviol of Paviol Dermatology explains to Shop TODAY that there are a few different ingredients that should not be used together — mainly retinol or other strong exfoliants that can strip your skin.

Retinol and AHAs or BHAs

The exfoliating effects of retinol, AHAs and BHAs can be too drying to the skin when used all together, advises Paviol. “If your routine contains AHA/BHA in addition to retinol, wait to use your retinol about an hour after AHA/BHA application.”

Retinol and Benzoyl Peroxide

It is useless to use benzoyl peroxide, which is usually used to treat acne, and retinol together, says Paviol. The ingredients can cancel the positive effects of each other out and leave skin extremely dry and irritated.

Retinol and Vitamin C

When used together, explains Paviol, these two ingredients lessen the potency of one another. “Because vitamin C is formulated at a low pH and retinol is formulated with a high pH, when used together the vitamin C pH rises and the pH of the retinol lowers.” He further explains that overall, it’s best to use vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night to ensure maximum efficacy of both.

Ingredients you should use together

To get the most benefit out of your skin care, there are certain ingredients that work best when paired together. Paviol and Dr. Jeannette Graf, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, weigh in on the ingredients that help enhance the overall effectiveness of each product and can keep your skin glowing.

Ceramides and Niacinamide

Ceramides help to increase the barrier function of the skin and improve moisture retention, says Paviol, while niacinamide improves pore size and skin texture. When you combine the two, the benefits of both complement each other, giving you soft, glowing and even skin.

Skin Inc Supplement Bar Ceramide Serum

Loved by Paviol, this hydrating serum uses four different types of ceramides to soothe redness and irritation, and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier. It can also be easily layered with other serums.

Glow Recipe Avocado Ceramide Redness Relief Serum

This popular pick (which boasts over 100,000 likes on Sephora) promises to soothe and rehydrate skin. The serum is packed with avocado butter, avocado extract and ceramides to alleviate dryness and redness, according to the brand.

PCA B3 Brightening Serum

This serum’s main ingredient, niacinamide, works to vanish fine lines, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, redness, and more, which is why Paviol recommends it for achieving a brighter and moisturized complexion.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

For a budget-friendly way to diminish the look of pores and increase smoothness, this product from the fan-favorite brand The Ordinary contains 10% niacinamide and is loved by users for its gentle formula that works well on sensitive skin.

Niacinamide and Salicylic Acid

Since salicylic acid is soluble, it seamlessly penetrates into pores to loosen dirt, oil and debris, explains Paviol. “At the same time, niacinamide reduces sebum production by decreasing glyceride and fatty acid production of surface sebum.” Together, they reduce pore size, clear up skin, and improve skin texture.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

This TikTok-viral treatment solution uses salicylic acid to exfoliate pores and eliminate blemishes. Paviol recommends using this serum in conjunction with a niacinamide, like the PCA B3 Brightening Serum, for the best results.

Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid

When combined, hyaluronic acid helps to lessen the potential side effects and sensitivities from using retinol, an exfoliating synthetic derivative of vitamin A, explains Paviol. The same goes for all acids. Though, using both an AHA or BHA and a retinol at the same time can be harmful to your skin.

“AHA, BHA, retinol and benzoyl peroxide can be mixed with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides and rosehip oil to get effective results — just ensure you are not using retinol as well as AHA or BHA’s during the day," says Graf.

PCA Skin Intensive Brightening Treatment

Paviol recommends this nightly retinol treatment, which boasts 0.5% of pure retinol to help brighten skin and even out discoloration.

The Inkey List Retinol Anti-Aging Serum

This powerful serum has retinol and squalene for a gentle way to combat the signs of aging. Those who used the retinol loved the smooth texture of the product. “I was able to see results since the first couple of days, my skin looks brighter and even. I love this product!!!!” one reviewer shared.

PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum

Just a few drops of this serum will leave your skin smoother and more hydrated, according to the brand. Although a bit pricier, Paviol recommends it because, with usage over time, it’ll effectively work deep within your skin’s layers to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

Glossier Super Bounce

This top-rated serum from Glossier combines the hydration of hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 to leave skin feeling soft and supple. It penetrates deep into the skin and absorbs fast, so you won’t feel greasy or sticky.

Retinol and Peptides

When you use retinol, explains Paviol, "you are also receiving the collagen-building effects of vitamin A.” Additionally, retinol also works to improve the penetration of peptide creams and serums, which can help improve skin firmness. When combined, you’ll improve the efficacy.

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Firming Cream

By merging peptides and amino acids, this moisturizer is known to improve the skin’s tone and texture. Paviol recommends using this in conjunction with the retinol-rich PCA Intensive Brightening Treatment to improve hydration.

The Inkey List Peptide Moisturizer

This affordable peptide moisturizer from TikTok-favorite brand The Inkey List is rich and creamy, making it perfect as a nighttime part of your beauty routine. It will sink into your skin while you rest and leave you feeling smooth and hydrated.

AHAs and BHAs

Although the majority of individuals shy away from using both acids, your skin can receive major benefits if these two are layered correctly or in a product that contains both. Some of these benefits, the experts share, include keeping your skin bright and reducing hyperpigmentation, sebum production, and superficial fine lines and wrinkles.

The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%

Created with both AHA and BHA, Paviol recommends this combination product as his top selection. The water-based rinse-off treatment is intended for the improvement of textural irregularities, dullness, and congested pores.

Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Acid Serum

According to Glow Recipe, this AHA/BHA-forward serum is a great choice for those with textured or uneven skin tones. The formula is also packed with other skin-loving ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid and strawberry.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

This anti-aging peel is said to help smooth wrinkles, clear blemishes and unclog pores — in just 10 minutes.

Vitamin C and Vitamin E (Including Ferulic Acid)

In case you didn't know, vitamin C is the antioxidant powerhouse of the skin care world. However, explains Paviol, the ingredient is actually highly unstable and needs other ingredients to help make it the most effective. “Ingredients like vitamin E and ferulic acid help stabilize this brightening ingredient to make sure your skin receives the best that vitamin C has to offer."

SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic Serum

This cult-favorite and Paviol-recommended serum utilizes ferulic acid, vitamin C and vitamin E to protect your skin from free radicals that cause premature aging. In addition to antioxidant protection, the serum is also known to firm skin, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and brighten your complexion.

Paula's Choice C15 Vitamin C Super Booster

A combination of vitamin C, E and ferulic acid, this serum works to visibly brighten skin and improve age spots and skin tone. The light formula absorbs quickly, so you can use it under makeup or before other products in your skin care routine.

Vitamin C and SPF

When you combine antioxidants with SPF, explains Graf, the antioxidants stabilize the SPF, making it more effective. Vitamin C provides antioxidant protection from environmental stressors—also known as free radicals—that cause increased signs of aging, whereas SPF is essential for protecting against harmful UVB rays. “When layered together, vitamin C and SPF are the perfect pair for keeping your skin protected throughout the day,” says Paviol.

PCA C/E Advanced

Paviol recommends this lightweight vitamin C and vitamin E treatment as it works deep below the surface to nourish and effectively reduce fine lines, discoloration and free radical damage. Plus, it’ll give your skin a gorgeous healthy glow.

Saint Jane Beauty The C-Drops

Graf advises using these vitamin C drops to fight signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. The serum is formulated with over 20% vitamin C to ensure it delivers maximum penetration into the deepest layers of the skin.

SkinCeuticals UV Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Physical Fusion

Designed to blend in evenly without any white cast or residue, this lightweight formula provides 50+ SPF protection. And it gives off a universal tint that enhances your skin tone and boosts radiance, which is why Paviol likes it.

ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica

This lightweight sunscreen is perfect for everyday use, Graf says. Created with eyfotona actinica, it absorbs quickly into the skin and leaves you with SPF 50+ protection.

Supergoop! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Sunscreen

For an all-in-one option, this new product from sunscreen brand Supergoop boasts a mixture of vitamin C and SPF 40. So you can brighten and protect your skin in one step. It also provides PA+++ protection, the highest protection against harmful UV rays.

Ceramides, Cholesterol, and Fatty Acids

These three lipids are essential for your skin’s barrier function and overall improvement of hydration. “Consequently, you must have all three for barrier repair; using only one or two of this trio can actually delay barrier repair,” says Paviol.

SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore

Infused with all three essential lipids, this anti-aging treatment helps repair elasticity, uneven texture, and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Paviol recommends the fast-absorbing formula for its whole slew of good-for-you ingredients that leave you with tons of benefits.

Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream

This rich face cream combines hyaluronic acid, amino acids and a triple lipid complex to seriously moisturize your skin. The cruelty-free brand is also dedicated to sustainability and uses biodegradable packaging for its products.

Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid

“Glycolic acid supercharges vitamin C’s benefits by lifting away surface dead skin cells,” says Paviol. This preps your skin for vitamin C to accelerate cell renewal that’s essential for smooth and glowing skin, he says.

Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum

By merging glycolic acid and vitamin C, this serum improves the look of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone. Created with a Vita-C complex, it also provides antioxidant protection and helps the skin absorb the ingredients more effectively.