Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist) on 04th Mar 2021

Skincare Combinations That You Should Avoid

Skincare Combinations That You Should Avoid

I want you to sit back and imagine this. Someone is tipping over hot chocolate sauce over a bowl of piping hot maggie. Horrible, right? You would obviously not eat it. Sorry to put you through this but hear me out. We just wanted to drive home the point that certain combinations don't work well! At all!

The same theory applies to skincare. You cannot and should not use a new product on a whim. I mean, you should, but with a little more caution and patience. Don't hop on the bandwagon without knowing the bandwagon, without knowing the basics.

You may like lemon juice and a chocolate shake, but you don't mix them, do you? Then why is it that when it comes to skincare, you choose to squirt a bit of this and slather a bit of that, and by the end of it, you form a cocktail on your face that might irritate your skin?

So, amp up your skincare game by avoiding certain incompatible combinations. When you use two or more bottles, the chances are that each of the products has ingredients in concentrations that can lead to side effects, inflammation, or irritation. Great skincare ingredients that are potent and extremely effective on their own can't mix. Using them together might lead you down a black spiral of reactions.

But before we dive into the components/ingredients that are always at odds with each other, you should know some things about mixing and matching skincare ingredients.

The one size fits all approach doesn't work here - combinations that work well for your favorite beauty influencer might not work for you.

If your skincare regimen seems to make no difference at all, the hybrid of formulas that you have been slathering might be one of the culprits. A bad combination can destabilize a critical ingredient and cause breakouts, greasiness, redness, flakiness, or burning.

Knowing everything about potent ingredients is necessary, even what will be applied before and after them. Especially if you have sensitive skin, a bad combination or overdoing will lead to serious repercussions.

Complimenting skincare products in your routine is necessary to steer clear of over-drying, over-exfoliating, or irritation. And to achieve your skincare goals and have healthy and beautiful skin

A combination is wrong when: 

It renders an ingredient inactive, neutralizing each other and lessening the effectiveness.
The combination has two potent ingredients and causes skin irritation.  

Combinations that don't work well!  


Retinol deserves special treatment in the least, and we all know why. Being the most revered skincare holy grail makes retinol a special case. Vitamin A promotes skin cell turnover, thus improving the way your fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, acne, and uneven skin texture looks. But it is never all confetti. Retinol has its cons. The potent active can prove to be extremely irritating and drying. So, mixing this anti-aging skincare active with other potent actives is a bad idea. 

Do not mix retinol with: 

Acids. Period!  

Retinoids have high potency for skin irritation and skin sensitivity and should be avoided in combination with any acid, be it AHAs or BHAs since they are potent. Combining too many extremely potent actives will wreak havoc you don't want to put your skin through. Although both retinol and an AHA like glycolic acid are anti-aging experts, combining them on your own won't give birth to an indefatigable formula; more is not always merrier!

AHAs and BHAs like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid are all chemical exfoliants that you do not want to use with retinol (a peeling agent) unless you want to deal with dryness, irritation, a damaged skin barrier, and increased sun sensitivity. That is because both will have the same effect on your skin by doubling the intensity. This means your skin will dry out rapidly.

But there is a way to reap the benefits of both. Use these topicals on alternate days or weeks. 

Benzoyl Peroxide

Retinol and benzoyl peroxide are two ingredients that will cancel each other out, leaving you with no benefits whatsoever.

I say acne, and you hear benzoyl peroxide and retinol. But of these ingredients, together? No. Let's say you layer these two. What will follow is a red awakening. Also, zero fulfillment of your desires and zero improvements on your skin since they render each other useless, canceling each other out.

But don't lose hope. You can use both. Just don't layer them on top of each other. Use one in the morning (benzoyl peroxide) and one in the night (retinoid). 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C 10% Face Serum
Vitamin C 10% Face Serum
Vitamin C 10% Face Serum
Vitamin C 10% Face Serum

Vitamin C 10% Face Serum

₹ 695

When to use: AM / PM

Frequency: Everyday

View details

Again, a powerful ingredient! Vitamin C, like retinoids both, causes skin irritation. So using them together may irritate if you have sensitive skin.

Like retinoids, the antioxidant can cause irritation, peeling, and redness. Combining it with another very active ingredient like retinoid is definitely avoidable. Instead, do this. Vitamin C fights free radicals and environmental aggressors your face faces throughout the day, so use it in the morning and use retinoids in the evening.

Formulating this antioxidant with anything is another task. It requires an acidic pH environment to work to its full potential. Vitamin C protects your skin from environmental aggressors, oxidative free radical damage and is best used in the morning. It brightens your skin and lightens dark spots.  

Vitamin C is not compatible with:


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Niacinamide, like Vitamin C, targets blemish-prone and scarred skin, but combining them? NO! This stunt only suits experts who combine them in serums. Vitamin B3 will cancel out vitamin C's goodness, causing an acne spurt on the skin.

Again, you do not need to lose either. Use Vitamin C in the morning and save that B3 for the evening. 

AHAs and BHAs 

The fact that vitamin C is also an acid makes the deal null. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is unstable, so layering it with acids will mess with the pH balance, destabilize it, and nullify vitamin C's potency. You don't want to lose your hard-earned bucks on something that does nothing at all for you.  

Soap with high pH 

Cleansers with high pH are likely to mess with vitamin C's pH; a soap-based cleanser will decrease and will not allow vitamin C to absorb in the skin.


Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum

Niacinamide 5% Face Serum

₹ 595

When to use: AM / PM

Frequency: Everyday

View details

The ultra-soothing and moisturizing vitamin that has innumerable benefits is a versatile ingredient. The skin-conditioning vitamin B3 helps repair and refine skin structure, but it demands a neutral pH environment, and you need to maintain that to let niacinamide show its magic.  

Niacinamide does not combine well with: 


All of them: Vitamin B3, AHAs, and BHAs work on improving your skin's texture, pigmentation, acne, and aging signs. Combining them? NO. Cause honey, you won't reap any benefits!

Incompatible pH: Niacinamide has a high pH level of 5-7, whereas acids have lower pH of 3-4. Combining them will increase the pH of the acids, rendering them useless. The combination also produces nicotinic acid that will flush your skin and cause irritation and redness. Although the chances of real harm are low, they cancel each other so avoid combining them.  

AHAs and BHAs  

The renowned chemical exfoliants that improve skin texture and skin tone and not losing out on the effects of salicylic acid on acne, AHAs and BHAs, require caution when mixing is involved since they dehydrate and irritate the skin. The potent actives need real care when combining with other acids and exfoliants, as the results can be undesirable, irritation and eczema.

Are incompatible with:
Each other.

Yes, each other. Do not mix an AHA with a BHA. Your skin won't be able to handle the severe dryness and irritation. They work well together, but it needs proper formulation. So, go for a product with both but don't end up meshing the two with your hands or layering them. What will follow is a severe reaction and a compromised skin barrier since both the groups of acids are exfoliators that remove dead skin cells from upper skin layers. So, don't! 

A Little Guide to a Proper Layering Skincare Ritual 

If you are new to a product, any product, don't start layering immediately. Please give it a week, then layer it with a second product, especially if you have sensitive skin since you can note which ingredient is causing your skin to react.

Moisturizers go last not to block the way for serums to penetrate. Apply the water-based ingredients first and then the oil-based ones since the oil-based product will form a film, not allowing the water-based product to reach the skin's deeper layers.

Drying ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, retinol, etc., should be followed with a hydrating ingredient, always like hyaluronic acid. The drying will exhaust your skin, so do it a favor and moisturize.

Always, I repeat, always apply your retinol at night, followed by sunscreen the next morning.

Take time off if your skin feels tight, stings, or is red. Let your skin calm down, and then give the active one more go but slowly one by one.

A tip:

The order you do your skincare matters the most; a wrong order can render the whole process useless. So, better apply it correctly or don't at all. 

Minimalist's Word of Advice 

Mixology can get a little exhausting at times, but it is not that hard, especially when you have the above cheatsheet.

Keep a few things in mind, though:

Avoid two products with the same actives; this can lead to irritation. But if you are getting the results with no adverse effects, then continue.

If you have dry skin, avoid acidic pairings since the dryness can increase manifold irritating your skin. Instead, go for gentler products and amp up your moisturization game.

If you have oily, acne-prone skin, although you have your options wide open, go for salicylic acid and retinol; they will curb your sebum production. 

The Last Word 

You can use more than one product. We don't mean to stop you from exploring either. Knowing this will keep you learning it the hard way. You may think this will get too scientific and fluster you, but all you have to do is look at the labels and ingredients in all of your products.

Get the results you want by mixing and layering your topicals the right way. Seek guidance from your derm if you are still unsure.