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August 2, 2018

This Is What You Should Avoid Mixing in Skincare (& What You Can)

Like Romeo and Juliet, some ingredient pairings are doomed from the start. But it doesn’t have to be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions on your face. We asked the experts what ingredients and products we should avoid mixing in skincare — and got some surprising answers.


When you have a multi-step skincare routine, lots of questions are bound to come up. “What step is the serum?” “Do I really need an emulsion and a cream?” “Is it OK to mix these things?”


The first two are fairly easy to answer (after your toner and before your moisturizer, and only if you have really dry skin, respectively). The last one, well, sometimes you want an expert opinion, and that’s what I sought out.


Michelle Wong, a chemistry PhD better know as Lab Muffin over at the influential beauty blog, YouTube channel Lab Muffin Beauty Science, and the mega educational IG @labmuffinbeautyscience, was kind enough to entertain my paranoia about what we have to avoid mixing in skincare.


avoid mixing in skincare


Vitamin C + Niacinamide


I’ve heard a lot of people state unequivocally that mixing vitamin C and niacinamide is a big no-no as they can cancel each other’s benefits out. The scientific verdict?


“Vitamin C and niacinamide are fine,” says Michelle. In fact, Stephen Ko, the cosmetic chemist and skincare expert behind the blog Kindofstephen has an excellent post about this here that explains exactly why.


Jude Chao, blogger extraordinaire behind the beauty blog Fifty Shades of Snail (and Beautytap K-Beauty Squad member), agrees: “Hopefully someday we’ll collectively destroy that ‘vitamin C and niacinamide can’t be used together’ myth.”


Whew! Those two are my favorite brightening duo, so it’s good to know I can mix them in my routine without worry.


Benzoyl Peroxide + Retinoids


So what should I be worried about mixing? “In terms of not mixing, the main one is benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, with a few exceptions, e.g., in Epiduo,” says Michelle. (For those not familiar with Epiduo, it’s a prescription treatment for acne.)


So aside from that example, the two shouldn’t be mixed because benzoyl peroxide may cause oxidation and degradation of the tretinoin molecule. Also, just speaking as a sensitive skin person, the thought of those two on my face at the same time is sending me screaming.


Sunscreen + Makeup?!?


The last no-no Michelle cited really piqued my interest as someone who is sunscreen and makeup obsessed.


avoid mixing in skincare


“Uncoated mineral sunscreen ingredients and avobenzone is also a no-no. Zinc oxide and avobenzone is actually a banned combo in the U.S.,” says Michelle. “This is sometimes a bit dodgy with things like face powders over sunscreens since in face powders [zinc oxide] is often uncoated.”


If the minerals in your makeup are coated, you should be fine, but really, how many of us know if their minerals are coated? I barely know if I ate breakfast or not on any given day. Basically, to be safe, I’d avoid mineral makeup when using a sunscreen containing avobenzone, as it can degrade the UV filter’s effectiveness.


Other No-No Duos


I wanted to reach out to our own experts, the rest of my K-Beauty Squad, and see if they had any tips about what to avoid or even what combinations they’ve found that work especially nicely together. This is what I learned.


Jude @Jude Chao


I don’t have any particular ingredient combos I avoid, but I do find it helps to avoid products that are very silicone-y if I intend to layer several things. The silicones often make absorption of any other products difficult and can also play poorly with sunscreen or makeup, causing things to ball up. It’s not a problem with all products that contain silicones — just the ones that are particularly heavy in it. Innisfree Perfect 9 Repair Serum comes to mind.

avoid mixing in skincare

Anna @annapark


I agree with Jude. I really don’t like silicone at all. For layering skincare, it’s not good at all. And I’ve never found it good for my oily T-zone either, which is odd because that’s all they use in makeup primers for oily skin. It feels suffocating and not at all absorbing, just sort of “trapping” the oil underneath. Blech.


I also find that certain hyaluronic acid serums get really tacky when layered over an oily-feeling (even if it’s not oil-based) essence or serum. So for those serums, I only apply during the day and only over very lightweight, watery layers.


Also, if you’re using a tone-up or no-sebum sunscreen, skip the primer. It’ll mess up the layer, and you’ll end up with one pill-y mess.


Miranda @Miranda Rico


Mixing oils with moisturizer has NEVER worked for me. I wish I could achieve that super-hydrated glow, but no matter how I layer it, I end up with little bumps everywhere — a milia explosion. 😭



Some Duo Do’s


Jude @Jude Chao


My favorite ingredient combo is snail + propolis! I’ve been mixing a few drops of my snail product (COSRX Snail Essence) with a few drops of my propolis product (LJH Vita Propolis Ampoule) for a long time. It makes a great blend for calming, soothing, and smoothing skin.


Ruth @Ruth Kim


The only skincare combination that comes to mind right now is dabbing camellia oil under my eyes before applying my eye cream. And similarly, applying a face oil (usually camellia oil — feels lightweight for an oil yet super nourishing) before applying a sheet mask! The glow is real. ✨✨✨


oils for oily skin avoid mixing in skincare


Leo @leolouie


I’ve basically stopped using “normal” moisturizer anymore, and make my own instead by mixing a few drops of face oil in with a water-based serum. I’ll still use a more occlusive product on top to keep everything sealed in, but every morning and night I’m mixing a little concoction to put on my face.


Sheryll @sheryll


I am obsessed with using BHAs and AHAs together. Together they make the perfect acne-fighting combo, but you gotta be careful to not go overboard and overexfoliate. I use the BHA first to “unglue” the gross dead skin and wait 20 minutes for it to do its thing. Then I go in with an AHA to gently exfoliate the dead skin from the surface. If I’m using both together, I make sure to use both in a lower percentage (like the COSRX BHA Liquid and the AHA Liquid) to avoid frying my skin. In general, I only use heavy-duty exfoliation when my skin is dealing with some issues; all the other days I just use Biologique Recherche P50, vitamin C, and lots of S:um37.


What do you avoid mixing in skincare? Have you found any ingredients or products that just don’t play nicely together? What about any that go amazing together? Let’s learn from each other and help us get our best skin ever!


Coco Park is an author, beauty journalist, blogger, podcast host, and all around oddball living in Montreal Quebec with her family. Originally from the southern USA, she worked for several years in the makeup industry as a professional makeup artist and holds a certificate in esthetics. She is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Want to know more? Check her out on the Beauty Beyond Basics podcast, on her blog, on Instagram @thebeautywolf, and in her book "Korean Beauty Secrets: A Practical Guide to Cutting-Edge Skincare & Makeup."




I have actually found that my skin hates it when I use acids and ferments in the same beauty routine. If I use my BHA I cannot use a ferment product over it. I causes my skin to get weird rash spots. So now I just use a ferment in the morning then my BHA or my Vitamin C in the evening. (Note - I can't do two acids either. My skin just freaks out and not in a good way.)


As someone who until recently used NIOD’s CAIS with good results, I recall that that was not supposed to be used following acids. Is there any reason why products containing copper peptides generally (eg snail products, I understand) can’t be used following acids?


That is something I haven't heard of not using snail after acids. In my humble opinion if it works for you with good results I would not stop. I usually use snail after an AHA peel or BHA. Granted there is usually a layer of another serum between the acid and my snail. The snail seems to help calm my face especially after the AHA. Maybe it is OK because I rinse off the AHA?


The more I think about this the more I think that what Brandon has said -that CAIS can be applied before acids but not within 20 min afterwards without destroying the peptides- can’t be correct. I see no reason why the two cases would be different. I do know that in general peptides can be denatured by acids, but maybe the pH used in skincare generally doesn’t cause that problem unless with a strong peeling product. And rinsing or other action to raise the pH to closer to 5.5 probably does prevent any problem.

I’m not sure whether there is... Read more


i usually avoid mixing sunscreen with moisturiser and apply it on my face. Centella asiatica is great when mixed with vitamin C.


Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those unlucky people with sensitive skin and got the skin flushing effect from using acid (vit C/bha/aha) + niacinamide together. Reading Stephen’s article made me realize that (thank goodness for that!). Glad I figured it out because for a while I thought I was allergic to some ingredients, or some ingredients combo. The skin flushing is so terrible and it doesn’t just last 20 minutes for me. Takes days to calm down and to go back to normal. ;-(. With so many products now containing niacinamide, I... Read more


What a great article! I had no idea about mineral makeup and sunscreen either! So that was a big oops for me!


I know, right? Who knew?! And the tricky thing is avobenzone is also listed as BUTYL METHOXYDIBENZOYLMETHANE (found it in one of my sunscreens listed as that).

Now I have to go through all my cushions, which often have titanium dioxide, to see if they have zinc oxide!


Ugh! I'm not good at reading labels! My eyes start glazing over when the words get "scientific"! lol. But this is so important to know and fix though. Looks like I'll be doing the same thing and going over all my cushions and checking too! Good to know it's listed as BUTYL METHOXYDIBENZOYLMETHANE as well! Thanks for the heads up!


Yikes. I use mineral makeup and both sunscreens that I regularly use have avobenzone (but I’m typically only using the setting powder with these sunscreens 🤔) I also have the Heimish Artless Glow Base (SPF 50+ PA+++) that does not have avobenzone, so I guess if I’m going to use makeup the Heimish will have to be my go to.


Well, I had no idea about not mixing mineral makeup with avobenzone containing sunscreens. Yet another reason for me to avoid avobenzone: it makes my eyes stream.


I love mixing a drop or two of facial oil into a light moisturizer like Cosrx Snail Cream or Clinique DDM Gel. I only use oils at night, but I sometimes hate how they feel on my face when used alone.


I tried using the oils on their own and as much as I love their benefits, I cannot stand using them on their own. The only way that I've found I can use them if I don't use them in a moisturizer, I spritz down my face with a mist, then immediately take a few drops of oil in my hand and massage/press it in directly to my misted skin.


I'll have to try that!!! Sometimes the oil just sits on my face and I can't stand it.


That's what I do post-mask, when my skin is damp and super hydrated. I press an oil over it and OMG the glowwwww! I also dislike the feeling of oil on my face (other than squalane, which finishes pretty dry), so I save it for masking days.


Great, so I know instinctively what is good to mix.
The propolis and snail serum are also my favorites together :)


Thank goodness I can wear niacinamide and vitamin C together — 2 of my fave dark spot lightening ingredients. And I had no idea about avobenzone and zinc oxide. My fave Earth's Recipe Sun Gel has avobenzone (Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane) so I guess I should stay away from mineral makeup! Now I have to check if any of my cushions have zinc oxide in them.

Btw, I loooove Lab Muffin. I want to upload her knowledge into my head.


I was so scared of mixing together niacinamide and vitamin C for the longest time because of all the hubbub and misinformation online, so this is very good news for the future of my face lol. I was always so conflicted because I wanted to mix the two as brightening is always a concern I want to tackle, so thankfully the universe let those play together well lol


All of the sci-fi I read has me convinced we'll be getting instant knowledge transfer in the future, I just wish we could have it now!


Lol we'll be going in for system updates along with our phones