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Your Complete Guide on the Dos and Don’ts of Mixing Skin Care Acids

Knowing how to use acids in skin care is a key to a solid routine that shows serious results. Keep this guide handy at all times.

Diving deep into the depths of skin care can be pretty confusing, especially if you’re working with acids. A wrong move could render both your products useless, so today we’re breaking it all down for you!
Layering in skin care can be super effective, but also can render certain products ineffective. But, which ingredients work best with others? We spoke with  Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and Michele Farber, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, about the need to know acid layering dos and don’ts in skin care.

Acid Layering Dos:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
Both Zeichner and Farber recommended the use of AHAs and BHAs together, particularly because they actually have different properties (even though many people seem to use them interchangeably), and can be used together for increased effectiveness. “Generally speaking, alpha hydroxy acids are best for dry skin and aging skin because they are water soluble,” says Zeichner. “Beta hydroxy acids are soluble in oil and can penetrate deep into the follicles so they are effective in treating conditions like acne.”
Farber reiterates Zeichner’s point: “It’s best to combine an alpha and a beta hydroxy acid on your skin. An alpha hydroxy acid like glycolic acid helps exfoliate and even out skin tone, and beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid help to reduce oil production.”
Lots of products have both AHAs and BHAs, like the Dr. Oracle Tea Tree Peeling Sticks, but you can also combine the two from different products. The Klairs Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser has AHAs and works great with the Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner. Both these products have skin soothing ingredients like tea tree extract and aloe to make sure that the acids aren’t too harsh on your skin. 
Hyaluronic Acid and AHAs/BHAs
Hyaluronic acid is one of the trendiest ingredients in Korean skin care, and for good reason. It plays a key role in both hydrating the skin and retaining moisture. Zeichner explains that while “hyaluronic acid is technically a sugar,” it is great with AHAs and BHAs because the combination “helps to hydrate the skin and reduce the risk of irritation.”
AHAs and BHAs can be pretty strong, so combining them with hyaluronic acid is a great way to replenish the skin at the same time to make sure that the acids aren’t too harsh on the skin. To get these great ingredients into your skin care routine, we recommend using the Klairs Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser or the Hanskin Real Complexion Hyaluron Skin Essence to get in your hyaluronic acid kick in combination with the COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol or the Dr. Oracle Peeling Stick for all that AHA/BHA action. 
Hyaluronic Acid and Retinoic Acid*
Retinol is the queen bee of the beauty world, and as skin care royalty, she doesn’t mix with just anyone. Retinol is often name dropped as the cure to a ton of skin ailments including hyperpigmentation and signs of aging. Hyaluronic acid is a relatively trendier ingredient that has picked up a lot of steam in beauty in the last few years. It’s a wonder ingredient for fine lines and dry skin.
Retinol and hyaluronic acid are both powerful anti-agers so using them together can really amp up their effectiveness. Since retinol can be drying especially on dry or sensitive skin types, following up with hyaluronic acid is definitely a great idea, since hyaluronic acid is super hydrating. For this combination, we’d recommend the COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream which is a rich, luxurious cream that’s packed with hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate with the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule to get your retinol fix.
*Retinoic acid is a form of retinol.

Acid Layering Don’ts:

Both Zeichner and Farber mention that acids should be layered sparingly.” Preformulated products with multiple acids are great to use on the skin,” says Zeichner. “I do not recommend layering more than one acid product at the same time because they can cause too much skin irritation, but you can combine an acid cleanser and an acid leave-on product if you do not have sensitive skin.”
Farber adds that “it’s good to tailor skin care. So one [person may do well with certain combinations while another may become dry and irritated.” In general, it’s better to play it safe with acids in skin care, especially ones which come in very high concentrations, to avoid any potential skin irritation.
Hydroxy Acids & Retinoic Acid
AHAs and BHAs as well as retinoic acid are pretty powerful skin treatments and they should be used sparingly. Combining hydroxy acids and retinoic acid can cause some serious irritation if they’re used together. In a similar vein, make sure not to combine these products with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Aside from the potential irritation, these ingredients can also inactivate the vitamin C, rendering your products useless.
Combining acne treatments
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two of the most well known acne treatments in the skin care game, but mostly shouldn’t be used together. Farber tells us that both “can be very drying and irritating when applied together,” so it’s better to use them separately. However, there are some prescription-grade medications that contain both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, so just consult with your dermatologist if you’re interested in mixing these two.
Also, be careful mixing benzoyl peroxide and retinol. There are medications that contain both of these ingredients (Differin), but this combination has the potential to be highly irritated, so if you’re thinking of doing it, consult a dermatologist.

Bottom Line

Acids in skin care are some of the most powerful ingredients for getting skin care results fast (or, well faster). But it’s important to understand how and when to use them to make sure that you’re getting the most effective skin care treatment and not irritating your skin.

+ What are your best tips on how to use acids in skin care? Let us know in the comments!

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that benzoyl peroxide inactivates retinol. This is not true, however, you may want to avoid mixing benzoyl peroxide with retinol because the combination could be irritating to skin if you’re not under dermatologist supervision.
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