- In general, active ingredients make your skin more vulnerable to UV damage. Sunscreen is the most important step in any skincare routine, but especially when using active ingredients, never skimp on the SPF! Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- If your active routine is causing tiny red bumps, a burning sensation, or dryness, it's time to dial it back and stick to a basic, ceramide-rich skincare routine. It's most likely because you used too many active ingredients and your skin barrier is in need of repair. A compromised barrier takes about 8 weeks to repair itself, after which you can gradually reintroduce your actives into your routine at a lower frequency.
- When it comes to active ingredients, remember that less is more! Just because the instructions state that you can use the glycolic acid toner on a daily basis does not mean you should. It's your skin, your choice. Determine what works best for your skin type.
- Include a barrier-reinforcing product, such as a repairing moisturiser, ceramide ampoule, or panthenol toner, in your active routine. Also, after using acid exfoliants, give your skin a ceramide-rich treatment. This will ensure that your skin is happy and healthy.
AKA: Alpha-arbutin (avoid beta-arbutin)
Daytime or Nighttime: Both
Can use with: Vitamin C, Retinol, Niacinamide, Bakuchiol, Acids
Do not mix with: Actually arbutin pretty much goes with anything.
Need to know for sensitive skin: While arbutin is a highly compatible skincare ingredient, avoid combining it with more than one active at a time so your skin isn't overwhelmed! Better yet, try combining it with a humectant for a moisturizing boost, or propolis to counter redness.
AKA: Vegan retinol, Psoralea Corylifolia extract, phytoretinol
Daytime or Nighttime: Both
Can use with: Most actives without an issue
Do not mix wiith: Benzoyl Peroxide
Need to know for sensitive skin: Bakuchiol is great vitamin A alternative for sensitive skin, but take it slow nonetheless!
AKA: Ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, L-ascorbate
Daytime or Nighttime: Day, to take advantage of its antioxidant protection
Can use with: Bakuchiol, Arbutin, Niacinamide
Do not mix with: Acids, Retinol, Benzoyl Peroxide
Need to know for sensitive skin: Avoid concentrations higher than 5% or try Sea Buckthorn (aka Vitamin Fruit or Hippophae Rhamnoides) as a pure vitamin C substitute
AKA: Vitamin B3, Niacin
Daytime or Nighttime: Both
Can use with: Vitamin C, Retinol, Bakuchiol, Arbutin
Do not mix with: Acids
Need to know for sensitive skin: Avoid concentrations higher than 5%. Try it in combination with Zinc PCA to combat acne or redness, or with polyglutamic acid for a gentle brightening and plumping effect.
AKA: Vitamin A, Retinoids, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Linoleate
Daytime or Nighttime: Nighttime. Retinol renders skin highly sensitive to UV light.
Can use with: Niacinamide (these two make a great pair), Vitamin C (only if your skin isn't sensitive), Arbutin, Bakuchiol
Do not mix with:: Benzoyl Peroxide, Acids
Need to know for sensitive skin: Start off with a low concentration (e.g. 0.01% - 0.1%) and try it twice weekly before ramping up frequency if your skin gells with it. You can then increase the concentration.
AKA: Chemical exfoliants, chemical peels, peels.
Daytime or Nighttime: Nighttime. Acids are strong exfoliants, and render skin highly sensitive to UV light.
Can use with: Arbutin and Bakuchiol tehnically, but we'd use acids solo. They are really a standalone ingredient.
Do not mix with: Benzoyl Peroxide, Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Retinol.
Types of acids:
- AHAs (Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic): AHAs (Alpha-hydroxy-acids) are great exfoliaters. They remove dead skin from the surface, resulting in a smoother, brighter appearance. The difference between the different types of AHAs is its molecular weight. Glycolic acid is popular because it has the smallest molecular structure. Therefore it's able to better penetrate the skin. On the flip side, it's the one most likely to cause irritation - and isn't recommend for dark skin in high concentrations (>8%). Mandelic acid is the largest (great for dark skin and sensitive skin) while lactic acid falls somewhere in the middle.
- BHAs (Salicylic acid, Betaine Salicylate): Beta-hydroxy-acids also exfoliate but get deeper into the pores. They are a solid option for acne and blackheads. Again, the difference between types of BHAs lie in its strength and ability to penetrate. Saliyclic acid is the strongest, but might feel overly drying on sensitive skin. Betaine Salicylate is a gentler version.
- LHAs: Lipo-hydroxy-acids are technically a type of BHA (i.e. a BHA derivative), but are especially gentle. Like standard salicylic acid, it is oil-soluble, meaning it can cut through greasy skin and clear pores, but with even less irritation and dryness.
- PHA (gluconolactone, lactobionic acid and galactose): Poly-hydroxy-acids are basically AHA derivatives. As with LHAs vs BHAs, these "second generation AHAs" do the job of exfoliating surface skin, but at a gentler, more measured rate. If you're finding even mandelic acid too irritating, you might want to try PHAs instead.
Need to know for sensitive skin: Start off with the derivatives of AHAs or BHAs before graduating to the stronger stuff. Use the right acid for your skin goals. AHAs and their cousins are best for exfoliating, dealing with rough skin and hyperpigmentation. BHAs and their derivatives are great options for acne and blackhead prone skin. They're also effective on keratosis pilaris. Always finish off with a facial oil or a ceramide-rich serum after using AHAs. Ensure you're using a skin-matching pH cleanser (~5.5) before applying your acid, as they work best in a low pH environment.