3 Reasons You Can't Use All the Active Skincare Products at Once (Even if You Really Want To)

I’ve had to re-learn the lesson of ‘less is more’ a few times in my life.

How much is too much at all-you-can-eat food buffets. The maximum cups of coffee one can safely consume in a day. But also, with the number of skincare products I put on my face.

Why? Because when it comes to skin care, it’s easy to go overboard. And by overboard, I mean trying to fit all of the exciting skincare products like retinol and vitamin C and AHAs in one routine.

Skin often prefers the less is more approach - even more so when using products that contain active ingredients.

While too many actives may not necessarily be a bad thing, I know from being a skin therapist that the types of active products being used together and how often can be problematic for your face.

So, here's a recap of why it's not a great idea to use all the active ingredient skincare products at once, plus which active ingredients you can apply together for glowing skin.

What Are Actives in Skin Care?

The term ‘active ingredient’ gets over-hyped in the skincare world, but what does it mean? It refers to ingredients in your products that ‘actively’ target a specific concern such as ageing, pigmentation, congestion etc.

Countries around the world regulate active ingredients differently (in Australia, they're regulated by the TGA or Therapeutic Goods Administration) but here's a brief list of active ingredients commonly found in skin care:

  • Vitamin A/retinoids

  • Vitamin C

  • Niacinamide

  • Hyaluronic Acid

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

Side note - Joanna explains everything you need to know about AHAs in this YouTube video below!

Active ingredients in your skin care, like in serums and treatments, are the ones that will cause physical changes to your skin. They should also have scientific proof they do what they say they can.

Comparatively, a basic moisturiser or cleanser that doesn't contain active ingredients won’t cause physical changes to your skin, but they will help look after it.

How to Use Actives in Skin Care.

Because of the way they can change your skin, it's natural to want to use all the actives, all the time. But, alas, we only have one face.

Here are three reasons you shouldn't use too many products with active ingredients in the same skincare routine.

1. You Will Impair Your Skin Barrier.

With so many active products on the market now (and often a ‘more is more’ marketing approach by brands), overusing aggressive products is easy to do.

The result? An impaired skin barrier. Your skin barrier is what keeps the good things in and the bad out. When you impair your barrier, you may notice an increase in skin sensitivity, acne, redness and dryness, and conditions like rosacea or eczema can even worsen. It's not fun.

Overuse of active ingredients like salicylic acid, retinol, glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the most common culprits here, especially when combined with physical exfoliants. OUCH.

You can learn more about your skin barrier (and how to know if it's impaired) in this episode of the Beauty IQ Uncensored podcast below!

2. It's a Waste of Your Products (and Your Money).

The amount of product you apply matters – not only for your skin type, but for your wallet.

Applying more of active skincare products, and more often, won't get you results faster. It will impair your barrier quicker though.

3. Using the Wrong Products for Your Skin Type. 

Just because your friend - or an influencer - has seen incredible results from using a combination of active products, doesn't mean you will, too. We all have different skin types with different needs.

For example, if you have dry skin, using a vitamin C with a retinol will be overly drying. Same goes with using a retinol and a chemical exfoliant.

I generally like to be really conservative when I begin with any strong product so as not to cause adverse reactions... or waste my money. Plus, I want all the effort I put into my skincare routine to work!

And as a dermal therapist, I always recommend seeing a professional who can properly assess your skin, talk you through ingredients and provide you with information on what will be best suited to you.

Best Active Skincare Combinations.

The moral of today is: it pays to know how to play matchmaker with your actives, because some just weren’t made for each other!

So, let’s chat through some popular combos super quick. Also - a lot of serums contain multiple active ingredients, so check the label to avoid doubling up.

Can You Use Niacinamide and Retinol Together?

Can You Use Niacinamide and Retinol TogetherCan You Use Niacinamide and Retinol Together

Niacinamide (or vitamin B3) and retinol together are marriage material.

It's actually one of my favourite skincare combinations because niacinamide buffers the effects of retinol, which leads to less irritation. In fact, niacinamide generally works well with everything as it's often used to alleviate sensitive skin.

Products to try together (pick and choose):

Can You Use AHAs and Retinol Together?

Generally, retinol + AHA = avoid.

People can actually tolerate it, but as both ingredients effectively increase cell turnover, it can be too much for some. If you're a beginner, pick one ingredient, otherwise, apply on alternate nights.

Can You Use AHAs and Vitamin C Together?

can you use aha and vitamin c togethercan you use aha and vitamin c together

Vitamin C and AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid are perfect for one another.

Both can easily be layered as they’re the same pH, however, I'd apply any AHAs at night time.

Products to try together (pick and choose):

Can You Use Retinol and Vitamin C Together?

Technically, yes. But there are rules.

You can use retinol/vitamin A and vitamin C in the same routine, but apply your vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night. When combined, the pH level of vitamin C increases and the pH level of retinol decreases. So essentially, they won’t work as well when layered.

P.S. If by chance you do develop a skin reaction to a product, the best thing to do is stop using it.

Give your skin a rest and stick to a gentle cleanser/moisturiser. When your skin is feeling less irritated, you may start incorporating actives back into your routine. Capeesh?

Want more helpful skincare stories? Check out these posts from our Adore Beauty team below!