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Today we're talking skincare ingredients that really compliment each other. As I've discussed in the past: I'm not a big fan of throwing five different actives on your face in a single routine, so this is really more about ingredients that work together and are still going to be nice and gentle. Let's dive in...
Peptides are a huge category of ingredients and individual peptides can have various properties. Broadly, they plump and hydrate the skin and can have well-ageing benefits by preserving the collagen that gives your skin that fullness and bounce, or potentially even boosting up collagen production. They actually don't pair that well with most active skincare ingredients, as they're quite alkaline (particularly copper peptides), whereas your pure-form Vitamin C and obviously your acids are acidic. Retinoids hover around a neutral pH so could probably vibe with peptides. As they have a reparative property to them, I recommend using them alongside ceramides, which are a fundamental component of your skin's natural barrier. They're great for keeping your skin happy and healthy plus have that reparative element to them (if they're paired with fatty acids and cholesterol, then even better!) Plus, your skin's natural ceramide stores deplete over time, so this makes a great well-ageing duo that's not irritating. If you want to give your skin a night off from the heavy actives to focus on barrier support then this pairing will still allow you to reap some amazing rewards.
Individually, I recommend checking out the Hylamide SubQ Skin* | £26 | (sadly Deciem just announced this brand will be discontinued, so get it while you can!) alongside the Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore* | £135. The former contains several peptides, hyaluronic acid to draw water into the skin and vitamin and mineral rich fermented ingredients. The latter is formulated with the golden ratio of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids, mimicking the natural balance found within your skin. It's a surprisingly light but deeply replenishing formula. For your 'two birds, one stone' option: try the Kate Somerville DeliKate Recovery Cream* | £69 | full review. This is a cermaide-rich barrier repair cream formulated with soothing peptides.
The next combo I recommend is using centella asiatica (or cica) alongside your BHA salicylic acid. Salicylic acid (2% is the golden concentration) is your pore-penetrating chemical exfoliant that's great for scarring, blemishes and acne-prone skin more broadly. However it's a pretty strong ingredient, so a soothing, calming extract like cica is fantastic to use alongside it as a bit of a counterbalance. I just pulls everything back so your skin stays happy.
What feels quite intuitive to me with this combo is that if you're using a BHA toner, you can follow that up with a cica serum or ampoule just to keep your skin barrier happy after using something quite intense. I actually love the Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner | £27 | full review | because it is more on the gentle side and has some nice soothing added extras, but it's still at a low pH so once it's sat on your skin, it's good to bring things back with a neutral pH follow-up that has a calming benefit. I recommend the Beplain Cicaful Ampoule* | £19.50 | full review. It's soothing and hydrating, making it the perfect partner for a stronger acid. If you'd like to combine the two in one easy step: try the Axis-Y Spot the Difference Blemish Treatment* | $16. This is a great non-drying spot treatment that brings together salicylic acid (and willow bark) with cica for a formula that's non-irritating but works!
There's a lot of misinformation buzzing around about this ingredient pairing, based on a single misinterpreted study from ages ago. In reality: all you need to be mindful of is irritation, because these are two active ingredients (hence the asterisk). I wouldn't recommend pairing a strong 10% niacinamide with a 15-20% pure-form ascorbic acid. Instead, if you want to try this pairing, go for Vitamin C derivatives alongside niacinamide in barrier support products or ones that you know are formulated at a 5% concentration or less. Niacinamide is you multi-tasking must-have: it can help regulate oil production in the skin, prevent the spread of hyperpigmentation and actually boost up the skin barrier by increasing ceramide production. Vitamin C is a great product for helping with discolouration, it has an antioxidant benefit (protecting the skin from free radical damage, and to elaborate: niacinamide can also do this) and in its pure form, it can also boost collagen production in the skin. Overall they're a powerful well-ageing combination and a dream team in terms of tacking uneven skin tone.
If I were to layer the two in separate products, I'd go for a gentle niacinamide product like the Dr Dennis Gross B3Adaptive Superfoods Stress Rescue Super Serum* | £75 | full review | alongside a gentle blend of Vitamin C derivatives like the Youth to the People Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum* | £59 | full review. The Dr Dennis Gross formula is soothing, packed full of antioxidants and a gentle dose of niacinamide that's not going to be too much for the skin. The Youth to the People serum is hydrating, formulated with three Vitamin C derivatives and other antioxidants. Of course neither irritate my skin individually but together they're a gentle yet effective line of defence against skin damage and in terms of getting that even, glowing complexion.
I have two formulas that also combine gentle concentrations of niacinamide with Vitamin C derivatives. They take the guesswork out of deciding which Vitamin C serums and which niacinamide products can be layered together. The Summer Fridays CC Me Serum | £60 | full review | and the Cipher C-Shield Refining Antioxidant Serum* | £95 | full review | are both Vitamin C focused products that utilise derivatives and include niacinamide as an added booster.
This is kind of a no-brainer in a lot of senses. Antioxidants protect your skin from free radical damage, sunscreen filters protect your skin from UV rays: they're both perfect for your morning routine and are actually better together. Studies show that antioxidants and sunscreen filters can actually boost one another's efficacy. It's worth noting that whilst I generally advocate blending together the ingredients you want in a single product, this is actually one area where layering might be the better route. Simply because the studies done on this combination were done by applying an antioxidant then a sunscreen over it.
I personally really enjoy a well-researched duo from Skinceuticals. The Skinceuticals C E Ferulic* | £145 | is pretty much the gold standard in stabilised pure-form ascorbic acid that doesn't burn your face off! I'm currently working on a post that will walk you through cheaper alternatives to this, as I know it's not exactly affordable... There's also the Skinceuticals Ultra UV Facial Defence Sunscreen SPF 50+* | £41 | which is formulated with broad-spectrum chemical and mineral sunscreen filters to offer a high level of protection in a lightweight lotion.
If you'd still like to try a combination of the two and prefer fewer steps in your skincare routine, I still have recommendations! The Evy Daily Defence Face Mousse SPF 50* | £27 | is a seriously high-tech formula. As the name suggests, it comes out as a mousse but melts into a lotion with no white cast despite giving incredible UVA, UVB and visible light coverage. Plus there's Vitamin C and Vitamin E in here for your antioxidant boost. The Niod Survival 30* | £27 | is a great everyday option with all of the advanced antioxidant goodness included in the Survival 0 serum I reviewed here plus a broad spectrum SPF 30 protection.
What are your favourite skincare ingredient combinations?