In skin care, there are a few things as challenging as mixing actives. In the lack of knowledge, pairing unsuitable actives can deactivate them, rendering your products ineffective or can cause sensitivities. And this applies especially to the most potent compound of the alpha-hydroxy acids family, glycolic acid.
Due to its small molecular size, glycolic acid can penetrate the skin, producing changes at a cellular level while also sloughing off the buildup of dead cells on the skin’s surface, leading to an even tone, smooth skin, and increased radiance. Moreover, due to its ability to induce collagen and hyaluronic acid production, glycolic acid is able to reverse photoaging, making fine lines less noticeable, firming and thickening skin.
So, if maintaining your skin’s glow is top of mind, read on to learn what to pair with glycolic acid to get the benefits without the drama.
Pair glycolic acid with niacinamide for increased tolerance
Niacinamide is a gentle compound that increases moisture retention and reinforces the protective barrier due to its ability to produce more ceramides within the skin. And how glycolic acid is known to eventually trigger dryness and irritation in reactive complexions, pairing it with a barrier strengthening active, like niacinamide, is an excellent way to prevent unwanted outcomes.
So, can you use niacinamide and glycolic acid together? You can, but you shouldn’t layer them together; instead, use them alternatively. Niacinamide should be formulated at a pH of 5.0-6.0 to work effectively, while glycolic acid requires an acidic pH of 3.5 or less, and mixing them may disturb their pH, reducing effectiveness.
As such, the best way to use niacinamide and glycolic acid together is by alternating them: apply niacinamide serum at AM, and leave the glycolic acid product for PM use. This allows your skin to reinforce during the day and be ready for your glycolic acid product, be it a serum, moisturizer, or peeling in the evening. In addition to prepping your skin for glycolic acid, pairing this duo also helps reduce the look of large pores, fades dark spots, softens fine lines, and tackles acne.
Pair resveratrol with glycolic acid to improve uneven skin tone
You’re probably no stranger to resveratrol, the multi-duty antioxidant that hinders the apparition of dark spots by scavenging free radicals while inhibiting tyrosinase activity, the key enzyme in melanin (skin pigment) production. As such, resveratrol is a go-to for uneven tone, and if paired with glycolic acid, you’ve got yourself a potent treatment for fading dark spots. In addition, glycolic acid and resveratrol help with collagen production, so having them in your routine promises bouncy, firm skin.
Since both resveratrol and glycolic acid are vulnerable to light, use them in your PM regimen. To use these actives together, apply a resveratrol serum, followed by a glycolic acid moisturizer before you hit the hay.
Pair retinol with glycolic acid to ward off aging signs
Using retinol and glycolic acid together is an excellent way to tackle aging signs, including fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and dehydration. While retinol encourages cell turnover to reveal smoother, evener skin, glycolic acid exfoliates dead cell buildup and speeds up cell turnover, complementing each other. Also, both retinol and glycolic acid boost collagen production, increasing moisture retention and firming skin.
Yet, because these two have a similar site of action, there’s a chance for irritation if mixed. As such, the best way to use retinol and glycolic acid is by using them on alternative nights — yes, both glycolic acid and retinol should be applied at night. The former may make the skin photosensitive, and the latter may lead to oxidative degradation of lipids, like ceramides and cholesterol, damaging the skin and can generate free radicals when in contact with UV.
Bonus: Alternating retinol and glycolic acid helps reduce acne scarring.
Pair azelaic acid with glycolic acid to reduce breakouts
Azelaic acid is a gentle acid (not an AHA nor a BHA) used in skincare as a mild exfoliant with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits. For this reason, azelaic acid is often recommended by derms for acne. And it turns out that pairing azelaic acid with glycolic acid is an excellent way to manage acne. Actually, research points out that applying azelaic acid and glycolic acid has benefits similar to tretinoin for acne and is considered a more tolerant alternative. And if it wasn’t enough, pairing glycolic acid and azelaic acid makes a winning duo that promises to fade post-acne marks — the effect is similar to that of using a 4% hydroquinone cream.
Pair hyaluronic acid with glycolic acid for a burst of hydration
Using hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid together results in an array of skincare benefits. First of all, both have humectant benefits, meaning they attract water molecules from the environment into the skin, replenishing water levels. Since dehydration results from skin losing more water than it takes, pairing hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid is one sure way to quench your complexion. More than that, mixing these two decreases the chances of experiencing redness and irritation, often associated with glycolic acid use. As a matter of fact, a study found that using a hyaluronic acid cream following glycolic acid peel helps skin recover faster by strengthening the protective barrier and thickening skin.
Pair vitamin C with glycolic acid to fight the loss of firmness
Using vitamin C and glycolic acid together is your ticket to firm, elastic, and bright skin. Since both are great at enhancing collagen production, they clear the path to plumper, bouncier and evener skin when used in tandem. However, you shouldn’t mix the two as they can alter your skin’s pH and disrupt the barrier. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals to protect your skin against oxidative stress, you want to apply it in the morning and leave your glycolic acid product for your PM routine.
What not to pair with glycolic acid
While glycolic acid can be mixed with almost any skincare ingredient, you should steer clear from using it together with other exfoliants like salicylic acid or drying actives such as benzoyl peroxide. Nonetheless, you can use them alternatively, so you don’t risk over-exfoliating your skin.
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