How to Layer: Acid + Active Combinations That Pack A Punch
Curious about our topical acids, but not so sure how to incorporate them into your skincare routine? We hear you. Our newest acids are power-packed with ingredients that target serious concerns, and can be layered with other actives for maximum benefits. Read on to learn about some of our favorite combinations.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT…
OVERALL CLINICAL DATA ON SPECIFIC INGREDIENT(S) & HOW THEY FUNCTION:
Acids can easily be incorporated into any skincare regimen, working for all skin types and skin concerns. Many skincare actives and acids compliment each other, working on different biological mechanisms to treat similar skin concerns, with synergistic results. This means addressing your skin concerns in a more comprehensive way and combining products that can enhance the efficacy of each other.
Acid layering combinations that pack a punch:
Azelaic Acid + Niacinamide:
Layering azelaic acid and niacinamide can improve skin congestion, inflammatory congestion, and fade post-acne marks for even the most sensitive skin. Azelaic acid is an anti-keratinizing agent that prevents the buildup of dead skin cells, which can cause congestion. It also reduces free fatty acid production, part of the pathogenesis of acne that also causes skin irritation. Due to its high molecular weight, azelaic acid is a more gentle exfoliant and actually reduces skin sensitivity, by reducing proinflammatory cytokines. Azelaic acid provides comedolytic and antimicrobial benefits, by addressing blemishes while minimizing impact on skin’s natural microflora.1 As a gentle exfoliant and tyrosinase inhibitor, it improves post-acne marks and scars. Like azelaic acid, niacinamide reduces fatty acid production and inhibits proinflammatory cytokines. It also reduces melanosome transfer, addressing a different mechanism in melanogenesis to further brighten the skin. When used together, azelaic acid and niacinamide can minimize and prevent skin congestion, reduce redness, and fade post-acne marks.
Polyhydroxy Acids + Retinol:
This duo can address photoaging and fine lines, working both within the skin and on the surface to smooth and firm. One clinical study noted significant skin smoothing and plumping benefits when combining PHA and the retinoid, retinyl acetate, while another study showed great skin tolerability of PHA and retinoic acid for treating acne.2 Retinol works from within, boosting collagen production, increasing epidermal and dermal thickness, improving skin elasticity, and speeding up cell renewal. Polyhydroxy acids have a large molecular weight and work on the surface of the skin, acting as humectants, antioxidants, and gentle exfoliants. Their antioxidant properties help prevent oxidative damage from UV exposure and fight glycation, sugar-induced sallowness and skin sagging. Polyhydroxy acids plump the skin and can offset the dryness caused by retinol while enhancing the therapeutic benefits of retinol. Pairing PHAs with retinol products puts you on the road to firmer, smoother, and more radiant skin.
Mandelic Acid + Vitamin C:
Pairing mandelic acid with vitamin C evens skin tone and improves skin texture and elasticity. The mechanisms of mandelic acid are not all known, but it strengthens and supports collagen production, inhibits tyrosinase to prevent hyperpigmentation, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that this acid is great for those with dry skin. With its large molecule weight, it more gently exfoliates for even skin texture. Like mandelic acid, vitamin C is a tyrosinase inhibitor and effectively brightens skin, fading age spots and uneven tone. It is also vital for collagen production, smoothing fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that fights oxidative damage from environmental stressors that lead to sagging, wrinkling, redness, inflammation, and pigmentation of skin. Layering mandelic acid with vitamin C can reduce discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles, and improve skin elasticity.
Tranexamic Acid + Alpha Arbutin:
Together tranexamic acid and alpha arbutin are the perfect team to address melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and overall brighten the skin. Tranexamic acid is less of an exfoliating acid and more of a skin brightener, acting as both a tyrosinase inhibitor and plasmin inhibitor. Throw in kojic acid to further address uneven skin tone and discoloration by chelating copper ions necessary for tyrosinase to function. Like tranexamic acid, alpha arbutin is a tyrosinase inhibitor, but it also slows melanosome maturation (the organelles that synthesize and store melanin or pigment). Alpha arbutin also addresses glycation, sugar-induced skin sallowness and loss of elasticity. Pairing tranexamic acid with alpha arbutin targets more than four different aspects of melanogenesis, fading the most stubborn discoloration caused by inflammation, acne, environmental stressors, melasma, and UV exposure.
Mandelic Acid + Salicylic Acid:
For the experienced skincare acid connoisseur, this treatment-intensive duo can address stubborn congestion and hyperpigmentation. A few studies explored this combination in the treatment of acne, post-acne scarring, and melasma.3,4 A combination of 20% salicylic acid + 10% mandelic acid (SM) outperformed 35% glycolic acid alone when treating these specific skin concerns. The combination SM was more effective and faster acting when improving acne, melasma, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) in darker skin tones while also having better skin tolerability. Some research shows mandelic acid can increase sebum production, so pairing with salicylic acid may offset this, benefiting those with combination skin. Mandelic acid is a large AHA with slower penetration and exfoliation suited for sensitive skin while the lipophilicity of salicylic acid provides comedolytic and anti-inflammatory properties. Layering mandelic acid and salicylic acid can brighten skin and reduce skin congestion and inflammatory congestion, for all skin types.
If you are new to acids and nervous about jumping in, there are a few ways to prevent irritation and over-exfoliation. Start by using an acid 2 times a week and work your way up to daily use, once you know that your skin can handle it. Select your acid based on the molecular size of the acid - the smaller the molecular size, the greater the penetration into the skin and the more potential for irritation. Cut back on physical exfoliants or face scrubs. Incorporate hydrating lipids, ceramides, and humectants in your routine to reduce dryness, flaking, or redness.
Always remember to first patch test an acid, then slowly build up tolerance. Overexfoliation is counterproductive to your skin goals, resulting in erythema, overproduction of sebum, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and irritated skin. There isn’t a right or wrong to layering: it’s about selecting products that address your skin concerns and learning what your skin can tolerate. Experiment and play, but also listen to your skin to find what works best for you.
Lab Journals are intended to help educate on specific ingredients and skin care topics. Our articles are written to be informative and informational.
Please note any Naturium products with referenced ingredients are formulated for Cosmetic Use Only and NOT intended as replacements for physician pharmaceutical product recommendations.
- 3Garg VK, Sinha S, Sarkar R. Glycolic acid peels versus salicylic-mandelic acid peels in active acne vulgaris and post-acne scarring and hyperpigmentation: a comparative study. Dermatol Surg. 2009;35:59–65.