Scientific Skincare - Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together (12 Combinations Based on 60+ Research Studies).

Layering and mixing skincare ingredients can be overwhelming at the best of times. With thousands of different skincare products available, we’re often spoilt for choice.

We read a news article that suggests that ingredient X is the next best skincare saviour. But we’re already using the last skincare ingredient that they recommended and it has become our new holy grail product.

So will ingredient X counteract our ingredient Y? Will they interact and leave us with irritated and painful skin? Or maybe, just maybe, will they enhance each other and let us experience the glowing skin that we have only ever dreamed of?

While some skincare ingredients work against each other or irritate skin when combined, others can enhance each others effects. That’s right, there truly are some skincare ingredient power couples! Sometimes, more is better!

But how do we know which skincare ingredients work well together?

Scientific research studies are here to help us out!

Here are 12 combinations of skincare ingredients that work better together!

Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

12 Combinations Of Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together



Niacinamide & Salicylic Acid

Niacinamide, a water-soluble form of vitamin B3, and salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, work particularly well when combined together. Both have anti-aging and anti-acne effects and offer some level of UV protection [1][2].

Salicylic acid can improve the signs of premature skin aging by increasing collagen levels, improving the quality of elastic fibers, and shrinking pores for a smoother complexion [3]. Niacinamide offers similar benefits [4], as well as reducing redness and pigmentation and improving skin barrier function [2].

As salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it easily penetrates pores in order to unclog them by loosening and detaching the skin cells and debris that build up within the hair follicle [5]. This also means that salicylic acid can access sebaceous glands and reduce sebum production [6]. Niacinamide reduces sebum production by decreasing the glyceride and fatty acids of surface sebum which helps to reduce pore size and improve skin texture [2].

As you can see, niacinamide and salicylic acid offer similar benefits but work in slightly different ways. This means that combining the two can have an additive effect. This is particularly the case when it comes to reducing pore size.

Enlarged pores are caused by two main factors; increased sebum levels and reduced levels of collagen and elasticity in the skin. Both ingredients target both of these causes and research has found that topical combinations of salicylic acid and niacinamide can significantly reduce surface sebum levels and pore size after 12 weeks of use [2].

Products That Combine Salicylic Acid & Niacinamide: 

Salicylic Acid and Niacinamide are Skincare Ingredients That Work Well Together

Sunscreen & Antioxidants

As we are, hopefully, well aware, daily sunscreen use is the most effective skin anti-aging strategy available today. In fact, it can actually stop the visible signs of skin aging when used correctly [7]. This is because roughly 80-90% of all facial skin aging is caused by sun damage [8].

This skin damage occurs when free radicals produced by UV radiation alter cellular DNA and break down the collagen in the skin [9][10]. In addition, free radicals are also produced by other forms of solar radiation, including visible light and infrared radiation. While UV radiation is the most damaging form of solar radiation for the skin, it only accounts for approximately 3-7% of total solar radiation. Infrared radiation accounts for about 53% and visible light accounts for about 39-44% of total solar radiation [11].

Unfortunately, sunscreen is only able to block about 55% of the free radicals produced by UV exposure [12] and, alone, provides no protection from the free radicals produced by either infrared radiation or visible light [13].

That’s where antioxidants come in.

Antioxidants are molecules that naturally co-exist in our skin to protect it from free radical damage. They basically ‘mop-up’ the damage done by UV radiation and other environmental aging factors (smoking, pollution, etc.) by neutralizing the free radicals that are produced upon exposure to these toxins [14].

When added to sunscreen, antioxidants are able to reduce the production of free radicals by up to 78%. Similar levels of free radical protection are also offered when antioxidants are used alone [15].

For this reason, antioxidants and sunscreens make a perfect pairing and are much more effective when used together.

Sunscreens That Contain Antioxidants:

Sunscreen and Antioxidants are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together


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Vitamin C & Vitamin E (& Bonus Ferulic Acid)

Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the skin and is essential for the production of collagen [16]. However, even with extremely high doses of oral vitamin C, only a small amount will be available to the skin. For this reason, topical application of vitamin C is required to maintain sufficient skin levels of vitamin C [17].

Vitamin E is the most important lipid-soluble antioxidant in tissue and is particularly abundant in the outermost layer of the skin (the stratum corneum) where it is delivered by sebum. As the stratum corneum is the first to absorb the oxidative stress from free radicals produced by UV radiation, the levels of vitamin E in the skin are often depleted and regular topical application of vitamin E is recommended [18].

Vitamin C and vitamin E are possibly the best example of a skincare power couple as they each enhance the effects of the other. For example, vitamin C helps to regenerate vitamin E, making it more readily available to protect the skin from free radicals. Vitamin E returns the favor by increasing the action of vitamin C four-fold (4x) [19][20].

In addition, vitamin C is one of the few examples in life where three is not a crowd. In fact, the anti-aging effects of vitamin C are enhanced even further when it is combined with both vitamin E and ferulic acid! Specifically, a mix of 0.5% ferulic acid and 1% vitamin E with 15% vitamin C increases the effects of vitamin C eight-fold (8x) [19].

Products That Combine Vitamin C & Vitamin E & Ferulic Acid:

Vitamin C and Vitamin E are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Green Tea & Caffeine

Another great antioxidant pairing is green tea and caffeine. Green tea has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in multiple studies. These effects are largely down to the polyphenols (antioxidant molecules) that are naturally present in green tea. The major polyphenol present in green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) that has also been shown to have sunscreen properties [21].

Caffeine has also demonstrated antioxidant and photoprotective effects and offers additional UV radiation and free radical protection when added to sunscreens [22]. As caffeine is present in green tea, both ingredients naturally complement each other’s effects [23].

Some research suggests that caffeine enhances the antioxidant effects of green tea polyphenols and that both together may help prevent free radical production and UVB-induced skin cancer [23]. In addition, the two antioxidants in combination have demonstrated the ability to improve the appearance of acne [24].

Products That Combine Green Tea & Caffeine:

Green Tea and Caffeine are Skincare Ingredients That Work Well Together

Ceramides & Cholesterol & Fatty Acids

Our skin’s hydration generally depends on two major factors; the presence of natural moisturising factors and the structure and composition of the lipids in the stratum corneum.

The structure and composition of the lipids in the stratum corneum is often referred to as the lipid matrix and creates a barrier function via its mixture of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids. Ceramides account for about 45-50% of this mixture, cholesterol for approximately 25%, and free fatty acids for around 10-15% [25].

A number of in vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated that these lipids, particularly ceramides play a vital role in skin hydration by regulating the amount of water in and out of the skin [26][27]. When this lipid matrix is depleted, skin can become dehydrated [25] which results in rougher and duller looking skin.

However, these ingredients can be found in OTC moisturizers and, when applied to the skin, replenish the substances that the stratum corneum is lacking, thus improving skin hydration [28].

Sound simple enough, right? But, there’s a catch.

Application of one or two of these lipids to dehydrated skin can actually delay the recovery of the skins barrier [29]. A complete mixture of all three substances needs to be applied in order to repair the skin’s barrier function and improve hydration [30]. In fact, one study found that a topical cream containing ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids improved skin hydration within 30 minutes of application [31].

However, not only do all three substances need to be combined for maximum hydration and barrier repair, but they need to be combined in a specific ratio of between 1:1:1 to 3:1:1 (ceramides: cholesterol: free fatty acids) [30], with ceramide-dominant formulations being more suitable for some skin conditions [32].

Yet another example of more is more in skincare! There’s no third wheel here!

Products That Combine Ceramides & Cholesterol & Fatty Acids:

Ceramides, Cholesterol, and Fatty Acids are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together


Free Skincare Layering Guide

Centella Asiatica & Vitamin C (& Bonus Glycolic Acid)

Centella asiatica is a tropical medicinal plant native to Southeast Asia that has antioxidant, anti-aging, and wound healing properties. Its effects are thought to be largely due to various saponins contained within centella asiatica extracts [33].

A number of studies that have investigated the wound-healing benefits of centella asiatica have found that topical application of the extract increases the production of collagen [34].

Another antioxidant skincare ingredient that promotes wound-healing and boosts collagen production is vitamin C [19]. In fact, vitamin C is the best-known stimulator of collagen production [35]. For this reason, the combination of vitamin C and centella asiatica may lead to improved anti-oxidant, collagen-boosting, and wound-healing effects.

One study found that a topical combination of vitamin C and a centella asiatica extract significantly improved skin suppleness, firmness, and hydration, as well as improving the appearance of wrinkles, after 6 weeks of use [36].

Other research has found that this is an additive effect. For example, in a study that incubated human skin for 48 hours with centella asiatica, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, and their combinations, each ingredient, alone, increased the production of collagen two-fold (2x). When vitamin C alone, as well as in combination with vitamins E and A, was combined with the centella asiatica extract, collagen production increased 3-fold (3x). Basically, the addition of vitamins A, C, and E with centella asiatica didn’t increase the production of collagen anymore than when vitamin C was added to centella asiatica on its own.

Glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid that is thought to boost collagen production, was also included in this study. Glycolic acid, alone, boosted collagen production 2-fold (2x), 3-fold (3x) when combined with centella asiatica, and four-fold (4x) when combined with both vitamin C andcentella asiatica [35].

To illustrate this more clearly, here are the various ingredients and their combinations, as well as how much each ingredient/combination increased collagen production by:

  • Vitamin A = 2x
  • Vitamin C = 2x
  • Vitamin E = 2x
  • Centella Asiatica = 2x
  • Glycolic Acid = 2x
  • Centella Asiatica + Vitamin C = 3x
  • Centella Asiatica + Vitamin A + Vitamin C + Vitamin E = 3x
  • Centella Asiatica + Glycolic Acid = 3x
  • Centella Asiatica + Vitamin C + Glycolic Acid = 4x

This study is an excellent example of how various skincare ingredients can have additive effects when combined together! Hello youthful skin!

Products That Combine Centella Asiatica & Vitamin C:

Products That Combine Centella Asiatica & Vitamin C & Glycolic Acid:

Centella Asiatica and Vitamin C are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Zinc Oxide & Iron Oxide (In Sunscreens)

As mentioned earlier, sunscreen is very very important for preventing aging and improving overall skin health. But are some sunscreen ingredient combinations better than others?

Zinc oxide is a mineral (physical/inorganic) sunscreen, which means that it protects the skin from UVA and UVB radiation by reflecting and scattering light. Iron oxide is not an approved sunscreen but is often added to mineral sunscreens to reduce white cast. The addition of iron oxide to sunscreens also happens to broaden the UV protection of mineral sunscreen agents into the longer UVA and visible light spectrums. Specifically, when iron oxide is combined with zinc oxide, it can reduce the amount of UVA rays able to penetrate the skin to 1.5% [37].

Visible light, especially high energy visible (HEV) light, represents about 39-44% of total solar radiation and enters the skin in the same way that UV radiation does [38]. Like UV radiation, visible light can also lead to the production of free radicals. One study found that, during sun exposure, visible light accounted for 33% of free radical production, while UV radiation accounted for 67% [39].

Some research suggests that iron oxide can increase the overall sun protection offered by zinc oxide sunscreens by absorbing all wavelengths of visible light [40]. This is particularly relevant for individuals with hyperpigmentation and melasma as visible light can increase melanin production [41].

In one study, individuals on a hydroquinone treatment regime were provided with a standard broad-spectrum SPF50 sunscreen or a similar sunscreen that also contained iron oxide and instructed to apply it every day. While all patients experienced reductions in hyperpigmentation, those who used the iron oxide sunscreen experiences significantly greater improvements [42].

This suggests that the combination of zinc oxide and iron oxide in sunscreen is particularly beneficial for individuals with melasma.

Sunscreens That Contain Iron Oxides:

Zinc Oxide and Iron Oxide are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Glycolic Acid & Resveratrol

Another great skincare ingredient combination for hyperpigmentation and melasma is glycolic acid and resveratrol.

Resveratrol is the potent antioxidant found in grapes (and red wine!) that is known to reduce pigmentation and inflammation and has anti-aging properties [43]. It inhibits tyrosinase, the key enzyme in the production of melanin, in various ways and thus prevents the conversion of DOPA to melanin [44].

Some research suggests that glycolic acid, as well as other AHAs, also inhibit tyrosinase [45]. In addition, AHAs increase the rate of skin cell turnover which helps bring skin pigment to the surface of the skin faster where it can be shed as part of normal epidermal desquamation (skin shedding) [46]. In addition, glycolic acid is very good at penetrating skin [47].

Recently, a hybrid of glycolic acid and resveratrol, resveratryl triglycolate, has demonstrated the ability to reduce sun induced pigmentation when applied twice daily for 6-8 weeks [48]. When investigated separately, this combination of resveratrol and glycolic acid inhibited tyrosinase more effectively than glycolic acid alone. Although, resveratrol, alone, performed similarly well to the combination [47].

Products That Combine Glycolic Acid & Resveratrol:

Glycolic Acid and Resveratrol are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Retinol & Niacinamide

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that can increase the rate of skin cell turnover and renewal, reduce sun damage, boost collagen production, improve the appearance of wrinkles, reduce pigmentation, and increase skin hydration [49]. However, initially, retinol can cause irritation and dryness of the skin by damaging the skins barrier and increasing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) [50].

Niacinamide is able to stabilise the skins barrier function by reducing the amount of water lost and improving hydration [51]. Some evidence suggest that this is due to its ability to increase the levels of ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol in the stratum corneum [52]. Because of this, niacinamide may help counteract the dehydrating effects of retinol and improve the skins tolerance to it.

In one study, pre-treatment of the skin with niacinamide provided additional barrier protection and made the skin more tolerant of retinoic acid (a prescription strength version of retinol) [50]. This suggests that application of niacinamide is able to prevent the typical irritant effects often experienced upon commencing retinol treatment.

Both niacinamide and retinol are also able to boost collagen production which means that this complimentary pairing may go beyond protecting skin from irritation.

Related Reading: Niacinamide & Retinol Together = A Perfect Pair!

Products That Combine Retinol & Niacinamide:

Retinol and Niacinamide are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Glycolic Acid & Vitamin C

Although the combination of glycolic acid and vitamin C may not be suitable for all skin types, they make a powerful pairing.

We have already seen earlier how vitamin C and glycolic acid enhanced each others collagen-boosting effects when combined with centella asiatica [35]. This is because both vitamin C and glycolic acid are known to boost collagen levels in the skin and it appears that their effects may be additive.

Vitamin C and glycolic acid are also useful for treating hyperpigmentation as both are effective at inhibiting tyrosinase and decreasing melanin production [53][45]. When used together, vitamin C and glycolic acid demonstrated an ability to significantly improve hyperpigmentation, as well as reduce pore size and improve skin texture [54].

Other research has found that glycolic acid and vitamin C combinations are particularly good at treating stretch marks by increasing epidermal and papillary dermal thickness [55]. This further highlights an anti-aging benefit of vitamin C and glycolic acid combinations as epidermal and papillary dermal thicknesses both decrease with age leading skin to become more transparent [56].

Products That Combine Vitamin C & Glycolic Acid:


Glycolic Acid and Vitamin C are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

Retinol & AHAs

Another skincare ingredient combination that is often shunned due to its irritation potential is that of retinol and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). AHAs, such as glycolic and lactic acid, act as chemical exfoliants and help remove dead skin cells and loosen the top layer of skin. Hydroxy acids are particularly useful for treating acne [1]. For example, glycolic acid can significantly improve the resolution of the comedones, papules, and pustules commonly experienced with acne [57].

Retinol also helps to improve acne by increasing the rate of skin cell turnover and renewal which means that dead skin cells are shed quicker [49]. As you can imagine, the two combined may be quite irritating for skin. However, in certain formulas, the combination of glycolic acid and retinol can be well-tolerated and a complimentary and effective acne treatment.

For example, a combination of retinaldehyde and glycolic acid demonstrated a good tolerability and significant improvement in acne lesions after 1-3 months of use [58]. The same combination has also demonstrated effectiveness at preventing and healing the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) associated with acne [59].

Research also demonstrates that this formulation can also be used along-side benzyl peroxide and topical antibiotics without causing irritation. Furthermore, the retinaldehyde and glycolic acid formulation can enhance the effects of these other acne treatments [60].

This is a great example of how a number of ingredients that when combined together, in theory, should be highly irritating to the skin. However, the above research proves that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, with some formulations it does appear that more is more!

Recommended Reading: Can You Use Glycolic Acid and Retinol Together?

Products That Combine Retinol & AHAs:

Retinol and AHAs are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) & Niacinamide

N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) is an amino sugar and precursor to hyaluronic acid that inhibits tyrosinase glycosylation, thus reducing melanin production [61]. However, NAG can be unstable when used alone [62].

Research suggests that niacinamide can decrease the transfer of melanosomes from melanocytes to keratinocytes by up to 68% and interferes with the cell signalling pathways between keratinocytes and melanocytes [63]. This basically means that niacinamide prevents pigment leaking into other surrounding cells.

Because NAG and niacinamide target pigmentation in two separate ways (NAG prevents melanin production while niacinamide prevents the spread of existing melanin), they are highly likely to compliment each other when used together.

In fact, a large randomized controlled study found that the combination of niacinamide and NAG worked really well at reducing pigmentation. Specifically, 4% niacinamide combined with 2% NAG was significantly more effective at reducing pigmentation than a vehicle control formulation [64].

Furthermore, niacinamide appears to have an additive effect when combined with NAG. For example, 2% NAG, alone, reduced the appearance of facial hyperpigmentation, but this reduction was far greater when 2% NAG was combined with 4% niacinamide [61].

Related Reading: Does Niacinamide Cause Purging?

Products That Combine N-Acetyl Glucosamine & Niacinamide:

N-Acetyl Glucosamine and Niacinamide are Skincare Ingredients That Work Better Together

A Summary Of The Skincare Ingredients That Work Well Together

We have discussed 12 examples of skincare ingredient combinations where less is not more. In fact, a number of different skincare ingredients compliment and enhance the effects of others. In some instances, this may lead to increased skin irritation, but this is not always the case.

To summarise:

  • Niacinamide + Salicylic Acid = Reduced Pore Size, Reduced Sebum Production.
  • Sunscreen + Antioxidants = Increased Photoprotection.
  • Vitamin C + Vitamin E + Ferulic Acid = Increased Effect Of Vitamin C By 8x.
  • Green Tea + Caffeine = Increased Protection Against UVB-induced Skin Cancer.
  • Ceramides + Cholesterol + Free Fatty Acids = Increased Skin Hydration.
  • Zinc Oxide + Iron Oxide = Increased Photoprotection, Reduced Hyperpigmentation.
  • Centella Asiatica + Vitamin C + Glycolic Acid = Increased Collagen Production by 4x.
  • Resveratrol + Glycolic Acid = Reduced Hyperpigmentation.
  • Retinol + Niacinamide = Increased Tolerability Of Retinol.
  • Glycolic Acid + Vitamin C = Increased Collagen and Skin Thickness, Reduced Hyperpigmentation.
  • Retinol + AHAs = Improvements In Acne.
  • N-Acetyl Glucosamine + Niacinamide = Reduced Pigmentation.

In order to get the maximum benefits from our skincare ingredients, we should look for products that contain the above combinations.

Other ingredient combinations to check out:

Have you found any skincare ingredient combinations that work particularly well? Let us know in the comments section!

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  1. After reading your article which i enjoyed. I was so confused. Lol. I always thought that Retinol and AHA could NOT be used together??? I did learn alot from reading your article. Thank you. Also to know i can mix Gycolic Acid with Vitamin C. Yeah! My other concern is can i use more of the same product in a skin care routine. Ex. Gycolic toner, pure L Absorbic Acid powder mix with a snail mucin and a Vit C serum (Andalou) with a Vit C E Ferulic oil?? That does seem like alot. Lol. Can you tell i love Vit C? Thank you again. Sincerely. Barbara

  2. Happy New Year everyone!! This article was so much helpful. It helped me so much with my new skincare routine.I am 28 years old, I have acne-prone skne and it is so annoying. Thank you for those tips!! xx

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