Skincare Layering: Make Your Products Work Better

Some combinations yield a final product that’s better than each individual article on its own (think peanut butter and jelly or Affleck and Damon). The same is true for skincare products. Sure, your current regimen is doing nice things for your complexion, but what if it could work even better by adding a few extras? It might seem at first that throwing another step into your routine would be annoying—ugh, more time and money!—but doing so could actually help you get more for your money. Here, the pros share their fave skincare combos.

1Retinol + Salicylic Acid = Acne Control

YouBeauty Cosmetic Chemistry Expert Ni’Kita Wilson says that these two play well together when it comes to fighting acne. In her opinion, pore-purging salicylic acid is the best choice for getting rid of sebum and bacteria, which then paves the way for retinoic acid (all retinol products break down into this compound) to make its way into the pores and further destroy pimple-causing bacteria. She adds that employing this zit-killing mix means you’ll also get anti-aging benefits that retinol products provide, like reduction of fine lines, plumper skin, smaller pores, smoother texture and even tone. Try a salicylic acid cleanser and a retinol night treatment.

Try: Clearasil Daily Clear Refreshing Superfruit Wash, $5, Environ Intensive Retinol 1

2Retinol + Antioxidants = Less Sun Damage

Dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D., is a die-hard fan of this combo, and created Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution to reduce the two steps into one. “Ferulic acid is a plant-based antioxidant that enhances properties of other vitamins and supplies sun damage protection,” he says. “It helps the retinol penetrate further, adding radiance and promoting collagen production to plump up fine lines.” To counter the irritation that often comes with retinol use, dermatologist David Colbert, M.D., is all about antioxidant-rich essential oils. The anti-inflammatory properties from powerful oils like grapeseed and argan (found in his line’s Illumino Face Oil) help counter any negative reactions associated with retinol use, including redness, dryness, flakiness and sensitivity.

Try: Illumino Face Oil, $125StriVectin Present Perfect Antioxidant Defense Lotion, $59Bliss triple oxygen ex-‘glow’-sion, $64Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution, $85

3Glycolic Acid + Creams = Non-Pore-Clogging Moisture

Those deliciously thick and unctuous face and eye creams that totally erase all signs of dryness? Can also carry the risk of causing clogged pores and milia (teensy white cysts that usually appear on the cheeks and under eye area, at the base of a hair follicle or sweat gland). Colbert assures that there’s no need to give up your miraculous moisturizing potion, but prefacing its use with glycolic acid can solve the issue of bumpiness. He says that this ingredient helps to slough off those dead skin cells currently just hanging around waiting to clog up your innocent pores. Bonus: That chemical exfoliation also makes your other products work even better, since it sweeps away all the stuff that acts as a barrier and hinders ingredients from penetrating the skin. Wilson suggests using a glycolic acid cleanser to prep, followed by whatever moisturizing goodies you choose.

Try: Glytone Mini Peel Gel, $57Clairvoyant Beauty Rose Glycolic Mask, $23Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 3% Facial Wash, $32

4Vitamin C + Sunscreen (And Just About Everything) = Fewer Brown Spots

Oh vitamin C, you big show-off. Skin experts love you because you can do oh, you know, everything. Worried about sun damage? Vitamin C’s antioxidant makeup helps up the efficacy of sunscreen. Because it can help block tyrosinase (the stuff that’s critical in the formation of melanin), C helps fade hyperpigmentation and acne scars and brightens overall skin tone. Plus, it helps promote collagen production, reducing the appearance of lines and making skin look all plump and juicy and young. Yep, that about covers all your complexion issues. Get your vitamin C fix the way Wilson does, with Philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder, a powder that you can add to any product you already use. The only downside to this big gun—there had to be one, sorry—is that it can cause dryness. Colbert likes to counter this with his Heal & Soothe Night cream, made with moisturizing shea nut butter; he says it also helps reduce the chance that the vitamin C will evaporate, so it’s retained in the skin and remains effective.

Try: Lumene Vitamin C+ Dry Skin Comfort Radiance Cocktail, $18Philosophy Turbo Booster C Powder, $36Alchimie Forever Daily Defense Cream SPF 23, $69

5Toners + Anti-Aging Products = Firmer Skin

Toner may seem like an unnecessary step and an added expense, but all are not created equal. Some are little more than pricey yet refreshing water sprays, but others are actually worth it, according to Wilson, especially those made with these tongue-twisting ingredients: dimethyl isosorbide and ethoxy diglycol. She says these bad boys are known to help drive ingredients into the skin, so using them before other products will help active ingredients penetrate better. We love the influx of Asian “softening waters” that you press into your skin right after washing that have impressive skin-plumping ingredients in them and help everything after penetrate deeper into the skin.

Try: Hada Labo Tokyo Replenishing Hydrator, $18Kinerase C8 Peptide Deep Wrinkle Treatment, $130Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Brightening Water, $60SK II Facial Treatment Essence, $155