16 Skin-Care Ingredient Duos That Work Better Together

Just like us, sometimes our skin-care ingredients work better in pairs. The symbiotic relationship between these dynamic duos allows them to work even better together than they would on their own. “As a dermatologist, I frequently recommend combining specific skin-care ingredients to maximize their benefits and address a variety of skin concerns,” says New York dermatologist Elaine Kung, MD. “These synergistic, strategic pairings can create a more potent and well-rounded approach to achieving your desired results.”

Vitamin C + Vitamin E

These two antioxidants work in tandem to promote a healthier complexion. “Vitamin C helps brighten skin and promote collagen, and vitamin E helps prevent damage from free radicals,” Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD says. This combination was largely popularized by SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic serum ($182), notes Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias, who explains that although vitamin C has many benefits, it has difficulty being absorbed by the skin. The pair is “more stable in combination,” adds Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD. Combining vitamin C with other antioxidants enhances its delivery to the skin, leading to better results, and vitamin E also helps prevent the oxidation of vitamin C.

Vitamins C + E recommendations: SkinMedica Vitamin C + E Complex ($106), Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster ($55), Maelove Glow Maker Vitamin C Serum ($33)

vitamin c and e serums

Saliclyic Acid + Niacinamide

According to Dr. Elias, niacinamide pairs nicely with almost anything in your skin-care regimen. “Niacinamide boasts soothing properties that can help calm any irritation caused by betahydroxy acids (like salicylic acid), which are particularly effective for minimizing breakouts,” making this combination ideal for those with acne-prone skin who struggle with irritation from traditional acne treatments.

Davie, FL dermatologist Mariana Blyumin-Karasik, MD says salicylic acid and niacinamide specifically have “a winning synergy for breakouts and blemish-prone skin.” Salicylic acid is a betahydroxy acid derived from willow bark that helps unclog pores. However, Dr. Blyumin-Karasik notes that because it has an acidic pH, it can be a bit drying, and pH-neutral niacinamide is the perfect ingredient to balance it out. “Both of these ingredients work well to reduce oil production and inflammation in the skin, and have moderate antibacterial properties and brightening effects,” she adds. “Hence, clear skin tango is achieved with the help of this duo.”

Salicylic acid recommendations: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum ($40) & The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution ($7)

Niacinamide recommendations: Dieux Deliverance Antioxidant & Niacinamide Serum for Calm & Even Skin ($69) & Dr. Sturm The Better B Niacinamide Serum ($60)

salicylic acid and niacinamide serums

Hyaluronic Acid + Ceramides

Hyaluronic acid and ceramides are a match made in hydration heaven. Ceramides help protect the skin barrier and retain moisture levels, while hyaluronic acid helps hydrate the skin directly by attracting water, Dr. Papantoniou says. “These ingredients blend well together because they’re cousins of various skin hydrators, ranging from lightweight water-soluble hyaluronic acid to a moderate thickness, oil-based emollient such as ceramides,” explains Dr. Blyumin-Karasik.

Hyaluronic acid + ceramides recommendations: CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum ($26), Paula’s Choice CALM Repairing Serum ($44), VANICREAM Daily Facial Moisturizer ($19)

hyaluronic acid and ceramide serums

Glycerin + Hyaluronic Acid

A molecule that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water, hyaluronic acid “hydrates skin and can penetrate its superficial layers to smooth the appearance of lines,” says Dr. Papantoniou. Glycerin is on double duty, helping to attract water to hydrate the skin and then retain the moisture. “Together, these ingredients slow down water evaporation and promote skin water retention and the gradual shedding of dead skin cells on the surface,” explains Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. “Overall, this leads to plumper and smoother-looking skin.”

Glycerin + hyaluronic acid recommendations: Olay Hyaluronic + Peptide 24 Serum ($30), Summer Fridays Dream Oasis Deep Hydration Serum ($44), Tatcha The Dewy Serum ($89)

glycerin and hyaluronic acid serums

Retinoids + Benzoyl Peroxide

Retinoids have seemingly endless benefits, including reducing wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. One of their most beloved perks is their ability to fight acne, and when paired with benzoyl peroxide, the duo doubles down on breakouts. Retinoids
exfoliate the skin and minimize oil production, which can help reduce acne flare-ups. “Benzoyl peroxide helps reduce bacterial growth, and when paired with retinoids, this works well for acne.” However, Dr. Elias warns against mixing these two ingredients on your own, because “they can cancel each other out and lead to zero efficacy. That being said, there are now some stable prescription products that combine a retinoid and benzoyl peroxide.” If you’re interested in using one of these products “to supercharge your acne treatment,” Dr. Elias advises talking to a board-certified dermatologist.

According to cosmetic chemists Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu, there’s actually quite a bit of data showing how the combination of adapalene, a topical retinoid, and benzoyl peroxide leads to better benefits in tackling acne breakouts and preventing acne scarring versus using just one of the ingredients on its own.

Retinoids + benzoyl peroxide recommendations: Twyneo & Epiduo

Glycolic Acid + Retinoids

Retinoids are already highly efficacious on their own, but glycolic acid can be a welcome boost for the active ingredient. “Glycolic acid helps exfoliate, and the retinoids help promote healthy skin maturation and exfoliation, reduce oil production, and boost collagen production,” says Dr. Papantoniou. “Together, the two potentiate each other, further helping to fade discoloration and the appearance of fine lines.” But, because both ingredients can be irritating, it’s important to ease in. Avoid using glycolic acid and retinol at the exact same time, and rather incorporate them once a week each, slowly working your way up to alternating them nightly if your skin can tolerate it.

Glycolic acid recommendations: SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight ($90) & The INKEY List Glycolic Acid Toner ($14)

Retinoid recommendations: SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream ($135) & Altreno

glycolic acid and retinoids

Tiger Grass + Aloe Vera

Tiger grass goes by many names, including cica and gotu kola. Whatever you call it, it’s well-known for color correcting and
reducing inflammation, making it great for those with sensitive, irritated skin, including rosacea or sunburn. Pairing tiger grass with aloe vera just makes sense, as they have similar benefits. Dr. Blyumin-Karasik says, “Both botanicals have incredible anti-inflammatory and skin barrier–repair properties, which makes them essential for calming and healing reactive or irritated skin.”

Tiger grass + aloe vera recommendations: Herbivore Green Magic ($48) & ELEMIS Superfood Cica Calm Hydration Juice ($54)

tiger grass and aloe vera serums

Niacinamide + Retinoids

Retinol can be irritating, especially for beginners or those with sensitive skin, so pairing it with any product that might help combat unwanted side effects is ideal. Fu and Lu say niacinamide is up to the task of reducing the intensity of irritation that can come with using retinol. Meanwhile, niacinamide doubles down on the benefits of retinol. “Niacinamide can also work to brighten, even skin tone from a different biological pathway than retinol. Another solid pairing!”

Niacinamide + retinoid recommendations: La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum ($45), Youth To The People Retinal + Niacinamide Youth Serum ($72), L’Oréal Revitalift Pressed Night Moisturizer with Retinol ($40)

niacinamide and retinoids

Vitamin C + Sunscreen

Sunscreen is key to keep skin protected daily and vitamin C is crucial to help prevent and reverse any damage that does break through, so why not use both? Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson says this pair works “very well together because together they provide more comprehensive protection against damaging UV rays as well as free radicals.” You can find these ingredients combined in his brand’s BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner SPF 50 ($85).

Vitamin C + sunscreen recommendations: Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($69), SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 ($60), Shiseido Urban Environment Vita-Clear SPF 42 Face Sunscreen with Vitamin C ($38)

vitamin c sunscreens

Niacinamide and Ceramides

This skin-soothing duo is here to put out any fires. “Niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier, while ceramides are natural lipids that help retain moisture and protect sensitive skin from environmental irritants,” says Dr. Kung. “Together, they create a protective shield, mitigating sensitivity and promoting overall skin health.”

Niacinamide + ceramides recommendations: Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid + Collagen + Niacinamide Activating Serum ($69), CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM ($20), Nécessaire The Body Cream ($48)

niacinamide and ceramides

Ascorbic acid + Tiger Grass

This pairing of ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C, and tiger grass has been pinpointed as a duo that promotes some serious results. According to the chemists, “This pairing was found to have some great wrinkle reduction benefits even at the lower concentration of 5 percent ascorbic acid.”

Ascorbic acid recommendations: Vichy LiftActiv Brightening and Anti-Aging Vitamin C Serum ($35) & Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Acid Firming Serum ($115)

Tiger grass recommendations: Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Sensitive Skin Serum for Redness and Barrier Repair ($54) & Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream ($46)

ascorbic acid and tiger grass

Retinol + Hyaluronic Acid

“While retinol is a gold standard for stimulating collagen production and reducing wrinkles, it can sometimes lead to dryness,” notes Dr. Kung. Introducing hyaluronic acid, a humectant, helps draw moisture and plump skin to reduce fine lines and wrinkles while also making retinol less irritating, she explains.

Retinol + hyaluronic acid recommendations: ROC Derm Correxion Fill + Treat Serum ($39), Paula’s Choice RESIST Intensive Repair Cream ($38), Elizabeth Arden Retinol + HPR Ceramide Rapid Skin-Renewing Water Cream ($92)

retinol and hyaluronic acid

Peptides + Retinoids

Dr. Kung says peptides and retinol are “a dynamic duo for firmer and younger-appearing skin, and who doesn’t want that? In this combination, “the retinol works on a cellular level to boost collagen production, while peptides are the building blocks for collagen,” she explains.

Peptides + retinoid recommendations: Allies of Skin Retinal & Peptides Repair Night Cream ($121), iNNBEAUTY PROJECT Retinol Remix ($48), Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum ($65)

peptides and retinol

Tiger Grass + Hyaluronic Acid

This pair is perfect for those with dry, sensitive skin. On its own, tiger grass has calming and healing properties, ideal for soothing irritation on sensitive skin, says Dr. Kung. Adding hyaluronic acid to the mix “provides much-needed hydration, further promoting a healthy and comfortable complexion.”

Tiger grass recommendations: Laneige Cica Sleeping Mask ($34) & Mango People Juicy Glow Prep & Hydrate Balm Stick ($30)

Hyaluronic acid recommendations: Alastin Skincare Hyaluronic Acid Immerse Serum ($118) & Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum ($68)

tiger grass and hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic Acid + PolyGlutamic Acid

This duo is super hydrating. Hyaluronic acid has a stellar reputation, but if you’re unfamiliar with PolyGlutamic Acid it’s worth noting it can hold up to 4000 times its weight in water. Both ingredients are humectants that attract and bind water to the skin, says Robinson. An expert-mixed formula of these two and many more amazing ingredients can be found in the new BeautyStat Peptide Wrinkle Relaxing Moisturizer ($72).

Hyaluronic acid recommendations: Eminence Strawberry Rhubarb Hyaluronic Serum ($55) & Caudalie Vinosource-Hydra S.O.S. Serum ($43)

PolyGlutamic acid recommendations: Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Radiance Renewal Night Cream ($58) & The INKEY List Polyglutamic Acid Serum ($15)

hyaluronic acid and polyglutamic acid

Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid

We love the brightening, free-radical fighting vitamin C. By keeping your skin hydrated, with something like hyaluronic acid, you’ll have “a more optimal environment for vitamin C to work its magic, resulting in a brighter and more even complexion,” says Dr. Kung.

Vitamin C + hyaluronic acid recommendations: iS Clinical Super Serum Advance Plus ($158), Dermalogica Biolumin-C Vitamin C Gel Moisturizer ($69), PCA Skin C-Quench Antioxidant Serum ($130)

vitamin c and hyaluronic acid

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