Almost 1.6 million jars of the moisturizer sell each year.
If you came up with a Venn diagram of popular beauty brands and those doing good things for society, the overlap wouldn’t be huge. The number’s growing, but it’s tough to find a brand that commits to donating more than, say, one percent of profits to a cause — and when they do, it’s often from a single specialized product or sale, not their overall bottom line. This year, skincare brand First Aid Beauty effectively said screw that, and made good on its burgeoning popularity by saving 24 people from crushing student loan debt.
If you’re not familiar with the brand, you’ve been missing out on one of Amazon, Sephora, and Ulta’s perennial best-sellers. According to First Aid Beauty, more than 1,575,000 jars of the brand’s Ultra Repair Cream are sold each year, which equals one every 20 seconds — and if you take a look at the moisturizer’s reviews and its ranking as one of Amazon’s best-selling body creams, it’s easy to see why.
One Amazon shopper wrote that the cream saved their skin after a move to Colorado, where the lack of humidity left them “breaking out like a teenager.” After incorporating the Ultra Repair Cream into their routine, they say their skin is the healthiest and clearest it’s ever been. Others agree that the cream is “by far one of the best moisturizers” they’ve ever used, and more call it a “miracle cream” that soothes spots expensive creams, serums, exfoliants, and steroid creams can’t touch. It’s incredibly effective for eczema in particular, 158 reviewers say, and for allergic reactions like those from face masks.
Seeing First Aid Beauty reinvest money in its customers is the best kind of payback. This past February the brand announced its commitment to paying off $1 million of student loan debts through its FAB AID initiative, with 10 percent of proceeds from a special edition FAB AID Ultra Repair Cream added on top of that million dollar contribution. Last week, the brand announced its 24 winners, and that it’d be wiping out almost $1.3 million in student loans.
The reactions alone are enough to make your skin glow. One recipient with $91,765 paid off said, “You have no idea how much this means to me. I feel like I just lost this weight that I’ve been carrying for so long,” while another person with $17,680 paid off said the freedom is going to launch her further on her “calling” to become a nurse and advocate for the Hispanic community.
The combination of an excellent product with a fantastic cause is unbeatable — it feels like the skincare equivalent of peanut butter and chocolate. First Aid Beauty is continuing the program into 2021, and expanding eligibility to include residents of the US and Canada who have or will graduate from an undergraduate program from January 2011 to August 2021. There’s no purchase necessary to enter, but if you’re looking for a winter “miracle balm” that leaves aggravated skin silky and baby soft, on top of funding a good cause — look no further.
So, you’re new to skincare. Or, maybe you’ve decided it’s time to take your routine to the next level with more than just a simple cleanser and moisturizer. Either way, you’ve done the research, read some online reviews, and stocked up on products in your budget that will treat your main areas of concern. Now, you just need to figure out whether the ingredients in all of these creams, serums, and masks work harmoniously.
Welcome to skincare mixology 101. Second to picking formulas for your skin type and issues, it’s important that all of the products in your routine compliment one another so you can actually see results. “Mixing ingredients without proper knowledge of how these ingredients work and what other ingredients they may interact with will be not only a waste of money, but also time. It can also lead to frustration if less than expected results are seen (or if the skin becomes irritated),” says Dr. Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Skin irritation is another big factor to consider when curating the product lineup in your skincare routine. “Your skincare routine should include products that complement each other in order to avoid over-drying, over-exfoliating, or irritating the skin,” adds Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. “More is not always better.”
With the help of both dermatologists, INSTYLE editors have put together a complete guide of the dos and don’ts of mixing and matching the most popular skincare ingredients found in products.
Ah, retinol. It’s one of the most revered skincare ingredients that dermatologists loveto recommend. Also known as vitamin A, what makes retinol so great is that it promotes skin cell turnover, which can help improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin texture, dark spots, and acne. The only catch? Retinol can be extremely irritating. “Retinol is an effective anti-aging ingredient, but can exacerbate skin dryness,” explains Dr. Lortscher.
Do Mix: Retinol with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides as well as SPF.
“Make sure to moisturize; humectant ingredients like hyaluronic acid can draw and hold water molecules to the surface layers of your skin, while oil-based emollient ingredients help seal in moisture.” It’s also important to keep in mind that retinol can make you more sensitive to the sun.
“SPF should be worn religiously every day of the year, not only to prevent skin cancers, wrinkles and sun spots, but because many other ingredients we apply to our skin including retinol and retinoids can make the skin more sensitive to the sun,” says Dr. Marchbein.
Don’t Mix: Retinol with vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids.
AHA and BHA acids are exfoliating, which can dry out skin and cause further irritation if your skincare routine already includes retinol.
As for benzoyl peroxide and retinol, they cancel each other out. “It is not recommended to use benzoyl peroxide and retinoids together as they can literally cancel each other out rendering them less effective,” explains Dr. Marchbein.
“Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative free radical damage and works best in the morning,” says Dr. Marchbein. This ingredient also brightens the skin and can even lighten dark spots.
Do Mix: Vitamin C with antioxidants and SPF.
When vitamin C is used with other antioxidants like vitamin E, it can boost results and efficiency. The same goes for wearing vitamin C under sunscreen. “Vitamin C serums should always be layered under sunscreen because they compliment one another and will protect skin against UV damage,” explains Dr. Marchbein.
Don’t Mix: Vitamin C with retinol.
In contrast to vitamin C, retinol and retinoids build collagen and help repair the skin, so they’re best used overnight. Since vitamin C thrives in the daytime, it’s best to keep these ingredients separate from each other because they have such different functions.
Salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids are all effective exfoliants that can improve skin texture, tone, and in the case of SA, treat acne. That being said, all three of these acids can dehydrate and irritate skin. The bottom line: When using products with AHA or BHA acids, follow up with a hydrating product.
Do Mix: AHA/BHA acids with moisturizing ingredients and SPF.
“Moisturizing after applying AHA and BHA is extremely important so as to limit irritation. Look for ceramides, petrolatum, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin to hydrate and soothe skin,” says Dr. Marchbein. Using a product that combines multiple low-level AHA and BHA acids can be an extremely effective way to exfoliate and unclog pores.
Like retinol, AHA/BHA acids can cause sun sensitivity. While you should be wearing sunscreen every day regardless of what products are in your skincare routine, it’s extra important to not skip this step when you’re using these ingredients.
Don’t Mix: AHA/BHA acids with retinol.
“I strongly caution those also using retinoids for acne or anti-aging as the combination with various acids may cause excessive skin sensitivity, irritation, and redness. In fact, AHA and BHA should not typically be used together with retinoids on the same day,” explains Dr. Marchbein. “Also, be careful combining various acids or even physical and chemical exfoliants, as this can lead to irritation and even eczema.”
Benzoyl peroxide can be a game-changing addition to your skincare routine if you have acne-prone skin. The caveat? It’s another drying ingredient. “Because acne treatments in general can cause dryness and irritation of the skin, combining them together needs to be done with caution and every other part of the skincare routine (i.e. cleanser and moisturizers) need to be extremely gentle and ultra hydrating, respectively,” explains Dr. Marchbein.
Do Mix: Benzoyl Peroxide with gentle hydrating ingredients, SPF, and topical antibiotics.
Along with moisturizing ingredients that can buffer the dehydrating effects of benzoyl peroxide, the acne-fighting component can be used in conjunction with prescription topical treatments like clindamycin. SPF should also be worn every day.
Don’t Mix: Benzoyl peroxide with retinol, acne prescription tretinoin with caution.
As previously mentioned, benzoyl peroxide and retinol can deactivate one another when used together. While prescription acne treatments can be used with BP, tretinoin requires extra care.
Dr. Lortscher explains: “Depending upon how the product is formulated, benzoyl peroxide may inactivate tretinoin somewhat if they are mixed together in the same bottle. They do appear to work just fine in our experience, when applied to the skin one after the other — and it does not matter in which order, just rub one product in gently and completely before applying the other,” he says. “If you want to minimize any chance of interaction if you are using tretinoin, apply the tretinoin-containing formulation in the PM, and use your benzoyl peroxide in the AM, or use a wash-off benzoyl peroxide cleanser rather than layering a leave-on benzoyl peroxide.”
Otherwise known as vitamin B3, this antioxidant is an anti-inflammatory that can brighten skin and even out discoloration.
Do Mix: Niacinamide with (almost) every ingredient in your skincare routine.
“Because niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, the skin reacts very minimally to it, and side effects such as irritation are unusual,” Dr. Lortscher explains. “It should be compatible with most other skincare products, and for best results, use a leave-on product such as a moisturizer.”
Don’t Mix: Niacinamide and vitamin C.
Although they’re both antioxidants, vitamin C is one ingredient that’s not compatible with niacinamide. “Both are very common antioxidants used in a variety of skincare products, but they should not be used one right after the other,” says Dr. Marchbein. “Their potency is significantly diminished when used together, unless application is spaced by at least 10 minutes between each serum.”
If you’re going to use one skincare product, make it SPF. It’s the only way to effectively protect skin from cancer and environmental aggressors, which can lead to premature signs of aging. Given its importance, SPF can be layered over any skincare ingredient.
Do Mix: SPF can (and should) be used in any and every skincare routine.
Don’t Mix: SPF with makeup or moisturizers.
Yes, SPF can feel like an extra step in an already-extensive skincare routine, but don’t try to take shortcuts. “Don’t mix your sunscreen with your makeup or moisturizer and apply as one—sunscreen should be applied as a single layer to preserve the protection factors,” says Dr. Lortscher.
It’s a tale as old as time for anyone with sensitive skin: One of your favorite brands has come out with a new moisturizer. The ingredient list? Intriguing and full of potential benefits for your skin. The packaging? Ridiculously cute and would look great alongside the products in your medicine cabinet. So, you add it to your cart.
For sensitive skin, finding staple products for your routine that are effective, fun to use, and non-irritating can feel like an impossible feat — especially since sensitivity manifests itself in a few different ways and there are multiple causes of it.
Dr. Morgan Rabach, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in New York City, says “skin that reacts strongly to most stimui, including environmental and temperature, products, skin with a decreased barrier function, and allergic skin (like ezcema which also has a decreased barrier function),” can all be categorized as sensitive skin.
To top it off, not all skincare products are created equal. But figuring out what type of sensitive skin you have is the first step to finding a moisturizer that won’t result in instant irritation such as redness, burning, itching, which can be followed by peeling or a breakout.
“Look for a moisturizer with few ingredients and with active ones including ceramides, which help seal the outer layers of skin, and hyaluronic acid,” says Dr. Rabach.
She also recommends avoiding formulas with fragrance, preservatives, and dyes, which are all common triggers for sensitive skin. Isopropyl alcohol, exfoliants like AHA acids, retinol, and added sunscreens (especially chemical ones) can also cause irritation.
With so many potentially irritating ingredients to look out for, finding a moisturizer that isn’t going to piss off sensitive skin can feel like a full-time job.
Here are 8 super hydrating moisturizers that are gentle enough for sensitive, reactive skin.
This wildly affordable, gentle moisturizer is safe for reactive skin, and anyone who prefers a lotion over a cream. With zero fragrance, oil, and alcohol in the formula, there’s no need to stress over potential irritation or greasy residue.
Don’t underestimate this little tube, it packs a serious dose of moisture. In addition to leaving the surface of the skin soft and smooth, Kiehl’s hypoallergenic, fragrance, and alcohol-free moisturizer repairs the skin barrier to prevent future dryness and helps reduce visible redness and fine lines.
With an allergy-tested formula, Obagi’s Hydrate Facial Moisturizer is even less likely to cause irritation. Powered by hydromanil, a super nourishing plant-based ingredient, this moisturizer retains hydration while simultaneously improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation and wrinkles.
For oily, acne-prone skin that also leans on the sensitive side, opt for a lightweight oil-free moisturizer that won’t further clog your pores or leave a greasy film on your face. Shani Darden’s fragrance-free, oil-free moisturizer has a silky serum-like texture that quickly absorbs into skin with a shine-free finish.
While retinol is commonly touted as *the* holy grail of anti-aging ingredients, the skin-renewing ingredient can be too harsh for reactive skin, and those with conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. That’s where peptides, the hero ingredient of Drunk Elephant’s rich moisturizer, enter the picture. Peptides are the building blocks of proteins, such as collagen and keratin, which help keep skin firm and smooth. Plant-derived antioxidants and nutrients round out the formula to improve skin texture and tone.
Don’t want to spend a ton of money on a moisturizer that won’t set off your sensitive skin? Look no further than CeraVe’s tried-and-true cream, available at any drugstore. Formulated with hydrating hyaluronic acid and skin barrier-strengthening ceramides, it seals in moisture, which is key for preventing reactions and flareups of skin conditions such as eczema. No wonder this moisturizer has earned the National Eczema association’s seal of approval.
Most heavy-duty moisturizers are thick, rich creams that never fully absorb into skin — meet the exception. Known the “melting moisturizer,” this EltaMD formula soaks into skin and maintains hydration for up to 12 hours, plus it relieves redness and irritation. Consider it a foolproof pick for sensitive skin types that also suffer from excessive dryness.
On top of hydrating skin with a mix of nourishing and soothing colloidal oatmeal, avocado oil, and shea butter, this lightweight moisturizer leaves skin smooth like a primer, which makes it ideal for wearing under makeup.
When it comes to our skin-care routines, there’s no step perhaps more indulgent than doing a face mask. Whether you prefer a deep-cleansing clay mask or a hydrating overnight gel formula, there’s no better form of beauty T.L.C. than devoting 20 to 30 minutes to take care of your skin. “[Face masks] are designed to deliver high concentrations of active ingredients to your skin,” Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Allure. “Generally speaking, masks are used intermittently to help give your skin a boost when it needs it.”
And while our desks are continually graced by new product launches on the daily (a tough job, we know, but someone’s got to do it), we’re taking a step back to spotlight the best face masks that left our complexions brighter, dewier, less congested, and just generally glowed-up. Happy masking!
Lancer Clarifying Detox Mask with Green Tea and 3% Sulfur
Those with acne-prone and oily skin will love the Lancer Clarifying Detox Mask with Green Tea and 3% Sulfur, which is made with a blend of clay, sulfur, azelaic acid, and fruit extracts. It was even created by a dermatologist for his own clients. According to Lancer himself, “Acne and aging are triggered by the same mechanisms,” and his skin-care products take on both with a double whammy. Because of this, the mask won a 2019 AllureBest of Beauty Award.
Dr. Dennis Gross Clarifying Mask With Colloidal Sulfur
Part of Dr. Dennis Gross’s DRx Blemish Solutions collection, the Clarifying Mask With Colloidal Sulfur relies on some of least-drying acne-fighting ingredients — colloidal sulfur, bentonite clay, and kaolin clay, to be specific — to help clear up breakouts. Worn overnight, it makes a noticeable difference on the angriest blemishes without causing any additional irritation. In fact, your skin will even feel soothed come morning.
The Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Mask pumps out as a gel and soaks in as a cream, which is a cool enough reason to give it a try, but you’ll keep coming back to it for the brightening vitamin C delivered via moisturizing squalane.
There are a lot of reasons to hate pollution, but what it does to your skin is the one that hits closest to home. One way to fight back against its dulling effects: this Burt’s Bees Restoring Antioxidant Mask. Of all of its natural ingredients, green tea takes the spotlight as the antioxidant powerhouse. The formula hydrates to give skin a noticeable boost while preparing it to face another day outside.
Renée Rouleau promises, if you use the Rapid Response Detox Masque right when you sense a breakout coming on, this calming gel formula will essentially interrupt the erruption. But it’s not just for acne — Rouleau also recommends it when you’re puffy after partying and even to soothe skin after waxing.
Old-school mineral ingredients, such as calamine, zinc, and pink clay, are modernized with the VENeffect Skin Calming Mask. The 2019 AllureBest of Beauty winner can be slathered all over your face to slough away dead skin cells and banish breakouts, or you can dab it on blemishes to clear them up overnight.
Herbivore Botanicals’s Blue Tansy Resurfacing Clarity Mask
The serious tingle factor from Herbivore Botanicals’s Blue Tansy Resurfacing Clarity Mask will let you know it’s working. And thanks to the alpha and beta hydroxy acids and white willow bark, skin will be left looking and feeling smooth post-rinse and beyond.
A pore-purifying powerhouse, this 2019 Best of Beauty-winning maskemploys glycolic andsalicylic acids to gently exfoliate and suck up oil. Tiny beads in the Dr. Brandt Pores No More Vacuum Cleaner get massaged into skin, releasing iris root and rose extract to nourish skin as the mask tightens.
Just like electrolytes in a drink help rehydrate your body, the electrolytes in this formula bring your skin back to a more hydrated, supple state. You can also thank ceramides, omega fatty acids, and antioxidants for their barrier-replenishing help.
It takes a lot for a mask to call itself a not one, not two, but three-time Best of Beauty winner. Fresh’s Black Tea Instant Perfecting Mask is an all-star in our book due to its potent antioxidant-rich formula, and the fact that it leaves skin feeling “rose-petal soft.”
A whopping 25-percent alpha hydroxy acid formula packs a serious punch in Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, which quickly won over skin-care fanatics with its gentle yet effective approach to at-home exfoliation. “Ingredients such as matcha and milk thistle contain potent antioxidant and anti-pollution properties, which help to condition and soothe redness,” Shereene Idriss, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, tells Allure.
First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Ginger and Turmeric Vitamin C Jelly Mask
Like a Jello shot for your skin, The First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Ginger and Turmeric Vitamin C Jelly Mask is a cooling jelly mask (and AllureBest of Beauty 2019 pick) that hydrates and brightens skin with antioxidant-packed ingredients, like ginger, turmeric, and vitamin C. Plus, lactic acid gently exfoliates to leave your face feeling all radian, fresh, and new.
If the (skin) thirst is real, consider the Kiehl’s Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Mask a complexion oasis. The cooling gel formula not only feels incredible on skin, but if you’re a fan of the brand’s toner, consider the duo a match made in skin-care heaven.
When it comes to acne-fighting masks, the GlamGlow Supermud Clearing Treatment is a game-changer. After leaving it on for 10 minutes, you can visibly see the oil drawn out from your pores (yuck, but in a good way), and after rinsing, skin is left looking brighter than ever.
Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask with Rose Clay
The Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask with Rose Clay is adored by many a beauty editor, and it’s easy to see why: It instantly minimizes the appearance of pores and leaves your complexion looking beyond glowy — and clocks in at under $30.
Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud Purifying Black Mask
Not all mud masks are created equal. Case in point: Peter Thomas Roth’s Irish Moor Mud Purifying Black Mask doesn’t leave your complexion feeling the least bit parched, so if you’re looking for a mask that will decongest skin without drying it out, look no further.
“SK-II’s Facial Treatment Mask offers a super-luxe hydrating experience,” says Idriss, who encourages patients to save the remaining essence (which there’s a ton of in that little packet, FYI). “The power player here is pitera, a blend of vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and organic acids, that work together to stimulate cellular repair and promote more efficient skin regeneration. The results are a brightened, moisturized, and smoother skin surface.”
Breakouts don’t stand a chance against Sunday Riley’s Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask. And unlike other formulas, Saturn addresses much more than just blackheads; it also clears congested pores, hormonal acne, and emerging zits.
Don’t sleep on Laneige’s Water Sleeping Mask, which, as one Allureeditor put it, is the beauty product equivalent of skin-care commercial models rinsing their faces serenely “by dramatically splashing water on it in slow motion.”
Preparation is a must when you’re using retinol for the first time ever. I’m not one to enter any pursuit lightly, so before selecting a product for my virgin skin, I researched. In other words, I read a lot of articles about the anti-aging, acne-clearing, and collagen-stimulating rewards of this wonder ingredient. Since I’m a total newbie, I knew I needed to start with a low-percentage formula to ease my skin into the fold. That meant finding the best retinol for sensitive skin.
I’m no stranger to acids or other potentially harsh skincare ingredients—I’ve used glycolic acid as well as other AHAs and BHAs in the past—but I didn’t want to throw my skin to the proverbial wolves. After consulting some of my co-workers for product recommendations, I bought a bottle of the First Aid Beauty Retinol Serum with a 0.25% concentration of retinol formulated for beginners like myself and those with sensitive skin.
My skin went through a fairly uneventful acclimation phase in the beginning; maybe a few more pimples than normal, but nothing I wasn’t prepared for. About two and a half weeks in, I started to experience the dreaded retinol scaries. The skin near my jaw and around my mouth began peeling and the vitamin C serum I used every morning started to feel more tingly than normal. Then I did something most dermatologists would probably caution against: I added a new product to my skincare routine.
Since retinol can make your skin more photo-sensitive, I’d been religious about applying SPF every day. One fateful day I switched to a face sunscreen that had some extra L-ascorbic acid because the brightening, vitamin C-laden ingredients sounded like a nice way to treat my skin. Unfortunately, this product sent my retinol purge into overdrive. I immediately broke out in a red rash and the parts of my face that were already peeling started stinging and burning too.
Not one to panic too much, I looked for the most gentle and soothing skincare products I could find. In another probably-not-derm-recommended turn, I again changed up my routine—this time switching to super calming products with zero fragrance or other irritants that would make my face angry. Because retinol can also be drying (and my skin was already molting like a snake thanks to the expedited cell turnover), I looked to products that would provide extra moisture and hydration. About a week after my mishap, my skin was much happier and the burning, stinging sensation is firmly behind me.
These are the products nursing my skin through a retinol purge. I love them so much, I don’t think I’ll stop recommending them anytime soon.
This is the lone exception to my new fragrance-free skincare rule. I’ve trusted this Mario Badescu facial spray for years (it has a cult following for a reason) and use it to prep my skin so it can better absorb the serums and moisturizers that follow in my routine.
I started using this hydrating serum from First Aid Beauty a few months ago and don’t plan on turning back anytime soon. It’s common knowledge that retinol can be drying, so this serum provides a moisturizing boost thanks to its hyaluronic acid-rich formula.
One of the most parroted pieces of advice to retinol newbies is to use a daily sunscreen since retinol can make the skin more photo-sensitive (daily sunscreen is also just good to use in general). This clear gel formula from Supergoop! agrees with my skin, even though the inclusion of Frankincense doesn’t make it completely fragrance-free.
My fancier, more expensive night creams are on an indefinite hiatus thanks to this moisturizing night lotion from Cerave—and more than 1,500 five-star reviews on Amazon agree. The brand’s signature mix of ceramides and skin-restoring ingredients go to work at night to help my skin feel revived and fresh by morning.
Have you tried any of these products? Let me know in the comments below!