Nothing has impressed me until I tried the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Sheet Mask. It has the same hydrogel material I loved about prestige brands I’ve tried prior, which is thicker than traditional paper sheet masks, adheres better to my skin, and resists drying out so that you get more serum out of it (a hyaluronic acid-based serum, in this case).
I find that this gel-like mask really helps to seal in moisture better than others I’ve used, providing a barrier between my skin and the environment and allowing the serum to deeply penetrate. After using it, my skin is soft, smooth, and glowing — even in the dead of winter, when it’s at its most dry.
Maybe my favorite part, though, is the sheet mask’s design. It comes in two separate pieces, one for the top half of the face and one for the bottom. Speaking as someone with a small face, the two-part design helps adjust the mask to fit my face better than traditional single-piece masks. With a mask that fits, it can deliver hydration where I actually need it — not in my hairline or over my eyelids.
In addition to the sheet mask, you’re also getting a little extra serum left over in the packaging. There’s usually enough left to squeeze into a bottle, which I use on days I’m not masking. It works just as well as other hydrating serums I’ve tried, and it’s essentially an entirely new product that comes free with the purchase of the mask.
I’m not the only one who’s obsessed with the mask’s skin-quenching powers. Brand ambassador Jennifer Garner loves it so much, she has everyone in her house giving it a try. And Walmart shoppers who’ve reviewed it say that it’s among the best sheet masks they’ve tried, soothing everything from dry skin to eczema to sunburns. One reviewer said that after using the mask once, they immediately ordered 10 more. With Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Sheet Mask, available for just $3 at Walmart, you’ll never feel guilty about a weekly skincare treat again.
I feel as though physical exfoliation is one of the most satisfying skin-care practices because of the instant gratification it can provide (hello, immediately refreshed skin). Not only does exfoliation feel amazing and leave skin instantly more luminous; a good face scrub paves the way for the serums and moisturizers to follow, according to board-certified dermatologist Jeannette Graf.
“Exfoliating can help skin-care products penetrate 20 percent better,” she tells Allure. But here’s a word to the wise: As with most things, there is such thing as too much of a good thing in the case of scrubbing your face. You can avoid over-exfoliation by capping your scrub sessions to a maximum of three times per week.
Whether you need something that’s extra gentle for sensitive skin or want a scrub with a little extra oomph for perpetually clogged pores, I’ve got you — and your wallet — covered. Happy scrubbing, folks.
Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub
It’s not ideal to use a face scrub every day, according to dermatologists — so if you’re going to kick up your exfoliation, use the most gentle scrub possible to prevent damage to your skin barrier. The daily scrub from Cetaphil is packed with pH-balancing glycerin, so it hydrates while it sloughs away dead skin cells.
If you’re prone to acne, dullness, and hyperpigmentation, here’s a prime pick for you. The itty-bitty granules in Bioderma’s Exfoliating Gel physically exfoliate until they burst with salicylic and glycolic acid, which chemically exfoliate away impurities. With this formula, you’re getting twice the exfoliation in one product.
Dermatologists love the Best of Beauty-winning Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser from Neutrogena, and the scrub version is full of all the same clarifying ingredients, plus tiny microbeads that give an added boost of physical exfoliation.
No7 Radiant Results Revitalising Daily Face Polish
No7’s Daily Face Polish contains ginseng root, which, all by itself, comes with a multitude of skin benefits. According to dermatologists, ginseng contains all sorts of antioxidants and vitamins that prevent fine lines, acne, and even hyperpigmentation.
You can always count on an Aveeno product to be gentle on even the most sensitive skin types, and its Radiant Skin Brightening Daily Scrub is no exception. With antioxidant soy extract, gylcerin, and jojoba oil, this scrub exfoliates just as much as it soothes and nourishes.
Just like the treatments available at Bliss Spa locations, the Micro Magic scrub will leave you feeling totally refreshed. It’s basically a gentle, at-home version of a microdermabrasion that sloughs away dirt and oil with volcanic pumice while its aloe vera soothes and de-puffs.
If sensitive skin plus physical exfoliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, let the Ultra-Fine Scrub by La Roche-Posay change your mind. Super-fine pumice particles — suspended in a cooling gel formula — provide just the right amount of grit without feeling scratchy. Plus, this stuff leaves skin with a quenched suppleness you might expect from a water-based gel moisturizer.
This L’Oréal Paris sugar scrub is everything a sugar scrub should be — but better. The Pure-Sugar Scrub is infused with not one but three different types of sugar, suspended in a creamy mixture of coconut oil and cocoa butter. The skin-softening formula isn’t overly abrasive, yet it leaves skin visibly glowing after one use. As you probably guessed by the ingredients, the formula smells like baking batter — but just like real batter, you definitely shouldn’t eat it. That said, it does doubles as an excellent lip scrub if you’re compelled to use it near your mouth.
Oily-skinned folks, listen up. The creamy white exfoliator from Simple contains rice powder to absorb excess oil, and the gentle silica particles — a replacement for microbeads — work to manually slough off dead skin, leaving you positively glowing.
Yes To Coconut Energizing Coffee 2-in-1 Scrub & Cleanser Stick
In case you prefer toting your cleansers around in stick form, consider this portable scrub by Yes to Coconut, which makes exfoliating way easier than ever. Not to mention, Yes To’s coconut and coffee combo smells amazing.
Olay Micropolishing Cleansing Infusions Facial Cleanser with Crushed Ginger
This micro-polish cleanser from Olay reminds me of formulas that are five times its price. The tiny granules feel pleasantly sandy and break down into a creamy consistency as you cleanse, leaving skin visibly glowy post-rinse. Plus, the formula has a zingy scent that smells like summer and happy days, thanks to crushed ginger and citrus.
Fun fact: This concoction from St. Ives was born after the brand asked fans which scrub they’d like to see next on shelves. This enlivening coffee and coconut combo won. Fans of the (albeit, controversial) Apricot Scrub will love how this provides the same level of super-deep exfoliation (thanks to an infusion of crushed walnut) with the added benefits of skin-softening coconut and circulation-promoting coffee.
Citrus scents in the shower are a pick-me-up as much as they are a wake-me-up. The grapefruit extract in Yes To’s citrusy scrub is naturally high in vitamin C (so it boosts collagen production and helps reduce hyperpigmentation), as well as lycopene, which naturally aids in protecting skin from UV damage.
The beaker-like nozzle of Bioré’s Charcoal Pore Minimizer makes you feel like you’re in chemistry class every time you use this black scrub. The charcoal powder pulls out oil and pollutants like a magnet, and it all rinses away with the gel.
The super-creamy formula, which features kiwi seeds and alpha-hydroxy acids (which you can read more about here), leaves your skin smoother than ever — and yet it’s astonishingly nonabrasive. The pearlescent mint-green color is so stunning!
For some days and for some people, foundations and concealers just feel like way too much work — and way too much coverage. While there’s certainly a time and a place for a full-coverage face, there’s no denying the effortless and hydrating properties of a tinted moisturizer. But although the concept of a tinted moisturizer sounds pretty simple, there are tons of specific ingredients that make the difference between an OK tinted moisturizer and an amazing one. And by “amazing tinted moisturizer,” I really mean one that actually — well, you know… moisturizes.
So ALLURE editors asked makeup artists and cosmetic chemists to break down what they think are the best tinted moisturizers out there. If you love makeup that comes with added skincare benefits for plump, dewy, and hydrated skin, try one of these picks.
Whether you end up loving an older staple from a brand like Laura Mercier or an experimentative new take like Ilia Beauty’s pigmented serum, you’ll find your skin is in much better shape for it.
BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream
Many tinted moisturizers have powder pigments that soak up skin’s oils, zapping some of the natural moisture from your face. To fix this, BareMinerals coated its pigments in lauroyl lysine, an amino acid derived from coconuts.
“Because the pigments are cocooned, they won’t dry out your skin. Instead, the formula feels very soft and silky,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. When you mix those pigments with glycerin and squalane, you get a formula that “actively promotes hydration.” In addition to containing moisturizing ingredients, the light, cooling gel evens out skin tone and minimizes redness, which means all you’re left with is a soft, dewy glow.
Tarte’s tinted moisturizers have always been an Allure editor favorite, and its latest version is no different. The Maracuja Tinted Hydrator combines the skin-nourishing properties of maracuja oil with plumping hyaluronic acid and collagen, plus brightening turmeric, for skin that glows well after you’ve taken this off.
Squalane, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide join forces for Ilia’s Super Serum Skin Tint. With the added benefit of sun-protective SPF 40, this thick, hydrating serum offers up light but buildable coverage you can rub in quickly and easily with your fingertips.
Even though its only available in a few light shades, Allure associate beauty director Sarah Kinonen loves this BB Cream Tinted Moisturizer for its hydrating ginseng and brightening fruit extracts. For those who are extra prone to redness, you can also turn to the brand’s Best of Beauty-winning CC Red Correct.
With its pH-balancing glycerin, squalene, and sunflower seed oil, it’s clear to see why Burt’s Bees Goodness Glows has such high ratings online. What’s more: It contains antioxidant green tea extract that reduces redness, leaving behind a calm, even base for its sheer pigments.
This tinted moisturizer is free of pthalates, parabens, and 1,500 other ingredients that the cruelty-free brand has identified as potentially harmful or irritating, so you’re left with only tried-and-true elements, like glycerin and sodium hyaluronate.
“Both of these ingredients are humectants, meaning they draw moisture to the surface of the skin to keep cells hydrated,” says Wilson. The creamy formula is more pigmented than most tinted moisturizers, so it does a great job of covering imperfections. One catch: Its thick consistency makes it a little difficult to spread, so you’ll likely end up using more product than usual.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Natural Skin Perfector
Ask any beauty fan and they’ll likely tell you that Laura Mercier’s is the first tinted moisturizer they ever used — and fell in love with. With its sheer, buildable coverage and moisture-packed formula, there’s a reason this product is a cult favorite and four-time Allure Best of Beauty winner.It’s noncomedogenic, but those with acne-prone or oily skin may benefit even more from the upgraded oil-free version of the formula.
For skin that needs a hefty dose of hydration, this illuminating tinted moisturizer packs a major punch. It contains glycerin, which leaves skin feeling soft and plump while dimethicone wards off dryness throughout the day.
“Dimethicone reduces transepidermal water loss, which is when water escapes through the skin and into the atmosphere, so it works long-term to increase skin’s hydration,” explains Wilson. And thanks to the smallest, tiniest shimmery gold particles, you’re left with a natural, allover glow that will have people asking if you just got back from vacation.
Just like Clinique’s beloved Moisture Surge cream, the Sheertint Hydrator penetrates deep beneath the skin to hydrate and calm the skin — that’s thanks to its strong concentration of cucumber extract, aloe, and hyaluronic acid.
Josie Maran’s Protect + Perfect is less of a tinted moisturizer and more of a tinted sunscreen, and we’ll take all the sun protection we can get. Alongside its SPF 47, this formula is very lightly tinted with pigments in one tan shade, giving it just enough color to mask slight skin imperfections and give its wearer and warm, sun-tanned look.
L’Oréal Paris Visible Lift Luminous Serum Tinted Moisturizer
Consider L’Oréal’s Visible Lift Luminous Serum the perfect solution to skin that needs an extra boost of shimmer for radiance. Available in five warm shades, this tinted moisturizer acts more like a highlighter than your average formula, so feel free to pat a little extra on all the high points of your face.
It’s not shocking at all that a brand that Neutrogena could deliver one of the best tinted moisturizer formulas out there with ingredients like vitamins A, C, and E. On top of all those antioxidants, Healthy Skin Tinted Moisturizer also contains small pearlescent pigment that provide a glowing, dewy sheen.
Sensitive-skinned girls, Nars has got one just for you. The silky-smooth Radian Tinted Moisturizer has a formula that’s both oil-free and made without parabens or synthetic fragrances, so you won’t have to worry about irritation or clogged pores.
“This is a really great product to apply with your fingertips; it’s super sheer and easy to blend,” says makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci. “Or you can tap it on with a sponge to build subtle coverage.” Its barely-there coverage might be a little too light for those with post-breakout redness or discoloration, though, so have a concealer on hand for touch-ups.
This highly rated tinted moisturizer formula from No7 is a fan-favorite for low-effort application and comfortable light coverage. Although it contains SPF 15 for sun protection, we still recommend wearing an SPF 30 or higher underneath it, especially if you plan to go outside.
This thick and creamy skin tint from Philosophy has slightly higher coverage than other tinted moisturizer, according to Dall’Asen. But you can still apply it directly with the fingers just like you would your favorite moisturizer for effortless all-over coverage with a slightly matte finish.
Best Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin: Boscia Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer
“Less moisture in the air causes skin dryness,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “If your skin’s natural moisture barrier isn’t properly hydrated, it’s not as equipped to fight off acne-causing bacteria.” If you deal with constant blemishes, look for an oil-free, water-based lotion or gel that will moisture skin without clogging pores. This Boscia gel offers a soothing formula, rich with calming tea tree extract that will minimize breakout-induced redness.
Best Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Ultra-Calming Moisturizer SPF 15
If your skin leans on the sensitive side, Dr. Nussbaum recommends avoiding moisturizers with “irritants such as fragrances, dyes, lanolin, parabens and formaldehyde.” This drugstore staple checks off all the boxes. Aveeno’s moisturizer is light, fast-absorbing, and is formulated with skin-calming botanicals. Bonus: It also serves as a second layer of SPF protection.
Best Moisturizer for Hyperpigmentation: Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 PA+++
Whether your uneven skin tone is the result of a bad breakout or caused by sun damage, a vitamin C-infused moisturizer will help brighten dark spots while simultaneously hydrating skin. But don’t forget the sunscreen. “Moisturizers containing SPF will reduce the oxidative damage of the sun,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. That’s exactly what this Murad tube is made to do.
Best Moisturizer for Oily Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream
Fun fact: Hyaluronic acid is an all-star moisturizing ingredient, because it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. That’s what makes Neutrogena’s gel-based, HA-packed moisturizer ideal for oily skin types. Instead of a heavy cream, this lightweight water-based product pulls in moisture without clogging already congested pores.
Best Moisturizer for Combination Skin: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
The Gemini of skin types, finding the right moisturizer for combination skin can be tough because it has to jive with both oilyness and dryness. That’s where The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors comes in. The lightweight, non-greasy cream includes dermal lipids to protect the outer skin layer, hyaluronic acid to draw in moisture, and amino acids to hydrate. It’ll moisturize the right areas of the face without making oily spots shinier.
Best Moisturizer for Aging Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer
Important PSA: The sun can still cause oxidative damage in the winter, which can lead to photoaging. That said, Dr. Nussbaum suggests looking for a moisturizer that’s packed with antioxidants to counteract the harmful effects of UV/UVA rays. What else should an anti-aging moisturizer include? Retinol, along with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid and moisture-sealing ceramides. “Certain moisturizers will contain a form of retinol that increases skin cell turnover,” she says. “The shedding of the dead skin cell layers also enables increased absorption of moisturizers.” Look no futher than this Dr. Dennis Gross jar, which is formulated with both retinol and ferulic acid, a powerful antioxdant.
Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream
“Ceramides are lipids that help form the skin’s natural moisture barrier,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. “In dry, cold weather, your skin’s ability to naturally produce ceramides may be compromised, leading to dry, dull skin.” If your skin is extremely dry year-round, go with a ceramide-rich moisturizer for winter, like Dr. Jart+’s cult-favorite cream. The lipids will strengthen the skin barrier so less moisture gets out.
Best Moisturizer for All Skin Types: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Face Moisturizer
If your skin doesn’t fall into one particular category, Dr. Nussbaum is a fan of Olay’s Sculpting Cream because it’s a rich, nourishing cream that works well for balanced skin, but also targets dryness and aging. “It contains niacinamide (vitamin B3), a hard-working ingredient which regenerates surface cells and strengthens skin’s natural moisture barrier,” she says. “It also contains amino-peptides, known to boost collagen production and improve skin’s elasticity, smoothness and firmness as well as hyaluronic acid & glycerin.”
Unlike a good blush or incredible lipstick, the best setting powder isn’t made to be a look—which is why it’s an easy step to skip when you’re pressed for time or money. It’s got a bad reputation of making your face look dry and cakey, which certainly doesn’t help either.
So let’s reframe it for you: Think of setting powder as a tool (and a highly underrated one at that) that can vastly extend the life of your makeup, like the way a topcoat does for your manicure. A few dabs can lock your makeup in place, keep shine to a minimum, and soak up sweat and oil—qualities that are undeniably useful when the weather’s hellishly humid or wet. It can be just as reliable during the winter too. The latest formulations include hydrating and brightening ingredients like vitamins C and E to give your skin a smooth Instagram-filtered finish, instead of one that’s rough and wind-chapped.
From Cover FX’s talc-free formula—perfect for those with sensitive skin—to Ilia’s natural loose powder, here Glamour editors tested the top tinted and translucent options in order to share which stood above the rest.
Best Setting Powder Overall: Hourglass Veil Translucent Setting Powder
Talk to any makeup artist, and you’ll likely find this setting powder in their kit. That’s because one fine layer of this silky, hydrating formula rivals Instagram’s Subtle filter (you know, the one every influencer uses). The secret? The formula is infused with light-refracting diamond powder, which gives your skin a glisteny (but not sparkly) blurred finish. I’ve seen artists use it on a range of skin tones and never has it left a white cast. Skeptical? Read all its five-star reviews. This powder is a winner. —Lindsay Schallon, senior beauty editor
Best Drugstore Setting Powder: Maybelline Fit Me! Loose Finishing Powder
I’ve got super oily—but dehydrated—skin, so I’m constantly dealing with a complexion that somehow looks greasy and dry at the same time. This is the only drugstore powder that manages to put both issues to rest. I’ve found the trick is to press it in with a makeup puff (instead of swirling it on with a brush), which leaves behind a blurred, your-skin-but-better finish that looks flawless both in real life and photos. —L.S.
I love a flawless no-makeup makeup look, and stan by any and all products that help me get a little closer to that. The translucent color works well on my fair skin, and since I don’t use foundation, I’ve been applying it over my concealer for a little extra sparkle. It sure is pricey, but if luxe beauty is your vice, then it’s totally worth it. —Talia Abbas, commerce writer
Best Translucent Setting Powder: Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder
I’ve tried a lot of loose powders before, and they all either make my skin look blotchy, or go on white and make me look like a ghost. This does neither! It applies flawlessly and keeps my oily pores at bay, but not to the point that my skin produces more oil. Also, Jackie Aina loves it. In my opinion, there is no better endorsement than that. —Khaliha Hawkins, producer
Best Loose Setting Powder: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Setting Powder
I’ve used setting powder only a handful of times before, since it always seemed like an extra step I could easily do without. However, the Fenty Pro Filt’r Setting Powder went above and beyond. True to form, the brand came through with a wide range of skin tones to choose from (eight is a lot for this kind of product—some brands offer just two), so it blended well with my medium-tan skin and yellow undertone. Rihanna knows a thing or two about being camera ready, and it’s obvious with this product, because the pore-blurring, mattifying effect would be worthy of digital camera days of the early aughts, or even the brightest of Lumee Lights. —Erin Parker, commerce writer
Best Pressed Setting Powder: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Pressed Powder
For someone who just started dabbling with setting powders, I really enjoyed this one from Neutrogena. The shade range isn’t as robust as some other brands’, but it’s still a great starter product since the pressed powder makes it easy to control the amount you apply—especially for smaller coverage areas like under your eyes. Plus, for someone who has dry skin, it’s formulated with hydrating and brightening antioxidants like vitamin B5 and vitamins C and E. —T.A.
Best Setting Powder for Dry Skin: Tarte Shape Tape Setting Powder
My skin is Mojave Desert–dry, so setting powders aren’t something I typically gravitate toward (I’m more of a desperate-for-dewy kind of person), but Tarte’s Shape Tape Setting Powder has officially changed my makeup routine. It blurs any blemishes and sets my makeup without gathering in the cracks in my (and I can’t stress this enough) dry skin. Plus the little powder puff that it comes with is so soft and plush it’s worth the price of admission alone. —Shanna Shipin, commerce editor
Best Setting Powder for Acne-Prone Skin: Nars Light Reflecting Loose Setting Powder
I have combination skin, so it’s tricky to find a powder that can mattify any shine I may be dealing with without it clinging to dry patches. Most mattifying powders are way too cakey, and more luminous ones make me look too slick. Then I came across this Nars powder. It’s hefty enough to soak up any lurking oil, yet so finely milled that it takes a lot to overdo it and look powdery. Although it’s described as light-reflecting, there’s no visible shimmer—it just has a natural finish that makes my skin look airbrushed, which is always the goal. —Isabella Cacciatore, beauty associate
Best Setting Powder for Oily Skin: Marc Jacobs Beauty Finish-Line Perfecting Coconut Setting Powder
This is the powder to grab in summer, when the heat is at its most unbearable, or before/after a workout. It’s so lightweight—and, real talk, so good at soaking up your sweat—that you’ll forget you’re even wearing makeup. —Anna Moeslein, senior editor
Best Setting Powder for Sensitive Skin: Cover FX Perfect Setting Powder
I swear by the Cover Fx Power Play foundation and concealer, so trying the powder was a no-brainer. Unlike the foundation and concealer, the powder doesn’t have a large range of shades, so choosing between the light and dark was very time consuming. The Translucent light shade was perfect and didn’t leave a white cast on my face. It blended in well and didn’t let the oils in my skin shine through. —K.H.
Best Vegan Setting Powder: Ilia Soft Focus Finishing Powder
We all want a loose powder that will survive the humidity of the New York City subway system, right? Well, how about a powder that can combat sweat at the NYC Pride Parade? Yes, I’m serious. After testing this, I’ve concluded that either my skin is magic or this product is (and I’m pretty sure it’s the latter). Lightweight and cute, it’s dependable for any occasion. —E.P.
Best Setting Powder for Combination Skin: Milk Makeup Blur + Set Matte Loose Setting Powder
This setting powder is seriously a dream. Not only does it eliminate oil and shine, but the lightweight formula keeps my makeup looking fresh all day. It lies perfectly over my concealer and doesn’t make my skin look dry or chalky. —E.P.
Best Lightweight Setting Powder: Lawless Seal The Deal Loose Setting Powder
I’ve gone through a lot of loose powders over the years, some good, some bad. When I learned that Lawless Beauty was launching one with no talc, I knew I had to try it out. I’ve been using this for a couple weeks, and my skin is noticeably different. The best thing is that as soon as I started to use it, all my breakouts disappeared. I use the Brightening Translucent shade to set and bake my foundation, then dust on the Golden Translucent to contour. I really don’t think I’ll ever use another powder. Lawless uses mica, which is not only healthier than talc, but is the secret to making this powder so lightweight that it doesn’t cake onto your skin. —Azadeh Valanejad, contributor
Best Antiaging Setting Powder: Onomie AHA Perfecting Setting Powder
I’ve fallen in love, and the object of my affection is this powder. The featherlight formula goes onto my skin seamlessly, leaves me looking fresh and rejuvenated, and doesn’t look even remotely mask-like. What’s more: It left my face feeling baby smooth. That’s probably thanks to all of its good-for-you ingredients, like skin-softening lactic acid and collagen-boosting peptides. Oh, and let’s not forget its inclusion of vitamin C, which helps block free radicals. Into it. —Jennifer Lance, weekend writer
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.
I would say the end skincare goal for pretty much all of us is healthy, smooth, and glowy skin. We’ll pay a lot of money for products from cleansers to moisturizers to serums to get there. The only hitch is that there are many paths to “good” skin, and it all depends on your skin type. The products you use for your oily skin might not exactly work on your friend with dry skin.
One skincare item that can help across the board? A good exfoliant. Now, the specific product you choose depends on your skin’s needs, but some exfoliation every now and then will help slough off dead skin cells, reveal smooth skin, and encourage skin renewal. If you have oily, acne-prone, or combination skin, it might help to exfoliate once or twice a week. For sensitive and dry skin types, however, you might be better off limiting your usage to once a week or even less frequently. Bottom line: Everyone should keep an exfoliating product on hand, no matter their skin type.
There are different types of exfoliants, too. Mechanical ones are the scrubs, sugars, and brushes out there. Chemical exfoliants contain ingredients like alpha hydroxy (glycolic and lactic), beta hydroxy (salicylic), and polyhydroxy acids. While the word “chemical” might sound scary, these products are often much gentler on the skin than the mechanical exfoliants since some of those scrubs can be irritating or harsh.
The sheer volume of exfoliating products out there can get overwhelming and can range from high-end to budget friendly. While I love the splurge-y exfoliants that really do the work, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a quality item—there are a ton of drugstore and affordable buys.
L’Oréal’s daily cleanser is another mechanical and chemical exfoliant combo. It has micropearls and glycolic acid, which work to slough off dead skin cells and improve skin tone and texture.
CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser ($22)
CeraVe’s cleanser is a great option for those with oily, acne-prone skin. It’s formulated with salicylic acid to exfoliate and hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin D to smooth and hydrate the skin.
Burt’s Bees Refining Cleanser ($9)
If retinol irritates your skin, this cleanser might give you the same benefits without any problems. It’s formulated with bakuchiol, which is a gentler, natural alternative to retinol. The cleanser will smooth wrinkles and hydrate (thanks to vitamin E).
Clean & Clear Deep Action Exfoliating Facial Scrub ($6)
As its name suggests, this scrub really gets deep into skin to clear pores and remove dirt, oil, and makeup. When you apply it, you’ll feel a tingly, cooling sensation, which is so refreshing.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Exfoliating Astringent Toner ($24)
Formulated for acne-prone and oily skin, this toner can be used to unclog and tighten pores. It contains salicylic acid to exfoliate and castor oil to prevent any irritation or dryness.
This is one of the more unique exfoliating options on our list since it’s a serum that works to resurface skin overnight for a glowier complexion in the morning. Ingredients include five AHAs to exfoliate and hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture.
Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Cooling Gel and Exfoliating Face Scrub ($9)
This salicylic acid scrub works hard at clearing acne and clogged pores, but it won’t leave your skin irritated since the formula is a cooling gel. It’s never been more refreshing to exfoliate!
Bioderma Sebium Exfoliating Gel ($15)
Oily skin gets relief with this gel scrub. It has both mechanical and chemical exfoliants, like microbeads and glycolic and salicylic acids, to remove dead skin cells and promote cell renewal. Antioxidants, laminaria, and vitamin E work to leave the skin soothed and radiant.
Simple Smoothing Facial Scrub ($23)
Formulated with rice granules and vitamins B5 and E, this scrub works for all skin types to improve dull skin. It doesn’t contain dyes or perfumes.
Avène Gentle Exfoliating Gel ($20)
Here’s yet another mechanical and chemical combo. This exfoliating gel purifies pores and increases cell turnover thanks to exfoliating microspheres, salicylic acid, and zinc gluconate. It also contains spring water to soothe redness and inflammation.
Bioré Pore Unclogging Scrub ($6)
This scrub not only works to unclog pores and slough off dead skin cells, but it also has acne-fighting benefits, courtesy of salicylic acid. And because it clears out dirt and oil, it can prevent future breakouts.
L’Oréal Pure-Clay Face Mask ($10)
Use this face mask up to three times a week for 10 to 15 minutes to even skin texture and leave your face looking glowy. It’s formulated with clay, red algae, and volcanic rock to exfoliate and smooth the skin’s surface.
Bad breakout? Dermatologists swear by these powerful spot treatments to shrink a blemish, fast.
Sudden breakouts are incredibly frustrating. And even if you eat a healthy diet, wear makeup that won’t clog your pores, change your pillowcase regularly, and use acne-fighting skincare products (such as cleansers that contain ingredients like salicylic acid), you can still wake up to the unpleasant discovery that a pimple has pushed its way to the surface of your skin.
The good news: Topical spot treatments can quickly and effectively aid in the skin’s healing process, shrinking existing pimples and preventing acne scars from forming. But with so many products on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which zit-zapping formulas are the most effective, so here, 6 powerful acne spot treatments that dermatologists swear by.
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Gel
New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules ($15; amazon.com) Debra Jaliman, MD, recommends this drugstore find to help unclog pores and prevent future breakouts. Because it contains glycerin, it also helps with dryness.
San Francisco-based dermatologist William Kwan, MD, swears by this treatment—and its powerful ingredients. “It has a combination of glycolic acid (AHA) and salicylic acid (BHA),” he explains. “These are helpful to exfoliate the comedone and heal the acne.” Dr. Kwan also likes that this gel contains licorice extract, which helps lighten dark spots left behind by past blemishes.
Differin has become a fan favorite since it was approved by the FDA for over-the-counter purchase last year.One such fan: Bruce Katz, MD, a New York-area dermatologist. “It is prescription strength without a prescription, and works to unblock pores and treat acne better than any other OTC product,” he says.
S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, founder of the Miami Skin Institute, recommends this gel for fast-acting results. “It’s ideal for comedonal acne, which manifests as stubborn blackheads and whiteheads,” Dr. Jegasothy explains.
“It provides the right balance of benzoyl peroxide, a favorite acne treatment ingredient among dermatologists, in a base that won’t irritate the skin—or the wallet,” saysMary Gail Mercurio, MD, professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Jeanine Downie, MD, a dermatologist from Montclair, New Jersey, describes this spot treatment as being consistently effective and readily available. “It has 10% benzoyl peroxide, and most people can tolerate it well,” she says. To shrink a breakout, she recommends applying it up to twice a day for three to four days.
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.
Dermatologists consider retinol the holy grail of noninvasive wrinkle-prevention. When applied topically, this vitamin A derivative stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, which reduces the appearance of fine lines, evens out complexion, and unclogs pores.
That said, retinol does have its drawbacks. Side effects can include dryness, peeling, and skin irritation, and some people may see their acne flare up. So before you start slathering these products on your face and neck, you’ll want to keep a few tips in mind.
“To reduce irritation, start every other night with the product and move up to every night only when tolerated,” says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at the George Washington University Medical Center. “Add extra moisturizer when using, and use only a very mild, creamy cleanser to compensate for the extra dryness.” You’ll also want to guard your skin with SPF 30—retinol may make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Though you can ask your doc for a prescription-strength retinoid—which is a much stronger version of what you can buy over the counter—the derms we spoke to said drugstore and beauty counter brands do the same thing, and that it just may take longer to see results. Read on for the retinol recommendations from Dr. Tanzi and other top skin doctors.
Neutrogena Ageless Intensives Deep Wrinkle Moisture, Night
“I recommend this product to my patients all the time because Neutrogena is a reliable company and the products are easy to find in any drugstore. The ingredients are of good quality and I have never had anyone complain about any skin reaction or difficulty managing this retinol.” —Jessica KrantMD, board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate
“This is a great intro-to-retinol product because if features microencapsulated retinol complex, which delivers results without the irritation and drying.” —Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
Neocutis Nouvelle Plus Retinol Correction Intensive Anti-Aging Cream
“One of my favorite retinols utilizes only 0.6% retinol in a special microbead formulation that helps penetrate the skin deeper with less skin irritation and less flaking. As an added bonus, it contains melaplex, a hydroquinone-free skin-brightening complex, that diminishes the appearance of dark spots and evens out skin tone. We recommend our patients start applying retinol two to three times a week, just before bedtime and slowly progress to nightly as tolerated.” ––Ulysses Scarpidis, New York City plastic surgeon, Scarpidis Aesthetics
“A key goal within any retinol skin care program is maximum retinol effectiveness with minimized potential for irritation. Because of this, high potency nano-encapsulated retinol formulations such as Amarte Wonder Cream (which also contains multiple potent natural antioxidant ingredients) are ideal. They will ensure maximized retinol efficacy with a virtually non-existent potential for irritation.” ––Craig Kraffert, MD, Redding Derm
“I love recommending the HydroPeptide Anti-Wrinkle Polish & Plump Peel to clients as it’s an extremely effective over-the-counter option for brightening skin and tightening pores. Instead of retinol, which can be irritating to sensitive skin types, it actually utilizes Retinyl Palmitate—an ester of Vitamin A that’s converted to retinoic acid once absorbed by the skin. I use it weekly, on Sundays, (which is my pampering day!), to ensure my skin always has a healthy glow.” –– Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, MPhil, Vibrant Dermatology
“One of my favorite OTC retinoids is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer SPF 30. It works against fine lines during the day with a unique sunscreen and moisturizer hybrid. A glucose derivative is combined with this retinol formula to help brighten discoloration. I especially like that it contains hyaluronic acid which holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water.” ––Jeanette Jacknin M.D. and Brand Ambassador for ZSS Skincare Solutions
“When patients want a particularly gentle formulation, I like SkinMedica Retinol Complex .25. It is one of the mildest non-prescription retinols available and is in an elegant moisturizing formulation.” —Dr. Krant