Your skincare routine is a fine balance of juicy ingredients – each one serving a different purpose to give rise to the glowing, plump skin you desire. In a bid to optimise it, the latest trend is to combine potent ingredients that complement each other for a certain skin concern to achieve ‘cosmeceutical’ effects AKA top-notch, almost pharmaceutical benefits.
A dance of synergy really – in a custom, skincare ‘cocktail’ patted onto your face.
“Skincare cocktailing is combining one or more ingredients in the AM and PM skin care routine so as to best benefit the skin,” says Dr Shireen Hussain, dermatologist, and physician at Dubai-based Aesthetica clinic. Be clear, this isn’t mixing the products on the palm of your hand (that’s a smoothie and we’ve explored that in detail here) but just choosing different ingredients to layer in the same routine.
So, if you’re looking to address a specific skin issue at-home – here’s what to do:
Before we start, these are the basic rules for cocktailing:
“Always layer from thinnest to thickest,” says Dr Hussain. The right order is toner, serum, moisturiser, SPF.
2. Balancing with soothing
Whether you’re a newbie or veteran, skincare, you will find, is all about balance (ask anyone who’s plunged into applying 2 per cent retinol with no moisturiser or sunscreen or done an overly enthusiastic cleansing facial with three steps of exfoliation, only to wake up to angry skin).
Any treatment or stripping ingredients should be paired with a healthy dose of soothing gels and moisturisers. Dr Rutsnei Schmitz, M.D specialist dermatologist at Abu Dhabi-based Amarillys Clinic and Zieda Clinic says, “We don’t want the skin to be excessively dry and excessively oily as well.”
Water based serums, essences, and gels with hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid can be used prior formulations with more efficacious ingredients to help prepare the skin for application of these formulations.
“Water based serums, essences, and gels with hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid can be used prior formulations with more efficacious ingredients to help prepare the skin for application of these formulations,” adds Kelly Dobos, Ohio-based cosmetic scientist with over 20 years of experience in the industry and previously president of the US-based national Society of Cosmetic Chemists.
3. Less is more
Dr Schmitz says, “I don’t like to recommend one solution for all patients – their lifestyle, age, skin needs, all of this is considered, and the ideal scenario is that they’re all custom made, after consultation with a dermatologist. One solution doesn’t treat everybody.”
Always be cautious when trying new products as well – do a patch test on your wrist and the skin behind your ear to prevent any irritation. Dr Hussain adds, “Overall, less is more.”
Moreover, creams can be formulated to have the ideal combination of active ingredients targeting a skin concern in one product too, so you can just watch out for these in their ingredient list.
Skincare cocktail checklists
Here’s a list of ingredients you can use to target your skincare concern as recommended by Dr Hussain and Dr Schmitz, which we’ve named as cocktails for easy recall -
For: Oily or combination skin prone to blemishes and acne
Ingredients to look for: Salicylic acid (BHA or beta hydroxy acids), glycolic acid (AHA or alpha hydroxy acids), azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide (to treat acne) + non-comodogenic oil-free SPF
If you’re using an exfoliating acid for skin, Dr Schmitz recommends skipping a salicylic acid cleanser. He also advises avoiding salicylic acid if you have sensitive skin.
For: Hyperpigmentation or darker patches on your face
Ingredients to look for: Alpha arbutin, tranexamic acid, Vitamin C, glutathione
“A lot of people get along with azelaic acid, which helps with pigmentation, oily skin and rosacea,” says Dr Schmitz. He adds that although the best pigmentation agent is hydroquinone, for some people it may be controversial due to its potency and side effects. Only your dermatologist can prescribe this for you.
Alpha arbutin, tranexamic acid inhibits melanin production to lighten the target areas of skin and is often combined with an alpha hydroxy acid to increase the penetration of the creams. Dr Hussain recommends, “Alpha arbutin or tranexamic acid with exfoliating agents like glycolic acid.”
For: Dry skin or dehydrated skin
Ingredients to look for: Hyaluronic acid or glycerin, peptides, ceramides, omega fatty acids, vitamin E, squalene
You can apply hyaluronic acid on the skin, and afte, layer peptides with a ceramide base cream. We don’t generally recommend facial oils as lots of people may have dry or sensitive skin that don’t respond well to fragranced oils.
Using at least one type is basic in daily routines to maintain your skin barrier, and layering will boost the moisture for skin. “You can apply hyaluronic acid on the skin, and after layer peptides with a ceramide base cream. We don’t generally recommend facial oils as lots of people may have dry or sensitive skin that don’t respond well to fragranced oils,” says Dr Schmitz. Dr Hussain recommends ceramides with omega fatty acids, that includes linoleic acid.
For: For a damaged skin barrier with redness, dullness, sensitivity
Ingredients: Niacinamide + ceramides + natural moisturising factors + humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid
Dr Hussain says, “Look for ingredients containing ceramides, free fatty acids, niacinamide, natural moisturisation factors, glycerin, oat flour.”
The anti-wrinkle administration
For: Preventing and treating skin ageing
Ingredients: SPF, Vitamin C, retinol, niacinamide, growth factors
“You can delay ageing by only using a sunscreen more than using a dozen different actives for rejuvenation. Applying three times a day is recommended – even if you’re indoors in a closed room with air-conditioning, after three hours, you can lose 50 per cent of your sunscreen,” says Dr Schmitz.
Use vitamin C that prevents oxidative damage and sunblock SPF. For the night, retinol and niacinamide followed by a thick moisturiser, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor.
For prevention, Dr Hussain recommends, “Vitamin C that prevents oxidative damage and sunblock SPF.” For a PM treatment routine, she says, “Retinol and niacinamide followed by a thick moisturiser, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor.”
For: Dull skin
Ingredients: Kojic acid, glycolic acid, ferulic acid, retinoid family, Vitamin C, lactic acid
Dr Schmitz says, “You must go for ingredients that can promote exfoliation for the skin – kojic acid, glycolic acid, ferulic acid (derived from green coffee beans). In some more necessary cases, the retinoid family – you can increase the collagen levels for a more resilient, strong collagen base.
“It needs to be more progressive, start with more mild acids and then increase it gradually for tolerance. As they might be skin irritating, you also must balance this with your skin hydration.” Hence, humectants such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin, emollient, and occlusive creams to the rescue.
However, if dullness is caused by over exfoliation or damage, then immediately consult your dermatologist for treatment and do not exfoliate.
Retinol and salicyclic acid: “Mixing exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acids or beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic with retinol can be too drying for the skin,” says Dobos.
Two products with the same drug and active: Dobos says, “Combining two products with same actives may seem like a way to boost efficacy but you run a greater risk of irritation or injury to the skin.”