How To Cocktail Your Skin-Care Products Like A Pro

Floats, whipped cream, extra Starbucks caramel — sometimes the best things in life just need a little kick to make them even better. And skin care is no different, especially when you're targeting multiple needs or a single persistent issue. "Cocktailing is the mainstay of what I do," says Santa Monica-based dermatologist Karyn Grossman. "And you don't need 12 different products that all do the same thing — sometimes just two is enough."

But before you go mixing every single vial and tube in your medicine cabinet, use caution. Some ingredients layer better than others, some don't mix at all, and some require an acclimation period. "Cocktails can be very aggressive," says Dr. Grossman. "What happens often is that people use too much too fast, and the skin becomes inflamed and irritated. Don't start it all on the first day."

And you should also be careful about the order in which you cocktail. "As a general rule, [layer products] from lightest to heaviest," says Joshua Zeichner, dermatologist and director of cosmetic research at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. "Essence, serum, then cream. My only exception is, if you are using a potentially irritating product, like a retinol, you can apply a moisturizer first to prime and hydrate the skin."

Until someone comes out with a magical product that addresses our every need (seriously, it's 2015, people!), we asked Dr. Grossman and Dr. Zeichner for their tried-and-true product combinations. Click ahead to find the best skin-care combos, and get ready to start layering.
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Fight Wrinkles And Spots: Niacinamide + Retinoids
We know, we know: Retinoids are irritating. But they’re also anti-aging powerhouses, and you’d be remiss to cut them from your routine entirely. Be sure to introduce them slowly, and you can also pair them with a product that contains niacinamide to help with the transition. “Niacinamide is a calming ingredient that reduces inflammation and brightens the skin and may help reduce irritation with the retinoids,” says Dr. Zeichner, who uses SkinCeuticals Metacell Renewal B3 serum. Pair it with SkinMedica Retinol Complex and you’re in the clear — literally.

An important note: Never mix retinoids with vitamin C products. “Vitamin C has a very acidic pH and together [with retinol] they can be unstable,” says Dr. Zeichner. Either choose one or the other, or use retinoids in the evening and vitamin C in the morning.
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Prevent Aging: Antioxidants + Sunscreen
Antioxidants are the peanut butter to sunscreen’s jelly. “Sunscreens block UV light from penetrating into the skin, and antioxidants are the safety net that put out the fires from anything that passed through,” says Dr. Grossman, who is quick to point out that most product cocktails should finish with sunscreen. Elizabeth Arden Prevage Anti-Aging Daily Serum has Idebenone, a bio-engineered super-antioxidant. (Origins A Perfect World Antioxidant Moisturizer is another more affordable option featuring white tea.) We love layering L'Oréal Silky Sheer Face Lotion over it; the thin formula absorbs quickly into the skin and leaves a smooth base for makeup.
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Eradicate Dryness: Facial Oil + Night Cream
Mixing a few drops of oil into your moisturizer isn’t a new cocktailing concept, but Dr. Grossman advises against doing it during the day. “Oils tend to be very good UV absorbers,” she says. “There haven't been studies, but tanning products tend to have oils because they can increase UV penetration in the skin. And that’s something you’re not looking to do in the daytime.” Instead, she advises incorporating oils into your night cream. Rodin Olio Lusso gives skin an extra kick of 11 essential oils; Olay Regenerist Night Recovery Cream has amino-peptides to leave skin looking smoother and plumper by morning.
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Balance Combination Skin: Moisture Mask + Clay Mask
Sometimes dry, sometimes oily — if your skin can’t make up its damn mind, allow us to introduce you to multi-masking, your new skin-care BFF. Smooth the clay mask on areas that need oil-control and the moisturizing mask on areas that need soothing. Then simply wash them both away after 10 minutes.

If you want a daily solution aside from masking, Dr. Grossman recommends smoothing a gel moisturizer all over, then going back in with a heavier cream on the areas that need extra attention. “You want to increase the hydration in the areas that need it, but you don’t have to put it all over,” she says.
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Diffuse Lines: Peptides + Silicones
While there isn't a product that can actually erase lines (yet), pairing peptides with silicones is a pretty effective approximation. A moisturizer featuring peptides (think of them like skin-firming powerhouses) can help boost collagen production and plump skin, softening lines as a result. Layer onto that a blurring primer, which includes smoothing silicones that act like an IRL airbrush, and you'll end up with nary a wrinkle in sight. Oh, and if you're as into multitasking as we are, this duo also moisturizes, offers SPF protection, and provides a satin-like, dewy finish.
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Zap Zits: Plain Moisturizer + Benzoyl Peroxide
It might seem counterintuitive, but always smooth on moisturizer before spot-treating with benzoyl peroxide. “Studies have shown that if you take care of the skin barrier first and hydrate it, it allows the benzoyl peroxide to work more effectively,” says Dr. Zeichner.

And don’t even think about mixing your BP with retinol. The two together can cause a flaky, peeling mess of your skin.
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Calm Breakouts: Redness Relief Gel + Acne-Controlling Cream
Acne has the tendency to come with a big side of bright, splotchy redness. And it’s important, not just from a cosmetic standpoint, to address it. “Inflammation has a pathogenic role in that it causes issue with every problem that you have — and can increase acne and aging,” says Dr. Grossman.

She suggests layering a soothing, redness-relieving product under prescription acne products. (She recommends Murad Advanced Acne & Wrinkle Reducer as an over-the-counter option.) Be sure to wait a few minutes to let the gel fully absorb before adding your acne treatment.
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