Whoa, Whoa! Should I Be Mixing My Skin Care Products to Use Less and Save Money?

Photo: Getty Images/Uwe Krejci
You might apply your skin-care products like you're icing a cake: layer by layer. But dermatologists say that if you're doing so with active ingredients, you're likely wasting a ton of your favorite formulas (and a lot of money)—but there's a pretty easy fix when you're trying to figure out how to make skin-care products last longer.

First, identify the actives in your routine. "Active ingredients are those that have a therapeutic effect in the skin, either to improve skin tone, texture, wrinkles, or even acne," says  Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Actives include ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, and glycolic acid. "The actives are the ingredients that get the job done, as opposed to the inactives which are ingredients that make up the base formula." And because they're so potent and powerful, it's easy to overdo it.

If you do feel more comfortable applying one layer at a time, Dr. Zeichner recommends following a new protocol. "I typically recommend using one green pea-sized amount of your product containing active ingredients for the entire face. Spread a tiny bit on the cheeks, nose, chin and forehead then rub in and connect the dots," says Dr. Zeichner.

Alternatively, you can also combine your active ingredients, says Tiffany Masterson, Well+Good Changemaker and founder of Drunk Elephant. Just make sure not to combine products that work against each other. (If you can, it's best to consult a dermatologist about what to mix and match.)

“Say for example I’m using C-Firma, Retinol, B-Hydra, and Lala Whipped Cream every morning before I put on my sunscreen. If I used enough of each product to get all over my face that’s two or three pumps per product, and your skin doesn’t need that much," says Masterson. In fact, your skin just can't absorb more than a little bit of your chosen products.

"Mixing a smaller amount of each product together is more efficient, your products last longer, your skin can absorb it and you are getting exactly what you need without waste," says Masterson. "Your products will last longer and you’re being more efficient about getting the ingredients where they need to go." And in the end, that means not only will your skin still glow, you'll also save some green.

A derm's skin-care routine:

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