Ideal Skin Care Routine

Taken from: http://bigwol.com/abstract-puzzle-amazing-collection-of-wallpapers-desktop-download/abstract-puzzle-amazing-collection-of-wallpapers-desktop-download-2/

What exactly is the ideal routine? The answer to that lies not just in knowing what products to use, but also through the understanding of what the skin needs and how products interact with the skin.

The Ideal Skin Care Routine Series will help you identify, analyze, and understand every aspect of the skin care industry, except for sunscreens–they will have their own series, in an attempt to help you reach the Ideal. It will help you see how everything fits together; how to complete the puzzle. Unlike the Perfect, the Ideal refers to a dynamic rather than static state of being. Therefore, even after “completion,” this series will periodically be updated to reflect the latest research and product recommendations.

It is my hope that this series will become the most comprehensive and centralized arrangement of basic skin care information published to date.


*Note that upon completion, any individual article can be accessed via the interactive “Ideal Routine” menu on the top of the every page.

The Ideal Skin Care Routine


Cleansers are essential because they help remove excess oil, skin, and other compounds present on the surface of the skin. In doing so, they prepare the skin to better receive any topical preparations that are applied afterward. For an overview of the types and composition of cleansers, be sure to read this article, which also documents the short- and long-term effects of cleansers and concludes with a short guide on how to choose a cleanser.


Toners are essentially very light-weight moisturizers. They can be a beneficial part of a skin care routine because different ingredients can be introduced to the skin, without having to deal with multiple layers of heavier products. For an overview of how a toner can help your skin, as well as a few misconceptions about toner, be sure to read this article.


72 thoughts on “Ideal Skin Care Routine

  1. Hi John!

    I discovered your website today and I spent a good few hours reading through a bunch of your articles. Thank you for your great analysis, it’s been incredibly helpful! I was wondering if you could help me with some concerns of mind.
    I’ve always had hormonal acne that flares up around the time of the month, and my skin has always been flaky. I have some whiteheads and congestion on my forehead, and inflamed pimples and whiteheads on my cheeks. I went to a derm when I was 15 (I’m now 20!) and I was prescribed a 3-month supply of antibiotics, tretinoin and 2.5% BP, and I was told to use Cetaphil cleanser. Unfortunately the acne returned when the antibiotics were done and the tretinoin improved my skin in general but did nothing for the acne, and the BP just dried out whatever that was left. And because it was a shitty government-subsidized derm, I never realized how important moisturizer and sunscreen were so I never used those too. So that’s basically the background of my shitty skin lol. It was only a few weeks ago that I realized that this routine was essentially drying and stripping my skin,. My current skincare routine, which I started about 2 weeks ago, and which is showing fairly promising results, is this:

    Cetaphil gentle cleanser
    Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Lotion [soak in cotton pad, leave on skin to absorb]
    Paula’s Choice 1% BHA Lotion
    Bioderma Atoderm Moisturizer
    Skin Aqua UV Moisture Milk White
    Now Foods 30mg L-Optizinc with 0.3mg Copper Supplement (I am vegetarian, and I read that zinc deficiency is common among vegetarians, which in turn affects acne so I figured I’d try this out)

    L’Oreal Gentle Lip and Eye Makeup Remover (yeah it says lip and eye but I use it for my whole face haha)
    Cetaphil gentle cleanser
    Hada Labo Lotion + Paula’s Choice 1% BHA Lotion OR Tretinoin 0.025% (alternate every night)
    Bioderma Atoderm Moisturizer

    **I live in Singapore, which is a tropical country, so humidity is very high and that’s also why some of my products are Japanese/Korean, they are very easily found here!**

    So far, this routine looks very promising. I haven’t had a new pimple for a week and a half now and I usually have at least one red inflamed pimple at a time, with another popping up right when the first one subsides. My whiteheads are beginning to subside and my PIH is fading too. The flakiness has improved, but not as much. It’s still annoying to see bits and pieces of my skin flake off whenever I try applying concealer to my PIH scars and I was hoping you could help me with that. It’s really annoying and I can’t imagine how this routine is not working. The hyaluronic acid in the Hada Labo is supposed to draw moisture in (and it does! skin feels great immediately after!) but I still end up being all flakey. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s not a reaction to these products, because I added them in one at a time, a few days after the other and some of them improved the flaking (the Hada Labo especially, and the Bioderma too) and none of them made it worse (UV Moisture Milk, 1% BHA).

    I’m also looking to add in an antioxidant serum to this mix as I’ve read that it’s good for your skin and I figured I need that help. At what stage do I add in the antioxidant serum? Before/after the BHA? I read that antioxidants degrade in the sun so can I still use them during the day? How do I use the serum with the tretinoin? Also, what Paula’s Choice serum would you recommend to me? I have samples of the RESIST serums, both the regular and the ultra-light versions but I’m not sure which one to go with. Both seem to have mixed reviews on Makeupalley so I’m not quite sure what to do. The C15 booster looks intriguing as well but I’m not too sure how to incorporate it into my routine.

    Thank you so so so so much! I really appreciate what you’re doing for us shitty-skin-sufferers who want a rational and scientific answer to their woes!

    Posted by Kaye | September 29, 2014, 6:19 am
    • Hi there! And welcome! 🙂

      And didn’t I just reply to your comment? Haha. Let me know if you have other questions, and if my first reply is sufficient. Feel free to copy and paste.


      Posted by John | October 10, 2014, 10:38 pm
  2. I’ve been on hq for about 6 months. I’ve decided to stop using it it isn’t the best for dark skin. I’ll just go with your advice get a physical sunblock and wait.

    And also I’m already on tretinoin for about year. And I love it, but I realised that I can’t use 0.025 every day my skin still can’t tolerate it. Okay I started with neutrogena healthy skin gradually building up tolerance then I got the retin a and because of my foolishness I went on 0.05 and was applying twice a day omg it was hell then I found you and fell in love with your blog so I got 0.02 with 4percent hq in it then it finished but this one I’m using in seeeing 1.25 percent basically what I’m trying to say is I’ve made mistakes using the tretinoin. I can’t thank you enough honestly

    Posted by benaziralbashir | July 12, 2014, 1:27 am
  3. Hello. I follow your blog but I’m a Nigerian so finding products is difficult for me. I have been on retin a for quite a while now it great but I still have acne scars and I’ve used hydroquinone 4 percent its still a struggle for me. I have allergic rhinitis so I react to a lot of products I tried using Olay sensitive skin night cream and I woke up with an allergic reaction can I send u my skin Care regimen

    Posted by benaziralbashir | July 9, 2014, 3:03 am
    • i’m so sorry to hear about all of your issues! It sounds so tough not being able to have access to the products that many of us take for granted.

      If at all possible, the most important thing that you can do is to use a very good sunscreen, to help inhibit further damage to the skin. And how long have you been using the 4% HQ?

      Posted by John | July 11, 2014, 10:30 pm
  4. Hey John. Welcome back! I’ve been reading your blog since last August and it is great to see that you will be releasing your sun care guide soon! I just wanted some advice from you about my skin. I’ve got some acne that comes up every few weeks and it is a pain. I’m current using Cerave for my cleanser and moisturizer in the morning and night and I also use Stridex (red box) every night. My skin becomes oily throughout the day and I end up washing my forehead and cheeks with cold water. I also have some post inflammatory hyperpigmentation that I would love to get rid of – only issue is, I have no idea how to. I have heard of using BHA’s to reduce the scaring but I’m not familiar with those. Let me know if you can help! Thanks!!

    Posted by Ruv | April 28, 2014, 11:52 am
  5. Yo Jon, great to hear you’re back. Well where to begin…. i have acne prone (last 12 years), oily yet sensitive skin. Indian heritage but ever so slightly lighter skin tone

    Here is the stuff i’ve used and have questions with..

    Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid 2%. – This broke me out horrendously, and wouldn’t subside. I used it every night. then reduced to twice a week. Just loads and load of pimples. Stopped using

    RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% Alpha Hydroxy Acid – Broke me out., but skin was getting smooth. Even when used once a week. Stopped using

    Paula’s Choice regular Strength 2% – This broke me out but not as much, and i can only use it twice a week, otherwise i breakout a fair bit even after putting on Benzoyl Peroxide cream afterwards. Still use

    So i’m wondering why do i breakout with this? Is it over exfoliating or just my skin doesn’t suit exfoliating at all?

    RESIST Anti-Aging Clear Skin Hydrator – Reduce PIH, even skin tone, but….break me out. Stopped using

    RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% Alpha Hydroxy Acid – Smooths skin, but darkens my skin tone slightly. Not sure if that suppose to happen? used as spot treatment

    Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum with retinol – Gave me hard lumps under my skin, not really painful but red. Stopped using

    Skinoren Azeliac Acid – Gave me hard lumps also but no pain or red coloured. Stopped using.

    PC C15 Vitamin C Booster – Broke me out bad, still recovering. Big PIH marks as reminder.

    So anyway that’s just to give you an idea what my skin is like and what i’ve used before and stopped.

    So here’s my current routine.


    PC Normalizing cleanser, works slightly drying, the Skin Balancing cleanser broke me out, skin hydrator was good though. But this one works fine

    Skin balancing toner. Reduce sizes of pimples, really work. very impressed, but use too much looks likes a film on my skin.

    RESIST Pure Radiance Skin Brightening Treatment – Works for PIH but very slow.

    Skin Balancing Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30 – Works brilliantly, doesn’t break me out. But the the length that the skin stays matte isn’t long enough. If I use this on it’s own without toner, than skin stays matte for longer.

    Evening – this is where it gets interesting(confusing)

    Cleanser – Same as above

    Toner – Same as above

    Mon and Wed – PC regular Strength 2% Exfoliant

    Mon Wed and Fri – Quiniderm 5. 5% Benzoyl Peroxide cream. My HG, i don’t want to use it because of what you said, but it works. I’ve even done a test where half of my face uses BP and half doesn’t. The half that doesn’t, breaks out so bad, i’m recovering right now. So frustrating because of the potential ageing problems. Is there anyway to balance out the damage so it negates it?

    Tues and Thurs – RESIST Ultra-Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum – Just to try and balance out using BP cream. Not sure if it does anything to my skin tbh.

    Sat – Alpha Hydroxy night Res Q retinol, because i’ve never tried retinol before and according to Futurederm it’s worth a shot. Only used it once a week on Saturday for the last two weeks because of the initial breakout potential. This Saturday will be the 3rd week, hopefully next use it on a Wed as well, instead of exfoliant and BP. Worried that it may darken my skin like glycolic.

    No moisturiser as i cannot find one that works. On the recommendation of Futurderm. I’ve ordered Topix replenix CF Cream, and see if that helps and remove the serum maybe or use it during the day before moisturiser.

    Soooo i’ve tried to break down much as i can on what i do. I know i need to simplify and maybe be more pragmatic, but i honestly have no idea where, think i’m in too deep. Smashing on products in desperation. lol. Bear in mind i’m in the UK so some products suggestions, as long as they can be ordered from International website, is fine.

    Posted by JJ | April 22, 2014, 2:35 am
    • I’m so sorry to hear all the trouble you’re going through! Based on what you’ve told me, I believe that there’s an underlying issue that’s not strictly related to your skin care, because you seem to be reacting to every single ingredient. It may instead be related to your diet, possibly via the ingestion of certain types of dairy, and refined carbs. What is your regular diet, if I may ask?

      As for your products, the Quinoderm is likely working really well because of the benzoyl peroxide, but more importantly the potassium hydroxyquinoline sulfate, which has a strong bacterial action. Keep using it if it’s making a real difference. But again, the problem could stem from your diet. To combat the “aging” aspect of the benzoyl peroxide, you can diminish the free radical generation by layering a lightweight antioxidant product underneath it. The CF Cream or Serum would be fine. You can also layer the Skin Brightening Treatment and/or the Skin Balancing Toner underneath.

      Really try and use a consistent routine. How has your experience been with the retinoid product(s)?

      Posted by John | May 2, 2014, 5:52 pm
      • Funny you should say that. For the past several years i’ve used Ayurveda to come to the same conclusion. Admittedly i did go a bit liberal from the stricter diet i use to be on. A few weeks ago i went back to a stricter diet, lacking in white breads, cheese etc, and started drinking carrot juice. Last few days i’ve noticed a MASSIVE difference. However, the salicylic acid toner still breaks me out a bit, and glycolic acid darkens my skin also i have not touched vita booster. Having said that though, if I realise a pimple early enough, and spot treat with salicylic acid during the day then at night spot treat with retinol at night, it makes it virtually disappear if not eradicate it.

        The Alpha hydroxy retinol is working, slowly but surely so far, I’m up to twice a week, strictly using it on my forehead to monitor the effect, and I’m happy. The application of Quinoderm i use every night, except Retinol nights (wednesday saturday) and sunday, just to go easy on my skin.

        As it stands, morning, Cleanser, Toner, Skin Brightening treatment, and moisturiser SPF.
        Night – Cleanser, Toner, Quinoderm or Retinol. Except Sunday where I use Skin brightening treatment again.

        I’m going to go with this routine for the next month, and see if i carry on improving, if so, happy days.

        Posted by jj | May 2, 2014, 6:18 pm
        • Haha yeah, diet is certainly a factor to the skin’s overall health and appearance. Seeing as you mention carrot juice, please note that it contains a high amount of carotene. Studies have shown that it can actually increase the severity of pigmentation in your skin; it may be a contributing factor to your negative experience with glycolic acid, though that ingredient in high concentrations/duration has been shown to not work well with darker skin types. But going back to the carrot juice, I’d recommend cutting back on drinking too much of it. Still, I’m glad you’re noticing an overall improvement!

          Good luck with a much simpler (and preferable) routine for the next month. Please keep me updated and fingers crossed!

          Posted by John | May 4, 2014, 8:10 pm
          • Yes, i’ve been made aware and done some research on carrot juice and the pigmentation effects. I probably should’ve made it clear i don’t drink more than half a small glass and only 3 times a week at most. But glad you’ve basically confirmed my reason for cautiousness. lol. Anyways glycolic is not good for me personally for sure, seemingly Retinol is the way to go and Benzoyl other days. But will let you know how things go, and what i’ve noticed. Thanks again Jon, appreciate the feedback, keep up the great work.

            Posted by jj | May 4, 2014, 9:46 pm
            • Okay, that sounds good. As long as you know what you’re doing with the carrot juice.

              Please keep me updated with everything!

              Posted by John | May 16, 2014, 3:13 pm
              • Yo Jon,

                Quick update. SInc ethis routine, my acne has reduced, especially around the forehead, my pih is disappearing there on the whole. Still getting a fair few spots, but they are tiny, like seriously small, to the point that some look like freckles when the pih appears. I ran out of the Alpha hydroxy retinol and seemingly cannot get it here in the uk anymore, so swapped to Paula’s Choice Moisturiser Barrier with retinol. Works really well, but got a feeling it isn’t as potent, but i’m able to use 3 times a week instead of one (alpha hydroxy).

                Carrot juice still three times a week, and still haven’t turned orange. 😉

                Even though i’m happy overall, which i could do something to eradicate the spots, so i don’t have to deal with pih. It’s what i personally find more annoying than anything else these days!

                I read an article you commented on, on future derm- hydrocy acids part 2, about LHA and Gluconolactone, are they really worth the hype or are they here today gone tomorrow type of deal? Does this mean Glucon is not going to darken skin?

                Don’t worry not going to change up the routine just yet, i’m on a good enough run for now, just gaining some knowledge. Maybe look at LHA wayyyyy in the future since it’s apparently more tolerable than BHA and since BHA is something i cannot use every day……
                Overall i find that weird because i use to use Clearasill after shave moisturiser with SA, and Ultraclear (now called Altacleanse) which also had SA, 0.5% i believe. both kept me clear when used everyday but i had darkened skin. Mind you i didn’t use spf then.

                Also i forgot to ask, when i told you that loads of products made me breakout more, what made instantly think ‘diet’ and not ‘there must be some common ingredient you cannot tolerate’?

                Oh btw, the cf cream didn’t work….huge, huge pimples. Bahh!

                Kind regards


                Posted by JJ | June 16, 2014, 4:35 am
                • Oh I know, PIH is the worst! At least makeup can cover it up though. 😉 Oh, and I actually wrote that part 2 article (I wrote the whole series), but FutureDerm is going through some or changes or something, and they erased my name? Idk. But anyways, LHA and PHAs definitely have some solid research behind them. So I’d say they are here to stay. But they are basically more gentle version of the traditional AHAs and SA. But they can be good alternatives if you’ve tried the other ones and haven’t found any success. Yes, gluconolactone will most likely not darken skin because it so quite gentle.

                  As for the “diet,” it’s just that some people, especially younger people, tend to be more prone to reacting to certain foods like whole milk, etc…

                  Oh, and sorry to hear about the CF cream! Sometimes even the closest examination of an ingredient list can’t reveal everything!

                  Keep up the good work!

                  Posted by John | July 11, 2014, 10:16 pm
  6. Any news on your ‘ideal skin routine’? Or you still lacking the motivation lol. Also i ask as i’d like to know about BHA i’ve been using from Paula’s choice. Specifically about the breakouts/ lack of breakouts, it caused and the reasoning.

    Posted by JJ | February 10, 2014, 3:02 pm
  7. how comes my question has been removed?

    Posted by jj | December 20, 2013, 5:57 pm
  8. Hi John,

    I’ve recently discovered your website, and it’s a total treasure trove! I hope you don’t mind giving me some advice, I’m really desperate for some kind of help.

    I’ve been fighting with my skin for almost a decade now, and I can’t find anything that will clear it. My skin is fairly oily, but it drys out quickly as well, if I use the wrong products. I’ve got very large pores all along my T-zone, and to a lesser extent on the rest of my face, down my neck and chest and across my back, and most have very distended blackheads – it’s also just very bumpy, with what I think might be whiteheads? Any time light hits my face from the side, you can see it has this texture almost like sandpaper! I’ve got bad (but not cystic) acne mostly on my face, but occasionally on my shoulders as well. I’ve been using Benzac Gel, which is either 5% or 10% benzyl peroxide (I’ve varied between the two) at night, as well as Acneryne Gel during the day, with is 2%-4% erythromycin (again, I varied the two depending on the dryness of my skin). Both of these were recommended by my GP and then my dermatologist, but I’ve been using them for almost 8 years now with no change! My dermatologist also prescribed me Differin Gel (which contains adapalene), but I didn’t notice much difference with that either.
    A couple months ago I bought the Paula’s Choice Clear line (the Normalising cleanser, Extra-strength 2% salicylic acid and the Skin Balancing Invisible Finish Moisture Gel). I used every product up and I didn’t actually notice a bit of change in my skin – this was disappointing, as I’d heard such amazing things.

    To be honest, the only time my skin was a bit better (but still with breakouts and plenty of blackheads) was when my dermo prescribed me a six month course of antibiotics (tetracycline). I’m wary of using antibiotics for so long, and I’ve heard some horror stories about things like Accutane, so i’d much rather find a topical solution.

    Any and all advice you give me would be appreciated!

    Posted by Al | October 15, 2013, 7:19 pm
  9. Before I found your story on Temptalia’s blog, I was on the fence as to whether to try Paula’s Choice or not. I’ve been scouring the net trying to find a reputable cruelty free company which offers a acne skin care range which actually works. I get hormonal acne, nothing as severe as you or most people, but I do get the horrible painful bumps that lie under the skin for weeks, so I end up not even getting a week of reasonably clear skin before the horrible pimples appear again. Your transformation is amazing though, and I’ve ordered a trial or both the anti-blemish cleanser and exfoliate, and also the skin balancing set to see how it combats my oily t zone. If this works for me, I owe both you and Paula and thank you card!

    Posted by Lealou Belle | October 9, 2013, 1:21 pm
  10. Hi John,
    I found your website after researching Paula’s Choice. And after some experimenting i’ve finally down to a routine that i feel is simple. Normalising Cleanser (haven’t tried the Pore reducing one), Pore reducing Toner, Resist Skin Transforming Multi-Correction Treatment with Azelaic Acid, Skin Balancing Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30. All in the morning. It’s pretty much the same at night, except twice a week i use 1% exfoliant gel, and Quinoderm BP (every night).

    My question is that, after you started using the routine, did you find that your acne started to reduce and kept reducing and reducing continuously, or did you find that there were certain times, it ‘fought back’ and new pimples appeared (albeit in my case smaller than before) and then eventually disappeared to give you consistent clear skin?

    It’s frustrating, as with all ethnics, at least know, it’s not only the acne itself but PIH after to deal with.

    Posted by JJ | October 8, 2013, 7:25 am
  11. Hi John I am so happy I found your blog I have been looking for information on skin care that is science based and about ingredients,I find shopping for skin care so confusing so many claims but I have no idea how to read an ingredient list and know what to look for. I hope you don’t mind but I just had a few questions, first of all can a good routine and good skin care product physically change your skin, meaning reverse damage erase fine lines and so on? Or do skin care products just maintain and slow down down damage and ageing? My next question is my skin type, I find it really hard to know what to shop for I am 28 and showing the first signs of ageing I have clear skin small pores but its quite fine in texture, and lacking suppleness as of lately, I have noticed its looking like it is thinking around my eyes, I used to treat it for very try skin as i have fine feathery lines around my eyes that soften when hydrated, I just look as if i needed more moister but I think it has given me black heads, So i am not sure how to fix my very dehydrated skin with out blocking my pores, it also looks like it may become crepey around my eyes if I am not careful, because of this combination I don’t know what kind of product to use, combination skin product don’t cut it in the hydration but dry skin products are too rich and block my pores, I am scared to use anything too strong to removed blocked pores because I don’t want to dry out or thin my skin any more. Could you please recommend what kind of product I should be looking for to help regain suppleness. Sorry for the long question I am just so lost in how to treat my skin. Thanks

    Posted by Hayz | September 6, 2013, 8:46 pm
  12. Hi,

    I found your site this evening and oh-my-god you are the stuff of my skincare dreams! I could have cried when I saw that you properly research on PubMed. It’s lovely to see some real science and total impartiality! Thank you so much!

    Can I throw some questions at you?

    I was very oily and acne prone, but recently saw some improvement with my acne after completely overhauling my terrible baby wipes and sudocrem routine. However, it now seems to have gone very dry and my acne is flaring again. I am planning on trying out PC’s salicylic but I also use Effaclar Duo (UK version without BP). Is this too much salicylic and could it dry out my skin even more?

    Also, I have been using Caudalie Divine Oil overnight for a moisture boost. It seems to work, but is it actually alright to put on my face?

    This is just out of interest and only if you have time… what is your opinion on mineral oil in makeup/skin care? I got into “proper” skincare through Caroline Hirons, a skincare guru over here, and she HATES the stuff but I’m a Pharmacology student and we’ve studied it’s use for a variety of skin problems, so I’m not convinced.

    Would love to get your opinions if you have time!


    Posted by Rosie Connolly | August 27, 2013, 1:36 pm
    • Yay, so glad to have you join us! And I apologize that it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I’d be happy to answer your questions.

      From what I know, the Effaclar Duo in the US contains BP and a salicylic acid derivative, which has not been shown to be more effective than SA. Furthermore, it’s present at only 0.4%, which is quite low. You may want to try a true SA product first. The PC ones are some of the best, though I admit that they can be a bit pricey for UK customers. However, I don’t know of any other UK brand that carries a well-made SA product. But it shouldn’t be too drying, assuming that you use an appropriate moisturizer and SA product.

      And you can use the Cauadalie oil, but it’s just a mixture of non-fragrant plant oils with some essential oils mixed in. I wouldn’t say it’s the best moisturizer, since water is pretty much essential, but if it’s suitable and doesn’t irritate your skin (due to the essential oil content), then you can continue to use it.

      Finally, as to the question about mineral oil, it only contains carcinogenic compounds (keep in mind that mineral oil is not a single compound; rather a mixture of them) when not properly refined. But all cosmetic grade mineral oil, which is transparent, is highly refined and NOT carcinogenic. Here’s the safety sheets on petrolatum (where mineral oil is derived from), and that for mineral oil: http://www.inchem.org/documents/icsc/icsc/eics1440.htm


      Let me know if you have any other questions, and once again, welcome!

      Posted by John | September 3, 2013, 5:11 pm
  13. Hello!

    A few questions if you’ve got the time ..

    My skin concerns are: normal/combo skin, enlarged pores on my cheeks and forehead, dehydration lines on forehead and under eyes, redness around nose, blackheads on nose and chin & some congestion/occasional pimples on chin and jaw line.

    I’ve got the following products: neutrogena extra gentle cleanser, hydraluron serum, paula’s choice CLEAR Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution, paula’s choice 2% bha lotion, neostrata ultrasmoothing lotion 10% AHA, tretinoin .05%, shiseido anessa 50 + sunscreen, elizabeth arden visible difference moisturiser (not so sure about this one .. ).

    I have no idea how to combine these products, i.e. when to use what and in which order. Could you please help with putting a routine together using the above or any additional products? I’ve done heaps of googling but can’t seem to find the right information, so here’s hoping you’ll be able to help.

    Thanks for reading!

    Posted by Rene | July 16, 2013, 5:14 am
    • Hi Rene,

      It seems like I never have enough time, but I’ll always respond to your guys’ comments.

      Based on what you’ve told me, I believe your routine is a bit too complicated and redundant that it’s making your skin go a bit haywire. I’m not saying that a complicated skin care routine is bad. It takes more trial & error and experience to properly balance.

      Let’s deal with things one at a time:

      1. Pick just one BHA product to use. Since you’re layering quite a few products, it’s probably better to choose the solution over the lotion. The former is also more appropriate for your apparent skin type.
      2. Consider switching out the Arden product with something that’s packaged properly and contains some more helpful ingredients. At a similar price range, the Clinique Super Rescue Antioxidant Night Moisturizer for Combination Oily to Oily Skin, would be a good option.
      3. However, I’d imagine that removing the next product will make the biggest difference in your skin. The Shiseido Anessa product contains a very high amount of alcohol. Because you’re using so many ingredients that alter the thickness and resiliency of the stratum corneum (the top dead layer of skin cells), the alcohol will have an even more potent ability to dry out the skin. It’s likely the main cause of the dry, flaky or “dehydrated” skin that you describe. Consider finding another sunscreen for the time being, just to see if discontinuing use of this product reduces the dry skin you experience.

      Finally, as for the order of application, well it really depends on you. None of these products can’t or shouldn’t be used together, so it’s really a matter of preference and personal results.

      You can perhaps layer the CLEAR solution under the 10% AHA on one night, and then the tretinoin under the Clinique moisturizer the next night.

      During the daytime, you can use the CLEAR solution or the Clinique moisturizer under another sunscreen, or use both (in that order) if you’re not going to be outside.

      Does that make sense?

      Keep me updated with your situation!

      Posted by John | July 18, 2013, 5:20 pm
      • Hi John,

        Thanks for that information. I’ve been following your routine as described above (aside from the Clinique moisturiser which is out of my budget at $64, I purchased the EA moisturiser for $20). My skin is still the same as previously described – blackheads, flakey under makeup, dehydration lines, congestion and breakouts around jawline.

        Can you recommend any sunscreens and moisturisers for under $40?

        What are your thoughts on rosehip oil, nivea soft and clarisonic?

        I look forward to hearing your response and the publication of your ideal skincare routine


        Posted by Rene | August 12, 2013, 3:06 am
        • Hm, sorry to hear that you haven’t been seeing any progress. It’s time to step up to using benzoyl peroxide. Start with a 2.5% solution and put them on any existing breakouts, and see how things go from there.

          Also, consider discontinuing use of the tretinoin for a week and see if that reduces the amount of flaky skin. Tretinoin can be quite irritating, and the formulation isn’t the best for oily skin types.

          Finally, as both SA and GA have not been working for you, your last resort in terms of hydroxy acids, is to try lactic acid. Because of its presence in normal skin–something that may have yet to be elucidated implications, not to mention the research demonstrating its efficacy for dry skin, it may be the answer you’ve been looking for. Something like the DHC AHA Cream is great: http://www.dermstore.com/product_Renewing+AHA+Cream_37987.htm

          Let me know how things go.

          Oh and the Clarisonic is just another form of manual exfoliation–basically an expensive washcloth. Rosehip oil is just like any other non-fragrant plant oil, such as olive or jojoba oil.

          Posted by John | August 12, 2013, 8:50 am
          • Hi again,

            Just to update you that I’ve followed the above suggestions regarding Benzoyl Peroxide and Tretinoin and have seen some improvement in flakiness and skin tone, which is good. My issue at the moment is these strange bumps on my jaw which look like tiny flat pimples, though they can’t be popped. They’re not like the regular skin coloured bumps (congestion) previously mentioned, though they’ve also been around for a while, I wonder whether they’re an allergic reaction to something. It’s difficult to describe without a picture but nothing seems to be working to get rid of them.

            Anyway, if and when you are able to answer:

            When should I apply BP – after BHA and serum? Or on bare skin with moisturiser and sunscreen on top only?

            Do you have a recommendation for a daytime moisturiser for dry combination skin?

            Do you have a recommendation for an eye cream, my concerns being fine lines?

            Is it ok to manually exfoliate prior to application of tretinoin?

            Is it ok to use tretinoin with AHA/BHA? (there’s lots of conflicting information online about this one)

            I look forward to your answers if you get around to it.

            Also, I’m sorry to read about your recent misfortune, keep your chin up 🙂

            Posted by Rene | September 12, 2013, 5:36 am
            • I know it’s been a while. If you’d like me to update on your situation, I’d be happy to help!

              Posted by John | April 21, 2014, 3:45 pm
              • Hi there
                To update you:
                I’m still struggling majorly with the congestion (looks like milia? an esthetician has told me it’s acne cosmetica) around my jaw line/chin, clogged pores on cheeks and a lot of redness on chin left over from previous acne.
                I think I’m allergic to BP and Neostrata Smoothing Lotion 10% as I find them extremely irritating. My cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen are fine (don’t irritate or exacerbate existing issues, ingredients check out on Beautypedia).
                Please suggest treatments to use AM and PM. Also whether I should stop using a face cloth with my cleanser at night. I enjoy it but it could be irritating.
                My skin has been this way for well over a year now. Please respond, I don’t mind if it’s late! Thanks.

                Posted by Rene | August 27, 2014, 9:24 pm
                • Yes, do try and discontinue use of the face cloth. Stick with just the cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen for two week and see if your skin calms down. Also, look into azelaic acid (aka Finacea) since it seems like everything else just isn’t working. Also, do you eat/drink a lot of dairy in your diet?

                  Posted by John | September 17, 2014, 4:13 pm
                  • I’ve been using Nizoral to wash the affected areas and the bumps have almost completely gone, so it turns out this was probably a fungal issue (how delightful). I also began using PC BHA solution again and it has helped a few clogged pores on my cheeks come out. As you can imagine, I’m very happy to finally see some results. I would like to maintain the reduction of spots and also focus on improving red post acne marks, fine lines and overall complexion. How does this routine look to you:

                    Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser + Nizoral on affected area (I’ll eventually stop using this)
                    Timeless CE Serum
                    Moisturiser (La Roche Posay Toleriane Ultra)
                    SPF 30+ (20% Zinc Oxide, contains reservatrol and palmitoyl ogliopeptide)

                    Cleanse x 2 (Clinique TTDO Balm + Kiehl’s)
                    Alternate between PC 2% BHA Solution one night and Skinceuticals 0.5 Retinol the next night
                    B complex serum (B3,B5, B9, hyaluronic acid) after 30 mins
                    Moisturiser (LRP)

                    Is the combination of products and time of application OK?
                    What is your opinion on Dermalogica’s MAP-15 Regenerator as opposed to something like Timeless or Skinceuticals CE? The CE serum is the only one I’ve yet to incorporate and I’m concerned about potential irritation from L-ascorbic acid.

                    Thank you, I really appreciate your response as it’s difficult to find the right answers in my own research.

                    Posted by Rene | September 22, 2014, 8:02 pm
                    • Glad to hear it Rene! It’s actually not uncommon for some kind of fungus to be causing or at least worsening many skin conditions. Nice work!

                      As for your routine, it’s quite well constructed. *Claps enthusiastically* You’ve got most of the essential ingredients in play.

                      However, I would like to point out that the LRP Toleriane is likely too emollient for your skin. It can be contributing to your clogged pores. And which specific sunscreen are you using? I’m asking because the vehicle ingredients do matter.

                      While they are close in terms of efficacy (for different reasons), I’d recommend the Timeless over the MAP-15 due to the price, the fact that it contains L-ascorbic acid instead of MAP, and because it’s excellent for layering products, which you appear to enjoy.

                      Finally, I would still recommend introducing some azelaic acid into your routine; the best place is going to be to replace the BHA Solution, as see how your skin responds. Also, don’t forget about the LRP comment.

                      Does that all make sense?

                      Posted by John | September 28, 2014, 8:02 pm
  14. Hi John,
    I asked questions a few weeks ago on how to treat my acne using Paula’s choice products. I am so happy to say i have seen drastic improvements on my face since i began that routine.I also succeeded in purchasing BP 5% from pharmacy and it has really helped me alot. I get very few breakouts now. My face is also so smooth.

    However i still have to tackle my spots and pigmentation left by acne.I am thinking of introducing Paula’s Daily Smoothing treatment.Infact i already ordered samples.How would you advise me to use it.Can it be used in one application along with Paula’s salicylic acid exfoliant and the topical benzoyl peroxide. Is it too much exfoliating?

    Posted by Angela | July 15, 2013, 6:35 am
    • Hi Angela,

      Yes! I’m so happy to hear that your patience paid off. 🙂

      I don’t believe the Daily Smoothing treatment will make too much of a difference in treating the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH); it’s glycolic acid (GA) content is low and watch out for the cetyl alcohol–it may increase the likelihood of clogged pores. Without consistent and intensive treatment and sun protection, your best bet is to simply wait for the PIH to fade. That being said however, using the Daily Smoothing treatment certainly can’t hurt.

      If you were to use it, since you have a lot of your acne under control now, consider alternating it with the salicylic acid (SA) exfoliant. Use SA, the GA, then SA, etc… You can use the benzoyl peroxide throughout.

      Let me know how things go!

      Posted by John | July 18, 2013, 4:55 pm
  15. Hey John!

    I have a couple of questions about discolouration. On my the back of my arms I have quite a few large brown patches (not spots), and I was wondering if it is possible to get rid of them. (BTW, I also have Keratosis Pilaris on my arms, too). I don’t know if sun damage is the issue because I rarely go outside – I’m kind of a hermit, lol – and when I do, I cover up. I don’t use any products on my body. I’m turning 19 this year and I am a person of colour, if that matters. Also, I’ve noticed my body is different shades. My stomach, back, and bottom are significantly darker than my chest and hands. I would like to even that out and get those areas to be the same shade as my hands/chest. Do you know of any products/ingredients that can help?

    Also, for my face: my forehead, too, is a lot darker than the rest of my face. I use Clean&Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin, Etival Clarifying Soothing Pore Reducing Toner, Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid, Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin SPF15/Sephora 8HR Moisturizing Mattifying Sunscreen. I have combination skin: my forehead and nose are oily (especially my nose), my cheeks are normal, and I sometimes get dry around my chin.

    I know this is kind of long, but I’d really appreciate it if you answer. Thank you. 🙂

    Posted by Naomi | July 2, 2013, 5:56 pm
    • Hello there, and I’m happy to help!

      It makes sense that those large patches on the body are not caused by the sun, since sun damage rarely presents as so, AND you haven’t had sun exposure there. But unfortunately that’s all I can tell you with any sort of confidence. I mean, it can be a manifestation of some internal condition, hormonal imbalances and/or changes, or it could even be some type of fungal infection such as tinea versicolor. I know that sounds unpleasant, but it’s actually more common than most people think. Standard skin lightening topical treatments are typically not very effective for these types of conditions.

      As for your face, the same comments apply. However, that may have to do more with the sun, since both of the sunscreens that you mentioned provide very little UVA protection. UVA light increases tanning, and makes any hyperpigmentation more apparent. But because you noted that only your forehead is darker, I’m still banking on the other theories at least partially. If it really bothers you, please don’t hesitate on seeing a dermatologist.

      Posted by John | July 2, 2013, 9:11 pm
  16. Hi John,
    Thanks for the speedy reply.This is a brief history of my skin care.I used to have relatively clear skin.By that i mean i used to breakout but no so much.I would breakout, however within a few days it is gone.Sometime last year,i decided to really adress the situation.I read about the Clinique Anti-Blemish 3-step system and it felt like just what i had been looking for.How wrong i was.I broke out horribly.For the first time in my life my breakouts became very painful and massive.I would feel it forming deep into my skin.Realising my face was instead getting worse,i stopped using all the products.By then i had breakouts,blemishes and pigmentation marks.

    Then i later read that natural was the best option.With my desire for a clear and smooth complexion,i started using African Black soap and unrefined shea butter.With this i also broke out horribly and my face also became more oily.
    I finally dropped this also.
    Tired of trying and failing, i decided to give my face a rest.By then i had to deal with blackheads,whiteheads,inflammed breakouts.I breakout much around my T-zone.At this point i started using a Nivea facial wash and toner for dry/sensitive skin.This was really just a joke as i knew it wasnt adressing any of my facial issues.

    While still searching, i stumbled upon Paula’s products.I read so many rave reviews and i convinced myself, this must be the miracle i have been seeking all along.I first ordered samples of the skin balancing system.They were good but i was still breaking out.Then i decided to try to Clear system which is for acne sufferers like me.Since i began using this system(2weeks), i am noticing changes.My pores around the area where i breakout used to be quite large but they are reducing.My face is also really smooth but for my T-zone where i am still breaking out.My face is no longer oily.

    The question i am asking myself is ‘why am i still breaking out this much’.Sometimes painful and inflammed.I can usually feel them beneath my skin already forming.I stopped using the Clear toner twice a day because my forehead was really flaky and would even peel sometimes.It also gave my face a shine(not an oily shine though).The Clinique clearing moisturiser sold in Europe doesnot contain BP.It does contain BHA which is far down on the ingredients list.In Europe BP can only be bought at the pharmacy.I am also currently using The Body Shop Seaweed mattifying lotion with spf 15, however i plan on purchasing Paula’s Skin Balancing moisturiser with spf 30 in the coming days.

    What do you think is wrong with my routine and what changes can i make to it.I look forward to your reply.Thanks

    Posted by Angela | June 28, 2013, 8:22 am
    • Hm, that’s too bad about the BP.

      However, like I stated last time, give your current routine a few more weeks, taking note what side effects (like dryness/flakiness, increased/decreased acne, type of acne) you are experiencing. As for sunscreens, you may want to go with an inorganic sunscreen, since organic ones tend to be more irritating. I’m not sure if you have access to brands like EltaMD an MD Solar Sciences where you are located, but they have some great formulations that are not only tinted, but are also pretty matte in finish–something that an oily skin person like yourself would enjoy. They tend to wear well throughout the day, too. However, since you’re in Europe (though I don’t know which country), you do have access to organic & hybrid sunscreens that are way more potent than the ones available here in the US. So I personally wouldn’t go with either the Body Shop or the Paula’s Choice sunscreens, since they are far less potent than others that you can easily access.

      But yeah, hold out for just a few more weeks and see what happens. If your condition hasn’t improved or has worsened, we can discuss further treatments such as using glycolic and/or lactic acid, along with azelaic acid. In the meantime, check if the latter is available to you without a prescription, because if it is, that’s an excellent option.

      I hope that helps!

      Posted by John | June 30, 2013, 6:29 pm
  17. hi John,

    Thanks for all the information on your blog. I have learnt alot.Thanks for sharing.

    Please i currently suffer from acne.I have got a new regimen(about 2weeks now) however i believe there is something lacking.That’s why i am seeking some advice.

    I am currently using Paula’s Choice Clear Extra Strength sytem without the benzoyl peroxide product.I live in Europe and benzoyl peroxide can only be bought at the pharmacy.In place of that i recenly purchased the Clinique anti-blemish clearing moisturiser because it is highly rated by Paula.I also use Paula’s Skin Balancing Super Antioxidant Concentrate serum and finally Paula’s Resist Anti-aging clear skin hydrator.I use all these products AM and PM except for the Clear toner which i use only at night.

    Since beginning this regime,my skin tone is alot brighter and my face is alot smoother.However i am still getting breakouts.They arenot as huge as they used to be before.

    What do you think is wrong with my regimen.Do i need to include an AHA product?I’ve been through so many products and i’m absolutely relying on Paula’s.However i am aware that if idont use the products properly,they won’t help me either.

    Waiting on your opinion.Thanks

    Posted by Angela | June 27, 2013, 5:45 am
    • You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! I’d be happy to help.

      It’s slightly odd that you said you can only get benzoyl peroxide (BP) from the pharmacy. The Clinique moisturizer contains BP, at least the US version does. Maybe it’s different in your country?

      But yeah, we can certain discuss changing your routine. But first, can you describe your breakouts? Are they mostly blackheads/whiteheads or more inflammatory manifestations? Are there cysts?

      Also, it takes time to treat your skin. I’d give your routine a good 4-6 weeks before considering a change, especially if this is your first “acne routine.” I mean, you’re noticing an improvement, right?

      One thing we can change is to use the CLEAR toner morning and evening. However, you stated that you don’t do that. Can I ask the reason?

      Get back to me and we can go from there!

      Posted by John | June 27, 2013, 6:36 pm
  18. Thank you John for all of this wonderful information. I just want to clarify…is it OK to use an AHA topical lotion, then after a half hour or so apply tretinoin? Does this not deactivate the tretinoin. Thanks so much.

    Posted by Kim | June 13, 2013, 8:00 pm
    • Most likely (but I’ll get into why you may want to use those two ingredients separately in the Ideal Routine Page; keep in mind that tretinoin is NOT retinol or retinal) that should be okay, although it may be a bit irritating to use both at the same time. There are just better combinations of ingredients to use. But of course, that’s your prerogative.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by John | June 14, 2013, 1:13 pm
  19. I should probably stop researching, and leave well enough alone. But now I’ve read about using BHA a few minutes before Retin A at night to increase it’s effectiveness. If feel like I’ve hit a plateau. it supposedly gets that Retin A right to the good stuff! what do you think?

    Posted by Lisa | March 5, 2013, 3:30 am
    • Never stop researching! Lol! 🙂

      I actually haven’t read that anywhere before nor have I thought of doing so, though now I can see how that would theoretically make sense in certain situations. But anyways, I did a quick search on PubMed, and I found no study to corroborate this claim. Can you post the link where you read this information?

      Posted by John | March 5, 2013, 12:47 pm
    • Sorry, I pasted the whole article, couldn’t get the link to work.

      Skin Biology healthyskin.infopop.cc Forums Products Healthy Skin AHA, BHA & Retin-A

      Moderators: Rosy

      AHA, BHA & Retin-A

      posted 01 August 2010 12:05 AM
      Dr. Pickart,

      Do need your advice!

      I got confused by the info I gathered from the web.

      Can we use AHA/BHA with Retin-A in the same evening?

      I’d like to use a 2% BHA toner followed by Lascal, CP Serum & then Retin-A.

      From the internet, some say that AHA & BHA are not compatible with retinoids; some say they are not.

      What are your thoughts?

      Posts: 43 | Location: Texas | Registered: 09 January 2010
      posted 07 August 2010 11:28 PM Hide Post
      Dr. Pickart,

      May you shed light on the effects of AHA & BHA on tretinoin.

      Posts: 43 | Location: Texas | Registered: 09 January 2010
      Dr. Pickart

      posted 08 August 2010 01:17 PM Hide Post
      They have different actions but can work together.

      1. The AHAs and BHAs remove older skin. This allows newer skin to rise to the surface. AHAs work more on the skin’s surface. BHAs work more on the deep layers of the skin.

      2. The copper peptides help adult stem cells create new skin cells. The retinoic acid (retin-A) acts to helps push this process along by helping the new cells differentiate into cells needed by the skin.

      3. Retinoids is a broad word. Retinoic acid reduces skin oils. But retinol (vitamin A alcohol) can increase skin oil under some circumstances.

      4. Generally we recommend using the Retin-A after the copper peptides. But you can use them with the hydroxy acids.This message has been edited. Last edited by: Dr. Pickart, 08 August 2010 06:18 PM

      Posts: 6759 | Location: Skin Biology | Registered: 15 September 2004

      Posted by Lisa | March 5, 2013, 4:33 pm
      • Huh interesting. It’s not an article, rather it’s just a forum where someone made a comment.

        More impotantly however, I don’t think “Dr. Pickart” actually says that SA helps to improve the efficacy of tretinoin. So I’m not quite sure where you got that idea. 😦

        Posted by John | March 6, 2013, 2:03 pm
      • How do you suggest incorporating Niacin and aha/bha into my routine? So far, I do Vitamin C in the AM, Retin A 5 nights a week. The other two nights a week, I do an aha peel. been reading about Niacin. I want to add it in, not sure when. also hoping to increase Aha use to daily, not sure when. Thanks for your help!

        Posted by Lisa | March 20, 2013, 2:56 pm
        • I’d recommend using niacinamide after your Retin-A application, making sure to wait an hour–something that most doctors already instruct to do.

          Posted by John | March 20, 2013, 7:22 pm
          • thanks! I started. Niacinamide moisturizer after Retin A, then within a day or two added a strong AHA (alpha hydrox soufflé in the morning after the Vitamin C serum. whoa! Back to the dry scaly patches. Not sure which one caused it. stopped both new products, trying to decide how to move forward. I read that the ideal routine includes: 1. Retin A 2. Niacin 3. Vitamin C (antioxidants) 4.. Sunscreen 5. Aha/bha/exfoliation.

            what I’ve learned would pair up 1 and 2 at night and 3,4,5 in the morning. not sure which led to the flakes and ugliness, niacin or the aha. What would you do?

            Posted by Lisa | March 21, 2013, 3:20 am
            • Mhm, nice work! I see that you’re paying attention to the Ideal Routine. 🙂 They indeed are comprised of hydroxyl acids, retinoids, niacinamide, antioxidants, and sunscreen.

              But anyways, I’m almost 100% sure that it’s the AHA that’s causing the flakiness.

              Posted by John | March 21, 2013, 4:50 pm
          • Hi John 😀 Why do you should wait after Retin-a? I thought it´s ok with Tretinoin as it doesn´t need to convert to be active

            Posted by Robin | April 25, 2014, 2:24 pm
            • The theory is that waiting will allow the active drug to penetrate without interference. But really, so long as you’re seeing results, you can apply something just a few minutes after, being careful not to rub too much.

              Posted by John | April 29, 2014, 4:15 pm
  20. makes sense, thanks! conflicting information is out there ( Dr Bailey’s site), so allow me to beat this to death: I’ve hit the age (48), and want the powerhouse of skin care. my Retin A and DIY Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid at about 18%) are doing a great job. but I feel like I need to add a third thing (aha, sacacylic, glycolic etc) I recently got Bare Minerals skin revved upper and don’t know how to incorporate it. I read that it cannot be used with vitamin c, so the only option is to use it at night alternating with the retin a. I don’t want to give up any retin a nights! Waiting for your ideal routine to spell it out:)

    Posted by Lisa | February 4, 2013, 4:21 am
    • Sure I’m happy to answer all of your questions. 🙂

      I’ve actually already addressed this issue in the comment sections of this post: http://www.futurederm.com/2012/10/25/should-niacinamide-and-l-ascorbic-acid-be-used-together/ Since there are 90+ comments, I’ll just post the relevant reader’s (two) questions and my corresponding answers.

      FYI, I answer several questions actually, and I’d recommend reading through everything. . It might help you understand even better.


      “Hi John,

      I have a question that relates to your response to Nook above. I also use glycolic acid, but in the evening. I thought its use in the morning was NOT recommended? Is it actually OK to use it in the morning, as long as I use a sun block afterward?

      Also, I read (in this webpage: http://www.theherbarie.com/Niacinamide-USP-Vitamin-B3.html) that Niacinamide cannot be used at a PH below 5, so I assume that it cannot be paired with glycolic acid either, right?

      Taking all of this into account, would you approve of the following regimen?

      AM: Glycolic acid product + vitamin C product followed by a 30-minute-wait, and then: Olay moisturizer (Complete Sensitive Skin SPF 30) with Niacinamide (I should find another sun block without Niacinamide, but I’ve used this one for years and love it so much… I know you recommended the 30-minute-wait to others above, so I am hoping this will work…)

      Evening: Retinol product + Olay serum with Niacinamide

      Thanks in advance John for your invaluable advice!


      Your idea to create an “ideal routine” portal/page for all skin types on your blog sound like pure genius to me!”


      “After writing my comment above, I looked up a link that someone else posted about Vitamin C’s “half life”, and found the following information in Dr. Bailey’s blog: “…vitamin c and glycolic acid can’t both be on the skin at the same time…”, and then, even more confusing: “The half-life of vitamin C in the skin is four days, meaning it sticks around for a while.”

      Wow, I am so confused now! If it is true that vitamin C stays in the skin for 4 days, then maybe Niacinamide should not be used at all by someone who uses a vitamin C product?

      Also, what do you think about the use of glycolic acid and vitamin C together, taking into account Dr. Bailey’s comment above?

      Here is the link to Dr. Bailey’s blog, where I found this info:

      Thank you so much John for taking the time to read everybody’s comments and replying… Peach wrote “I trust you” at the end of her comment above… I feel the same!!!”


      “First comment:

      It is OK to use glycolic acid during the daytime. However, it is preferred for evening use, just because it does slightly increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. I mentioned this in my hydroxy acids series, specifically in part III. Have a read if you’re interested:


      But considering the antioxidants and sunscreen, this slight increase in sensitivity shouldn’t have too large of an impact. I too only use glycolic acid at nighttime, but for Nook, I just didn’t want to change her routine too much. Is Nook even a girl’s name? Lol. Anyways… moving on.

      It’s not that niacinamide CAN’T be used below a pH of 5, it’s just that that some of it may convert to nicotinic acid, which may result in some redness and flushing. However, I think that the 5-7 pH range was given ith the idea of “better safe than sorry” in mind. But in reality, it has little relevance. For example, this study: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jps.2600510710/abstract, indicates that the MINIMUM conversion rate happens when the pH is between 4 and 6. So, glycolic acid products are typically formulated between pHs of 3 and 4. And waiting 30 minutes after application (something that I recommended for all acidic products), should take care of this interaction. And from personal experience (I use a glycolic and/or salicylic acid product at nighttime, wait 30+ minutes, then apply a niacinamide product) I have never experienced noticeable skin flushing, which suggests that no significant amount of nicotinic acid was formed.

      Does that make sense?

      As for your routine: You already know that I’d would prefer for you to use a non-niacinamide sunscreen, but hey, it’s completely your choice! It’s still way better than using no sunscreen. The 30 minutes wait time may theoretically reduce the complexation interaction between L-ascorbic acid and niacinamide, but that’s just it. We don’t know; can only hope for the best.

      But the rest of your routine seems fine.

      Second comment:

      Relax! Don’t freak out. While the half life of vitamin C is 4 days, you have to remember that measurement is theoretical and in the absence of things that degrade it: for example sunlight, oxidation processes that occur all the time in the skin, and other sources of free radical generation. So the vitamin C content in your skin doesn’t stay static and at the same level in real-life scenarios because it’s constantly being used up. I mean you want to protect your skin as much as possible, right? So it makes absolutely no sense to only apply vitamin C every 4 days. It’s a ridiculous notion.

      As for using glycolic acid with L-ascorbic acid, I have no idea why Dr. Bailey would say that. There is absolutely no documentation that supports her claim. Furthermore, when she responds to the various people asking her about it, she doesn’t show any evidence nor explain WHY they can’t be used together. I can think of no reason why they can’t be used together, except for the fact that some glycolic acid products are formulated with a pH above 3.5; they don’t typically go above 4.0 however. Now, a pH of 3.5 or less is recommended for L-ascorbic acid to properly penetrate into the skin. However, that number isn’t absolute. The diction makes it sound like a product with a pH of like 3.51 would be completely useless. And that’s not true at all. L-ascorbic acid is like any acid; it obeys all the same rules. Not to get too much into detail, just know that L-ascorbic acid can definitely be used with glycolic acid. I mean, L-ascorbic acid’s pKa is 4.17, while glycolic acid’s is actually lower: 3.83. I’ll definitely be doing a complete post on this in the near future. I may make it a two part series; we’ll see.

      But in the meantime, here are two brief examples to ease your mind: Both the two phrases that Dr. Bailey quotes: “Vitamin C has a half-life of 4 days” and “L-ascorbic acid requires a pH of 3.5 or less to penetrate the skin” are from studies done by the people behind the brand Skinceuticals. Here’s one of their studies: http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v125/n4/full/5603565a.html. Now, if L-ascorbic acid isn’t compatible with glycolic acid, why in the WORLD would Skinceuticals include a product that contains BOTH ingredients?! http://www.dermstore.com/product_C+++AHA_1911.htm Clearly, they can be used together.

      Finally, as for the niacinamide, just try not to use it together with L-ascorbic acid. Forget the half-life in 4 days thing with L-ascorbic acid. It has no significant relevance.

      I hope that helps!”

      Let me know if you have further questions!

      Posted by John | February 4, 2013, 4:30 pm
      • thanks. This sentence is cut and pasted from your article, the five things your skin cannot live without on future dream. It says not to use aha with vitamin c. So when can I use aha if I do retin a at night and vitamin c in he morning?

        3. Antioxidants
        The Benefits: The body defends against free radicals (one of four major contributors to skin aging) with antioxidants, which impede or slow the chain reaction. Antioxidants like beta carotene andvitamins C and E “break the chain,” stopping free radicals from ripping electrons off of other molecules, while other antioxidants, like superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase, slow the free radical chain reaction by stabilizing the unstable, reactive free radicals. As the body does not produce or ingest enough antioxidants to neutralize all of the free radicals, which come from processes that are both endogenous (within the body, such as human metabolism) and exogenous (outside the body, from pollution, smoking, alcohol, and UV radiation, amongst other sources), free radicals accumulate a great deal of damage within the body over time (WebMD). As a result, many experts recommend use of antioxidants and sunscreen to prevent UV-induced free radical damage. According to Sheldon Pinnell, a dermatology professor at Duke University of School of Medicine who created Cellex-C about twenty years ago and later assisted in the creation of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic: “I was interested in how it [topical vitamin C, an antioxidant] could stimulate collagen synthesis. But we found that it was really good for protecting against sunlight.” As many new antioxidants are coming out over time, a rating system called EPF (environmental protection factor) has been proposed to rank antioxidant strength.
        When to use them (from Allure): In the morning, after cleansing, before sunscreen. (It also does not hurt to use them at night in conjunction with hydroquinone and EITHER retinoids OR AHAs.)
        What to use with: Sunscreen, as antioxidants boost the protective capacity of sunscreen against UV-induced free radical damage.
        What not to use with: Take care when your antioxidant is vitamin C. Do not use vitamin C with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) — the two acidic ingredients can irritate the skin.
        When to toss: Six months after opening. Also, take care not to expose your vitamin C products (those with L-ascorbic acid in particular) to light, heat, and air, which can destabilize the vitamin C.

        Sent from my iPad

        Posted by Lisa Mueller | February 4, 2013, 5:29 pm
        • Huh.

          Well actually, I didn’t author that post: http://www.futurederm.com/2008/01/01/five-ingredients-your-skin-cant-live-withoutand-how-to-use-them/ Nicki did.

          And while I don’t agree completely with the article, she does state that you won’t want to use both ingredients together as they “can irritate the skin.” However, she doesn’t say that they CAN’T be used together. Irritation is a very personal thing, as it will vary from person to person. However, there’s no chemical reason NOT to use them together. For example, there’s no negative interaction between them, like that which occurs between niacinamide and L-ascorbic acid.

          Does that all make sense?

          Posted by John | February 4, 2013, 5:40 pm
          • This is the last time I will bug you, I promise: After much research, I trust your site over all others. I use prescription Retin A every night. I love using this every night and have just worked up to 7 nights a week. I use a home made Vitamin C serum each morning and love it! These 2 are a one two punch that is working well. I feel like I should add an AHA/glycolic moisturizer/primer as a 3rd part, but don’t know how. AM: Exfoliating Cleanser, Vitamin C, CeRave, sunscreenPM: Exfoliating cleaner, Retin A, sometimes CeRave. How do you add AHA’s to this? You say, go ahead and use it with Vitamin C, so now the next issue: When? My gut tells me that AHA is exfoliating, so if I apply that and then put Vitamin C over it, wouldn’t the AHA slough the Vitamin C right off my skin? But if I put Vitamin C on first, won’t the AHA exfoliate all the benefits right off? Just spell it out for me in order if you will! Thanks!

            Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2013 01:40:46 +0000 To: lisamueller@live.com

            Posted by Lisa Mueller | February 5, 2013, 6:22 am
            • That’s a very good question. And don’t worry about bothering me. I’m here to help.

              I’d personally recommend applying the AHA before, rather than after the vitamin C. This is because yes, some of the vitamin C will go into the cells that are then going to be exfoliated off the skin. Overall however, the stratum corneum will be thinner, meaning that the vitamin C has less layers of skin to go through before penetrating into the viable layers underneath, which is the most important goal.

              If you apply the vitamin C first, more will get go into the cells of the stratum corneum, which will then be exfoliated off. Less vitamin C overall, will go into the viable layers of the skin.

              However, keep in mind that this is mostly theoretical and postulative musings. And in the end, the order of application between vitamin C and glycolic acid shouldn’t make that large of a difference in terms of efficacy.

              Also, have you considered mixing the two ingredients? Since their optimal pH values are similar, they should be compatible.

              I hope that all makes sense.

              Posted by John | February 5, 2013, 6:01 pm
  21. help! I use prescription Retin A at night. Vitamin C every morning. I want to add an aha moisturizer, primer. can I put it on top of my Vitamin C right away?

    Posted by Lisa | February 2, 2013, 4:38 pm

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