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by Kanvas Beauty August 31, 2022 5 min read


Like a pro.

Active skincare ingredients are awesome, but they can be confusing too. Are you meant to mix niacinamide and vitamin C? What can you use with retinol? And what about acid exfoliants? Here's your definitive guide, as well as some suggested routines down the bottom.


But first, some basic rules of thumb

  • Generally, active ingredients increase your skin's vulnerability to UV damage. You should regard sunscreen as the most important step in your skincare routine anyway, but particularly when using active ingredients, never skip on the SPF! Ensure you're using a broadspectrum sunscreen of at least SPF30+.
  • If your active routine is starting to result in tiny little red bumps, a burning sensation or dryness, it's time to roll it all back and opt for a basic, ceramide-rich skincare routine. It likely means you've overdone it on active ingredients and your skin barrier needs a bit of healing. It takes roughly 8 weeks for a compromised barrier to repair itself, after which you can try gently reintroducing your actives back into your routine at a lower frequency.¬†
  • Remember, less is more when it comes to active ingredients! Just because the directions say you can use that glycolic acid toner daily doesn't mean you should. It's your skin, your way. Test out what feels right for your skin type.
  • Always include a barrier-reinforcing product in your active routine, whether that be a repairing moisturizer, ceramide ampoule or panthenol toner. Also, give your skin a ceramide-rich treat after using acid exfoliants. This will keep your skin happy and healthy.



AKA: Alpha-arbutin (avoid beta-arbutin)

Daytime or Nighttime: Both

Can use with: Vitamin C, Retinol, Niacinamide, Bakuchiol, Acids

Do not mix with: Actually arbutin pretty much goes with anything. 

Need to know for sensitive skin: While arbutin is a highly compatible skincare ingredient, avoid combining it with more than one active at a time so your skin isn't overwhelmed! Better yet, try combining it with a humectant for a moisturizing boost, or propolis to counter redness.


AKA: Vegan retinol, Psoralea Corylifolia extract, phytoretinol

Daytime or Nighttime: Both

Can use with: Most actives without an issue

Do not mix wiith: Benzoyl Peroxide

Need to know for sensitive skin: Bakuchiol is great vitamin A alternative for sensitive skin, but take it slow nonetheless!


Vitamin C

AKA: Ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, L-ascorbate

Daytime or Nighttime: Day, to take advantage of its antioxidant protection

Can use with: Bakuchiol, Arbutin, Niacinamide

Do not mix with: Acids, Retinol, Benzoyl Peroxide

Need to know for sensitive skin: Avoid concentrations higher than 5% or try Sea Buckthorn (aka Vitamin Fruit or Hippophae Rhamnoides) as a pure vitamin C substitute



AKA: Vitamin B3, Niacin

Daytime or Nighttime: Both

Can use with: Vitamin C, Retinol, Bakuchiol, Arbutin

Do not mix with: Acids

Need to know for sensitive skin: Avoid concentrations higher than 5%. Try it in combination with Zinc PCA to combat acne or redness, or with polyglutamic acid for a gentle brightening and plumping effect.


AKA: Vitamin A, Retinoids, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Retinyl Linoleate

Daytime or Nighttime: Nighttime. Retinol renders skin highly sensitive to UV light.

Can use with: Niacinamide (these two make a great pair), Vitamin C (only if your skin isn't sensitive), Arbutin, Bakuchiol

Do not mix with:: Benzoyl Peroxide, Acids

Need to know for sensitive skin: Start off with a low concentration (e.g. 0.01% - 0.1%) and try it twice weekly before ramping up frequency if your skin gells with it. You can then increase the concentration.



AKA: Chemical exfoliants, chemical peels, peels.

Daytime or Nighttime: Nighttime. Acids are strong exfoliants, and render skin highly sensitive to UV light.

Can use with: Arbutin and Bakuchiol tehnically, but we'd use acids solo. They are really a standalone ingredient.

Do not mix with: Benzoyl Peroxide, Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Retinol.

Types of acids:

  • AHAs (Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic): AHAs (Alpha-hydroxy-acids) are great exfoliaters. They remove dead skin from the surface, resulting in a smoother, brighter appearance. The difference between the different types of AHAs is its molecular¬†weight. Glycolic acid is popular because it has the smallest molecular structure. Therefore it's able to better penetrate the skin. On the flip side, it's the one most likely to cause irritation - and isn't recommend for dark skin in high concentrations (>8%). Mandelic acid is the largest (great for dark skin and sensitive skin) while lactic acid falls somewhere in the middle.
  • BHAs (Salicylic acid, Betaine Salicylate):¬†Beta-hydroxy-acids also exfoliate but get deeper into the pores. They are a solid option for acne and blackheads. Again, the difference between types of BHAs lie in its strength and ability to penetrate. Saliyclic acid is the strongest, but might feel overly drying on sensitive skin. Betaine Salicylate is a gentler version.
  • LHAs: Lipo-hydroxy-acids are technically a type of BHA (i.e. a BHA derivative), but are especially gentle. Like standard salicylic acid, it is oil-soluble, meaning it can cut through greasy skin and clear pores, but with even less irritation and dryness.
  • PHA (gluconolactone, lactobionic acid and galactose): Poly-hydroxy-acids are basically AHA derivatives. As with LHAs vs BHAs, these "second generation AHAs" do the job of exfoliating surface skin, but at a gentler, more measured rate. If you're finding even mandelic acid too irritating, you might want to try PHAs instead.

Need to know for sensitive skin: Start off with the derivatives of AHAs or BHAs before graduating to the stronger stuff. Use the right acid for your skin goals. AHAs and their cousins are best for exfoliating, dealing with rough skin and hyperpigmentation. BHAs and their derivatives are great options for acne and blackhead prone skin. They're also effective on keratosis pilaris. Always finish off with a facial oil or a ceramide-rich serum after using AHAs. Ensure you're using a skin-matching pH cleanser (~5.5) before applying your acid, as they work best in a low pH environment.


Example routine 1: Anti-acne evening routine

Oil Cleanse; SKIN&LAB - Porebarrier Cleansing Balm

Foam Cleanse; Pyunkang Yul - Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam

Lactic acid and PHA (gluconolactone) toner; SVR LABORATORIES - SEBIACLEAR Micro Peel

Mugwort ampoule; ISNTREE - Spot Saver Mugwort Ampoule

Oil-free moisturizer: COSRX - Oil-Free Ultra Moisturizing Lotion with Birch Sap


Example routine 2: Anti-hyperpigmentation AM routine

Balm Cleanse; Mary & May - Vitamin B.C.E Cleansing Balm

Foam Cleanse; Acure - Brightening Cleansing Gel

Sea Buckthorn toner; Jumiso - All Day Vitamin Glow Boost Toner

Vitamin C serum; SVR Laboratories - Vitamin C Ampoule

Gel moisturizer: Purito - Sea Buckthorn Vital 70 Cream 

SPF: Dr. Althea - Aqua Power Sun Essence SPF50+


Example routine 3: dry skin PM routine

Balm Cleanse; UpCircle Beauty - Cleansing Face Balm with Apricot

Foam Cleanse; Mary & May - White Collagen Cleansing Foam

Hyaluronic Acid toner; Hada Labo - Gokujyun Premium Lotion Toner

Arbutin and Polyglutamic Acid serum; Acure - Brightening 2% Alpha Arbutin Serum 

Moisturizer: SVR Laboratories - TOPIALYSE Barrier Cream

Peptides Eye Cream: COSRX - Advanced Snail Peptide Eye Cream 



Find active skincare ingredients online in Australia at Kanvas Beauty

You can shop all these active ingredients right here on Kanvas Beauty.

We ship Australia-wide, including all the major cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Adelaide and Canberra). Enjoy free standard shipping with any purchase over $49, and free express shipping with any order over $99. If you’re new to Kanvas Beauty, take an additional $20 off your first order with us (use code WELCOME20 at checkout).

Happy shopping! If you have further questions on mixing and matching, drop us a line on chat or on email: hello@kanvasbeauty.com.au.

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