Using skin care products is an effective way to maintain the health of your skin. A basic skin care routine typically includes a facial cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, but more complex regimens call for essences, serums, eye creams, exfoliators, masks, and others.
When putting together a skin care routine that works for you, you’ll likely account for your skin type and any skin issues or conditions. You may also consider active ingredients that your skin tolerates and any allergies you have. But how important is it to curate your entire regimen from one brand?
We asked experts whether you should exclusively use a single skin care line or mix and match products.
The argument for using a single skin care line is usually to increase the effectiveness of the products. Brands tend to formulate products that work best when used together. There’s a whole science behind formulating cosmetics, and formulators of the same brand know how two or more of their products will work when used in the same routine. Add a product from another line and the outcome could be more dubious.
“Brands typically test their products together,” says board certified dermatologist Yoram Harth, MD. “The chance that products made by the same brand will complement each other is higher than using products from different brands.”
This also reduces the chances of irritation. There are some rules in skin care about ingredients that shouldn’t be layered together, such as retinol and vitamin C. While brands may use ingredients that normally mix across their product range, it’s unlikely that you’ll find them within the same collection.
“When a brand formulates a range of products, they develop them with a similar approach, avoiding incompatible ingredients or conditions and building up efficacy,” explains cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos. “They also test the products together to ensure all of those criteria have been met.”
Using products that complement each other and decrease irritation sounds great, but there are some drawbacks to sticking to a single skin care brand for every step in your routine. In doing this, Dobos says, “You’re limited to the ingredients and philosophy of the brand.”
Remaining loyal to one brand may give you a case of FOMO. Could there be something better out there for you?
If you’re new to curating a skin care routine, this is a good way to safely introduce products to your skin. It’s also a safe route for those with sensitive skin. But it limits you to just a few products when there are others that may work just as well or better.
Variety is the spice of life, and this applies to your skin care products too. This requires more trial and error but can be very fruitful.
Expanding outside of a single skin care line gives you significantly more options to choose from. While this can be overwhelming, it’s also more exciting for those that are advanced skin care users.
“Mixing and matching allows you to pick and choose products that work well for you,” says cosmetic chemist Michelle Wong. “This way, you don’t artificially limit yourself to a small subset of the products available on the market.”
Most skin care brands offer the basics — cleansers and moisturizers — but they may not include everything. Looking outside your go-to brand gives you access to types of products they may not offer, such as toners, ampoules, and facial oils.
“Curating from multiple brands can be a good idea when you come across unique products not offered by your regular, favorite brand,” Harth says.
Sticking to one brand can be restrictive, so you may be missing out on products that may benefit your skin or bring you joy if skin care is your self-care.
Dobos considers this route a more personalized approach. “You can create a custom cocktail of ingredients to target your skin’s unique needs,” she says. “However, this approach requires more experimentation and sometimes a bit of research.”
She explains that there’s more to skin care products than just their active ingredients — you may have to learn a little bit of cosmetic chemistry to fully understand how pH levels and base compositions affect how well products will layer on top of each other. “Using too many low pH products can irritate the skin, and the wrong combination of product bases can turn your face into an oil stick,” she adds.
If you decide to mix and match, you’ll also have to be warier of potential irritation. Some ingredients conflict with each other and can cause irritation when mixed, such as benzoyl peroxide and retinol or glycolic acid and vitamin C. Wong calls these “ingredient conflicts.”
You’ll also have to be more mindful about how often you use certain ingredients that may appear in multiple products, such as chemical exfoliants, which should be limited to 2 to 3 times per week.
“Some products may also pill when they are layered on top of other products, which might make them less effective,” Wong explains.
If a single brand doesn’t offer everything you need, the experts have some advice on how to curate a routine that minimizes irritation:
- Avoid mixing products with ingredient conflicts (i.e., glycolic acid and retinol).
- Watch out for ingredients that cause irritation when used frequently, such as glycolic acid appearing in multiple products within the same routine.
- Pat your products on instead of rubbing to prevent pilling.
- Do research on active ingredients. Use an ingredient checker to know more information about the active ingredients in a skin care product.
- When introducing new products and brands, use them for at least 3 months to see if they’re making a difference.
- Visit a dermatologist to address your specific skin needs.
Everyone’s skin is different, so what works for others may not work for you.
If you’re a beginner or have sensitive skin, sticking to the same brand may be the safest choice. It’s the least likely to cause irritation, and it’s the easiest route.
Mixing and matching from numerous brands requires a bit more research, trial, and error, but it can allow you to find your favorite products through experimentation. You’ll need to be careful when mixing active ingredients, though.
“Ultimately, mass market skin care products can only do so much for skin conditions like acne and melasma,” Dobos says. “You may need to see a dermatologist who has the tools to address your unique needs in a better way.”
Either route is fair game as long as you’re happy and your skin tolerates the routine well.
Lacey Muinos is a health, wellness, and beauty writer based in Southern California. She holds a BA in English. Her work has appeared in digital publications like Livestrong, Verywell, Business Insider, Eat This Not That, and others. When she’s not writing, Lacey is likely pursuing her other interests: skin care, plant-based cooking, pilates, and traveling. You can keep up with her by visiting her website or her blog.