Skin Lightening Ingredients to Combine for The Best Results

When it comes to your health and beauty, what you apply on your skin matters. Certain ingredients work best on their own while others are ineffective or toxic when mixed. We have already looked at skin lightening ingredients you should never combine. Did you also know that there are skin lightening ingredients to combine for best results?

To give your skin a lighter tone, you can combine, blend, alternate, or layer some ingredients without fear of adverse reactions. It so happens that some combos come with extra skin benefits. Below is more information on what you can use safely and effectively together.


Hydroxy acids are chemicals from the alpha-hydroxy acids(AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and omega hydroxy acids groups (OHAs). Of the three, AHAs and BHAs are common ingredients in both skin lightening and routine skincare products.

Examples of AHAs that you can find in cosmetics include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid. You will find such ingredients in products that target wrinkles, fine lines, and dead and hyperpigmented skin. Each of these acids comes with a different level of bioavailability which accounts for the popularity of AHAs in skincare. [1]

BHAs are also several in number. In matters skincare, the term primarily refers to salicylic acid. Similar to AHAs, salicylic acid helps in the removal of the damaged and dead outer skin layer. You will find it in ointments, serums, and creams. It is used to treat warts, dandruff, acne, and hyperpigmentation.[2]

So, when should you combine these ingredients for skin lightening? The best application is when suffering from an overly oily skin condition. The reason being, salicylic acid is oil-soluble while AHAs are water-soluble. When layered, salicylic acid penetrates deep into the sebum. Here, it gets rid of oily gunk which causes acne. AHAs, on the other hand, exfoliate the surface layer.

CAUTION! If you suffer from dry skin, we advise that you keep away from the combo. Even when used separately, alpha and beta hydroxy acids can dry out your skin further, making you prone to cracks and infections. 

SPF + Vitamin C

Though not much of an ingredient but rather an important step in skincare, sunscreen is a must when using topical skin lighteners.

To brighten your skin, ingredients interfere with melanin production in the skin. The process exposes the epidermal layer of your skin to the ultraviolet rays. Consequently, your skin can age prematurely, get sunburnt, or become less elastic.[3]

Also known as sunblock, sunscreen absorbs and reflects some of the damaging UV radiation. The products come with an SPF rating which indicates the fraction of damaging UV rays reaching the skin. Whenever you are using skin lighteners, use SPF 30 and above for best sun protection.

Vitamin C, on the other hand, is one of the top skincare ingredients combined with others. It is a potent antioxidant, and as such, it helps in keeping free radicals from your skin.If left unchecked, free radicals bond with atoms in the skin, leaving your skin looking dull and aged. Similar to sunscreen, Vitamin C also helps in keeping damaging UV rays off your skin.

  Kim Chang,Medical Aesthetician, Baylor College of  Medicine

Studies have shown that using a sunscreen with Vitamin C protects the skin from further photodamage caused by ultra-violet rays…This information is important because most people don’t know that you can protect your skin even further than just sunscreen [4]

Simply put, the antioxidant property of vitamin C and the protective factor of sunscreen combine well. This helps in boosting your skin’s natural defence.

Hyaluronic Acid + Alpha and Beta Hydroxy  Acids

Hyaluronic acid is one of the most beneficial skincare ingredients. It’s more prevalent in moisturisers and hydrating serums. Sometimes labelled as hyaluronan or sodium hyaluronate, the element is a natural humectant. As such, it helps your skin retain water and keeps your tissues lubricated.

HA occurs naturally in your body, but its levels reduce with age. The decline can be occasioned by reduced sex hormone levels and UV exposure. With topical application, you can adequately elevate the acid’s levels.[5

When it comes to blending, layering, or matching ingredients, hyaluronic acid plays well with others. This is because it’s a gentle compound associated with very few side effects. So mild is the acid that it is used in formulating eye drops solutions.[6]

One of the best combos in skincare is the acid plus AHAs and BHAs. While hydroxy acids exfoliate your skin for a lighter tone, they can leave you dry and itchy. Layering them with hyaluronic acid helps to moisten your skin. The combo ensures that your skin is less irritated by attracting and sealing in moisture.  

The best way to use the acids without any severe reactions is by adding just a few drops of hyaluronic acid to your AHAs/BHAs regimen. You can also apply hyaluronic acid as a stand-alone last or first layer.

Vitamin C + Vitamin E

Both vitamins C and E are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants act as “free radical scavengers”; they actively look for and neutralise oxidative radicals on your skin.[7]

Apart from the antioxidant role, vitamin C is a skin lightening agent. You can also find it labelled as ascorbic acid. Topical use of the compound inhibits the actions of the enzyme tyrosinase. The enzyme is responsible for melanin synthesis.[8] Additionally, vitamin C plays a vital role in the production of collagen. 

Why should you combine these skin lightening ingredients? To begin with, vitamin C is water-soluble, while vitamin E is oil-soluble. Combining the two properties allows your regimen to penetrate the skin differently and more effectively. Also, the two ingredients stabilise each other for improved efficacy.

Correct formulations of vitamins C + E provides a reservoir in the skin for protection not only against post UV–induced erythema, hyperpigmentation, photoaging, and skin cancer, but also against other free-radical damage, they are indeed a valuable adjunct to frequent sunscreen application, Dermatology Therapy journal [9]

Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid

Though one of the most effective skincare ingredients, the most potent forms of vitamin C happen to be the most unstable. The efficacy of the vitamin greatly diminishes due to factors such as light, air and heat. Common unstable forms of vitamin C used for skin benefits include Ascorbic acid and L-AA.[10]The antioxidant and skin lightening properties of vitamin C are safe and effective when the vitamin is stable. One of the best vitamin C stabilisers is ferulic acid. This is a little known skincare compound which comes infused in lotions and creams. You can also buy it as a serum or in powder form.Mixing ferulic acid with other antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, results in a more stable solution. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology published a study that points to ferulic acid doubling photoprotection when mixed with vitamin C + E. The study also proposed the combo as a good deterrent against skin cancer and photoaging.[11] Ferulic acid comes with added skin benefits. Similar to vitamin C, ferulic acid is an antioxidant favoured for its anti-ageing properties. As it stands, the ingredient is primarily used in the cosmetics industry. It helps your skin to fight off free radicals, treat age spots, and reduce the severity of wrinkles.

Vitamin C and Niacinamide

Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 used in the treatment of skin conditions such as acne and pigmentation issues. Also known as nicotinamide or vitamin PP, vitamin B3 is effective in reducing skin oil production upon topical application.

The ingredient is especially important in the treatment of pellagra. The condition results from a deficiency of vitamin niacin. Pellagra manifests as dark, stiff and inflamed skin which might peel off and bleed. 

Niacinamide is also useful in the treatment of hyperpigmented skin. Studies have shown the ingredient to present fewer and less severe side effects compared to hydroquinone, the ‘gold-standard’ of skin lighteners. In one such split-face clinical trial, the vitamin proved to be effective against melasma, a common skin hyperpigmentation disorder.[12]

Mixing niacinamide and vitamin C gives a more efficient and stable treatment.[13] The combination, however, gets opposition due to the possibility of formation of a damaging compound.

Under certain conditions, Vitamin C can convert niacinamide into niacin. This form of vitamin B3 can cause skin flushing. The concerns are however not concrete since the optimal requirements for such a reaction call for high heat and concentrations not possible with topical use.

Caution: As much as the pair is effective, the side effects can be overwhelming on sensitive skin. In such a case, you need to monitor your skin more keenly and discontinue use if the side effects are severe, right from the initial use. 

Retinol + Hyaluronic Acid

If you have suffered from severe acne, the chances are that a topical retinoid gel or cream was prescribed. The term ‘retinoids’ is used to refer to active skin treatments such as tretinoin, the standard treatment for acne. Also known as Vitamin A1, retinol is a weaker type of retinoid found in OTC products.[14

These products help in unclogging pores to get rid of excess skin oil which causes skin breakouts. Retinol also encourages rapid cell turnover, which makes it especially important in the treatment of photodamaged skin. 

Retinol also helps in increasing collagen production in your skin. This results in a fuller and firmer appearance. As such, the ingredient reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. It also stimulates the formation of new blood vessels for rosier and healthier skin.

The benefits of topical retinol use, however, come with a host of side effects. Chief among these are irritation, redness, and itchiness.[15] Dermatologists caution against using retinol creams with strong chemical peels to avoid severe side effects. 

Arielle PanarelloMedical Aesthetician, Union Square Laser Dermatology NYC

Retinol is an incredible tool to speed up cellular turnover smooth skin and boosts collagen, while hyaluronic acid helps draw water into the skin providing a plump, glowing complexion[16]

The best way to use retinol is by layering the cream with a hydrating serum- which is where hyaluronic acid comes in. As a natural humectant, when you layer it with retinol, the acid minimises irritation, peeling, and dryness.


For great results, you may need to combine several skincare ingredients. However, you should do this with utmost caution to avoid unexpected reactions. For your skin lightening regimen, the above combinations not only increase effectiveness but also come with extra benefits for your skin. Since they are quite a number, you may have to try several before you settle on the best for your skin.


sonia knight

Sonia Knight is the founder of be:skinformed.

Apart from having her own experience with hyperpigmentation, Sonia has gained vast knowledge in the dermatology field. For more info on this, check out our about us page.


[1] ​Everything you need to know about using alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), Healthline

[2]  Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review, Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.

[3] Can you reverse sun damage?, WebMD

[4] Benefits of adding vitamin C to your skincare routine, Baylor College of Medicine

[5] Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging, Dermato-Endocrinology

[6] Improvement of the ocular surface using hypotonic 0.4% hyaluronic acid drops in keratoconjunctivitis sicca, London: Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom.

[7] About Free Radical Damage, HOPES Stanford University

[8] Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications,The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology

[9] Interaction of vitamins C and E as better cosmeceuticals, Dermatologic Therapy journal

[10] 5 Skin Care Ingredients That Should Always Be Paired Together, Healthline

[11] Ferulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doubles its Photoprotection of Skin, Journal Of Investigative Dermatology.

[12] A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial of Niacinamide 4% versus Hydroquinone 4% in the Treatment of Melasma, Dermatology Research and Practice.

[13] Melanocytes’ dendricity down-regulated by the association niacinamide–ascorbic acid, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

[14] Retinoid Treatment and Your Skin, WebMD.

[15]  Vitamin A and Skin Health, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

[16] 5 Skin-Care Ingredients You Should Never Mix—and 4 You Should, The Healthy

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