In case you hadn't heard, glowy skin is in. Smooth, blemish-free faces are plastered all over our Instagram feeds, leading loads of beauty lovers to mix and match exfoliators, serums, and moisturizers with reckless abandon in pursuit of that enviable dolphin skin (weird title, dreamy look). But there are so many skincare ingredients out there that serve so many different purposes that it can be hard to know which products actually work best together to achieve all our skincare goals.
That's where celebrity esthetician Candace Marino comes in. Not only is she the expert trusted with the faces of stars like Kourtney Kardashian and Grimes, but she also has a wealth of knowledge about the skincare ingredient combinations that banish glow-reducing skin situations, from breakouts to texture to enlarged pores. Basically, she's got all of the answers.
Ahead, see Marino's edit of the top five ingredient cocktails that contribute to healthy, glowing skin and shop the product picks she prescribes to her celebrity clientele.
Retinol + Benzoyl Peroxide
Targets: adult acne
According to Marino, benzoyl peroxide is a powerhouse acne ingredient. If you've ever struggled with breakouts, chances are you're well aware of this fact. She says that by combining it with retinol, the queen bee of cell turnover, you can expect smoother skin with fewer acne lesions and boosted plumpness due to stimulated collagen production. As always, it's important to listen to your skin to determine whether ingredient potencies need to be adjusted to best serve your needs.
It's not easy to find products with retinol and benzoyl peroxide housed in the same bottle, but there are plenty of standalone products prominently featuring each ingredient that can be layered for similar acne-busting purposes. This lightweight benzoyl peroxide treatment works to clear out pore-clogging bacteria, thus stopping acne in its tracks and preventing new flare-ups from forming.
Here's another trusted benzoyl peroxide formula that works to absorb excess oil in the skin and prevent breakouts. While its 5% benzoyl peroxide concentration isn't the highest you can find out there, it's nothing to sneeze at. As such, it's always wise to start slow with highly active ingredients to be sure your skin can tolerate them, especially if you're planning to mix active ingredients in your routine.
One of the main gripes you'll hear about retinol is that it can cause serious dryness and irritation. This is mostly true when you're first getting used to the ingredient (this is known as reactive stage "skin purging"), but an overwhelming number of the whopping 17,000 reviews for this cream confirm that starting slow and working up from applying one to two times per week minimizes any negative reactions for those with even the most sensitive skin.
Lactic Acid + Salicylic Acid + Glycolic Acid
Targets: congested and enlarged pores
You've likely heard of each of these ingredients separately, but Marino confirms that they work even better as a team. "This combination of acids mildly and gradually exfoliates the skin for a smoother, more radiant appearance with fewer blemishes, lines, and wrinkles," she says.
This peel from The Ordinary is one of the brand's most popular products—and for good reason. In just 10 minutes, it delivers a deep exfoliation. You can expect blemishes to appear smaller and for your skin's texture to improve with prolonged use. You must remember to rinse this stuff off after 10 minutes! It's much too strong to leave on the skin any longer. (Please don't test this theory for yourself.)
I don't know a single beauty editor who isn't deeply in love with these two-step, acid-soaked peel pads. In addition to lactic, salicylic, and glycolic acids, the first wipe also features more AHAs like mandelic acid and malic acid. Step two instantly neutralizes all the exfoliators and infuses the skin with calming, moisturizing ingredients. While highly effective, they're suitable for daily use.
If you're a mud mask fan, this is one you should consider. Not only does it draw impurities out of the skin with activated charcoal, but it also uses six different acids, including the spotlit trio, to further minimize the look of pores.
AHA + Retinoid
Targets: fine lines, wrinkles
If youth preservation is your priority, Marino says this is the combination to focus on. These ingredient families can work wonders when used in tandem since retinoids, the umbrella encompassing all vitamin A derivatives, and AHAs, the water-soluble acids that help peel away the surface of your skin, work well together to improve the skin's ability to receive hydration. She says smoother, more radiant skin results from using these ingredients together.
"SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream is a nighttime treatment cream featuring glycolic acid and retinoic acid, the most active form of retinol," says Marino. "Its peptide- and antioxidant-rich base aids in increasing and protecting collagen while smoothing texture and fighting fine lines and wrinkles."
This resurfacing treatment leans into a hefty dose of AHA glycolic acid (14% to be exact), with a lower concentration of retinol added to round out the overnight perfecting process.
I've called out this product duo over and over again as the key that unlocked even skin for me after a cystic acne flare-up in my mid-20s left my skin with tons of texture and hyperpigmentation. Trans-retinol ester and purified lactic acid are the hero ingredients of Luna and Good Genes, respectively.
Antioxidant + SPF
Targets: premature aging, free radical damage
"These are my two daytime nonnegotiables," Marino says. "Every single person on the planet should be using an antioxidant serum followed by a sunscreen every single day. I call antioxidant serums the insurance policy on your SPF because these serums absorb into the skin and aid in protecting the cells from UV rays and free radicals that damage our skin. Using these together will ensure your skin is protected and will help prevent external aging factors."
Oil + Water
Targets: dryness, dullness, dehydrated skin
Oil and water don't mix, but they sure do complement each other in a skincare context. It's no surprise that Marino puts a heavy emphasis on restoring nutrients in the skin with oils to encourage that healthy glow. Since the skin is composed of over 60% water, it only makes sense that it's the ultimate hydrator our skin and bodies crave.
"This powerful blend of organically sourced olive oil and organic olive leaf water create a moisturizing and protective blend that helps to plump and nourish the skin," Marino explains. "It leaves the skin healthy, hydrated, and radiant."
If the slick feeling of oil on your skin is the reason you steer clear, then this just might be the one that wins you over. The perfect balance of carriers jojoba and sunflower oils feels weightless on the skin as they help to seal in nutrients like hydrating prickly pear, squalane, and vitamin C.
There's just something about this dew-inducing mist that's made it a cult favorite among French pharmacygoers and worldwide fans alike. It contains trace minerals and silica to help soothe and condition the skin.