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How a Veteran Beauty Writer Pairs Up Her Products for Max Effectiveness

Photo: Courtesy of retailer

The beauty world has its culty standouts — the hero items, the icons, the unicorns, as they’re known in the trade. But me, I think products work better in pairs. The wrinkle-reducing effects of a niacinamide serum are only fully realized with the follow-up of the right moisturizing cream; a non-greasy body oil sinks in best after a certain coffee scrub. (I am pairings-focused in my makeup routine, too — I dilute Lorac Pro Skin Glass Skin Primer with Lorac Pro Soft Focus Longwear Foundation for a velvety stay-put finish; I get denser-yet-still-tidy brows by following Glossier’s Brow Flick with a few swipes of their Boy Brow brush — but this article is focused mainly on skin care.) And so, here, I’ve rounded up seven of the most synergistic duos in my face-and-body regimen (plus one for hair, because I couldn’t resist). Some of the couplings are same-brand; others are disparate, even unlikely. In my fervid, skin-care-obsessed imagination, either I had a hunch that such and such would work together, or I stumbled upon and combined them, only to find that their tandem power was much greater than the sum of their parts. That’s what I call serendipity.

My favorite skin-cleansing duo:

Confession: I’m a longtime aficionado of AHAs, not to mention prescription tretinoin — all potentially irritating. So when it comes to mechanical exfoliating cleansers, I value the gentlest among them. Especially Tatcha’s exquisitely soft-touch Camellia Cleansing Oil and The Rice Polish: Classic combo. Together, they’re a mini-ritual of sorts. I start by dousing and massaging my face in camellia oil (rich in cushiony oleic oil). FYI, camellia oil is also used in Japan to protect precious woodworking tools and cutlery from erosion. Next: splashings of very warm water that turn the oil milky. I continue massaging for half a minute or so. Then …

Once the cleansing oil is rinsed off, my face still dripping wet, I create a paste, in the palm of my hand, of a teaspoon or so of Tatcha’s The Rice Polish: Classic (for normal and combination skin) with more water. A foaming lather appears. That’s the “scrub” — rice bran specks as tiny as finely ground salt, combined with enzymatic papaya extract. These add up to a feathery-soft exfoliation that leaves my complexion cleansed but not depleted.

My favorite skin-treatment duo:

No wonder Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial is a best-seller. It’s full of high-grade, skin-sloughing AHAs, BHAs, and lactic, tartaric, and citric acids. But they’re calmed down with the addition of soothing matcha tea, milk thistle, and apple. Once I ply it on, I get an initial sting (which I love), followed by a steady, circulation-boosting warming sensation (not the fiery redness traditional AHAs produced). It’s supposed to be left on for ten minutes. I stretch that to 15 or 20. Then …

As per Drunk Elephant’s recommendation, I follow up the Babyfacial with their Omega-rich Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil — a complexion soother and restorer of lost oils. The ultimate takeaway? Even-toned radiance. And that warming sensation I mentioned? For me, it lasts a couple of days.

My favorite skin-hydrating duo:

I’ve been tracking doctors’ skin-care brands — which often contain AHAs and active vitamin C — ever since they first appeared in the late 1980s. There’s now a bonanza of such safe and effective high-potency product lines out there. Even so, and not to mince words, I wasn’t expecting how extra-excellent and state-of-the-art the New York dermatologist Howard Sobel’s recently introduced comprehensive Sobel Skin Rx collection is. The key ingredients — glycolic acid, retinol, hyaluronic acid — need no introduction. But their diesel-powered formulations, buffered for gentleness, feel and look gorgeous on my skin. Most surprising for me was the result of a particular combo from the line: Start with the wrinkle-reducing, pore-minimizing, hydration-restoring, maximum-strength 15% Niacinamide Gel Serum. Then see how it out-performs itself when followed up with …

This non-greasy Bio Hyaluronic Moisturizing Cream is, in effect, a light coverlet for the niacinamide gel, maximizing its effectiveness. The pairing makes my complexion look fully revitalized and feel newly sensuous.

My favorite complexion-evening duo:

There are times when I want just the merest whisper of foundation. That’s when I turn to minimally pigmented, minimal-coverage 3CE Stylenanda Gl