How to Use AHA and Vitamin C Together in Your Skincare Routine

7 min
by Courtney Brooks
August 23, 2022

Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and vitamin C are two of the most well-known, highly regarded ingredients in skincare. Their beneficial effects have been exhaustively documented, and they can be used by almost every skin type under the sun. (Speaking of sun, AHAs and vitamin C are very good at reversing the appearance of too much sun exposure.) Obviously, you want both in your life. Read on to discover the best way to incorporate AHA and vitamin C into your skincare routine.

What are AHAs?

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are chemical exfoliants that help the skin shed dead cells by loosening the “glue” that keeps these dead cells stuck to your face and body, allowing them to fall off naturally. Despite their chemical categorization, AHAs can actually be a gentler form of exfoliation than physical scrubs, which rip off dead cells on contact. There are many types of AHAs (glycolic, citric, mandelic, and lactic acids, to name four), but one thing they all have in common is that they’re water-soluble. As a result, they only work on the uppermost layer of skin.

What is vitamin C?

Although best known as an uber-powerful antioxidant, vitamin C does more than neutralize free radicals. It also helps stimulate the production of new collagen to keep skin firm and smooth. Used consistently, vitamin C also helps minimize the look of dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone by reducing melanin production. And vitamin C helps fortify skin’s barrier function, so that less water can evaporate, and the tissue remains healthy and hydrated. 

Can you use AHAs and vitamin C together?

The simple answer is: It depends. Due to their individual pH levels, AHAs and vitamin C are very tricky to formulate together in a single product (although it can be done — more on that here). The workaround is to layer your AHA and vitamin C skincare products. (AHAs go first.) But if your skin is prone to sensitivity, you’re better off using your AHA and vitamin C items at different times of day. 

How to use AHAs with vitamin C for best results

You have two options when it comes to incorporating both AHAs and vitamin C into your daily skincare routine — together or apart. Here’s how:

Layering AHAs and vitamin C together

As noted above, if you decide to put one on top of the other, you should apply your AHA skincare first. This is because the AHA is an exfoliant, and you don’t want to smooth on your vitamin C serum, only to remove it immediately afterward with a swipe of your AHA. The other thing to keep in mind is that both ingredients can cause sensitivity — especially at high concentrations. To minimize the risk of irritation, if you’re using a potent AHA product (like a peel), be sure it incorporates a neutralizing step to “shut off” the acids. Otherwise, the active acids plus vitamin C could equal a red-faced result for you. 

Using AHAs and vitamin C at different times

If you don’t want to run the risk of an inflamed outcome, apply your AHAs and vitamin C at opposite times of the day. Since vitamin C is an antioxidant, it makes sense to use it right before you’re going to be exposed to the max amount of free radicals — the daytime. (UV rays are a major generator of unwanted free radicals.) Your vitamin C products will provide extra reinforcement under your top layer of SPF 30. Then you can incorporate your AHA skincare into your pre-bed regimen. You’ll still get the benefits of both ingredients, but spacing them out will lessen the risk of a negative reaction. 

Choose the right AHA and vitamin C skincare products for you

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare makes a range of skincare products featuring both ingredients that can be incorporated into a comprehensive, daily skincare routine.

Cleanse

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta AHA/BHA Daily Cleansing Gel: Formulated for all skin types, this gentle wash incorporates AHAs such as glycolic acid, along with soothing jasmine and bisabolol. 

Exfoliate

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Peels: With three facial concentrations to choose from, there’s a version of this iconic, two-step peel for every kind of complexion. All three strengths contain AHAs like mandelic acid.  

Treat

Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic 15% Vitamin C Firm & Bright Serum: Thanks to its superhigh concentration of vitamin C, this topical treatment can help make fine lines, dark spots, and skin sagging things of the past.

Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Firm & Bright Eye Treatment: Address undereye circles, wrinkles, and puffiness with one potent product formulated with three types of vitamin C.

Moisturize

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Moisturizer: Oil-free but highly hydrating, this lightweight lotion includes a host of AHAs, including glycolic and malic acids.

Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Oil-Free Radiant Moisturizer: Vitamin C isn’t the only star in this non-comedogenic formulation. This daily hydrator also features niacinamide, a derivative of vitamin B3 that can help control sebum production.

Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Lactic Dewy Deep Cream: If dryness is your major concern, reach for this rich cream. Not only is it loaded with vitamin C (of course), it’s also bursting with ceramides, which are lipids that strengthen the skin barrier and keep moisture from seeping out.

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Written By

Courtney Brooks

Courtney Brooks has been working alongside Dr. Dennis Gross for close to ten years. She ascribes to his philosophy of customizing in office procedures and at home skincare for specific individual needs. With extensive education in cosmetic dermatology, Courtney prides herself in being able to provide the utmost care, knowledge and results to all patients.

Read More from Courtney Brooks

Written By

Courtney Brooks

Courtney Brooks has been working alongside Dr. Dennis Gross for close to ten years. She ascribes to his philosophy of customizing in office procedures and at home skincare for specific individual needs. With extensive education in cosmetic dermatology, Courtney prides herself in being able to provide the utmost care, knowledge and results to all patients.

Read More from Courtney Brooks