How to Pair BHA and Vitamin C in Your Skincare Routine

7 min
September 01, 2022

Vitamin C, as you likely already know, is an antioxidant superstar and the cornerstone of a comprehensive daily skincare regimen. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) you may not recognize immediately, but you’ve probably used it at least once or twice before and it may even be in your routine now — if you’re applying salicylic acid. (It’s the most common BHA in skincare.) Both ingredients (BHA and vitamin C) can help you get your best skin ever. To find out how, keep reading.

What are BHAs?

A category of chemical exfoliants, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) loosen clumps of dead cells, whether they’re stuck to the surface of your skin or packed together far inside a pore. BHAs are unique in that they’re oil-soluble, which allows them to be absorbed deep into skin — deeper than their alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) counterparts. While there are a few kinds of BHAs, the ones you’ll most commonly see on a skincare label are the aforementioned salicylic acid and also salix alba, an extract of willow bark that’s the kinder, gentler cousin of salicylic acid. Another BHA bonus: They’re antibacterial, which makes them very good at keeping P. acnes bacteria in check.

What is vitamin C?

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

Can you use BHAs and vitamin C together?

Yes, you can, although you won’t find the two ingredients formulated in the same product. Instead, your option is to layer them, starting with the BHA. Since BHAs can be strong and so can vitamin C, reactive skins may want to space out their application more than just a few minutes, choosing to use one in the morning and the other at night.

How to use BHAs with vitamin C for best results

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

Layering BHAs and vitamin C together

As noted above, if you decide to put one on top of the other, you should apply your BHA skincare first. This is because the BHA 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 BHA. 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 BHA 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 BHAs and vitamin C at different times

If you don’t want to run the risk of an inflamed outcome, apply your BHAs and vitamin C at opposite times of the day. Antioxidants protect from free radicals—and vitamin C is an antioxidant, so it makes sense to apply it right before you’re going to be exposed to the max amount of free radicals during the day. (UV rays are a major generator of unwanted free radicals.) Vitamin C products can provide extra protection from the sun under your top layer of SPF. Then you can incorporate your BHA 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 BHA 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 salix alba, 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 BHAs like salicylic acid or salix alba.

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 combines both salicylic acid and salix alba.

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

Ben Gentzler

Ben Gentzler has worked in the beauty industry for 17 years — 10 of which were spent in clinical skincare. He is a licensed esthetician with a passion for leading professional education on cutting edge treatments at top spas around the world and for training on the science of skin. Ben has trained directly with Dr. Dennis Gross, learning about the state of the art in skincare and working with his clients to help them achieve their best skin.

Read More from Ben Gentzler

Written By

Ben Gentzler

Ben Gentzler has worked in the beauty industry for 17 years — 10 of which were spent in clinical skincare. He is a licensed esthetician with a passion for leading professional education on cutting edge treatments at top spas around the world and for training on the science of skin. Ben has trained directly with Dr. Dennis Gross, learning about the state of the art in skincare and working with his clients to help them achieve their best skin.

Read More from Ben Gentzler