Retinol and Vitamin C: A Skincare Guide On How To Use Them Together

8 minutes
by Courtney Brooks
July 14, 2022

Typically, your dermatologist doesn’t want to play favorites. But it’s no secret that every derm’s three can’t-live-without skincare ingredients are retinol, vitamin C, and SPF. That’s because it’s also no secret that dermatologists love scientifically verified results. And the trifecta of retinolvitamin C, and SPF have been proven time and again to be top-notch ingredients when it comes to stimulating collagen formation, reducing signs of sun damage, and preventing skin cancer, among other long-term benefits. SPF is pretty straightforward: It protects you from the sun and is the very last thing you apply to your skin before you step outside. But retinol and vitamin C are a little less obvious and using them effectively can require a bit more education. For that, read on.

What is retinol?

derivative of vitamin A, retinol increases cellular turnover, ups collagen production, and inhibits the enzyme linked to melanin manufacture. Using retinol consistently will even out your skin’s tone and texture and reduce acne, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation.

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C is one of nature’s most potent antioxidants. It neutralizes the free radicals generated by everyday life (exposure to pollution, stress, UV light, and so forth), preventing them from breaking down existing collagen in your skin. Vitamin C also helps block pigment production (fewer dark patches), stimulate collagen growth, and thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, it can cut down on the number of acne lesions.

Can you use retinol and vitamin C together?

The short answer is yes. But as with many things in life, the full answer is more complicated. Retinol and vitamin C can’t be formulated together in the same bottle; the chemistry simply won’t work. (So if you ever see a product touting a two-in-one formula, run the other way because its science is bogus.) But just because they can’t live together in a shared container doesn’t mean you can’t layer the two ingredients or use them at different times of the day.

The benefits of using retinol and vitamin C together

The human body is wondrously complex. The descriptions above of how retinol and vitamin C work in the skin are incredibly simplified descriptions of the actual mechanics taking place. There’s no one single way the body makes collagen or blocks the formation of skin discoloration. To get a truly comprehensive result, you need to pull as many skin-stimulating levers as you can. Since retinol and vitamin C work in different ways, combining them in one skincare routine increases the chances of stimulating your skin to fire on all cylinders. 

Building a retinol and vitamin C skincare regimen

since retinol can make your skin sensitive to the sun, most skincare pros recommend applying the ingredient at night. And since vitamin C’s antioxidant powers mean it’s a great secondary line of defense to your sunscreen, catching free radicals that make their way past your SPF, those same experts suggest a layer of vitamin C in the morning. For a comprehensive routine incorporating both retinol and vitamin C for the best effect, see below.

Morning Skincare Routine

 

Evening Skincare Routine

 

Side effects & key considerations

Retinol

It brings new cells to the skin’s surface that are extremely sensitive to the sun. If you didn’t already have a good enough reason to apply daily SPF, adding getting a sunburn to the list of ready why sunscreen every day is a must. 

Retinol can be linked to skin irritation, like redness, peeling, or flaking – especially when you begin using it. However, these reactions go away as your skin adapts.

Retinol can’t be used by those pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Vitamin C

This ingredient is generally considered safe for anyone to use, even those with sensitive complexions. (However, if that’s you, start by applying vitamin C no more than once per day until you see how your skin reacts.) What’s most important is the type of vitamin C in your product formulation. Look for the words “ascorbic acid” on the label. There are many forms of topical vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is the one that absorbs best into the skin.

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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