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Q: Can I Use Vitamin C and Retinol Together?

By Mercedes Taylor

With a love for cosmetics from a young age, my curiosity knew that there was much more to the goop inside the jar than meets the eye. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Analytical Chemistry and moved to California to chase my dreams of becoming a cosmetic chemist, passionate about developing results-driven skincare. Now, I am the Product Innovation Manager for Youth To The People. My primary experience is in research and development, with a focus on both sustainability and the formulation of skincare, bringing natural ingredients to the forefront of the cosmetics market. I’m here to answer all your skincare questions.

Question: Can I Use Vitamin C and Retinol Together?

Answer: Vitamin A (also known as retinoic acid) and vitamin C are both antioxidants, but their benefits vary greatly. Each has a different way that it interacts with oxidation (e.g. UV) and stressors (e.g. P. acnes which is linked to breakouts) to help with overall skin health (more on that below). Even though vitamin C and retinol offer different results, you’ll want to avoid applying them both at the same time in order to maximize the benefits you’ll receive from each.

Vitamin C can block oxidation caused by UV radiation, and it can also act as an inhibitor for tyrosinase. Tyrosinase is an enzyme in the skin that stimulates the overproduction of melanin and inflammation due to UV radiation. Vitamin C is also a needed catalyst in collagen production.

Vitamin A, also known as retinoic acid, is a lipid-soluble vitamin that helps with cellular turnover by speeding up the turnover rate. When fresh cells are created in the dermis and pushed up towards the skin’s surface, the dead skin cells on top of our stratum corneum have to fall off. Typically this isn’t noticeable to the naked eye (we don’t shed like snakes), but when retinoic acid is involved, skin can look dry, flakey, and tight. Any resulting dry and tight feeling is caused by the exposure of fresh new skin cells to environmental stressors without proper hydration. It takes a lot of water to support new cell growth! If you are experiencing this type of irritation and dryness, it may be that the retinol is too potent for your skin. Remember, a higher potency doesn’t always mean faster results. Typically after about 3-6 months of using a retinoid, the skin will become more tolerant and protect itself from dehydration. 

Using vitamin C and vitamin A together seems like a great idea, but it really has everything to do with your skin’s tolerance to potent actives and the concentration of each in the formula you're using. If you’re using a prescription retinoid, I would recommend not using a high concentration of l-ascorbic acid in your daily routine, since it can be more irritating to the fresh skin cells. Instead, opt for moisturizing products that contain non-irritating THD ascorbate, like the Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask, since they will be less likely to irritate the skin.

Retinoids should always be applied at night. Because retinoic acid is such a potent antioxidant, daytime use will result in immediate oxidation from UV exposure, and it will be difficult to get the full potential benefits from the product. Using it during the day can also cause more irritation on the surface of the skin. If you do decide to wear your retinoids during the day, it's recommended that you pair your retinol products with niacinamide, THD ascorbate, and of course, sunscreen. 

Vitamin C in many forms is recommended for daytime use because it is a great antioxidant and will protect nubile skin cells from UV damage. This can be incredibly beneficial when committing to a nightly retinoid. Look for the vitamin C derivative named THD ascorbate in your daily serum or moisturizer; it increases the benefits of a sunscreen’s overall SPF value by helping to protect your skin from harsh UV rays. 

No matter which active ingredients you use to meet your skincare goals, topical hydration is essential. Add a hydrating serum or mist to your routine when using a retinoid to help mitigate potential dehydration. Or if you’re using just a high concentration vitamin C serum, make sure it has hydrating properties and works well under a moisturizer.

In short: yes, you can use vitamin C and retinol together; try retinol at night and vitamin C during the day—always with sunscreen.