Can you use Vitamin C and retinol together?
Alone, they’re two anti-aging powerhouses that kick wrinkles and dark spots in the butt and give you a smoother, brighter complexion.
Together they should work even better, right?
Rumour has it, their pHs are totally incompatible. Use them together and they deactivate each other, becoming useless.
Is that really true? Here’s what science has to say on this skincare feud:
What’s Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is an antioxidant on steroids. Here’s everything it does for skin:
- Fights free radicals (the nasty molecules that give you wrinkles and dark spots)
- Brightens skin and reduces hyperpigmentation
- Essential for the production of collagen (the protein that keeps your skin firm)
- Protects skin from UV damage (especially when used together with Vitamin E and ferulic acid)
FYI, Vitamin C isn’t just an ingredient. L-Ascorbic Acid is the pure form of Vitamin C. It’s the most effective for anti-aging and skin-brightening, but also the most irritating (in high doses) and unstable (it goes bad fast).
Other forms of Vitamin C include:
- Ascorbic acid polypeptide
- Ascorbyl glucosamine
- Ascorbyl glucoside
- Ascorbyl palmitate
- Ethyl ascorbic acid
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
- Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
- Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
These are all derivates of L-Ascorbic Acid. They’re less effective, but gentler on the skin and last longer.
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00/£67.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice C15 Booster ($49.00): available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Vitamin C In Skincare
Struggling to put together a skincare routine that minimises wrinkles, prevents premature aging, and gives your complexion a youthful glow? Download your FREE “Best Anti-Aging Skincare Routine” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):
Retinol is a form of Vitamin A, the only thing proven to reduce wrinkles, not just their appearance. Here’s what Vitamin A does for skin:
- Speeds up cellular turnover (the skin’s natural exfoliating process)
- Brightens skin and fades away hyperpigmentation
- Boosts the production of collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm)
- Improves fine lines and wrinkles
- Helps treat acne
Retinol is the most common form of Vitamin A found in skincare products. Other forms include:
- Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (a.k.a. Granactive Retinoid)
- Retinoic Acid (the pure form of Vitamin A – most effective + most irritating)
- Retinyl Palmitate
- Retinyl Retinoate
- Paula’s Choice Resist Wrinkle Repair Retinol Serum ($42.00): 0.1% retinol. Available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice.
- Skinceuticals Retinol 0.3 Night Cream ($62.00): 0.3% retinol Available at Dermstore.
- Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster ($52.00): 1% retinol. Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice.
- Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM ($65.00): 1.5% retinol. Available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Sephora.
Related: What’s The Best Type Of Vitamin A For You?
Do Vitamin C And Retinol Deactivate Each Other When Used Together?
Rumour has it Vitamin C and retinol have pH differences.
Research shows that L-Ascorbic Acid (the pure form of Vitamin C) needs to be formulated at a pH of 3.5 to penetrate skin.
Retinol needs to be converted into Retinoic Acid to work its anti-aging magic. The enzymes that make this conversion possible have an optimal pH of 5.6
It follows that, if you use them together, you need to either lower the pH and make retinol less effective or raise the pH and make Vitamin C useless, right?
Not so fast…
Your skin’s natural pH is around 5.5. You know what that means? The second that Vitamin C (in the form of L-Ascorbic Acid) touches your skin, it needs to adjust to a higher pH anyway.
In other words, this is a NON-issue.
P.S. It’s only L-Ascorbic Acid that needs a low pH to work its best. Other Vitamin C derivates work at a higher pH closer to that of retinol.
Related: Which Skincare Ingredients Should You NOT Be Using Together?
Why Should You Use Vitamin C And Retinol Together?
Vitamin C and retinol are two of the most powerful anti-aging superstars when used alone. Can you imagine what they can do together?
You don’t have to imagine it.
Research shows this duo increases collagen production to keep wrinkles at bay and reduce hyperpigmentation faster.
In other words, you get the same results – quicker.
I especially love using this combo together to treat hyperpigmentation. While retinol fades away dark spots by speeding up cellular turnover (it replaces darker-coloured cells with lighter-coloured cells), Vitamin C slows down the production of melanin (the pigment that gives skin its beautiful, natural colour).
Together, they’re targeting hyperpigmentation on different fronts, helping it fade away faster.
- Lancer Skincare Advanced C Radiance Cream ($90.00): Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, and Nordstrom
- StriVectin Super-C Retinol Brighten & Correct Vitamin C Serum ($72.00): Available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Ulta
Related: The Battle Of The Skin-Lighteners: What’s The Best Treatment For Dark Spots?
When Should You Not Use Vitamin C and Retinol Together?
If Vitamin C and retinol don’t deactivate each other, you can use them together, right?
Again, not so fast (skincare is complicated…)
Just because you can use two ingredients together, it doesn’t mean you should.
Here’s the deal…
Both L-Ascorbic Acid and retinol are harsh and irritating on the skin.
When you first start using them separately, it’s not unusual to experience tingling, redness, irritation, and even flaking.
Use L-Ascorbic Acid and retinol together and the risk of irritation increases.
If your skin is very resistant or has built tolerance to them over the years, go ahead and use them together.
If you have sensitive skin or are still a newbie when it comes to these actives, do your skin a favour and use them separately.
P.S. Vitamin C derivates are gentler on the skin, so you can usually get away with using them with retinol.
Related: Retinol Side Effects: What They Are And How To Deal With Them
How To Use Vitamin C And Retinol Together
Want to use Vitamin C and retinol together? Here’s the easy way to do it:
- Use them at different times of the day: Vitamin C boosts sun protection, so layer it under sunscreen in the morning. Retinol, on the other hand, is degraded by sunlight, so it’s best used at night anyway (sunscreen can avoid this degradation, but unless you use it religiously, you’re better off using retinol at night).
- Introduce them one at a time: As a rule, you should introduce a new skincare product into your routine every 4 weeks (that’s how long skin takes to renew itself). If you introduce both actives at the same time and you get an irritation or breakout, you won’t know what the culprit is.
- Increase frequency overtime: Unless your skin is sensitive, you can start using Vitamin C daily. Retinol is different. No matter what your skin type is, start with a couple of nights a week and increase frequency gradually.
- Moisturise well: It’s normal for skin to get a little drier when you first start using Vitamin C and retinol. Look for creams and serums with niacinamide, ceramides, and copper peptides to soothe inflammation and keep skin moisturised.
- Wear sunscreen: Retinol makes skin more prone to sun damage. Using it without sunscreen won’t give you the anti-aging benefits you crave.
Related: How To Introduce New Skincare Products Into Your Routine
Can You Use Vitamin C And Retinol Together?
Vitamin C and retinol DON’T deactivate each other, so you could use them together. But that doesn’t mean you should. For most people, this combo is too irritating. Unless your skin has grown resistant to it, your best bet is to use Vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night.