Can You Use L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) & Glycolic Acid Together?

by Gio
can you use vitamin c and glycolic acid together

“I exfoliate with glycolic acid. Can I follow it up with vitamin C?”

Short answer: yes, you can. But that doesn’t mean that you should…

Long answer: it’s complicated. Here’s what I mean:

What The Heck Is L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)?

L-Ascorbic Acid is the pure form of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that:

If you’re in your early ’20s and want to kickstart your antiaging journey, vitamin C is the perfect place to start.

The catch? L-Ascorbic Acid ain’t the only form of vitamin C. This antioxidant come in many forms. Like, Magnesium Ascorbic Phosphate and Ascorbyl Glucoside, to name a few.

For this post, I’ll cover just L-Ascorbic Acid. It’s the most pH dependent. Put simply: it works better at a pH of 3.5 or lower.

FYI, that doesn’t mean that if you raise the pH to 3.6, L-Ascorbic Acid becomes useless. It’s just the higher up you go, the less effective it gets.

Other forms of vitamin C aren’t so finicky. They work even at higher pHs. But why am I telling you this?

Because the higher pH of glycolic acid is usually cited as reason why it’s incompatible with L-Ascorbic Acid. Keep that in mind. We’ll come back to it.

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Related: Why You Should Add Vitamin C To Your Skincare Routine

drunk elephant c-firma day serum

What The Heck Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is the best exfoliant for dry skin (if you a different skin type, you can stop reading now. You don’t need to mix glycolic acid with anything. Ha!).

A member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family, glycolic acid dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together so they can easily slough off.

Once those dead cells are off your skin, your complexion instantly looks better. Your skin is softer to the touch. Your fine lines look smoother and smaller. And your entire face glows as if lit from within.

That’s not all. Glycolic acid acts as a humectant: it attracts and binds water into the skin, helping to keep it hydrated. See why it’s so good for dry skin?

I’m sure you’ve also heard that glycolic acid can boost collagen. That’s true – but only at 10%+ concentrations. Most topical skincare products don’t have that much. 🙁

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Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid: What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It

Why You Can Use L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) And Glycolic Acid Together

Remember when I told you that critics say you can’t mix vitamin C with glycolic acid because they work at different pHs? That’s not exactly true.

As you know, L-Ascorbic Acid works best at a pH of 3.5 or lower. Some glycolic acid exfoliants on the market go above that. You can find some with a pH as high as… 4!

Not much of a difference, is there? Truth is, pure vitamin C and glycolic acid work well at around the same pH.

They both like it low. But if you go too low, you can literally burn your skin! That’s why you’ll never find a skincare product with a pH of 2.

As long as difference between pHs is so little, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Both glycolic acid and vitamin C will work at their best.

Sue Ann Wee, a dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, agrees: “From a general chemistry compatibility point of view, vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid) can be combined in cosmetic formulations with hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, since both can maintain their efficacy in similar acidic pH ranges.”

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the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

Why You Shouldn’t Use L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) And Glycolic Acid Together

You won’t compromise the effectiveness of L-Ascorbic Acid or glycolic acid if you use them together. But the mixture can be too harsh for your skin.

Here’s the deal: both L-Ascorbic Acid and glycolic acid are powerful. In skincare, powerful often means irritating.

Used alone, they can sting and irritate skin. Used together, you’re doubling the risk of irritation.

If you have resistant skin that can tolerate anything, then yes, you CAN use L-Ascorbic Acid and glycolic acid together. Exfoliate and then layer vitamin C on top.

But if you have sensitive skin or are using these actives for the first time, don’t risk it. You can minimise the risk of irritation by using them at different times of the day.

That’s what I do. And my skin is pretty resistant. I just don’t believe in overdoing skincare. Too much of a good thing can backfire. 😉

I like to apply L-Ascorbic Acid in the morning because studies show that it can boost the sun protection of your sunscreen. I then use glycolic acid every other night.

This way, I get the best of both worlds without the irritation. 🙂

The Bottom Line

You can totally use L-Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) and glycolic acid together without making them ineffective. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. For some people, this combo is too harsh. If that’s you, use them at different times of the day.

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28 comments

Kathleen February 18, 2019 - 3:08 pm

What about BHA’s and Vitamin C? What are your suggestions? Thanks for all of the great information you give us!

Reply
Gio February 20, 2019 - 5:29 pm

Kathleen, I don’t recommend it because of the potential irritation. Using too many actives can irritate your skin if it’s sensitive/dry. But if you have resistant skin that can take it, go ahead and use them together.

Reply
Jeff February 18, 2019 - 3:45 pm

Some say you can use AHA and retinol together, some say no because retinol requires a higher pH. Who knows?

Reply
Gio February 20, 2019 - 5:27 pm

Jeff, you can use them together if they don’t irritate your skin. For some people, this combo is too drying. For others, it’s totally fine. But the pH isn’t that much of an issue.

Reply
mehwish hussain February 22, 2019 - 3:23 am

If glycolic acid is for dry skin then which is best exfoliant for combination skin ,as in active acids ?

Reply
Gio February 28, 2019 - 5:46 pm

Mehwish, it depends. If sun damage is a concern, you can still use glycolic acid. But if you’re experiencing breakouts, salicylic acid is the way to go.

Reply
Elisa March 1, 2019 - 6:56 am

What about using a hyaluronic acid serum after the glycolic acid?

Reply
Gio March 8, 2019 - 3:47 pm

Elisa, yes you can do that.

Reply
Sarah Roy March 8, 2019 - 7:01 pm

What about using the Ordinary hyaluronic acid with Ordinary L- Ascorbic acid ?????

Reply
Gio March 16, 2019 - 12:29 pm

Sarah, yes you can do that.

Reply
Carolina May 22, 2019 - 4:36 am

Hi Gio….could you do this every other day?
Framboose Drunk Elephant
Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2%
Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
Thanks!!

Reply
Gio June 5, 2019 - 11:56 am

Carolina, if you don’t find it too harsh for your skin, yes you can.

Reply
cara June 6, 2019 - 8:52 pm

Hmmm, but what about a AHA toner followed by a Vitamine C serum?

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 12:05 pm

Cara, that’s fine if it doesn’t irritate your skin.

Reply
lolo June 11, 2019 - 8:15 pm

Hi Gio,
is ok to use L-Acorbic in the morning(the pure form not a derivative)? I have just read you do,
it isnt photosensible and cause you dark spots becasue of sun ?

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 1:18 pm

Lolo, it’s ok to use it in the AM as long as you follow up with sunscreen.

Reply
Ritalyn June 28, 2019 - 2:05 am

Hi. I’ve been using The Ordinary Vitamin C 30% suspension in silicone, can i use it with salicylic acid?

Reply
Gio August 8, 2019 - 6:14 pm

Ritalyn, if you don’t have sensitive skin, yes you can.

Reply
Erika July 7, 2019 - 11:46 pm

Hi. Can I first use the 7% Glycolic acid toner, then the Hialuronic Acid serum and then the Vitamin C serum and if yes, how much time between each one should I wait?

Reply
Gio August 8, 2019 - 4:30 pm

Erika, use Vitamin C in the AM and glycolic acid + hyaluronic acid in the PM. Always wait until one product is fully absorbed before applying the next.

Reply
Devu Nair August 26, 2019 - 5:11 am

Hai,

Would it be ok if I use the glycolic toner one day and the next day I go for vitamin C?

Reply
Gio September 14, 2019 - 5:49 pm

Devu, yes it is ok.

Reply
Nayelly Davalos August 26, 2019 - 7:25 pm

Can I use tula’s pro-glycolic 10% ph resurfacing gel and the drunk elephant’s 15% L-absorbing acid serum at the same time? Or should I use one at night and thr other one in the morning? Thank u!

Reply
Gio September 14, 2019 - 5:48 pm

Nayelly, use L-Ascorbic Acid in the morning and glycolic acid every other night.

Reply
Kylee Michelle November 18, 2019 - 5:43 pm

Can I use the ordinary glycolic acid 7% toning solution in the morning followed by kiehl’s powerful-strength line-reducing concentrate (2% vitamin Cg + 10.5% L-ascorbic acid)? I use retin-a 0.25% every night and I read that I shouldn’t use glycolic acid at the same time as a retinol. Or should I switch off nights between the glycolic acid and retin-a? I have semi sensitive, dryer skin. I am also adding a hyaluronic acid 2% + B5 morning and night.

Reply
Gio December 20, 2019 - 7:43 am

Kylee, the best thing would be to alternate glycolic acid and Retin A at night.

Reply
Akrol Nrib January 27, 2020 - 4:41 am

Can I combine peptides and niacinimides together and with Vit C and/or glycolic? Additionally can I leave a 15% glycolic on my face without washing it off (an at home peel)? Thank you

Reply
Gio February 8, 2020 - 7:36 am

Akrol, you can use these ingredients in a routine, but at different times. For ex, Vitamin C in the morning and the rest at night.

If it doesn’t irritate your skin, you can use 15% glycolic acid without rinsing off. But no more than twice a week!

Reply

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