With so many steps in your skincare routine to keep up, it can be difficult to know which products to use and when. skin care like vitamin C serums And retinols have a multitude of benefits for your complexion, but you might be wondering: can I use retinol and vitamin C together?
We take the guesswork out of your regimen by asking dermatologists what the benefits of both products are and how you can safely use them simultaneously. Here’s everything you need to know about including vitamin C and retinol in your routine for a glowing, irritation-free complexion.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is a vitamin A derivative, or retinoid, related to tretinoin (the active ingredient in retin A), available in over-the-counter cosmeceuticals, says Heidi A. Waldorf, MD, cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics. Retinol improves skin texture and color caused by aging and photoaging. “It works by exfoliating surface cells, reducing hyperpigmentation and improving collagen,” says Dr. Waldorf.
Retinoids are the most effective component of a skincare regimen for preventing the signs of aging that’s backed by science and research, says Corey L. Hartman, MD, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL. Retinols regulate cell turnover, promote effective exfoliation, prevent acne, even discoloration, control oil, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, unclog pores and more, he adds. “My opinion is that with the exception of people with rosacea or overly sensitive skin, everyone should use a retinol.”
What to Look for in a Retinol
Look for long-standing, reputable brands that have clinical research behind their products, or speak with your dermatologist for their recommendation on which retinols to choose, Dr. Hartman suggests. “In general, I recommend patients look for a retinol with at least a 0.25% or 0.5% concentration so they can start incorporating it into their routine and see results. Anything lower at 0.25% will not be effective.”
Retinol is air and light sensitive and will break down over time with regular exposure, Dr. Hartman notes. “Retinols should be stored in an opaque, airtight bottle or pump container, especially if the product contains a higher percentage of retinol.”
What is vitamin c?
Vitamin C is a antioxidant which helps reduce inflammation caused by environmental stressors like sun exposure and pollution, says Dr. Waldorf. Vitamin C also helps reduce hyperpigmentation and dark spots caused by acne scarring or sun exposure, Dr. Hartman notes.
Research has also shown that vitamin C helps stimulate collagen production, which makes the skin firmer and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, adds Dr. Hartman.
What to Look for in a Vitamin C Serum
Look for L-ascorbic acid, as this form of vitamin C has the most skin research of all vitamin C forms, says Dr. Hartman. “When properly formulated at a pH below 4 (2.6-3.2 is the ideal range), this form helps create younger, firmer looking skin while diminishing signs of uneven skin tone. and stains.”
Like retinol, vitamin C is air and light sensitive and will break down over time with regular exposure, Dr. Hartman notes. “For optimal performance of your vitamin C serum, it should be in an opaque, air-restrictive bottle or pump container to help ensure the ingredients remain stable.” A vitamin C cream that comes in a jar, unfortunately, won’t stay effective for long.
Can you use retinol and vitamin C together?
Patients can use vitamin C and retinol together in their skincare routine, says Dr. Hartman, “and in fact, I recommend that all of my patients always use retinol, antioxidants, and sunscreen in their skincare routine.
Retinol and vitamin C work incredibly well together to not only protect your skin, but also help reduce signs of premature skin aging, like fine lines, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation, Dr. Hartman says. However, “I don’t recommend using them at the same time – try your retinol during your evening skincare routine and a vitamin C product during your morning skincare routine.”
Dr. Waldorf agrees, noting that retinol and vitamin C can be used together, but she “generally prescribes antioxidants for the day – to add to the protection provided by sunscreen – and retinol at night – when ‘there is no ultraviolet (exposure).’
What to Know Before Using Retinol and Vitamin C Together
Using both retinol and vitamin C in your skincare routine can help speed the process in which skin appears brighter and more even, Dr. Hartman says. Still, keep in mind that both ingredients can be irritating, so it’s important to choose products with better tolerance, often with a more hydrating base or a gradual release of the active ingredients, Dr. Waldorf suggests.
You also want to make sure you space out the products and don’t use them back to back in your morning routine. “I don’t recommend using retinol and vitamin C in the same morning or evening skincare routine, as they are two powerful ingredients that when combined can irritate the skin,” explains Dr. Hartman. It’s easy to separate them, which will ensure you get the maximum benefit without risking irritation, he adds.
Magdalene, Preventionassociate editor of , has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience — and she helps strategize for success across Preventionsocial media platforms.