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Can I use both retinol and vitamin C on my skin?

Dermatology experts explain the right way to combine skincare products and ingredients.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Mar 11, 2024 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Mar 11, 2024 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Elise Griffin, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What is retinol?
More

So, you’ve got your hands on both retinol and vitamin C, and you’re wondering, can I use these skin-loving ingredients together?

But what happens when you use them together on your skin? Do they complement or clash?

Here, Curology’s licensed dermatology providers unravel the mystery behind pairing these ingredients—helping you on your way toward radiant skin!

What is retinol?

You can think of retinol as a cousin of vitamin A—falling under the retinoid family.¹ It’s known for its potential in treating aging skin, and the bonus? It’s gentler than some of its retinoid siblings, like tazarotene. Whether combatting natural aging or sun-induced aging, retinol can help lead to younger-looking skin.² Studies show it helps reduce fine lines by giving a boost to collagen production.³ And in just 12 weeks, it’s been shown to reduce facial wrinkles.⁴

So, if you’re seeking a youthful glow, retinol might be a good choice.

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can truly benefit your skin when used correctly.⁵ When you pick up a vitamin C serum, it’s usually in the form of L-ascorbic acid. A concentration between 10-20% might give you the best results.⁶

Here are 5 ways it can benefit your skin:⁷

  1. Antioxidant properties: It combats oxidative stress, shielding your skin from pollution and harmful sun rays.

  2. Anti-aging effects: By boosting collagen and holding onto existing collagen fibers, it’s on the frontline against wrinkles.

  3. Photoprotection: Offering some protection against UV radiation, it helps minimize sun-induced aging and smoothens your skin texture.

  4. Anti-pigmentary effects: It’s known to reduce melanin formation, helping to fade those stubborn dark spots.

  5. Synergy with vitamin E: Paired with vitamin E, another antioxidant, they tag-team to amplify protection against oxidative harm.

So, in a nutshell, vitamin C isn’t just great for immunity—it can be a tool for getting radiant, youthful skin!

How to use both retinol and vitamin C in my skincare routine?

Retinol and vitamin C clearly have their advantages. If you’re conflicted about which one to try first, you may think of starting both at the same time.

Curious about combining retinol and vitamin C in your skincare routine?

Well, there’s some good news. Studies have shown that these two powerhouse ingredients can work well when used together. For instance, volunteers who applied a cream containing both retinol and vitamin C saw an improvement in skin changes due to photoaging.⁸

While a product with both ingredients can be applied daily, if using them separately, consider vitamin C for morning and retinol at night to avoid potential irritation.

But before diving in, always get a thumbs up from a dermatology expert!

Speak to a dermatology professional

Thinking of merging retinol and vitamin C in your skincare lineup? Before you start, consider the advice of a dermatology provider. They can guide you on how best to use both ingredients. Especially if you’re juggling other skincare products or medications, they can advise you on potential interactions. And, since retinol and vitamin C come in a variety of strengths, they can pinpoint the concentration that’ll be both effective and gentle for your complexion.

Remember, reactions to new products might not be immediate, so having regular check-ins with your dermatologist ensures you can adapt your routine as needed. Ultimately, with their expertise, you can craft a skincare regimen tailored to your unique needs, possibly integrating treatments that can complement retinol and vitamin C.

After all, skincare isn’t one-size-fits-all, so why not lean on expert advice to truly glow?

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With science-backed ingredients prescribed for your individual needs, we aim to address the nuances of your skin, ensuring it gets precisely what it needs to thrive.

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FAQs

Can I use retinol and vitamin C together?

Combining retinol and vitamin C can be beneficial for the skin. When used in tandem in a single product, studies have shown they can offer anti-aging results. While both ingredients are great separately, together they can pack a potent punch for skin health and vitality.

Using retinol and vitamin C together might be beneficial, but understanding the correct concentrations, application methods, and potential interactions with other skincare products is vital. A dermatology provider can offer insights based on extensive training and experience, ensuring not only the efficacy of the treatment but also the safety and health of your skin.

Do you put vitamin C on before or after retinol?

If you’re layering both ingredients, there isn’t a strict order, but it is best to layer by formula consistency (thin to thick). Waiting a few minutes between applications ensures the first product is absorbed well. When in doubt about the sequence or if the products seem incompatible, it’s always a good idea to consult a dermatology expert. And remember, always stick to the specific product guidelines.

What should you not mix with retinol?

When diving into the world of retinol, be cautious. Given its potential to irritate, it might be wise to pause the application of other actives initially. And remember, if you’re using retinol, you don’t typically need other topical retinoids like tretinoin. For a harmonious skincare routine, chatting with a dermatology provider can guide you in the right direction.

When should I use vitamin C vs retinol?

Both these ingredients bring unique benefits to your skin. If you’re thinking of integrating both, a popular approach is applying vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night. However, skin needs are personal. Consult a dermatology provider to carve out the perfect routine tailored to you.

Do retinoids help with anti-aging?

Yes, they do! Retinoids have earned their reputation as a premier anti-aging ingredient. They’re backed by research, with studies showing their ability to boost collagen production, diminish fine lines, and enhance skin texture.⁹ If you’re considering them for your skincare, loop in a dermatology provider for the best insights.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. (December 2006).

  2. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. Ibid.

  3. Kafi, R., et al. Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin A (retinol). Arch Dermatol. (May, 2007).

  4. Kong, R., et al. A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. (March 2016).

  5. Al-Niaimi, F. and Chiang, N.Y.Z. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (July 2017).

  6. Al-Niaimi, F. and Chiang, N.Y.Z. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  7. Al-Niaimi, F. and Chiang, N.Y.Z. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  8. Seité, S., et al. Histological evaluation of a topically applied retinol-vitamin C combination. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. (March-April 2005).

  9. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. Ibid.

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

**Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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