With a new skin care launch (seemingly) popping up almost daily, it can be tempting to simply purchase everything and lather it on your face, with little thought about whether the products you've chosen will actually work well together. The reality is, no matter how great a product is when used by itself, that doesn't necessarily mean it will play well with others. In fact, it could be detrimental when incorporated into the wrong beauty routine. That's often the case with retinol and vitamin C, two ingredients that essentially tackle the same thing — dark spots and wrinkles, but don't always do so when used together. You might be wondering if you can you use retinol and vitamin C together, and the answer can't be summed up with a simple yes or no. That said, according to derms, just learning the basics of the ingredients will help you better understand how to use them together.
To start, vitamin C helps reduce complexion concerns like dullness, uneven skin tone, acne scars, and texture. “Vitamin C is an essential part of skin health. It’s an antioxidant and a critical factor for collagen synthesis,” Dr. Hadley King, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, tells TZR. Underneath the skin, vitamin C decreases photodamage (a fancy word for dark spots) and is essential for healing wounds. “It also protects the skin from free radicals from sources like pollution,” she says. With regular and correct use, you’ll see noticeable results like brighter skin and fading dark spots.
Next, there's retinol — it still holds the title as beauty’s miracle ingredient. Like vitamin C, retinol has some coveted benefits: It can heal cystic acne, get rid of dark spots, soften wrinkles, and lighten hyperpigmentation. “Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that work by binding to retinoic acid receptors, which then act as transcription factors and affect gene expression,” King explains. In layman's terms, they increase the turnover of skin cells, reduce the tendency of cells and keratin debris to clump together and clog up pores, increase collagen production, and decrease discoloration, King notes.
It only seems right that you should use two powerful ingredients in tandem, but that's not quite the case — not only because retinol and vitamin C increase skin irritation if used on top of one another, but also the effectiveness of the products can become compromised if layered together.
Previously, doctors thought that the acidic pH needed for vitamin C absorption contributed to the degradation of retinol, according to King. But new "studies show that combining retinol with vitamin C or another antioxidant may help stabilize it,” King says.
Still, this doesn’t mean to layer the two: Though the products don’t lose their effectiveness when paired together, it could cause issues like irritation and sensitivity. “I generally don’t recommend layering these two products, but they work very well with alternating use,” says Dr. Anna Guanche, M.D., FAAD., a board-certified dermatologist at the Bella Skin Institute. Gaunche says to choose a vitamin C for the morning and be sure to apply SPF over it.
King also suggests alternating retinol and vitamin C between your a.m. and p.m. routines. "At bedtime, I recommend applying a retinoid. Some retinoids are degraded by sunlight, so it is best to use them at night," she says.
Now that you know you can indeed use retinol and a vitamin C together — ahead, see serums, creams, and treatments that allow the two to play nicely together.
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