The Weird Way You Might Be Sabotaging Your Own Skincare Routine

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We all know there's an abundance of skincare products on the market, but even worse is the abundance of skincare routines. It's easy to pluck an acne tip or a serum recommendation from a YouTuber or an Instagrammer, but if you're incorporating new products into your routine without adjusting how you use your existing ones, you might not be doing yourself any favors. That's the case with retinol and vitamin C, which are the gold-standard for wrinkles and dark spots, respectively. You might be wondering if you can you use retinol and vitamin C together — and the answer is a bit complicated. But according to derms, just learning the basics of the ingredients will help to 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, M.D., F.A.A.D., 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 that resulted from UV radiation.

Next, take a look at 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. 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 increases 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., F.A.A.D., 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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