As skincare ingredients go, retinol (AKA vitamin A), and vitamin C are two of the most effective, popular ingredients you’ll find on the market. Both live up to the hype and both should be a part of your daily skin care routine. That said, when used together, they can cause irritation, especially if you already have sensitive skin, so it’s imperative you learn how to use retinol and vitamin C together safely and effectively.
IN A NUTSHELL
Main Takeaways: Retinol and vitamin C can be easily and effectively used together as long as they’re not used at the same time.
Good to Know: By allowing a couple of hours between the application of retinol and vitamin C, even sensitive skins can avoid irritations.
Recommended Products: Nectar of the C Vitamin C Serum.
What Are the Benefits of Retinol?
Also known as vitamin A, retinol is an antioxidant that protects the skin from environmental stressors trying to harm it. (FYI, in this article, we’re talking about over-the-counter retinol, not prescription-grade retinol products). Retinol has incredible anti-aging properties thanks to its ability to reach the middle layer of skin. By doing so, it keeps your look firm and tight and provides a fresh and revitalized appearance. It also creates a plumping effect that reduces the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and helps prolong a more youthful appearance as it nurtures the skin.
Retinol is also known for its ability to create a smoother looking appearance for skin that might be a little rough and for its ability to even out skin appearance. What more could you want out of an ingredient?
One note: retinol is frequently--and mistakenly--thought of as being an exfoliant. In fact, it is not, so don’t count on using it as such!
What Are the Benefits of Vitamin C?
Although vitamin C performs a myriad of functions, it’s probably most widely known for its ability to brighten skin. Like retinol, vitamin C is an antioxidant so it helps protect skin from environmental stressors that could potentially harm it. It’s also a wonderful anti-aging product in that it reduces the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots.
While you can definitely get your vitamin C from products you apply topically, you can also get it from certain foods like oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, spinach, and potatoes.
How to Use Retinol and Vitamin C Together
As we mentioned above, using retinol and vitamin C together, at the same time, can cause irritation. (it’s kind of like having an energy drink and a caffeine-filled soda in the same sitting!). But that’s not the only reason. Retinol and vitamin C each operate best at different pH levels (those are the acid-alkaline ratios of a substance). Without getting too in the weeds about it, layering retinol and vitamin C will make their pH levels go haywire, and therefore, cause each to be less effective when applied to the skin.
That said, there are actually a few different ways to use retinol and vitamin C together effectively, the key being that you space them out in time. The easiest way to do that is to use one at night and one in the morning. We recommend using vitamin C in the morning in order to take advantage of its ability to really brighten the skin and to protect it from environmental stressors that can come at it during the day.
And of course, the key to making sure it works most effectively is to use it in the right order in terms of your skin care routine! Here’s how to make sure you’re doing that:
Then apply a vitamin C serum like our Nectar of the C natural vitamin C serum. Ours has a 15% concentration of Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate which gives it stability (meaning it behaves well with other ingredients and will help your cosmetics last longer) and is less likely to irritate skin than say, a stronger form of vitamin C like L-ascorbic acid. This serum is what will really give your skin a glow and brightness and, over time, will help reduce the appearance of dark spots and help even out skin tone. A few drops go a long way so don’t over do it! Made for all skin types, it also contains vitamin E to help hydrate the skin as well as ferulic acid, a brilliant antioxidant.
Just remember to moisturize afterwards with a hydrating moisturizer. Vitamin C does a lot of things and is often found in moisturizers because of its hydrating properties, but you still need to moisturize with a good moisturizer.
Then, at night, use a product with retinol! Since retinol can increase photosensitivity (in other words, how your skin reacts to the sun), it’s better to use it at night when you won’t be exposed to sunlight.
This isn’t the only way you can use retinol and vitamin C together. You can use each every other day, or even start out using retinol every third day while your skin adjusts to it.
Keep in mind, everyone’s skin is different--not everyone is going to experience irritation if they use retinol and vitamin C together. It’s entirely possible they won’t experience any irritation at all. It’s just that generally speaking, in order to avoid irritation, this is a good approach.
Retinol itself may take a little getting used to no matter what you use it with. Like any effective product, it may irritate the skin a little when you first start using it. You might also experience a little flakiness at the beginning but unless it’s really driving you nuts, try to stay the course with it and let your skin adjust. You might find that a little extra moisturizer is a good idea for soothing the skin.
Vitamin C and retinol can easily be used together without experiencing irritation--it’s just a matter of timing. As long as you space them out by using one in the morning and one at night you should be just fine!