Experts Weigh In: Is it Safe to Combine Retinol and Vitamin C?

March 12, 2023
Experts Weigh In: Is it Safe to Combine Retinol and Vitamin C?

Retinol and Vitamin C are highly sought-after skincare products, particularly for their effectiveness in reducing dark spots and fine lines. These products have been widely promoted on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. However, despite their benefits, there remains a prevalent question amongst many individuals – is it safe to use both Vitamin C and retinol together?

We consulted with top dermatologists, Azadeh Shirazi, MD, and Todd Minars, MD, to explore all the essential information regarding the combination of retinol and Vitamin C. With their expert insights, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of this skincare regimen.

The Experts

  • Dr. Todd Minars is a certified dermatologist and functions as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
  • Dr. Azadeh Shirazi is a dermatologist certified by the board and the host of the podcast “More Than a Pretty Face.”
Is it Safe to Combine Retinol and Vitamin C?

What Is Retinol?

Retinol, derived from vitamin A, is a commonly used skin care product that aids in skin cell renewal, guards collagen by fighting free radicals, and plumps deeper skin layers to minimize wrinkles, fine lines, and visible pores. According to Dr. Shirazi, retinol plays a vital role in promoting healthier and more youthful skin cells, renewing the skin. While some believe that retinol thins the skin, it thickens the dermis, the deeper skin layer. Apart from reducing lines and wrinkles, it also addresses hyperpigmentation, acne, and rough patches improves circulation, and enhance overall skin texture and tone.

Retinol is frequently mistaken for retinoids, but it is, in fact, a type of retinoid. It might be beneficial to recognize that retinoids come in two different forms:

  • Retinoic acid is a prescription-only form of retinoid.
  • Retinol is an over-the-counter form of retinoid.

Dr. Minars states that Retinoic acid is often regarded as the “gold standard” among dermatologists, however, he also mentions that retinols are still highly effective for most patients.

According to Dr. Minars, a patient should anticipate noticeable outcomes in three months with retinoic acid and six months with over-the-counter retinol products. He further adds, “If a patient is looking to correct photo-aging with just one topical product, I would always recommend retinoids first, as they are incredibly effective and reliable.”

What Is Vitamin C?

Dr. Shirazi explains that Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that safeguards and defends our skin by neutralizing free radicals. She likens it to Pac-Man, scouring and eliminating these reactive molecules that can damage and stress the skin.

Moreover, the antioxidant characteristics of Vitamin C support the skin’s natural regeneration process. It can aid the skin in numerous ways, such as enhancing tone and texture, fading dark spots, promoting collagen production, and brightening lackluster skin.

Dr. Minar informs Byrdie that “Vitamin C has some similar effects to retinoids, particularly retinol, but they are not as extensively studied, predictable, or effective.” When patients seek products to rejuvenate their skin, he typically suggests retinoids. 

However, in situations where retinol causes skin irritation, he suggests Vitamin C serum as an alternative, noting that Vitamin C serums are usually not as potent as retinoids.

Using Retinol and Vitamin C Together: Is it Possible?

Dermatologists affirm that incorporating both retinol and vitamin C into your skincare routine is perfectly fine. In fact, Shirazi hails this duo as a “power couple” for promoting healthy aging. However, it’s important to use these products mindfully to avoid potential irritation. Shirazi suggests applying vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night instead of layering them together.

Minars’ advice differs slightly. He believes that using both products at night is acceptable, but it’s crucial to have a plan in place to handle the expected irritation. Minars advises starting with one product and gradually introducing the other every other night until you become accustomed to it or can confidently use them together without any irritation.

Related: La Roche-Posay’s Retinol B3 Serum Review: Gentle Glow for Sensitive Skin

Combining Retinol and Vitamin C: Potential Benefits

According to Shirazi, using retinol and vitamin C together (not necessarily at the same time) can lead to smoother and brighter skin. Vitamin C helps defend, protect, and promote collagen production, while retinol renews skin cells and stimulates collagen. They both work to diminish pigmentation and brighten any discoloration.

However, Minars suggests that the benefits of using both products together may be minimal since retinol is already highly effective on its own. He advises that if you don’t experience any irritation from combining the two and believe that the combination provides added value, then go ahead and use them together.

Combining Retinol and Vitamin C: Potential Side Effects

The most common side effect you may experience if you choose to incorporate both vitamin C and retinol into your skincare routine is irritation, particularly if you layer the products. However, this can be avoided by applying each product separately and using retinol at night and vitamin C in the morning.

Another downside of using retinol and vitamin C is the cost. These products tend to be pricier than items such as moisturizers. Nevertheless, Minars notes that many patients consider the expense worthwhile, depending on their previous photodamage and their rejuvenation goals, whether it’s for aesthetics, self-esteem, or confidence.

The dermatologists we consulted agree that vitamin C products can differ significantly in terms of quality, so it’s advisable not to purchase any random product you stumble upon while browsing on Instagram. Shirazi stresses that vitamin C is challenging to formulate stably to ensure it can work its wonders on the skin, making it a product worth investing in. She also suggests that individuals with acne-prone or sensitive skin use a lower percentage of vitamin C, such as 5-10%, since higher concentrations may result in breakouts.

Minars advises using established and reputable brands and formulations for both retinol and vitamin C. However, he believes that there is probably more variability among different vitamin C products compared to various retinol products.

The Best Retinol and Vitamin C Products

  • Paula’s Choice 1% Retinol Booster – This lightweight serum contains a potent dose of retinol that helps to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, while also improving skin texture and tone. It can be used alone or mixed with other products, such as moisturizers or serums.
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  • Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum – This potent serum contains a 6.5% retinoid blend that helps to minimize the formation of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots, while also enhancing skin texture and tone.
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  • Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum – This affordable serum has a blend of vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid that helps to brighten and firm the complexion while also protecting against environmental damage.

The Final Takeaway

Using retinol and vitamin C in your skincare routine is possible, but it’s advisable not to use them simultaneously to prevent skin irritation. To avoid this, try applying retinol in the evening and vitamin C in the morning. These products offer several skin rejuvenating benefits, such as improving skin texture and tone, reducing fine lines, lightening dark spots, and brightening dull skin.

Photo: Pexels/ Yan Krukau

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Welcome to Body Care Art Blog! My name is Liza Mills, and I’m a freelance writer obsessed with makeup. Passionate about writing and beauty, I swap my lipstick for my laptop to find you the best makeup, hair and skincare trends, and pro tips…

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