We all learned at an early age that vitamin C is all you need to keep the doctor away, but when it comes to skin care, this A-list ingredient is often cited as your ticket to achieving that naturally glowing skin of your dreams. “[Vitamin C] addresses a number of skin concerns. It can boost collagen production to smooth wrinkles and firm skin, protect against free radical damage and brighten an uneven complexion,” explains Janet Coleman, a dermatologist in Colorado. “It’s one of the most effective ingredients for brightening skin. Many people use it to treat hyperpigmentation, including age spots and dark patches.”
But even an ingredient as proven and well-loved as vitamin C could still use some helping hand, particularly if you’re trying to target multiple skin concerns at once. “There are a few reasons to mix vitamin C with other skin care ingredients,” says dermatologist Cheryl Rosen. “When combined with other ingredients, it can help increase the effectiveness of those ingredients.” Take sun protection, for example. Several studies have shown that using vitamin C with SPF can increase the effectivity of sunscreen products and protect the skin further from UV damage.
But while combining vitamin C with the right ingredients can work wonders for your skin, it may not play well with some mainstays in your daily skin care regimen. So what can you use vitamin C with? We help you find out.
Can I Use Vitamin C with Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic acid is a powerful hydrator that holds up to 1000 times its weight in water. As a humectant, it can draw and bind water into the outer layers of the skin, which makes it a favorite when addressing dryness and dehydration, leaving you with a plump and more youthful complexion. When used with vitamin C, you reap even stronger benefits as both ingredients complement each other’s ability to fight the most common signs of aging.
“When combined, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid can provide significant antioxidant and moisturizing benefits for the skin. They are especially beneficial for those with dry or mature skin, as they help to improve elasticity and firmness while reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” adds Dr. Rosen.
And if you have dry or sensitive skin, there’s another great reason you need to get started on this combo, stat! Vitamin C can sometimes trigger sensitivity and dryness in highly reactive skin—something that the hydrating properties of hyaluronic acid can easily fix and counter.
Can I Use Vitamin C with Retinol?
Retinol and vitamin C both play important roles in skin care and are both praised for their anti-aging benefits, so it’s easy to assume that using them together will give you faster, better results. But as it turns out, this may not always be the case.
“Vitamin C is an acid, and your skin requires a low pH level of about 1 to 3.5 to absorb it. Retinols require a higher pH level—around 5.5 to 6—for optimal absorption,” explains Houston-based board-certified dermatologist Kemunto Mokaya. This means that if you’re using retinol and vitamin C at the same time, you are lowering retinol’s pH and raising vitamin C’s, effectively reducing their activity and ability to get absorbed by your skin.
However, this doesn’t mean you can only have room for one in your skin care routine. “I recommend using vitamin C in the morning and retinol in the evening. Vitamin C is great as an antioxidant and boosts the results of sunscreen in the morning,” suggests Roberta Del Campo, a board-certified dermatologist in North Miami, Florida. “I prefer retinols at night as those tend to be sun-sensitive, so they can be broken down by sunlight. They also work best at night in promoting collagen stimulation.”
Can I Use Vitamin C with Niacinamide?
A vitamin B derivative, niacinamide may be one of the new kids on the skin care block, but it has already earned quite a following for being a multitasking wonder ingredient. With a lengthy list of benefits, it’s best known for acting as a powerful antioxidant, strengthening barrier function and helping to increase the skin’s collagen and ceramides production. It’s one of those ingredients that seems to do it all, and from the results we’ve seen so far, this claim is definitely not far off.
Once thought to be incompatible with vitamin C—due largely to a misinterpreted research in the 1960s that used non-stabilized forms of vitamin C and niacinamide held at high temperatures—closer and more recent studies reveal that the pair can be a powerful weapon in delaying signs of aging, improving skin texture, firmness and dullness and enhancing collagen production and cell turnover. Thanks to the duo’s complementary nature that allow them to target various concerns in different ways, allowing for a more comprehensive skin care routine.
“Niacinamide is known to have multiple beneficial effects on skin, including reducing wrinkles and improving elasticity. When combined, these two ingredients may provide even more anti-aging benefits than when used individually,” agrees Rosen.
Can I Use Vitamin C with Salicylic Acid (BHAs)?
Vitamin C and salicylic acid share many common benefits, such as brightening the skin, encouraging cell turnover and improving texture, but using them at the same time may not be a good idea, says Dr. Del Campo. “I don’t recommend combining salicylic acid or other BHAs with vitamin C due to their high pH, which can break down and decrease the effectiveness of vitamin C,” she explains.
But you don’t have to say goodbye to your chemical exfoliants just yet. Salicylic acid is known for addressing a number of skin concerns, including acne, dullness, clogged pores and uneven skin tone. By cleansing and clearing skin of residue, debris and dead skin cells, it also allows other products and active ingredients like vitamin C to be better absorbed by the skin, enhancing their effectivity.
So while some experts don’t recommend using them together, you can still get the best of both worlds by applying them at different times of the day. You can apply vitamin C in the morning and your BHAs at night or alternating them in your AM or PM routines (on days or nights when you’re not using vitamin C). By doing so, you’re getting that lit-from-within glow from both ingredients without risking irritation for those with dry or sensitive skin.
Can I Use Vitamin C with AHAs?
Alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are known for their skin resurfacing properties: they loosen and dissolve the upper layers of the skin, which makes it easier to slough away dead skin cells, unclog pores, brighten complexion and improve texture. They are especially helpful when you’re targeting discoloration, dullness, dark spots and roughness, which also happens to be some of the things that vitamin C are known to address. Luckily, just like with BHAs, it’s possible to use them with vitamin C—that is, if you know when and how to.
When using vitamin C with AHAs, it’s important to keep pH levels in mind. While they are both acids, optimal absorption of vitamin C is on the lower end of the pH scale while AHAs tend to be a little higher. And for those with dry or sensitive skin, using both acidic ingredients can increase the likelihood of developing irritations and worsening dryness.
To use AHAs with vitamin C, Dr. Del Campo recommends the same method you employ with BHAs: use one in the morning and the other in the evening, or apply them alternately in your AM or PM routine. Keep in mind, though, that AHAs make your skin more photosensitive—meaning, it makes you more susceptible to sun damage—so it’s best to keep them for nighttime use.
How to Use Vitamin C with Other Ingredients for Best Results
As one of the top skin care MVPs, vitamin C can be used in combination with and works synergistically with several ingredients to help you achieve better results. However, it’s important to remember that not all can be used together the same way.
Ingredients like retinol, AHAs and BHAs can enhance and complement the benefits of vitamin C but are best applied separately, especially if you have sensitive or dry skin. It’s also recommended to speak with your dermatologist to ensure that your skin is not overworked and is able to handle these combinations.
When it comes to picking out the right vitamin C product, Dr. Del Campo says, “I recommend vitamin C with a percentage between eight and 20 percent for maximum effectiveness. Less than eight percent is not quite as effective and greater than 20 percent can be very irritating to the skin.”
But if you’re a vitamin C newbie, Dr. Rosen says you should consider taking it slow. “Vitamin C can be acidic and may cause skin irritation if used in high concentrations. For this reason, it’s best to start with a lower concentration and increase the dose if your skin doesn’t show any signs of irritation,” she explains.