The Latest Skincare Ingredient Debate: Should I Use Vitamin C or Retinol? Or Both?
Vitamin C Vs. retinol is the hottest skincare debate. Both skincare ingredients are popular ways to address some of the most common skin complaints, including fine lines, dry skin, uneven skin tone, and other signs of aging.
But does it even need to be a debate? Can you benefit from both vitamin C and retinol as part of your skincare routine? You can; keep reading to find out how.
In this article, you’ll learn the answers to these burning questions:
- What is retinol?
- What is vitamin C?
- Can you use retinol and vitamin C together?
- The best way to use retinol and vitamin C
Let’s dive into this hot topic!
Skincare Ingredient Must Haves: Retinol and Vitamin C
Vitamin C and retinol are at the top of the list of essential nutrients for skin health. Both are vitamins with antioxidant activity required for proper skin structure, function, and protection.
Vitamin C and retinol are widely used ingredients in skincare products. You’ll often find them as one of the main ingredients in serums.
Let’s dive into each vitamin and its benefits.
What is Retinol?
Retinol is in the category of retinoids, which encompasses all the active forms of vitamin A. Retinol is the most well-known topical anti-wrinkle agent, helping to improve the appearance of the skin and slow the visible signs of aging. Retinol is FDA-approved for exactly this cosmetic purpose. Dermatologically, prescription retinol is a standard acne treatment.
Vitamin A is involved in gene expression, cell growth, and differentiation in all cells. The epidermis of the skin is constantly shedding dead skin cells and generating new ones, making vitamin A particularly critical. It’s no wonder that topical application supports the formation of new skin cells.
Benefits of Retinol
According to biopsies and skim imaging data, topical retinol treatments visibly improve the health of cells in the epidermis and dermis.
Benefits of retinol include:
- Reduces facial wrinkles – Retinol is one of the most effective topical agents for slowing the signs of aging by increasing cellular turnover. New skin cells help the skin to appear younger and healthier.
- Improves skin structure – Retinol promotes genes that make collagen, the major structural protein in the skin. It also inhibits collagen breakdown.
- Increases skin hydration – Retinol helps the skin maintain hydration because of higher collagen levels and improved barrier function.
- Strengthens protective function – The epidermis is simply a few layers of cells that protect the body from the outside world. Retinol strengthens this protective barrier, protecting the skin from pollution, UV damage, and water loss. Retinol also acts as an antioxidant.
- Promotes a bright, even complexion – Retinol helps prevent and treat acne and even skin tone by promoting cellular turnover and protective benefits.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin throughout the body but is present in significantly higher concentrations in the skin compared to most other organs. The outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, contains the highest levels of vitamin C storage inside skin cells.
High levels of vitamin C in the skin offer antioxidant protection, promote collagen production, and maintain a healthy barrier. Interestingly, lower levels of vitamin C correlate with sun damaged skin.
The diet is a primary source of vitamin C for the skin, but it can also be used topically (as ascorbic acid) for additional benefits.
Benefits of Vitamin C
Topical vitamin C helps prevent premature aging, especially when vitamin C levels in the skin are below optimal levels. Vitamin C is water soluble, so it needs to be part of a formula that allows the vitamin C to penetrate the skin barrier.
Benefits of vitamin C for skin include:
- Collagen production –Vitamin C is a cofactor for building collagen protein, which is essential for skin structure and hydration. Without sufficient vitamin C, new collagen can’t form.
- Antioxidant protection – Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the skin, protecting it from damage associated with free radicals, toxins, and UV radiation, thus improving barrier function.
- Decreased melanin synthesis – Vitamin C decreases melanin production associated with hyperpigmentation, such as age spots.
Overall, vitamin C means hydrated, even skin with fewer fine lines, wrinkles, and signs of aging.
Can You Use Retinol and Vitamin C Together?
Use both retinol and vitamin C as part of a supportive, anti-aging skincare routine. Vitamin C offers some similar benefits to vitamin A (retinol); however, it’s important to note that both nutrients are essential for skin health and have different mechanisms of action within the skin.
Each vitamin addresses some of the same skin issues but has different actions. You may see better results with vitamin C and retinol, than just one on its own.
Two studies used a combination of vitamin C and retinol in postmenopausal women and found a partial reversal of skin changes related to sun exposure and aging.
How to Use Retinol and Vitamin C
Now let’s consider how to use retinol and vitamin C together for the best results, as a facial and reconstructive surgeon recommends.
Dr. Nassif recommends using both vitamin C and retinol daily, but at different times, with a vitamin C serum in the morning and a retinol serum at night.
Retinol is a powerful nutrient. Since retinol can increase sensitivity to the sun, using it as part of the evening skincare routine is preferred. You can slowly incorporate retinol into your routine to avoid skin irritation, staring with a couple nights per week and increasing to daily use. Retinol is also a great ingredient to choose for oily or acne-prone skin.
In the morning, use a vitamin C serum to add an extra layer of protection to your day. And be sure to include sunscreen in your routine, especially if you used retinol the night before.
Our go-to products include NassifMD® Radiance Brightening Booster Vitamin C Serum in the morning and NassifMD® Hydro-Gel with Hyaluronic Acid and Retinol at night.
NassifMD® Radiance Brightening Booster Vitamin C Serum is a must-have for aging and sun-damaged skin! It contains a highly concentrated 10% vitamin C in a synergistic formula containing antioxidants, essential fats, and plant extracts. In a 4-week clinical trial, all participants saw improvements in their skin, including improved appearances of wrinkles, texture, and skin tone.
NassifMD® Hydro-Gel with Hyaluronic Acid and Retinol contains an innovative form of retinol called Hy-Retin, where retinol is bound to hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid penetrates the skin and draws in moisture, delivering retinol where needed most. This hydro-gel serum is a water-based synergistic formula designed to boost the benefits of retinol for improved hydration, reduced fine lines, and younger, radiant-looking skin.
When it comes to vitamin C and retinol, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Both are essential nutrients naturally found in the skin. The topical application targets these critical vitamins directly to the skin cells where outward aging occurs.
Be sure to use vitamin C serum in the morning and retinol at night. Over time, enjoy improved skin hydration, a reduction of fine lines, and a smooth, bright complexion.
- Zasada, M., & Budzisz, E. (2019). Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments.Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 36(4), 392–397.
- Kong, R., Cui, Y., Fisher, G. J., Wang, X., Chen, Y., Schneider, L. M., & Majmudar, G. (2016). A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin.Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 15(1), 49–57.
- Sadick, N., Edison, B. L., John, G., Bohnert, K. L., & Green, B. (2019). An Advanced, Physician-Strength Retinol Peel Improves Signs of Aging and Acne Across a Range of Skin Types Including Melasma and Skin of Color.Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 18(9), 918–923.
- Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. C. M. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health.Nutrients, 9(8), 866.
- Seité, S., Bredoux, C., Compan, D., Zucchi, H., Lombard, D., Medaisko, C., & Fourtanier, A. (2005). Histological evaluation of a topically applied retinol-vitamin C combination.Skin pharmacology and physiology, 18(2), 81–87.