Vitamin C is a powerhouse ingredient that can do wonders for your skin. Not only does it brighten and even out your complexion, but it also helps to boost collagen production and protect against environmental stressors.
Serums containing Vitamin C help our skin fight various oxidizing agents by supporting the lipid barrier that gets damaged when exposed to pollution, harsh climates, heat, and UV radiation. Vitamin C restores the barrier and provides some skin armor.
In this article, I’m going to go over How to Use Vitamin C serum in your routine.
I’ve got tips from dermatologists, aestheticians, and more on how to use Vitamin C Serum, when to use it, what to watch out for, and how to find the right serum for your skin. Let’s dive in!
Meet The Experts
- Dr. Anju Methil, MBBS, DVD, MD – Dermatology and Cosmetology. Consultant at ClinicSpots
- Suyud Issa, Certified Aesthetician and the co-founder of All Skin Care Talk
- Catherine Wilson – Esthetician at EssentialDerma
- Dr. Anna Chacon, MD – Dermatologist Writer @ MyPsorasisTeam
- Dr. Heather Smith – physician and Founder of BareLuxeSkincare
How to Use Vitamin C Serum
Fitting Vitamin C serum into your routine is pretty simple. As Aesthetician Suyud Issa states, “Vitamin C serum is applied directly after cleansing (or toning if you use a toner) because of its watery consistency, followed by a moisturizer. To get the most out of your serum, wait around 10 minutes before layering the next product in your routine to give it time to absorb fully.”
But vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a potent acid and it can clash with other skincare products like retinol.
When you are trying to add vitamin C serum to your skincare routine, there are a few things to remember.
Using Vitamin C And Retinol
One of the most common warnings that you’ll hear when using vitamin C serum is to avoid mixing it with retinol. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to choose between one or the other, as they both have different benefits and can be combined.
And many of us can’t let go of our retinol!
Dr. Heather Smith points out the challenges of using Vitamin C with Retinol, particularly among those using traditional L-Ascorbic acid serums. “An important distinction is whether you are planning to use traditional L-Ascorbic Acid. While long considered the gold standard, it’s a molecule that’s plagued by instability from rapid oxidation causing a short shelf life. It is also the cause for skin irritation in many people, which often worsens dramatically if you pair it with retinol.”
The solution, she suggests, is to use “oil-soluble vitamin C serums, like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. THD-ascorbate is very effective, stabilized, and able to be used with retinoids (if desired) or [by] people with sensitive skin. When used in an oil serum, it will penetrate the outer layers of the skin better than with a water-soluble serum – so it’s a win-win.”
Oil-soluble vitamin C serums with THD-ascorbate tend to be more expensive than other serums. For example, here is one from MARA :
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You can build up some separation between retinol and Vitamin C by using them at different times of the day. For example, you could use the vitamin C serum in the morning and then opt to use the retinol at night.
Vitamin C is better used in the morning because it can boost sun protection and reduce damage due to UV radiation. As Dr. Anju Methil says, “applying [vitamin c serum] before applying sunscreen can help boost skin protection from UV rays throughout the day.”
Retinol, on the other hand, is generally considered a better choice for use at night because of its side effect of making your skin more sensitive to UV damage. Apart from that, retinol is also UV sensitive and could be less effective when used during the day.
Alternatively, you can also use the vitamin C serum and retinol on different nights. This helps prevent the two ingredients from mixing on your skin. It is more common to use them alternatively.
Vitamin C And Chemical Exfoliants and Acids
Vitamin C serum already has exfoliating properties which is why many wouldn’t recommend using them with other chemical exfoliants.
If you are planning to use vitamin C and chemical exfoliants such as BHA and AHA, the best thing to do is to use them at different times of the day. By using them at separate times, you are less likely to irritate your skin.
If you want to use vitamin C in the morning, it would be best to use sun protection so that you could get the most out of the product.
Another way to use both vitamin C serum and acid exfoliants is to use them on alternate days. This is quite similar to the alternate-day use of retinol and vitamin C as explained above.
With this, you give enough time for each of the substances to be absorbed and work. The immediate combination or reaction of these two ingredients is what irritates your skin so giving enough time in between uses will help solve the problem.
Combining Vitamin C Serum with Other Serums and Hyaluronic Acid
Vitamin C serum can be combined with other serums, as well as hyaluronic acid.
How do you combine serums?
As Esthetician Catherine Wilson explains, “it’s generally recommended to use vitamin C serum first, as it has a low pH and can help to improve the effectiveness of other active ingredients. For example, you can use vitamin C serum in the morning and then follow up with a hyaluronic acid serum to hydrate the skin. At night, you can apply vitamin C serum first, followed
by a retinol serum to target fine lines, wrinkles, and acne.”
Remember to let each one set for a little while before moving on to the next one. As she says, “when using multiple serums, you should always wait a few minutes in between each one to allow them to fully absorb into the skin before applying the next one.”
When using multiple serums, you should always wait a few minutes in between each one to allow them to fully absorb into the skin before applying the next one.Esthetician Catherine Wilson
Reap The Benefits Of Vitamin C Serum
Oxidizing agents in the environment (think pollutants) will make your skin age and look older. You have to find a way to help fight those environmental aggressors that our skin faces every day.
Antioxidants like vitamin C are a perfect choice.
The Lipid Barrier
With vitamin C, the lipid barrier is better protected. The lipid barrier could be negatively affected by various environmental factors like free radicals, harsh climates, UV rays, pollution, and many other oxidizing agents.
The lipid barrier is an important part of the skin. When it is functioning well and properly protected, you can expect that your skin is less likely to age fast. As such, you wouldn’t expect fine lines, dark spots, wrinkles, or hyperpigmentation to appear early on.
Oxidative Stress and Premature Aging
Oxidative stress is one of the things that could make your skin age prematurely. With vitamin C, you help combat these all day long.
Vitamin C is great when it comes to helping your skin to heal quickly. It can help improve the appearance not only by preventing fine lines but by brightening the skin.
It is helpful in the production of collagen, too. As Catherine Wilson states, ” Applying the serum in the morning also helps to boost collagen production, which can result in a brighter, firmer, and more youthful-looking complexion.”
Skin that looks firmer and isn’t saggy — yes please!
How Often Can You Use Vitamin C Serum?
Vitamin C serum is a great product to help combat various environmental factors that could make the skin look dull and old. It can be used every day, and you can even use it twice a day if you want to. You can use it in your morning routine, and your night skincare routine as well.
A couple of drops of Vitamin C serum per day, applied to the skin, goes a long way to repair blemishes and fight free radicals!
What is the Best Time to Use Vitamin C Serum?
Esthetician Catherine Wilson explains that “the best time to use a vitamin C serum is in the morning, as it protects against environmental stressors such as pollution and UV rays.”
the best time to use a vitamin C serum is in the morning, as it protects against environmental stressors such as pollution and UV rays.Esthetician Catherine Wilson
But it can be used either in the morning or at night, or both morning and night! Let’s look at how to fit it into your morning and nighttime routine.
Vitamin C Serum in the Morning
Vitamin C serum can be used in the morning. Most formulations are fast absorbing, so you can easily layer them with moisturizer and makeup at the beginning of the day.
As Aesthetician Suyud Issa explains, you should use Vitamin C serum “in the morning, after you have cleansed your face, apply 3-4 drops of vitamin C serum to your fingertips and spread it over your face evenly; don’t forget your neck and chest area.
Allow the product a few minutes to fully absorb into your skin before applying any other products, and finish off with an SPF to protect your skin from sun damage during the day.” She recommends a few Korean Vitamin C serums here.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!
When using the serum in the morning, it’s important to apply sunscreen. Even if you aren’t exposed to a great amount of sunlight during your day, you should still make sure that you use sunscreen to protect your skin (and you should try to get out and get some sun if you can, too!).
High concentrations of vitamin C could make the skin more sensitive to UV rays. Your skin may get irritated and sunburn faster than usual when your skin is sensitive.
However, most people don’t experience this and can use vitamin C serum during the day.
Vitamin C Serum At Night
People who have sensitive skin may prefer to use the vitamin C serum at night due to the increased skin sensitivity to sunburn and irritation during the day. However, that’s not the only reason to use it at night.
To make sure that vitamin C is properly absorbed by your skin at night, you should clean your skin well. Regularly exfoliating the skin helps make sure that the vitamin C serum is efficiently absorbed by the skin.
The process is the same as in the morning, but as aesthetician Suyud Issa adds, “finish off with a moisturizer to lock in hydration and nourish the skin overnight.”
Can Vitamin C Serum Be Used Too Much?
You should be able to use your vitamin C serum up to twice per day, but there’s no need to go over that. Too much serum can cause irritation.
If you overuse the vitamin C serum too much for your skin to handle, your skin is the first to tell you about it!
You may observe that instead of getting better, your skin might look worse when you increase the frequency of using the vitamin C serum. It is possible to have a flare-up of blackheads when vitamin C serum is overly used.
Similarly, you could feel like your skin is tight, itchy, or irritated. There can be patches or redness especially when you used it too much too soon. It would be best to first allow your skin to get used to the vitamin C serum before using it twice a day.
Apart from that, you should check if you are adequately protecting your skin with sunscreen while using vitamin C serum.
What Are The Possible Side Effects Of Using Vitamin C Serum?
Adding vitamin C serum to your skincare routine is a good idea. However, some people may have unfavorable side effects due to its use. Some people may experience the side effects temporarily while others do not.
Let’s take a look at the side effects so you’ll know what to do in case they appear.
In some cases, vitamin C can cause adverse reactions like irritation. This can occur when the skin is still getting used to the new product that you are applying.
Irritation can come in the form of itchiness, redness, or tightness of the skin. This kind of irritation will typically happen temporarily. Once the skin gets used to the vitamin C serum, your skin won’t be irritated anymore.
However, there are also some cases when the irritation is more severe. In such a case, you should stop using the vitamin C serum immediately. Some people are sensitive or allergic to vitamin C.
React With Other Skin Care Products
Vitamin C is a potent ingredient and that can be a good thing and a bad thing. Being potent helps make it an excellent antioxidant to help deal with the premature aging of the skin due to various oxidative factors.
However, potent vitamin C can also react negatively with other skincare products like retinol. That’s why before you add vitamin C serum to your skincare routine, you should first read about the possible ingredients it can react with.
In some cases, the reaction between vitamin C and the other skincare ingredients is what irritates the skin.
Apart from retinol, you should also know how to properly use vitamin C serum when you are also planning to use chemical exfoliators such as AHAs and BHAS.
Choosing the Right Vitamin C Serum for Your Skin
Finding the right serum is always a challenge, and there will be some trial and error no matter what. A couple of the variables at play are your skin type and the concentration of Vitamin C in the formula.
You’ll need to find the serum best suited for your skin type. As Dr. Anju Methil says, “Choose a serum with the right formulation. Vitamin C comes in various forms and each type has its own benefits, so it is important to choose one that best suits your skin type. For instance, if you have sensitive skin, look for serums with stabilized vitamin C or derivatives like ascorbyl glucoside, as these are gentler on the skin.”
Dr. Anna Chacon adds a few additional recommendations based on skin type. “Choose a face serum containing salicylic acid and retinol if you have acne-prone and oily skin. Try something with Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid for dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, look for a serum with natural components, as natural substances always produce the finest results.”
Choose a face serum containing salicylic acid and retinol if you have acne-prone and oily skin. Try something with Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid for dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, look for a serum with natural components, as natural substances always produce the finest results.”Dr. Anna Chacon
Vitamin C Concentration
Dr Methil adds that we should also be focused on the concentration of Vitamin C in each serum. “Generally, serums with a 10-20% concentration are ideal for most skin types. Look for other beneficial ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ferulic acid, which can help reduce redness, protect from sun damage, and provide antioxidant protection.”
How To Store Vitamin C Serum
Did you notice that Vitamin C serums are always packaged in amber bottles? That’s because it is photosensitive and could be broken down by light. The amber or dark-colored packaging serves as protection for your vitamin C serum.
Apart from light, it should also be stored in a cool place. It can be tempting to store it in the bathroom but the changes in the humidity and temperature of the bathroom aren’t ideal. They could cause the formulation to be unstable.
What is the Shelf Life of Vitamin C Serum?
It’s short! As Dr. Methil states, “remember that Vitamin C degrades over time, so be sure to buy a fresh bottle every 2-3 months” Take note of when you opened your bottle, and don’t plan to save it. With proper storage, hopefully, you’ll get to three months or maybe slightly over.
After that, it would be best to dispose of the product because the formula may not be as effective as a fresh vitamin C serum.