Should You Use Vitamin C Before or After Retinol?

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Retinol and vitamin C are essential ingredients in anti-aging skincare routines. The two ingredients tackle wrinkles and dark spots and build collagen.

While some people may prefer using one of these ingredients at a time, others agree that combining them would yield a more effective result.

However, using both ingredients does not mean mixing them or using them at the same time. Should you use Vitamin C before or after retinol? The short answer is that you should use them alternating in a day and night cycle.

This article will explain how to use both ingredients for your skincare routine.


Should You Apply Vitamin C and Retinol at the Same Time?

Retinol and Vitamin C are powerful skincare ingredients (which we discuss below), and fitting them into your routine may be tricky. Using both ingredients in your skincare routine isn’t as straightforward as mixing them or layering one over the other. 

Doing this won’t help you achieve the effect you desire but will only waste your money and your time. Mixing these ingredients or layering one over the other is not advisable for two reasons:

Difference in their pH levels

Water-based skincare products are formulated to work at different pH levels. Retinol operates best at a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. The active form of vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid, and it needs a pH of 3.5 or lower to penetrate the skin. 

There is a huge gap in the pH levels that these two ingredients required to work effectively. Mixing both ingredients or layering them will raise the pH of vitamin C and lower the pH of retinol. This will result in both ingredients being less effective.


Retinol only dissolves in oil because it is oil-soluble. On the other hand, the active form of vitamin C is water-soluble and will only dissolve in water.

It’s common knowledge that water and oil do not mix.

Adding retinol to a water-soluble vitamin C will result in you not getting the benefits of the retinol because it won’t penetrate your skin.  

Should you Use Vitamin C Before or After Retinol? 

There are ways you can fit retinol and vitamin C into your skincare routine without layering or mixing them. Using any of these ways will ensure that you get the full benefits both ingredients offer. 

The easiest way to incorporate both ingredients into your routine is to use each ingredient at a different time of the day.

Retinol will work better at night, while vitamin C works best in the morning.

Using vitamin C during the day protects the skin from being damaged by ultraviolet rays from the sun. It neutralizes the free radicals generated in the skin due to its exposure to the sun.

Retinol is not suited for daytime use because it can make your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet rays. Using retinol in your nighttime routine will guarantee you get all benefits you can from it. 

Retinol will work better at night, while vitamin C works best in the morning.

You may also incorporate vitamin C in your nighttime routine without stopping your use of retinol. The trick is to alternate between retinol and vitamin C.

By using both ingredients on alternate nights, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of both ingredients.

Why is Vitamin C an Important Part of Your Skincare Routine?

Vitamin C is an antioxidant abundant in the human skin. Although it is found in abundance in the skin, we can’t synthesize it on our own.

Many people get a fair dose of vitamin C from vegetables, fruits, and other food consumed. 

By including vitamin C in your skincare regimen from something like Cellex C serum, your skin is guaranteed to look and feel better.

Here are some of the roles vitamin C plays in the skin:


Antioxidants protect the skin from the UV rays of the sun and free radicals, which cause premature skin aging. They enable the repair of the skin by reducing inflammation. 

Facilitates Collagen Production

There is a reduction in collagen production in the skin as the body ages, which results in wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging skin. Vitamin C increases collagen and hyaluronic acid levels, resulting in smoother skin.

Reduces Hyperpigmentation

Vitamin C impedes melanin production by reducing the enzymatic activity of tyrosinase. The vitamin helps with hyperpigmented spots on the skin by inhibiting melanin production. It lightens circles under the eye and gives you a more even skin tone.

Why is Retinol an Important Part of Your Skincare Routine?

Retinol is a type of retinoid, and it is derived from vitamin A. It is commonly used to reduce wrinkles and treat acne.

Over-the-counter retinol can be purchased without a prescription, but many like to jump to prescription-strength Tretinoin

Some of the roles retinol plays in the human skin are:

Brightens Dull Skin

Sun damage, stress, pregnancy, and lifestyle habits like excessive drinking and smoking can cause dull skin. Retinol brightens the skin by reducing the production of melanin and turning over skin cells, resulting in healthier and brighter skin.

Prevents Premature Skin Aging

The anti-aging properties of retinol make it an essential ingredient of any skincare regimen. It helps with wrinkles and fine lines that are present due to the decrease in collagen production as the body ages.

Retinol increases collagen production by boosting the supply of blood to the skin. This thickens the skin’s inner layer and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Helps with Acne

Retinol has been shown to treat inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne effectively. A combination of oil and dead skin cells inside the hair follicles on the face results in the development of acne. Retinol boosts the shedding and replacement of these skin cells.

It decreases the production of oil in skin cells. A decrease in oil production lowers the chances of oil blocking the skin pores and prevents acne. Retinol also inhibits the development of pimples and reduces the visibility of existing ones.

Note that both Retinol and Tretinoin can cause acne to temporarily get worse (called the “Retinol Uglies” or a “Tretinoin Purge“). These purges temporarily make things worse, but once your skin has purged, it will be much cleaner.

Final Thoughts

No one can stop aging (well, except Dracula and Susanna Hoffs). But there are ways to keep your skin feeling fresh, supple, and new. Using retinol and vitamin C will help you get the glowing and beautiful skin you want.

Typically you want to use your retinol in the evening, and your Vitamin C products in the morning. This way you won’t have any bad reaction by combining them, and you’ll keep your skin in great condition.

Now that you know which one should come before the other, we hope you use them correctly and achieve the desired effect.

For details on creating a customized skincare routine based on your skin, check out our look at Curology’s offerings.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).