Sure, you can mix Retinol and Ascorbic Acid skincare. Without my readers most bottles look the same, so I have applied both simultaneously with no ill-fated consequences – sensitivities, irritation, or blemishes. In fact, my skin loves it. Just because I can, does not mean that you should. Before blending the two proven and costly skincare, let’s weigh the pros/cons.
All Vitamin C's the Same?
Not even close, the 12 types of Vitamin C derivatives differ widely in characteristics, cost, INCI name, skin benefits, as well as unbiased proof supporting their effectiveness. Each technically Vitamin C, yet distinctly different. They are as much alike as all skincare is interchangeable - cleanser, essence, moisturizer, serum, facial oil, exfoliant, and sunscreen. Some pair nicely with retinol, while others not nearly as well.
For example, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (THDA or ATIP) enhances the performance of retinol while diminishing any sensitivities. Both oil soluble and sharing optimal pH ranges, this symbiotic pairing is a no-brainer – always better together.
Capable of permeating the skin where it coverts to Ascorbic Acid, it is a highly stable and desirable form of Vitamin C.
Daily Vitamin C & Nightly Retinol?
The reigning queen of Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid sits upon a massive throne of peer reviewed clinical trials and heaps of radiant before-and-after selfies. Ideal performance and stability rely on maintaining a lower pH, 3.5 or below. Capitalizing on photoprotection capabilities, Ascorbic Acid is perfect for morning skin routines.
Backed by even more evidence of enhancing skin, Retinol is widely accepted as the single best anti-aging ingredient available without a prescription. Skilled at firming, brightening, clearing blemishes, and jaw-dropping skin improvements. Retinol, also known as Vitamin A, works best in evening skin routines to avoid the destabilizing effects of the sun.
Prominently featured in clinical skincare, the two heavyweights team up nicely. Both A-lister's for ironing out fine lines, brightening discoloration, reversing sun damage, and powerful antioxidants.
Exploiting the full benefits of each ingredient, most Dermatologists advocate Ascorbic Acid for morning and Retinol for nightly routines.
Retinol with Ascorbic Acid?
Flying in the face of the AM/PM method, a handful of major players within the beauty industry have introduced Retinol skincare with Ascorbic Acid. Marketing generally cites “new studies” supporting Retinol’s improved performance and stability when combined with Ascorbic Acid. Makes sense, as lowering the pH often helps to enhance the penetration of actives.
Double-blind studies of a Retinol/Ascorbic Acid cream applied twice daily, observed remarkable skin transformations within:
- Three months, the skin’s outermost layer, or stratum corneum, tightened with increased uniformity. Activity increased within the epidermis resulting in a thickening of the deeper skin layer.
- Six months, photodamaged skin showed recovery at the deepest skin
layer, or dermis - correction of collagen type III-to-type I ratios and widening of the grenz zone.
These traits are strongly associated with younger skin - firm, smooth and resilient. Clinical tests support the capability of reversing both chronologic and sun-induced aging.
A combo well worth trying for anyone using full strength Retinol (1%) and not experiencing skin irritation. Save for a few clients with excessively robust skin barriers, I advise sticking with daily Ascorbic Acid and nightly Retinol. Humblebrag but no less true, AFE products are stronger than most, thanks to high active ingredient levels and small batch formulation.
Though Retinol’s performance seems to benefit, there is little evidence to support that the same is true for Ascorbic Acid. It bears mentioning that studies of Ascorbic Acid substantiate similar skin improvements, both in the epidermis and dermis.
While studies of combined use are compelling, there are volumes more clinical documentation substantiating separate use. Of course, I reserve the right to pivot and likely will, should significantly more unbiased research become available. Until then, the AM/PM method remains the best choice for most.
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2005 Mar-Apr;18(2): 81-87, Histological Evaluation of a Topically Applied Retinol-Vitamin C Combination.
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2003 Jun;48(6): 866-874, UV Photoprotection by Combination Topical Antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2005 May;2(1): 147-155, Photodecomposition and Phototoxicity of Natural Retinoids.
British Journal of Dermatology, 1986 Sep;115(3): 275-283, Photosensitivity Due to Retinoids: Clinical and Laboratory Studies
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2016 Apr;15(4):Article 474, An Open Label Clinical Trial to Evaluate the Efficacy and Tolerance of a Retinol and Vitamin C Facial Regimen in Women With Mild-to-Moderate Hyperpigmentation and Photodamaged Facial Skin.
Journal of investigative Dermatology, 1990 Jan;94(1): 132-138, Vitamin A Esterification in Human Epidermis: A Relation to Keratinocyte Differentiation.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, Inc., 2002 Mar;28(3): 231-236, Double-Blind, Half-Face Study Comparing Topical Vitamin C and Vehicle for Rejuvenation of Photodamage.
Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 2015;8: 463-479, The Role of Vitamin C in Pushing Back the Boundaries of Skin Aging: An Ultrasonographic Approach.