Friday, 22 March 2013

Can Vitamin C and retinol be used together : A discussion

Not very long ago, In the discussion to this post : TOP 6 Retinol products in India , I said that retinol requires more alkaline, and vitamin C needs acidic pH to work, so that does imply it cant work together. . . Turns out I wasnt right ! Well I dont say that I've figured out HOW they work, but contrary to what I said .. it seems. they do work together, (however I cant find any data on the mechanism) . Read on to know why am I saying so :

(please note that this article is about retinol, and not prescribed tretinoin, that is already in the active form, and needs no conversion)

The reason why I said retinol and vitamin C should not be used together : 

Retinol,to work on skin is required to be converted to tretinoin, and this conversion needs a pH close to pH of the skin (Around 5.5) . And vitamin C requires lower, or infact no pH at all. So according to this, if applied with vitamin C, retinol wont be broken down to tretinoin, and hence would be ineffective or at its best would be much much less effective than it usually should be.

This is why I recommended not to use them together. And the likes of Dr.Leslie Baumann and Nicki zeveola share the same opinion.

Other than that, the change in pH after their quick successive applications can make skin irritated.  (not applicable for products containing both of them, as the pH would be constant there )

Makes Sense ? But recently I landed on an entirely different viewpoint by cosmetic market legend Paula Begoun, as well as some researches, that claim otherwise :

Should Vitamin C and retinol be used together ?

Paula Begoun says : Vitamin C actually helps retinol work better! It fights free radicals, a process that helps protect retinol from oxidization as it penetrates deeper into the skin—thereby increasing the retinol's anti-aging benefits ! Also since skin's natural pH is similar to whats required for conversion of retinol to tretinoin, the product wont be deemed ineffective.

A 2005 trial published in journal of skin pharmacology physiology states that :
Our results show that repeated topical application of a preparation containing both retinol and vitamin C is able to reverse, at least in part, skin changes induced by both chronologic aging (skin changes due to ageing) and photoaging (skin changes due to sun exposure)

Combination of vitamin A, C, E increase the stability of each vitamin the formula (please note that retinol and vitamin C are highly unstable compounds and rapidly lose their efficacy on contact with air)

Bottom line :

While there is still a grey zone between whether or not vitamin C and retinol be used together, I'd personally recommend you to go the safe way and advise even if you do apply them together, try and keep a gap of half an hour between their applications if they are not in one single product !

When it comes to one single product containing both of them, the chances are both wont be as much effective as they would be if applied separately. But if you are not the person to layer products after waiting for 30+ minutes, or buying both of them separately, you can go give it a try !  
But keep using retinol products at night only !

P.S. I am trying a product containing both retinol and vitamin C, just because curiosity got better of me.. 'L'oreal paris revitalift essence', will keep you updated with the results ! As of now, I am liking it.


  1. Even I am curious to know the results..
    Thanks Dr Rashmi, for doing in depth research.
    Helps alot!!

  2. I like your post and it really gives an outstanding idea that is very helpful for all the people on the web. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hey Dr. Rashmi,

    Thanks again for you and this awesome site!

    I use neutrogena rapid wrinkle treatment(night cream) don't even understand why they have day creams! i tried to buy one recently and they were out of stock. They have stopped supplying it for the past 2-3 months now, which i find suspicious. Anyway, i'm tired of paying out of my ass(excuse the language) for products... so i have decided to alternate kojic and Retinol creams i will buy from medical stores and use it at night. For the day i am getting Dr Reddy's Vit C serum(as you have recommended) and Vichy suncreen.What do you think? Please do suggest some kojic and Retinol brands in med stores.

    Thanks so much!



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