Can you use Vitamin C and Retinoids together?

Posted by Team Maelove on


Hi! Welcome to Maelove.

Today we address the question, can I use Vitamin C and Retinoids together?

The answer is yes you can use these ingredients together in your skincare routine.

There are very few tried and true skincare ingredients that are as well studied and proven as Vitamin C and retinoids.

Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that helps protect your skin from UV damage which is a huge driver of premature aging.

And Vitamin C can also stimulate collagen production as well as combat hyperpigmentation.

Supplementing your skin with topical Vitamin C becomes more important as we get older and Vitamin C levels in our skin drop with time

Retinoids on the other hand are types of Vitamin A.

They bind to specific receptors in the cell nucleus that kickstart skin rejuvenation in a bunch of ways like 1) creating more collagen, 2) thickening the epidermis, the top layer of the skin, which thins with age and 3) promoting formation of new blood vessels in your skin so you get back some of that rosy glow.

Retinoids also fight hyperpigmentation but via a different mechanism than Vitamin C.

We have published newsletters that go in-depth into Vitamin C and retinoids. Check them out in the links below!

Click here for Maelove's Deep Guide to Retiniods - How and Why they work

Click here for Maelove's Deep Guide to Vitamin C - How and Why it works


So now what happens when you use the two together?

There have been some clinical studies where both ingredients were used in a skincare routine and the results were positive.

One is from Herndon and colleagues in 2016 in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.

They had 44 testers with hyperpigmented and photodamaged skin use a 30% vitamin C product and a 0.5% retinol product for 12 weeks.
By weeks 8 and 12, the researchers found significant benefits to skin clarity and evenness, fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and skin smoothness as graded by a clinician.

As far as any side effects or irritation, the researchers noticed worse skin dryness at weeks 4 and 8, which is not surprising since 0.5% retinol is quite concentrated.

But by week 12, dryness was back to baseline, normal levels, which is typical as the skin gets used to the retinoid.

Now, a drawback of this study is that it had no placebo control condition (aka they didn’t have a group trying out the same product, but without the retinol and vitamin c). This study is not meant to scientifically prove that this vitamin c-retinol combo benefits more than a placebo or more than each alone.
However, we can tell from this study that testers using these two together saw benefits without having unusual side effects.

The next study is from Seite and colleagues in 2005 in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology.

The study looked into whether you still saw a benefit by using retinol and Vitamin C together in smaller amounts (recall the Herndon study used 30% vitamin C and 0.5% retinol).

They actually conducted two double-blind studies.

In the first study, they tried 3 months of treatment in postmenopausal women with 0.07% retinol and 3.5% Vit C


In the second study, they tried 6 months of treatment in postmenopausal women with sun-damaged skin with 0.04% retinol and 3% Vit C.

By the way, at Maelove, we recommend minimum 0.1% retinol and 10% Vitamin C for effectiveness, so both of these studies used pretty diluted formulas.

Even so, in the first study, they found increased epidermal skin thickness and what is called improved interdigitation in the epidermal/dermal junction.

Basically, younger skin has better interdigitation than older skin aka different layers of the skin are more firmly bonded together. This means the treatment helped restore the skin to a younger and healthier state compared to the placebo.

In the second study, researchers found early signs of repair of long-term sun damage at the dermal level where collagen is and which is the deeper level of skin below the epidermis.

What we can learn from these studies is that you can use Vitamin C and retinoids together and get great results even in low doses.

So even if your sensitive skin can’t tolerate stronger Vitamin C & retinoids, I think you should try a gentler formula instead of completely giving up on these amazing, well-researched and highly proven active ingredients.

Now, at Maelove, we formulate these two ingredients separately and here’s why

First, retinoid serums are not recommended for pregnant women. Since we want all our other serums to be safe for use even throughout pregnancy, we formulate retinoids separately.

Second, since retinoids can be irritating, particularly in the first few weeks of use, formulating retinoids separately allows you to ease your skin into use of the ingredient and also pick and choose serums based on what your skin can handle.

And third, Vitamin C serums as an antioxidant may be more useful to apply in the morning before you get that UV exposure during the day

while retinoid serums, at least in the first few weeks, should only be applied at night since they can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. This is why your derm always tells you to be consistent with sunscreen application when using retinoids.

So when you’re using these ingredients, we recommend that you apply Vitamin C in the morning and if you like, in the evening as well to replenish the Vitamin C that may have been depleted by UV exposure during the day.

And retinoids can be the cornerstone of your nightly routine.

In terms of how you apply these ingredients, the simple rule of light to heavy works here.

So put on toners and lightweight, water-based serums first. Then, thicker serums. Then, creams. Give a minute or more between steps to let the skin fully absorb each product.

Ascorbic acid, which is the most studied form of Vitamin C and thus the most often used, is water soluble, which is why Vitamin C serums tend to be very light.

Give it a minute or longer, then apply your retinoid. Retinoids are oil-soluble so they are usually in thicker serum formulas or in a cream form.

Thanks and see you again soon!

Maelove Glow Maker Vitamin C Serum: Maelove

Maelove Moonlight Retinal Super Serum:


This writeup was lead-authored by our senior technical adviser, Sunbin Song, PhD. Sunbin graduated from MIT with a degree in Biology before receiving a doctorate in neuroscience from Georgetown and becoming a research scientist at the NIH. When Sunbin isn't busy researching the brain, she loves to explore how we can best nurture our body, mind and spirit to live more joyful lives. 

Sources mentioned:

Seité S, Bredoux C, Compan D, Zucchi H, Lombard D, Medaisko C, Fourtanier A. Histological evaluation of a topically applied retinol-vitamin C combination. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2005 Mar-Apr;18(2):81-7. doi: 10.1159/000083708. PMID: 15767769.

Herndon JH Jr, Jiang LI, Kononov T, Fox T. 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. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016 Apr;15(4):476-82. PMID: 27050703.


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