The Relationship Between Retinol and Vitamin C

The Relationship Between Retinol and Vitamin C

Worldwide, the cosmetic skin care market is worth over $138 billion USD.

This growing industry consists of 1000’s of products and ingredients. Retinol and vitamin C are 2 popular ingredients found in many skincare products. But do they work together?

If your skin concerns include fine lines and wrinkles, skin discoloration, and enlarged pores, retinol and vitamin C can help. But before you use them together, you should understand the myths concerning the efficiency of these 2 ingredients when mixed.

Keep reading to find out what retinol and vitamin C are and how they can help restore your skin to its radiant glow.

What is Retinol?

There is retinoic acid and then there’s retinol.

Retinoic acid is a form of vitamin A. It’s the form of this vitamin that the skin actually uses to heal, repair, and prevent skin concerns.

It’s a cell-communicating agent that binds to receptors in your cells and tissues. In acne and skin treatments like Accutane, Retin-A, and Differin, retinoic acid is the main ingredients. These must be prescribed by a dermatologist.

Retinol is a cell-communicating agent that’s also derived from vitamin A. Because it’s the soluble form of vitamin A, it can be transported through the human bloodstream.

Your body is able to convert retinol into retinoic acid as needed. It’s this characteristic that makes it less irritating than retinoic acid products.

Retinol is used to assist the turnover of your skin cells and to refine enlarged pores. It can also reduce discoloration and age spots, improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as improve skin texture and tone. Typically, it comes in concentrations of 0.1% to 1%.

What is Vitamin C?

As we age, our bodies don’t produce collagen in the same amounts. This contributes to the formation of wrinkles and loss of skin elasticity that leads to sagging skin.

Vitamin C can help your body produce more collagen. It also helps with skin tone because it inhibits melanin in the body. It also protects against damage from UV rays as well as helps to treat photodamage and wrinkling.

Topical vitamin C is usually found on the list of ingredients as “ascorbic acid” in concentrations of 10% or more. In order to realize the benefits of vitamin C, you should be using a topical application.

Are Retinol and Vitamin C Incompatible?

There is a myth that combining retinol and vitamin C reduces their efficacy. This myth is related to conceptions around pH and acidity.

In order for vitamin C to work, it requires either a low pH or no pH (in the case there’s no water in the formula). Meaning that any formula containing vitamin C has to be on the acidic side of the pH scale.

Some people believe that this acidic environment stops retinol from working. However, acidity doesn’t affect the ability of retinol to work its magic on your skin.

Retinol naturally occurs in the skin, which is an acidic environment. There is no research that proves otherwise.

In fact, retinol and vitamin C work very well together. Vitamin C actually stabilizes retinol and makes it more effective. It also extends its effectiveness and, together, they make a powerful antioxidant. 

Other Retinol Myths

While we’re at it, let’s debunk the other myths associated with retinol.

Compatibility with AHA and BHA

The myth about alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) and retinol concern the effectiveness of retinol when these ingredients are combined. Some people believe that AHAs and BHAs deactivate retinol and make it less effective. Others believe you can’t use retinol when you’re using a leave-on exfoliant. 

Like the retinol and vitamin C myth, this myth doesn’t have any research to back it up. What research has been done shows that AHAs and BHAs combined with retinol increase the benefits of both ingredients. It’s especially great for people with milia-prone skin.

Retinol Is an Exfoliant

You may have read or heard that retinol is an exfoliant that helps to shed skin cells. This is another myth about retinol that isn’t true. Instead, retinol is an antioxidant that’s capable of both protection and healing.

This myth is likely related to the fact that retinol causes the skin to flake. This is a side effect of introducing retinol to the skin. It doesn’t last long and it’s not natural exfoliation.

When you notice your skin flaking from retinol, give it a few weeks for your skin to acclimate. If the flaking continues, you may be using a concentration that’s too strong for your skin. Change the formula you’re using or use the product less frequently.

Retinol Is Only for Nighttime Use

While it’s true that retinol makes your skin photosensitive (i.e. more sensitive to the light from the sun), that doesn’t mean you can’t use it during the day. You can wear a retinol product during the day as long as you wear sunscreen to protect your skin.  

Forms of Retinol to Avoid

Retin-A, retinol, retinoic acid, retinoids – there are so many forms of this anti-aging ingredient it’s hard to know which one is right for you. When you’re introducing retinol into your skincare routine, you need to know what’s good for your skin and what’s not.

Read the labels carefully and if you find any of these vitamin A derivatives, avoid the product altogether:

  • Retinyl propionate. Your body converts little of this ingredient into the active retinoic acid. It won’t irritate your skin, but it won’t do much else either.
  • Retinyl acetate. Like propionate, your skin can’t really convert this form of retinol into the retinoic acid it needs to do its job.
  • Retinyl palmitate. Again, your body doesn’t convert this to retinoic acid efficiently or effectively. You’ll find it in over-the-counter anti-aging and acne creams, but it’s not worth the cost.

Further to their ineffectiveness, retinyl palmitate may enhance the growth of tumors when paired with a sunscreen. So you’ll want to avoid these ingredients under all circumstances.

Improve Your Skincare

Retinol is an antioxidizing cell-communicating agent that heals your skin and reduces fine lines and wrinkles as well as acne. Vitamin C is a skin brightening ingredient that increases collagen production, Together, retinol and vitamin C are a powerful duo that can protect and heal your skin.

But do you know what other ingredients can help your skin? To find out, check out our blog

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