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As far as I know, we’ve yet to discover or invent a skincare routine that’s effective in just one step. Most of us count on several creams, serums, lotions and whatever else to keep our complexion on point. In some cases, we’re merely hoping the combo will simply point our pimples in the right direction…like off our face. And while there’s a product for literally every skin concern, the cocktail you invest in could ironically hurt you in the long run. For instance, if brightening is your main goal, knowing what not to mix with vitamin C will make or break your efforts.
I was first introduced to the antioxidant when I told an esthetician I was desperately wanted to lighten my acne scars. He instructed me to apply it in the AM and retinol at night, but to never use them at once. I happily obliged with little concern. Little did I know, these two skin actives actually counteract each other, making them not nearly as effective as they are on their own, even if you’re using at different times. Now my curiosity got the best of me. So I consulted three dermatologists to get the low down on the ingredients that are even more lethal when combined with vitamin C.
But first, a quick refresher. When ingested, vitamin c can knock out a yucky cold. When applied topically (with consistency, of course), you’re that much closer to a lit-from-within glow. “Vitamin C is perhaps the most potent antioxidant we have to use topically on the skin,” says NYC dermatologist, Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD. He also states it acts as a cofactor for collagen production and helps reduce the appearance of dark spots. It’s safe for all skin types, but if you find your skin to be on the sensitive side, most experts would recommend choosing a lower range of the active or using sparingly to avoid irritation.
What To Avoid
According to board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD the brightening ingredient should never mix with citric acid or alpha-hydroxy acids, chemical exfoliants that improve skin texture. “When mixed with citric acid and AHAs, these ingredients destabilize each other and can be irritating to the skin,” suggests Dr. Engelman. “Together, they can also be too active for the skin and cause sensitivity and dryness.”
Dr. Deanne Robinson, MD, FAAD adds benzoyl peroxide to the list. “Benzoyl peroxide may oxidize vitamin C so it’s advised to not apply together,” she adds. “It’s unlikely you will see a topical reaction, however you may be reducing the efficacy of the vitamin C.” So if you absolutely need both ingredients in your routine, we suggest alternating products or consulting with your dermatologist about which ingredient is best for your skin concerns.
What to Combine
We can’t end on a low note, so I also asked what pairs nicely with vitamin C too. Dr. Robinson recommends ferulic acid and vitamin E since both can help stabilize and reduce its pH balance for easier absorption into the skin.
Since vitamin C is often recommended for daytime use, Dr. Zeichner says it’s only fitting that SPF pairs safely with the brightening active. “Sunscreen is your first line of defense against UV light. Despite our best efforts, some UV light will still penetrate through the skin, which is where vitamin C can help neutralize those free radicals that may develop as a result.”
Dr. Dendy prefers pairing her vitamin C with peptides. “Peptides help to hold cells together so when paired with vitamin C, it creates a barrier for the skin and locks in moisture to ultimately improve texture in the long term.” With that being said, here are 5 expert-approved formulas that promise not to disappoint.
Sunday Riley C.E.O. Vitamin C Rich Hydration Cream
A top-pick for dry skin, this rich hydrator is formulated with 5% oxygen-stabilized vitamin C and gives skin a heavy dose of moisture.
$65 at Sephora
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Dr. Robinson would approve of this vitamin C, ferulic acid-blended serum. It’s especially good for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
$166 at Dermstore
Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum
A vegan and cruelty-free formula that doesn’t disappoint. It combines vitamin C with eight other actives (that play nice together, of course) for brighter, tighter skin.
$34 at Ulta
Drunk Elephant C-Firma™ Vitamin C Day Serum
This vitamin C serum is a cult-favorite for good reason. In addition to brightening your complexion, it gently exfoliates and sloughs off dead skin without causing irritation.
$80 at Sephora
CeraVe Skin Renewing Vitamin C Face Serum With Hyaluronic Acid
A wallet-friendly option infused with hyaluronic acid, ceramides and vitamin B5.
$20 at Target
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