Using Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid Together
Vitamin C and glycolic acid both help to brighten your skin tone and fade dark spots. In addition, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, protecting your skin from damaging UV rays while glycolic acid can smooth lines and wrinkles with regular use. Since these two powerhouse ingredients both have clinically proven results you may be wondering if you can use both or if you need to pick between them?
You can use both Vitamin C and glycolic acid together safely in the same skincare routine. In fact, I highly recommend you use both! Together they provide the powerful antioxidant support and gentle exfoliation that will keep your skin looking smooth, bright and even toned.
Depending on the type of Vitamin C you use, I most likely would not recommend using it at the same time as glycolic acid. It will usually be best to use one in the morning and one in the evening. Read on for more details and all you need to know to use both these ingredients together for smoother, glowing skin.
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Types of Vitamin C and How They Differ
You may have read about Vitamin C and how it’s one of the most recommended skin care ingredients to fight the signs of aging. That’s because Vitamin C is one of the strongest antioxidants we can use to protect our skin. Antioxidants protect our skin from harmful stressors like UV rays, cigarette smoke, and pollution in the air.
What you may not have known is that there are several types of Vitamin C used in skin care products. Each type has different advantages and disadvantages and no one type is necessarily best for your skin. It’s important to know which type of Vitamin C you are using because it is going to impact how you can use it together with glycolic acid.
Below, I’ll go over the most common types and cover the basics on each:
Ascorbic Acid is the “active” form of Vitamin C and is the one with the most clinical studies to back up its effectiveness. It’s the form that has been proven to increase collagen levels in the skin, which is very helpful in preventing and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Ascorbic acid also helps brighten dark spots and has amazing antioxidant power.
So while it sounds great and is considered the top type of Vitamin C, there are two major downsides of ascorbic acid. First is that it is notoriously unstable when exposed to oxygen and/or formulated in water. This means that it quickly loses effectiveness depending on the product packaging. An airtight pump is ideal and is what is used on the 10% serum that I recommend. Ascorbic acid will turn yellow as it loses effectiveness so you can tell as it begins to degrade. Once it’s a dark yellow color it should no longer be used.
The second major drawback is that it can be irritating on skin. Several popular Vitamin C Serums have levels of 15% or 20% ascorbic acid. This can be irritating to the skin, in fact on my own skin I don’t use levels higher than 10% because it turns my skin red for several hours. The good news is that lower levels are still effective and you can find plenty of serums with these amounts.
✅ Check out my in-depth review of my favorite 10% Vitamin C serum here. It’s inexpensive and comes in a pump.
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP)
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP) is one of my favorite types of Vitamin C. I actually use this more often than Ascorbic acid. ( My favorite SAP serum is Mad Hippie which has tons of antioxidants in addition to Vitamin C) Why do I prefer SAP? First because it does not irritate my sensitive skin at all and secondly because it is very stable, so no concerns of buying an expensive serum and having it go bad in 6 weeks (which has happened to me with ascorbic acid).
Benefits of SAP in addition to it being stable and gentle, are that it’s a great antioxidant and it has been proven to help with acne. I also really feel like it gives my skin an amazing glow and reduces redness.
The drawback to SAP is that it has not been shown to increase collagen level in skin like ascorbic acid has. It’s considered a derivative of Vitamin C and is converted by our skin cells into ascorbic acid, thus some of its power is lost in the conversion process.
Ascorbyl Glucoside is another derivative form of Vitamin C that is converted to ascorbic acid within our skin. It is considered particularly good at brightening the skin but like SAP, does not have the collagen boosting power that ascorbic acid has. It is considered stable so no need to worry about the serum or lotion going bad quickly.
Benefits of Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is one of the most popular types of Alpha Hydroxy Acids. It penetrates into the top layer of the skin and helps the dead skin cells slough off quicker than they would on their own. This helps the bright, new skin underneath to show.
Over time glycolic acid has been shown to stimulate collagen production in skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles and fade dark spots. Check out this clinical study here for impressive results.
It’s truly an amazing skincare ingredient that is very versatile because you can find products with strengths of 5% up to 30%. Be very careful of using high levels of glycolic acid as it can burn the skin and leave you with scars and serious injuries.
Why Not Use Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid At The Same Time?
You can use any of the types of Vitamin C together with glycolic acid in the same skincare routine. However, depending on the form of Vitamin C, you can necessarily use it at the exact same time (or immediately right after one another).
The main issue you are going to have is if you are using the ascorbic acid form of Vitamin C. In order to penetrate the skin it must be formulated at the correct PH to be effectively. It’s the same with Glycolic Acid, neither product will work at the wrong PH.
For this reason if you are using Ascorbic Acid and Glycolic Acid I recommend using one in the morning and one in the evening. Due to ascorbic acid’s amazing antioxidant properties, I highly recommend using it in the morning underneath your sunscreen. This will allow it to protect your skin from the sun all day.
Then, you can use glycolic acid in the evenings to exfoliate your skin, which helps fade dark spots, brightens skin tone and can help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
How to Use Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid Together in the same Skincare Routine
Both Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid work best when applied to bare skin. For this reason I would use both as the first step after cleansing in your skincare routine. In the morning, apply Vitamin C after cleansing. After you apply you can use any other skincare products (like additional antioxidants or moisturizer) prior to sunscreen. For me I normally just use a Vitamin C serum and then apply sunscreen directly over it as I don’t find I need an additional moisturizer in the morning.
I recommend applying Glycolic Acid to clean skin in the evening. Once my glycolic acid sinks in I apply a moisturizer over it. I do not use glycolic acid every night as I have sensitive skin and just don’t think it’s necessary. I use tretinoin and glycolic acid on alternate evenings (sometimes using lactic acid in place of glycolic).
Another thing to note is that if you have sensitive skin you may want to start with a more gentle acid than glycolic. I’m a huge fan of lactic acid, which has bigger molecules than glycolic so it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply.
✅ I have a whole article to help you decide which alpha hydroxy acid is the best choice for you.
Final Thoughts on Using Glycolic Acid and Vitamin C Together
I’m sure you can tell I’m a big fan of both of these ingredients. Vitamin C and Glycolic Acid have clinical studies showing they are effective, they are easily available in drugstores everywhere and they can be very inexpensive.
There’s really not much more you can ask for from a skincare ingredient. Along with a retinoid such as retinol or tretinoin, Vitamin C and Glycolic acid together can be the backbone of any anti-aging skincare routine. They are all you need to keep your skin looking and feeling great for years. (And sunscreen of course!)