"Can I Mix Vitamin C and Retinol?" and Other Layering Q's Answered

As our Product Development team can personally attest, there's a lot that goes into formulating a skincare product. You want to create a formula that targets dark spots, but how do you get there? It's not as simple as throwing a bunch of brightening ingredients together and hoping for the best. You must lean on science to bring key players together into a single formula that will provide the best results without any irritation. 

Some ingredients work really well together and can even boost each other's effectiveness. Others can't be mixed without causing redness, acne, inflammation, and other skin issues. The good news is that the cosmetic chemists formulating our skincare know their stuff. If a product formulates certain ingredients together and it's working for you, there's no need to get too invested in the nitty gritty of ingredient interactions. If you're curious what products and ingredients can be layered together in your routine, however, read our guide to mixing and matching skincare featuring board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimento.

Quick reminder: Everyone's skin is different. "I
f you notice that something doesn’t look or feel right, stop immediately and seek professional advice," says Dr. Stacy. "When combining skincare ingredients, those with sensitive skin, rosacea, acne, and psoriasis should be most cautious."

The Best Ingredient Pairings to Layer Together

Ingredients to Layer Together

Retinol + Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid is one of those versatile ingredients that gets along with pretty much everyone, but Dr. Stacy especially loves layering it with retinol, especially if you find retinol to be drying. "When hyaluronic acid is paired with retinol, moisture is sealed into the skin without reducing its effect [on aging skin]".   Vitamin C + AHAs
These two ingredients are very effective at evening out skin tone and repairing hyperpigmentation which is why we included both in our Instant Resurfacing Mask. If you are layering them, however, apply acids first. The AHAs will dissolve any dead skin cells first so the vitamin C can then penetrate the pores more effectively. If you're prone to skin irritation, this combo might be too strong for you. In that case, alternate them within your routine.


Vitamin C + Niacinamide
There's a lot of outdated research warning not to combine these two ingredients, but that's since been debunked. Not only do niacinamide and vitamin C play well together, they work even better when formulated as one, especially for treating dark spots and uneven tone. You'll find this combo in our Stroke of Brilliance Brightening Serum.


Vitamin C + Vitamin E
"When used separately, both of these ingredients act to negate free radical damage; however, they fight against different UV damage forms," says Dr. Stacey. "So, when these ingredients are used simultaneously, the skin’s protection from the sun is doubled compared to when these vitamins are used alone." This duo works wonders on aging skin; reap their benefits together in our Weekend Glow Daily Brightening Moisturizer. 

Sunscreen + Antioxidants 
Up your sun protection game with this duo. Antioxidants help prevent skin damage on a cellular level. They also fight off free radicals (which contribute to aging skin). And since we all know that broad spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from UVB and UVA damage, this combo helps your SPF work even better. That's one of the reasons why both are found in Guards Up

Ingredients to Avoid Layering Together

Vitamin C + Retinol

This is one of the most debated ingredient pairings, but Dr. Stacy recommends using them in different routines. Both retinol and vitamin C are active ingredients that effectively brighten and strengthen skin. They also, however, can be irritating or cause skin to purge. Like we mentioned earlier, if a product is formulated with both vitamin C and retinol and it works for your skin, there's no reason to be concerned. You can also opt for a a gentler form of retinol (such as bakuchiol or encapsulated retinol, both used in Press Restart) to avoid irritation altogether.

If you're layering with a prescription retinol, however, we recommend using vitamin C in the AM and retinol during your PM routine (or using them on alternate days). Just don't forget SPF!


Retinol + AHAs/BHAs
Formulated together in one product (like our Overnight Facial), acids and retinol can deliver smooth, even texture and a more youthful complexion. If you don't see these two ingredients in a single product, though, we suggest using them on separate days to avoid any irritation and redness. As mentioned above, our Overnight Facial is an exception here and can be used every night. 

Benzoyl Peroxide + Retinol
"Because both of these ingredients fight against acne, it may sound appealing to apply these ingredients simultaneously," says Dr. Stacy. "However, these ingredients cancel each other out when used together because benzoyl peroxide is likely to deactivate the retinoid molecule. In turn, acne breakouts will not improve." Plus, benzoyl peroxide can be pretty drying. We recommend reaching for salicylic acid to treat breakouts instead.

Next up: Here's the correct order you should be applying your skincare, from cleanser to SPF.