Skincare Serums: Rivals in the Routine

By Joan Lee 

So, let’s talk about our skincare squad and the relationship between each product. Can I use Vitamin C serums in the same routine as Retinols? Or Benzoyl Peroxide and Hydroquinone? How about Acids and Retinols? Or Niacinamide with Vitamin C? I know, it can be confusing for us skincare addicts since we have more products than we can count (yikes!) so, let me make it easier and give you the breakdown with the details.

Vitamin C & Retinol. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that defends the skin from environmental pollutants and is a brightening agent that has many different forms, starting from pure L-ascorbic acid to stabilized derivatives such as Ascorbyl Glucoside, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, and Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate. The more stable the derivative, the less potent it is compared to pure Vitamin C. Retinol, a derivative of Vitamin A, reduces the appearance of wrinkles, delays the breakdown of collagen, helps maintain skin elasticity and lightens dark spots caused by the sun.

Both Vitamin C and Retinol are very potent ingredients; however, they both work at different pH levels. Vitamin C, in its purest form, works best at a lower pH of 3.5 or lower whereas Retinol works best at a pH level of 5.5-6.0. Using both ingredients would just neutralize the other one out, making it ineffective as a result.

The possible remedy? There are Vitamin C derivatives, such as Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Ascorbyl Glucoside, that have a pH level between 6.0-7.0 that can work with well retinol without compromising its integrity.

 Niacinamide & Vitamin C. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is a skin-restoring ingredient that helps improve the appearance of large pores, congestion, blemishes and regulates sebum activity. Again, it’s a potent ingredient for skincare and works best at a pH level of 5.5-6.5. As previously discussed, pure L-ascorbic acid works optimally at a lower pH of 3.5 but luckily the Vitamin C derivatives vary in pH levels, making it very accommodating to other skincare ingredients that are not as varying.

The obvious remedy for this one would be to use a Vitamin C derivative with a higher pH level so that Niacinamide can be also used in the same routine

Benzoyl Peroxide & Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent that limits the creation of melanin in your skin. An excess of melanin can create dark brown spots and so hydroquinone can be the curing ingredient in skincare that helps the spots to fade. Benzoyl Peroxide, also known as BPO, is a powerful agent that kills the bacteria that causes acne in your pores and is a great source, as a first line of defense, to dry out acne. Be careful though! Hydroquinone and BPO used together can cause staining on the skin. Although it’s not a permanent stain, I would be careful of using the two ingredients together because it can cause some bad irritation on the skin. The possible remedy? Well, it’s really not a remedy but the good news is you can use both in the same routine, just not on the same spot! Avoid using both ingredients together on the same trouble spot.


Are Acids and Retinol a no go? This rivalry is probably the most common one that skincare enthusiasts are aware of. Acids, which improve texture and clarity of the skin, work optimally at a lower pH, as they exfoliate the dead skin layer. Acids include alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic and lactic), and beta-hydroxy acids (also known as salicylic acid). AHA’s have a pH level between 3.6-3.8 and BHA’s have a pH level between 3.2-3.5. Retinols, as previously discussed, work optimally at a higher pH level because they need to be converted to retinoic acid before your body can use it; this process is called hydrolysis. The hydrolysis process works better in a neutral pH environment meaning that a previous application of an acid can make retinol less effective on your skin.

 The possible remedy? Use an acid during the day and retinol at night.

Having so many ingredients in our routine can get chaotic sometimes and it can be confusing when it comes to which ones are contraindications for the other. Remember to know the pH levels in your serums and to spread out their usage in your routine!



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