How to use retinol and vitamin C together in your skincare routine

You can officially forget about foregoing one ingredient for the other.

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Teneal Zuvela
Medically reviewed by
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Retinol and vitamin C are two of the most powerful anti-ageing ingredients in skincare but they're also one of those combinations that experts usually advise against using together.

For this reason, you might be surprised to learn that you can actually use retinol and vitamin C in the same skincare routine. Yep, you heard that right — you can officially forget about foregoing one ingredient for the other.

We've gathered everything you need to know about how to safely and effectively incorporate these two ingredients into your skincare routine. Let's dive in!

What is retinol and how does it work?

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A that's used to treat a multitude of skincare concerns associated with ageing, acne, skin tone and hyperpigmentation.

When applied topically, retinol penetrates the upper layer of the skin, also known as the stratum corneum, and is even able to reach the much deeper dermis layer of the skin as well.

Once absorbed, retinol promotes skin cell turnover, an important anti-ageing process that keeps our skin looking youthful. Retinol is sometimes confused with retinoids, which is simply an umbrella term for an array of vitamin A based skincare products.

While retinol is a type of retinoid, the two are not interchangeable and unlike most retinoid products, retinol can be bought over-the-counter.

In fact, retinol is the strongest type of vitamin A that you can buy over-the-counter.

What are the benefits of retinol?

Prevents skin ageing

As we age, our skin cell turnover slows down. This means that our old skin cells aren't being replaced as regularly and our skin becomes more prone to fine lines and wrinkles.

Retinol is able to speed up the skin cell turnover process and help create new skin cells needed for youthful-looking skin. Studies have shown that retinol can strengthen and thicken the epidermis.

The epidermis protects the skin from external stressors and pollutants, which is essential for maintaining skin health.

By strengthening the epidermis, retinol also helps the skin retain its moisture, leading to a more plump and firm complexion. But that's not all, retinol also prevents the breakdown of collagen, the protein that keeps your skin firm and elastic.

Improves skin tone and texture

By promoting skin cell turnover, retinol is basically giving your skin cells their own exfoliation. This not only leads to smoother and brighter skin but significantly reduces the appearance of hyperpigmentation, sun spots and dark spots.

Over time, you can expect a more even skin tone and smoother skin texture.

Reduces acne

Retinol is probably best known as a treatment for acne. As with other retinoids, retinol can clear the blocked pores and reduce inflammation in the skin.

It does this by reducing the abnormal skin peeling that's associated with clogged pores and protecting the skin against the molecules that cause inflammation. In other words, retinol can regulate the oils in your skin and reduce the frequency of breakouts.

If you struggle with acne scars then retinol can also help you out. When retinol penetrates the dermis layer of your skin, it stimulates elastin and collagen production.

In turn, these proteins speed up the skin's natural healing processes and reduce the appearance of acne scarring.

What is vitamin C and how does it work on skin?

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that's also known as L-ascorbic acid. Most people get vitamin C from food sources and consume the vitamin for its wide variety of health benefits.

In recent years, vitamin C has become well known for having some pretty powerful skincare benefits when applied topically. The potent antioxidant is best known for its ability to protect your skin cells from external stressors such as air pollution and UV rays from the sun.

Vitamin C does this by neutralising the free radicals before they can do any damage to your skin cells.

When vitamin C is applied topically, it can boost your skin's natural regeneration process and help repair any damaged skin cells that you might have.

What are the benefits of vitamin C?

From fighting discolouration and dullness to protecting the skin against sun exposure and other external environmental stressors, the benefits of vitamin C are endless.

Promotes collagen production

Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, which is the key to maintaining younger-looking skin.

Collagen is the protein that's responsible for preserving your skin's elasticity and firmness, which means that it prevents sagging while also reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.


If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you might want to think about adding vitamin C to your skincare routine. The antioxidant can protect your skin cells against sun exposure and dangerous UV rays.

When your skin is over exposed to the sun, your skin cells can experience oxidative stress. Over time, this can lead to the breakdown of collagen and premature skin ageing, dark spots and discolouration, and in some cases, even skin cancer.

Vitamin C can give your skin an extra layer of protection against these harmful UV rays, keeping your skin safer and healthier in the sun.

Reduces hyperpigmentation

Vitamin C is also known for improving hyperpigmentation and other forms of skin discolouration.

The antioxidant can prevent excessive melanin production that causes hyperpigmentation and dark spots by blocking the production of the pigment in your skin, leading to brighter and more even skin tones.

What to look for when choosing a vitamin C serum

With its wide range of skincare benefits, vitamin C has become an incredibly popular skincare ingredient. But with so many products to choose from, it's important to know what to look for when choosing a vitamin C serum.

When you're choosing your vitamin C product, experts recommend looking for one with a concentration level between 10 and 20 per cent to get the best results. It's also best to avoid any vitamin C products with additives, synthetic colours and fragrances.

Software's Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum is one of the most potent on the market with the powerful formula containing a full 15 per cent dose of vitamin C.

The serum is made with a combination of highly specialised actives, including ferulic acid, alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin E, that help vitamin C brighten the skin and fight environmental stressors.

Plus, you won't find any nasty additives, parabens, sulfates or synthetic colours and fragrances in this vitamin C formula.

What to look for when choosing a retinol product

Retinol is another popular skincare ingredient that's found in a wide variety of products. When choosing a retinol product, it's important to look out for what type of retinol the product contains.

Some skincare products contain other vitamin A derivatives that could easily be confused with retinol, such as retinaldehyde and retinyl palmitate.

Retinol is a pretty powerful ingredient that can sometimes increase skin sensitivity and for this reason, it's best to look for retinol products that also contain a few hydrating and nourishing ingredients.

Software's Retinol Complex Oil is packed with restorative ingredients like omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, along with fruit and seed oils to keep your skin nourished and hydrated.

The oil is a lightweight and fast-absorbing product that can effectively combat fine lines and discolouration while rejuvenating your skin.

And, our Retinol Complex Oil is designed for all skin types, even those with sensitive skin who don't want to use medical-grade retinoids.

Can you use vitamin C with retinol or medical-grade retinoids?

Experts usually advise against using retinol and vitamin C together. This is because the different PH requirements of the two ingredients usually end up rendering each other ineffective.

However, this only happens if you use retinol and vitamin C at the same time — not in the same routine. It's perfectly safe and very effective to incorporate both retinol and vitamin C into your skincare routine, as long as you use them at different times of the day.

How to use vitamin C and retinol in your skincare routine

Retinol and vitamin C are both powerful anti-ageing ingredients. By using both retinol and vitamin C in your skincare routine, you can harness the benefits of both ingredients and get even better results.

That's why both Software's Retinol Complex Oil and Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum are part of Software's Advanced Ageing Set.

The set incorporates a retinol-based product and vitamin C based product into the one anti-ageing skincare routine in order to effectively target fine lines, wrinkles, dullness and skin elasticity.

When you use these products together, it's important to use them at different times of the day to avoid any irritation.

The vitamin C serum is best used in the morning, to prepare your skin for any contact with environmental stressors, while retinol is best used in the evening to restore your skin overnight.

Together, these ingredients will give your skin the best shot at maintaining its smooth, bright and youthful appearance.

If you haven't used retinol and vitamin C in the same routine before (or you have very sensitive skin) then it's also a good idea to start by introducing one ingredient at a time.

Start by adding retinol to your evening skin routine and slowly introduce vitamin C to your morning skincare routine a few weeks later. This will help prevent any skin irritation and support a more sustainable skincare routine.

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  1. SANTHAKUMAR Sasha. What is Retinol and How Can a Person Use It, Medical News Today, 2021.
  2. Retinoid or Retinol? American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2021.
  3. SADICK Neil et al. An Advanced, Physician-Strength Retinol Peel Improves Signs of Aging and Acne Across a Range of Skin Types Including Melasma and Skin of Color, Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2019.
  4. ZASADA, Malwina et al. A Clinical Anti-Ageing Comparative Study of 0.3 and 0.5% Retinol Serums: A Clinically Controlled Trial, Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2020.
  5. LEYDEN, James et al. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne, Dermatology and Therapy, 2017.
  6. BURKE Karen E. Prevention and Treatment of Aging Skin With Topical Antioxidants, Skin Aging Handbook, 2009.
  7. DUSANG Kaylee. The Benefits of Adding Vitamin C to Your Skin Care Routine, Baylor College of Medicine, 2019.
  8. NATHAN Neera. Why is Topical Vitamin C Important for Skin Health? Harvard Health Publishing, 2021.
  9. RUD Melanie. 5 Things to Know Before You Buy Retinol, According to Derms, Realself News, 2020.
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