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Retinol or Vitamin C? Which one is right for me?

With the popularity of Vitamin A and C, one must have often been advised to include them in their skincare routine. But since both are active ingredients, one needs to be careful with the application regime and picking the right ingredient at the right time. This also varies with the skin type and skin concern that you primarily want to tackle. Let’s dig up on all the details that you need to know before using these goodies!

What is Vitamin A and how does it help your skin?

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Vitamin A is not just a single form of nutrient. It is a group of compounds that can be called Vitamin A. This includes Retinol, Retinoid, Retinyl Esters, Retinal, Retinoic Acid. This active ingredient can craft your skin to erase all your skin concerns but you need to be careful with its application.

Want to know the difference between the types of Vitamin A and the application mistakes you must avoid? Read here

Let’s look at some common benefits that Vitamin A provides to the skin:

  • It helps eliminate whiteheads and blackheads
  • Reduces and prevents fine lines and wrinkles
  • Reverses sun damage and hyperpigmentation
  • Reduces acne scars

Read more about Vitamin A here!

What is Vitamin C and how does it help your skin?

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Over time, we’ve realised the importance of Vitamin C. Some of us have included it in our daily routine as a staple, and of course, we see the life that it brings to our skin. Vitamin C is a booster dose for your skin that contains Antioxidants and is vital for your body to repair the tissues and promote overall health. It is essential to be included in your diet just as much as your skincare. Here are some benefits that it offers to your skin-

  • Maintain the enzymes that help in the production of Collagen.
  • Exfoliate dead skin and boost the production of Collagen which helps in diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Prevents overproduction of melanin leading to fading acne scars and pigmentation.
  • Protects you from free radicals due to the presence of Antioxidants in it.
  • Slow down ageing by maintaining your skin barrier.

Read more about Vitamin C here!

What is the difference between the application of Vitamin A and C?

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Since the mode of action is different for both the ingredients, the application is different too. Way too much difference and you need to know this before starting with either of the ingredients. Let’s look at the point of difference-

1. AM or PM routine

Vitamin A can be used only at night since their actions can be disrupted by light. Vitamin C, on the other hand, can be used in both AM and PM routines. But just make sure you’re applying sunscreen if you’ve included Vitamin A or C in your routine. It is because both of them are active ingredients and while they help your skin, it also makes your skin receptive to harsh UVA and B rays.

    Sublime recommends Qurez Mattifying SPF 50 Sunscreen With Vitamin E & Matcha Green Tea that protects and also hydrates your skin. Thanks to Aloe Vera and Vitamin E present in it!

    This is an image of Qurez Mattifying SPF 50 Sunscreen With Vitamin E & Matcha Green Tea on

    2. Daily or alternate days

    If you’ve just started with Vitamin A then you need to make sure you’re using the lowest concentration and apply it just once in 3-4 days in the beginning. You can then build it up to twice or thrice a week as per your understanding.

      Sublime recommends Over Dermis Skin Alphabet Vitamin A Serum. It is just such a simple product that has 0.1% Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid to prevent dryness due to Retinol. Just perfect for those who want to start with Vitamin A!

      This is an image of Over Dermis Skin Alphabet Vitamin A Serum on

      With Vitamin C, if you’re a beginner, you can pick the lowest concentration of about 25 or 5% and apply it every night or day. Once your skin has adapted Vitamin C, you can go for a higher concentration of about 10% or 15%. With either Vitamin A or C, make sure you’re patch testing it before using it.

      Read more on how to patch test here!

      Sublime recommends Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop Serum that has 5% of Vitamin C. Just a couple of drops of this followed by sunscreen to glow up!

      This is an image of Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Drop Serum on

      3. Around your eyes or not

      Vitamin A and C, both can be used around your eyes. But the difference is Vitamin A cannot be used without a thick moisturiser followed up around your eyes. You need to also make sure that you’re using the lowest possible concentration of Vitamin A and C around your eyes. This is because the skin around your eyes is the thinnest and cannot be treated in the same way your face is. Hence, you cannot use your face cream and serum around your eyes too. Treat them differently!

      Sublime recommends EarthBaby Under-Eye Care Cream that has Carrot Seeds which are a natural source of Vitamin A. It also has Pomegranate seeds, Raspberry seeds, and Coffee to de-puff and brighten your under eyes.

      This is an image of EarthBaby Under-Eye Care Cream on

      4. Sandwich method or direct application

      When Vitamin A starts its work on your skin, then it will first start with removing the dead skin. Hence, you will experience purging. This is entirely normal and the intensity depends on how much dead skin your face has. However, this being an active ingredient, can lead to drying. So after washing your face, dry it thoroughly. Then apply moisturiser, following it with Vitamin A and then again a layer of moisturiser. This is called the Sandwich method. It is just to ensure that your skin doesn’t dry out while Vitamin A does its job. If you’ve just begun with Vitamin A and you’re not sure if it is for you, you can resort to using Vitamin A for a short while and then washing it off with water to terminate its activity. This short contact therapy works even if you leave it on for 10-15 minutes, allowing the nutrients to soak in.

        Vitamin C, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be applied this way. Start with the lowest concentration (2- 5%) and apply it directly over your face. Don’t forget to patch test it before putting it to use. If you find it drying then follow it with a moisturiser. With Vitamin C, you won’t experience purging.

        Please note, if you’ve been using Vitamin A and experienced purging for a while, you cannot scratch them. In case you do, you must stop using Vitamin A and consult a dermatologist.

        With Vitamin C, you may not experience purging but if you’re not using the right concentration while beginning with it, you may experience dryness or a burning sensation. In this case, visit your dermatologist.

        What must you pick- Vitamin A or C?

        It boils down to your skin type, skin concerns, and the skincare routine. If we were to briefly categorise Vitamin A and C according to their key benefit, then here’s how these ingredients can be picked:

        1. Your main concern is to prevent and reduce wrinkles

        If you’re a woman/man in your mid-twenties then you need to start with preventive measures to delay ageing. This is when your skin cannot make enough collagen to keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay. The best ingredient to tackle this concern is Vitamin A. Early on, start with a low concentration and frequency. Once your skin is used to Vitamin A, you can increase the frequency and concentration. You may experience purging for a while since your skin is still trying to adapt to Vitamin A but do not quit there or else the next time when you think of starting with Vitamin A again, your skin will again go through the adjusting phase and see purging AGAIN!

        2. Your main concern is dullness, tan, pigmentation

        This is the golden liquid that can transform your skin but then you have to be careful with the concentration. Using a higher concentration right from the beginning will lead to dryness and disrupting the skin barrier. So take baby steps and move towards higher concentration only if your skin absolutely needs it. Vitamin C can be incorporated by any skin type just like Vitamin A.

        When it comes to skincare routine changes that one must make with active ingredients like Vitamin A and C, stay away from other active ingredients. Instead, keep it minimal and use hydrating and calming ingredients like Centella Asiatica, Honey, Aloe Vera, Turmeric, etc. That brings us to the next big question is if you can layer Vitamin A and C!

        Can you layer Vitamin A and C?

        The answer is a big fat no. If you’re a beginner then you absolutely cannot. However, if you’ve used Vitamin A and C earlier then your skin has adopted these ingredients and in this case, there are a couple of ways you can use both. You still can’t layer though. If you’re of a sensitive skin type but you have used Vitamin A and C separately at one point in time then you can inculcate both of them now in your skincare routine by using it on alternate days or make it as Vitamin A day- Vitamin C- rest day and then repeat. To those with normal skin types, you can use Vitamin A at night and Vitamin C in the morning if you’ve used both these ingredients separately at some point. With this kind of skincare routine where you’ve included two active ingredients, keep the other steps simple and avoid layering. The way you can do so is by adopting skin minimalism.

        Read more about skin minimalism here!

        You must keep in mind to stick to low concentration while using two active ingredients in your routine.


        Vitamin A and C are two very different active ingredients that are both essential to individuals moving towards ageing. However, you cannot layer them. The method of application, skincare routine changes with both these ingredients like we mentioned in this piece. While these are two very potent ingredients, one cannot use them without having full knowledge at their disposal. With skincare, it is all about learning and then using it for happy, glowing skin!

        -Divya Salvi

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