If you find the idea of layering different skincare ingredients overwhelming or are confused by the conflicting information regarding ingredients ‘canceling each other out’ you might be wondering whether you can use benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C together.
In this article, I will explain why layering benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C together is usually a big fat no-no as well as 5 different ways you can use both ingredients in the same skincare routine without rendering either ingredient useless…
What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is an acne medication that can be found over the counter or by prescription. When you apply it to your skin, it breaks down into benzoyl radicals and benzoic acid.
Benzoyl radicals are a type of free radicals that create oxygen in your skin. The bacteria that cause acne (c.acne) prefer an oxygen-free environment (which is why they only really become an issue when your pores are clogged).
No oxygen = Increased c.acnes growth
By releasing free oxygen radicals in this way, benzoyl peroxide is able to kill the acne-causing bacteria in your skin.
Benzoic acid is thought to work in a similar way to salicylic acid and helps to exfoliate and unclog your pores.
Benzoyl peroxide may also target the inflammatory immune cells in your skin which prevents them from releasing the inflammatory molecules that can make acne look red and angry and sometimes feel painful.
Overall, benzoyl peroxide is:
- Oil controlling
However, it’s generally considered to be less effective at treating acne than retinoids and salicylic acid unless it’s combined with other ingredients.
Because it produces free radicals, benzoyl peroxide has been shown to deplete your skin levels of vitamin E, so using it alongside an antioxidant serum or moisturizer is recommended.
(Note that there is no evidence to suggest that the free radicals produced by benzoyl peroxide contribute to skin aging – there is also no evidence that they don’t but the anti-inflammatory effect of benzoyl peroxide may have anti-aging benefits)
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in your skin and is essential for the production of collagen.
More collagen = plumper, younger-looking skin.
Antioxidants, like vitamin C, co-exist to protect your skin from free radicals, including the reactive oxygen species (ROS) that are formed when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun.
Free radicals cause changes to cellular DNA and proteins as well as causing skin inflammation – all of which can lead to the destruction of collagen and elastin in your skin.
They also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Unfortunately, even with the correct application, sunscreens can only block around 55% of the free radicals produced by UV exposure and offer no protection against other sources of free radicals (e.g. pollution).
For this reason, it’s advised to use topical antioxidants, like vitamin C, in addition to your sunscreen.
Even with extremely high doses of oral vitamin C, only a small amount will be available to your skin. So, if you want to keep your skin’s levels of vitamin C sufficient to protect your skin and facilitate collagen production, you’re going to need to add a vitamin C serum into your skincare routine.
As well as its excellent anti-aging and skin protective benefits, vitamin C also:
- Reduces dark marks and brightens skin by preventing the activity of the enzymes required for melanin production.
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces blood vessel dilation and facial redness
- Prevents the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria (the type that causes skin infections and acne)
- Some derivatives of vitamin C can improve the appearance of acne
- Improves skin texture
- Prevents premature skin aging (when used with sunscreen) by neutralizing free radicals (substances that damage DNA and break down collagen and elastin)
Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Vitamin C Together?
If you’re thinking of using benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C together, there are a few things you need to bear in mind.
The main issue with layering the two ingredients is that benzoyl peroxide creates oxygen in your skin and vitamin C is easily degraded by oxygen (oxidized). For this reason, it’s usually recommended to use vitamin C in the morning and benzoyl peroxide at night.
If you were hoping to layer benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C together then you may still be able to – depending on the type of vitamin C you use.
There are a number of different active forms of vitamin C but the most well-studied and biologically available is ascorbic acid. However, it is this form of vitamin C that is the most unstable.
While layering benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid is a big no-no, there are a number of vitamin C derivatives that are much more stable and layer well with other skincare ingredients.
Vitamin C Derivatives
Vitamin C derivatives convert to ascorbic acid once they enter your skin. There’s much less research for derivatives than for ascorbic acid itself, however, they can still offer excellent benefits for your skin.
Examples of vitamin C derivatives that you may find in your skincare include:
- Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (MAP)
- Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP)
- Ascorbyl-6-Palmitate( AA-PAL)
- Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (THD)
- 3-O Ethyl Ascorbate (EAC)
The most common vitamin C derivatives are usually MAP and SAP. These derivatives are both water-soluble, stable at a neutral pH of 7, and maybe gentler on your skin than ascorbic acid (AA).
Research suggests that neither MAP nor SAP are as effective as AA when it comes to their antioxidant activity. However, MAP was equally as effective as AA at increasing collagen production.
SAP was also able to increase collagen production as effectively as AA but only when it was used at a much higher concentration.
MAP and SAP outperform AA in other areas though. For example, MAP is better at hydrating skin than AA while SAP is the form of vitamin C that has been found to be an effective acne treatment.
Research suggests that 1% SAP had a strong antibacterial effect against acne-causing bacteria and also prevented sebum oxidation by up to 40%. At 5% strength, SAP was found to be an effective acne treatment in a clinical trial.
Another popular vitamin C derivative that you may come across in your skincare products is tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD) which, unlike vitamin C and other derivatives, is oil-soluble.
Ingredients that are oil-soluble find it much easier to penetrate your skin barrier as your skin barrier is full of oily lipids. For this reason, THD is able to penetrate as far down as your dermis while AA cannot.
It also offers your skin all the same benefits of AA but can be combined with AA for even better results.
Considering that benzoyl peroxide doesn’t have much use other than as an acne treatment, it’s unlikely you’ll be thinking of layering benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C unless you have acne-prone skin.
In this case, the best vitamin C derivative for you to use would be SAP.
If you have your heart set on using both benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C as ascorbic acid in your skincare routine, there are still a few ways that you could alter your skincare routine in order to include both ingredients.
How To Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Vitamin C (As Ascorbic Acid)
There are 3 main ways that you could use benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C (as ascorbic acid) in the same skincare routine.
- Use benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C (as AA) at different times of the day – For example, using Vitamin C in the morning and benzoyl peroxide in the evening.
- Alternating which days you use benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C (AA) – vitamin C has a half-life of around 4 days (the length of time it takes the levels of vitamin C in your skin to reduce by half – when applied at 20% concentration) which means you don’t necessarily need to use it every day. Benzoyl peroxide can also be just as effective when used every other day or a couple of times a week which will also reduce the risk of skin irritation.
- Use a benzoyl peroxide face wash – rinsing off benzoyl peroxide before applying a vitamin C (AA) serum should reduce the effects that benzoyl peroxide usually has on vitamin C.
- Try short contact therapy – if you’ve already got a benzoyl peroxide product, you could apply it to your skin for a few minutes before rinsing it off. This is called short contact therapy and is often recommended for anyone with very sensitive skin who wants to use irritating active ingredients without damaging their skin. Once your skin is dry, you can then apply your vitamin C (AA) product without having to worry about ingredient interactions.
Summary – Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide and Vitamin C Together?
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t layer benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C together if you’re using the active form of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). However, there are ways around this, including using a vitamin C derivative, trying short contact therapy, using benzoyl peroxide and vitamin C on alternate days, or using vitamin C in your AM routine and benzoyl peroxide in your PM routine.