What Goes First: Vitamin C Or Hyaluronic Acid? How To Layer Your Serums
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Of all the buzzy skin care ingredients out there, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid may be two of the most decorated players. Both can benefit all skin types, which makes them sound investments for any beauty routine. Plus, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid make a great pair: The former evens out skin tone and gives your complexion a serious glow, while the latter is a famous (if not the famous) hydrator. When it comes to skin care power couples, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid are one fabulous duo.
Although, both of these ingredients do their best work under certain conditions: You want to apply a vitamin C serum on clean, dry skin so it can penetrate the skin cells, but you want to apply hyaluronic acid on a damp face so it can pull water into the skin.
Considering these are two very different prerequisites for A+ application (wet skin versus dry), you may be wondering how to layer them both in the same routine, and where to add them in amongst your other products. You're not alone: Here's what derms recommend.
Hyaluronic acid vs. vitamin C—what are they?
First, let’s discuss what these two superstar staples can do for your skin.
This powerhouse ingredient is a humectant, which means it pulls water into the top layer of the skin. "It gives an immediate improvement in the way the skin looks—less ashy, dry, dull," holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D., told us about the beloved ingredient. Imagine how a dry sponge instantly rises under water: Humectants are what help usher that water into the "pores" of the sponge and hold it there, making the appearance plump and full of moisture. And because hyaluronic acid has the ability to hold 1,000 times its own weight in water1, many experts consider it a treasured hydrator.
Vitamin C is beloved for skin-brightening, as it helps combat dark spots, help reduce skin inflammation2, and fight against UV-induced photodamage3. and improve the overall appearance of your skin. As an antioxidant, Vitamin C also works to protect the skin from free radicals: "It's one of the best healthy-aging products you can use on the surface of your skin,” notes board-certified dermatologist Julia T. Hunter, M.D., founder of Wholistic Dermatology in Beverly Hills.
Vitamin C is also a vital part of the collagen synthesis process, helping collagen cross-link and support skin firmness. But it doesn't just stimulate collagen production; it stabilizes the collagen2 you have, leading to overall wrinkle reduction. "Vitamin C is a key cofactor in the synthesis of collagen and elastin, [which helps] give your skin that plump and youthful appearance," says Keira Barr, M.D., dual board-certified dermatologist.*
What goes first: vitamin C or hyaluronic acid?
Short answer? Apply your vitamin C first, then pat on your HA. Vitamin C (especially L-ascorbic acid) is notoriously unstable—it loses potency when it's exposed to air, light, and water—which is why you want to apply it on clean, dry skin right after washing. You'll also want to let it dry completely, as piling on products right after could potentially deactivate the vitamin C.
You don't need to be as precious with hyaluronic acid. Yes, applying on damp skin will make it easier for the humectant to pull in water, but it can also draw in that moisture from the surrounding environment, too. Let's not forget: Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, and you don't necessarily have to provide that water yourself. "That way, you don't need to worry that HA needs to go directly onto damp skin," says board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., FAAD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics.
So you can apply your vitamin C first, let it dry completely, then apply your hyaluronic acid. Just remember to top everything off with a moisturizer—you still want to seal in the HA to lock in the hydration.
Or, if you do want to apply your HA on damp skin to maximize its benefits, board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of SkinFive and The Box by Dr. Ava, still recommends applying your vitamin C serum and letting it dry completely. "The highly reactive nature and low pH of vitamin C in serum form will usually allow it to penetrate the cleansed, dry skin quickly," she says. After it dries, apply a water-based hydrating toner or essence (here are our favorites), then pat your hyaluronic acid serum onto the freshly misted skin. Again, follow up with a moisturizer to lock in the hydration.
Other tips to use them both.
Not into layering your serums? Totally fine. Here's how you can still reap the benefits of both ingredients:
Use hyaluronic acid in the evening.
While you can use both ingredients any time you please, experts generally recommend sticking to vitamin C in the daytime. "Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and its effects last for over 24 hours. You'll only need to apply it once daily, usually in the morning," notes Rodney, as the antioxidant can add an extra layer of protection in tandem with your sunscreen2. Since HA's main gig is hydration, it's not really married to an ideal time (i.e., you can apply both morning and night).
That said, you can always use vitamin C in the morning and HA in the evening. "In the evening, you’ll have even more benefits, since you won’t be layering it with vitamin C," says Rodney.
Find a vitamin C serum that includes HA.
"For stability and maximum benefits, it's best to use them separately," notes Shamban. "However, many vitamin C serums already include a dose of hyaluronic acid, so you don't necessarily have to add a separate step." These serums typically contain a more stable form of vitamin C to help it play nice with other skin-loving ingredients, like this Noni Bright Vitamin C Serum from Kora Organics.
Use HA in your moisturizer.
Hyaluronic acid is formulated into a number of topicals, serums, moisturizers, and masks included. So if you don't like layering your serums, you could always opt for a face cream that contains HA—like this Cloud Dew Gel Cream Moisturizer from Summer Fridays.
What about supplements?
It’s much easier to combine the two in supplement-form—in fact, you can find both hyaluronic acid and vitamin C together in a host of beauty supplements to support the skin barrier from the inside out.* Oftentimes, you’ll see HA as a complementary active to other ingredients like collagen. That's because oral forms of HA have also been shown to support skin hydration and appearance: In fact, research has shown that people who took 120 milligrams of hyaluronic acid a day for 12 weeks helped maintain healthy skin aging4 compared with those who took a placebo.*
And vitamin C, as we mentioned, is a vital part of the collagen synthesis process, so it’s a nonnegotiable ingredient in high-quality collagen supplements. Your body cannot make vitamin C on its own, so it must be ingested (i.e., foods and supplements). To make this easier for you, many high-quality collagen supplements already combine the ingredients into one hardworking formula.
Of course, you can also take standalone hyaluronic acid and vitamin C supplements, but it’s pretty common to see them together in collagen formulas.
You can layer vitamin C and hyaluronic acid in the same skin care routine—just make sure to use vitamin C first on clean, dry skin, as it's the more finicky ingredient. Hyaluronic acid is a bit more forgiving, so feel free to play around with it as you see fit: a hydrating toner in between steps, a HA-infused moisturizer, or a nighttime application. And don’t forget: Adding a beauty supplement into your routine can help support skin hydration and overall appearance as well, and many formulas feature both ingredients.*
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.