Why You Should Be Putting Vitamin C On Before Applying Sunscreen

With so many trendy skincare products on the market, it can be difficult to differentiate which products benefit your skin and which products you should avoid. And while it's undoubtedly fun to experiment with new serums and exfoliating acids, we can all agree that decimating your skin's delicate barrier is never the intended result. Vitamin C belongs to the group of beneficial — and underrated — skincare ingredients, so we cannot fault you for wanting to know about this skin-saving secret when it's simply too good to ignore.

What does vitamin C have to do with sun protection? Any respectable skincare devotee understands the importance of sunscreen for preventing early signs of aging and skin damage, but vitamin C also helps protect your skin thanks to its antioxidant properties, per Healthline. "Combining vitamin C serum and broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect well against UVA rays has been shown to be more effective at neutralizing free radical damage from sun exposure than just using sunscreen alone," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Steven Mandrea told Real Simple. So, if you are serious about skin health, don't sleep on this beauty tip.

What's the deal with vitamin C?

The benefits of using vitamin C far outweigh the inconvenience of expanding your morning routine to include yet another skincare essential. And vitamin C is exactly that: an essential skincare ingredient that your skin only serves to gain from by adding to your daily regimen.

Vitamin C plays a role in anti-aging as it helps stimulate collagen production while fighting against free radicals that accumulate in your tissues over time, contributing to skin damage and wrinkling (via the Cleveland Clinic). Topical use of vitamin C also protects your skin against sun damage, or photodamage, which leads to hyperpigmentation and premature aging. When you consider the individual properties of both sunscreen and vitamin C, it certainly makes sense that using vitamin C in tandem with sunscreen enhances the benefits.

In fact, "Studies have shown that using sunscreen with vitamin C protects the skin from further photodamage caused by ultra-violet rays," Baylor College of Medicine medical aesthetician Kim Chang explains.

Is vitamin C less effective on its own?

Does this mean that using vitamin C or sunscreen on their own is ineffective? No, but it does mean that you are missing out on life-changing skin benefits by choosing not to make use of dual sun protection. And while vitamin C does prevent and treat photodamage through antioxidant support, it cannot absorb or deflect the sun's rays, according to a 2018 study published in Scientific Reports. In other words, vitamin C does not qualify as sun protection and should not replace standard sunscreen.

That said, some individuals find that incorporating vitamin C into their skincare routine causes sensitivity and redness. Some forms of topical vitamin C do tend to irritate the skin, especially for those with sensitive skin. One of the more popular forms of vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid (L-AA), for instance, is notorious for aggravating the skin. "The problem with L-ascorbic is that it's highly unstable and in order to be stable, it has to be put at a very low pH, which tends to burn and irritate sensitive skin," dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe explains in an interview with Refinery29.

How to pull off the vitamin C and sunscreen combo

"There are many different kinds of vitamin C out there, but I recommend using it in the purest form possible," instructs Baylor College of Medicine's Kim Chang. Serums that contain L-ascorbic acid will, therefore, be the most effective as this is the active form of vitamin C, per Harvard Health.

If your skin reacts to your vitamin C serum, then try spacing out the days in between use to allow your skin to adjust. Note that you might experience a slight tingling sensation when you first apply vitamin C; this is entirely normal and will go away with regular usage. You can also use a serum with a lower concentration to avoid sensitivity, and then slowly work your way up to a higher concentration.

The best way to apply vitamin C is to use it in the morning after cleansing and before applying your moisturizer. Allow your products to fully absorb and then follow up with your sunscreen, which should always be the last step in your skincare routine. However, this only applies if you use a mineral or physical sunscreen, which acts as a barrier to the sun's harsh rays and, therefore, works best if applied last, according to La Roche-Posay. If you use a chemical sunscreen, you must apply it before serum and moisturizer as it works by absorbing the sun's rays before they reach the skin.