Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHA: What’s the Difference?

Posted by Kimberli Poor on

Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs have a lot in common. They’re all superstar skincare ingredients and are frequently touted for their anti-aging benefits. But, as much as they have in common, there are some differences between the three as well. We asked our skincare experts to weigh in on Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs and here’s what they had to say: 

Differences Between Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs

Vitamins vs. Acids 

The first major difference between these three skincare ingredients is that some of them are vitamins and some of them are acids. Here’s where it gets weird: while Vitamin C is definitely a vitamin, and Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, both are still considered a type of acid when applied to the skin. To help better understand this concept, let’s talk about the pH of each ingredient.

They All Have Different pH Levels

Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs all have very different pH levels. Vitamin C has the lowest pH of the three, coming in at a pH of about 2-3. Next, Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) can have a pH of 3-4. Retinol is the least acidic ingredient on the list, and can range from 4–6.6. For this reason, we often recommend using each product separately, as they can disrupt one another’s pH levels and become less effective. 

Similarities Between Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs

Now that we’ve covered some of the differences between Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs, let’s talk about their similarities! 

Vitamin C and AHAs Both Help Brighten Skin

Vitamin C and AHAs are both excellent choices to help brighten your complexion. While they may work in different ways, both will have you glowing with regular use. If a brighter, more even complexion is one of your goals, try adding Vitamin C and AHAs to your skincare routine.

AHAs and Retinol Help Promote Cell Turnover

If you are concerned about wrinkles, dull skin, or rough texture, AHAs and Retinol can be a great solution. Both of these ingredients help promote skin cell turnover, which is the process your skin goes through to replace old skin cells with new ones. Speeding up this process means that you’ll start to see healthier, more youthful looking skin with regular use. 

Retinol and Vitamin C Help Reduce Dark Spots

Sun damage, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots can be tough to treat. The good news is that both Vitamin C and Retinol can help you minimize the appearance of pigment issues with regular use! Vitamin C helps reduce the appearance of dark spots by regulating the production of pigment in your skin. Retinol, on the other hand, helps improve the appearance of dark spots by speeding up your cell turnover. If you’re dealing with dark spots, we recommend adding both to your regular skin care routine. (Just remember that pH thing we talked about earlier and always apply them separately!)

Our Expert Product Picks:

Vitamin C

Alto Advanced Defense and Repair Serum by Skinbetter


AlphaRet Overnight Cream by Skinbetter

Renewal Retinol 0.25% by ALASTIN


Oxygen Infusion Wash by Skinbetter

Vitamin C, Retinol, and AHAs can be great additions to your skincare routine. But, we always recommend consulting with a skincare expert before trying a new skincare product.

For help selecting the perfect product for your skin, schedule a complimentary consultation at our med spa in Columbus, Ohio today! 

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