How To Layer Acids With Your Vitamin C

We’ve already told you just how important of an ingredient Vitamin C is for your skin. And we just made it easy to add it into your routine with the new Liz K First C Serum, a powerful serum made of 13% pure Vitamin C. You guys have had a lot of great things to say about it, but you’ve also had questions about how exactly to use this potent brightener alongside your usual chemical exfoliants. So, to help you get the most out of all of your products, we’ve put together a handy guide to layering acids and Vitamin C. Here’s what you need to know.

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In order to understand why acids and Vitamin C complement each other so well, it’s important to know what they both actually do.

Exfoliators come in two forms: physical and chemical. In this piece, we’re talking about chemical exfoliators like Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). These acids are ideal for those fighting the good fight against acne. They tackle blemishes by dissolving the dirt, gunk, and dead skin cells underneath the surface of the skin that can clog pores and cause inflammation and infections.

Vitamin C serums like the Liz K First C, on the other hand, work on top of your skin to brighten dull skin, fade acne scars and hyperpigmentation, and increase collagen production.

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The pH of a product determines how acidic it is. Vitamin C, for example, ideally should have a pH between 2.0 to 3.0 in order to be the most effective. Your BHA should have a pH of 3.5, while you want a pH of 4 for your AHA.

The key to using Vitamin C with your acids is to layer them from lowest pH to the highest. We call this method CBA. It’s an easy to remember acronym for the exact order to use without you having to memorize pH levels. It means you apply your Vitamin C first, BHA second, and your AHA last. CBA, get it? For example, you would use the Liz K First C 13% first, the Leegeehaam Grow Tea Tree 70 BHA Toner second, and Primary Raw Do You 2-Step Milk Peeling Kit last. 

It’s important to pay attention to product pH and application order because when you ignore them, you run the risk of pairing your Vitamin C incorrectly, which renders it useless. No one wants to waste time or money on ineffective products.

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Vitamin C, while amazing for the skin, is notoriously difficult to formulate. It’s sensitive to light and oxygen, meaning if not stored properly it can spoil. The hallmark sign is when your serum turns a dark, orange/brown color. Once this happens, it’s time to discontinue use as your product will no longer be effective. We recommend storing your Vitamin C serums in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight in order to avoid spoiling.

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If your skin is not used to acids or you’ve never tried combining Vitamin C with BHA or AHA before, you’ll want to ease into it. Putting all three products on your skin right off the bat could cause irritation and redness. So work your way up to them. Start by applying just Vitamin C, every other day. Do this for a week and then add in your BHA. Once your skin can handle those two, it’s time to add in your AHA. If your skin reacts well to all three, you can keep it to an every other day schedule, or move on to using the combo every day. Keep in mind that you don’t want to go ahead and slather on all these products at once. Too much of a good thing too soon can lead to more skin problems, so do yourself and your skin a favor and take it slow.

Now that you know the secret to layering, you’re just a CBA away from your clearest, glowiest complexion yet.

Categories: Glow Recipe

11 replies

  1. Does this same CBA order apply if the vitamin C is not a liquid? What if you’re using an oil or a cream-based vitamin C product? Would you still apply it first and then apply your BHA and AHA liquid exfoliant products on top? Thanks so much!

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    • Hi Erin! It really depends on the product. If it’s a moisturizer with vitamin C then nope you would just use that during your moisturizer step. If you have a specific example in mind let me know and I’ll be happy to help clarify! 🙂

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  2. Also kind of confused. If you use the blueberry bounce cleanser, which is formulated with AHA’s, does that mean that you have to use the serum BEFORE the cleanser??? I don’t really understand how I’m supposed to do that , I mean, in my opinion it doesn’t make any sense

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    • Hi Chiara! I totally understand your confusion and we’ll add product examples into the post! 🙂 But, to answer your question since the blueberry bounce is a cleanser you’re rinsing away all of those AHA’s and then resetting your pH with a toner post-cleanse. Given that the cleanser is more of a short contact product rather than something you’re layering and keeping on overnight, you don’t have to worry about it. This way of layering acids is more related to products that you will be keeping on long-term versus short contact. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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    • Hi! Thank you for your feedback! ❤ We will be adding product examples into the post! But, to answer your question, for instance, you would use the Liz K First C 13% first, the Leegeehaam BHA toner second and the Do You 2-Step Milk Peeling Kit last. Another example would be using the Liz K first, Paula's Choice 2% BHA Perfecting Liquid second and the Do You 2-Step Milk Peeling Kit Last. If say, you were using the Blueberry Bounce Cleanser which has AHA's in it, you don't have to worry about it because you will be rinsing them away and resetting your pH with a toner. Let me know if you have any more questions or need more clarification! 🙂

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      • Washing things off makes sense, let me ask you this. I just got the triple c product from your website and normally I would have put it in with the treatments
        But my toners contain either glycolic acid or lactic acid (both AHAs)….but they are watery and stay on my skin….so do I put triple c on before these toners??

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          • One more question. Now that I have really looked at the products that I use from an “acid” standpoint, I realized I am using 3-4 form of AHA a day….do I cut this back to maybe two? A small molecule and large molecule AHA?

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          • Hi! It really depends on your skin and how it is reacting but generally, you don’t want to use too many chemical exfoliators at a time or too often as you run the risk of disrupting your moisture barrier. Make sure to hydrate your skin effectively!

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