Why You Should Always Layer Vitamin C with SPF Well+Good

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Sadly, it took years of sunbathing every summer to finally follow our dermatologists’ advice on daily sunscreen use. And now that we’re older (and wiser) and know how important it is to apply SPF before you leave the house, it’s time to go one step further to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays.

Yes, you can do more than just rub on a broad-spectrum sunscreen; in fact, dermatologists say that using vitamin c below your spf is one of the best ways to prevent premature skin aging and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

But Another step in my skincare routine? You may be thinking. This one is non-negotiable and is recommended for almost all skin types, according to dermatologists. So you’ll want the details on how to apply vitamin C with your sunscreen.

Why should you layer vitamin C under your sunscreen?

Both sunscreen and vitamin C help protect the skin from the sun’s UV rays in different ways. And the benefits are compounded when you combine them.

Its SPF works by absorbing or reflecting UV rays. But no sunscreen is 100 percent effective at blocking UV rays, says Elyse Love, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “For example, properly applied SPF 30 blocks approximately 97 percent of the sun’s rays, which means that 3 percent of the sun’s rays get through the protection and cause sun damage through oxidative stress,” she says. “This oxidative stress can lead to DNA damage (skin cancer), increased pigmentation (dark spots), dilated vessels (redness), and loss of collagen (fine lines and wrinkles).”

And that’s where vitamin C comes in. Because it’s an antioxidant, it can help neutralize all oxidative stress, keeping skin supple and protected. In fact, researchers found that sunscreens block only 55 percent of the free radicals produced by UV exposure, and by adding vitamin C to the mix, they were able to reduce sunburn by an additional 50 percent, according to a study in the Indian Dermatology Online Magazine.

What kind of vitamin C should you use?

Vitamin C concentrations can be confusing, since the molecule comes in many forms with varying levels of stability, activity, and possible irritation, says Dr. Love. “L-ascorbic acid is the active form of vitamin C, and studies show that results are proportional to concentration, with a maximum concentration of 20 percent absorbed through the skin.”

Dr. Love recommends people new to vitamin C start with 10 percent L-ascorbic acid, which, FYI, is the concentration shown to ward off significant amounts of free radicals in the body. Indian Dermatology Online Magazine study up—and slowly increase your way up to 20 percent L-ascorbic acid as tolerated.

And bonus points if you can find a product that contains vitamin E, as the ingredient has been shown to boost the antioxidant benefits of vitamin C, says Dr. Love. “Those with dry and/or sensitive skin should (get) vitamin C products with vitamin E, as vitamin E is soothing to the skin and can lessen some of the potential irritation with vitamin C,” says Dr. Love.

Not sure which C to buy? Dr. Love says that First Aid Beauty 10% Vitamin C Brightening Serum ($50) is a great entry-level option because it’s non-comedogenic and contains moisturizing vitamin E and squalane. If you have sensitive, rosacea-prone skin, he tries Skinbetter Alto Defense ($165), which combines vitamins C and E (and 17 other antioxidants) to help diminish skin sensitivity and redness. SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic ($182) also contains both antioxidants to help fight free radicals. For something at drugstore prices, L’Oréal Paris Revitalift 12% Vitamin C + E + Salicylic ($26) is a great option, particularly for those with oily or acne-prone skin thanks to its inclusion of salicylic acid.

How to apply

The correct application is the key to success here. Vitamin C usually comes in the form of a serum, so it should be applied before your moisturizer; in other words, vitamin C comes first.

After cleansing your skin, apply your vitamin C (and any other serums you use in order from lightest to thickest), then your moisturizer (if separate from SPF), and lastly your SPF. “Sunscreen should always be applied as the last step in your skin care routine,” says Dr. Love. “And there’s no need to wait between applications.”

When it comes to SPFs, always look for a product that’s “broad spectrum,” which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays—shop some of our award-winning favorites here.

One other thing to keep in mind: While you can find products that contain both vitamin C and SPF, it would be best to purchase the active separately from your sunscreen. “Most dedicated vitamin C serums will contain a higher concentration of vitamin C than a vitamin C-infused sunscreen or a vitamin C-infused moisturizer,” says Dr. Love.

So whenever you apply your vitamin c serum before your sunscreen, consider yourself doing the most when it comes to sun protection. And being extra is basically always in your best interest.

Our editors select these products independently. Making a purchase through our links may generate a commission for Well+Good.

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