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How to Use Salicylic Acid + Vitamin C in Your Skin Care Routine

How to Use Salicylic Acid + Vitamin C in Your Skin Care Routine

Learning how to safely and effectively combine ingredients in your skin care routine can help you identify the right combinations for your uniquely beautiful skin.

The opposite is also true — the knowledge of which elements don’t go well together is also incredibly beneficial. 

For those of you looking for a routine that helps your skin appear brighter and more evenly toned, two of the possible stars of the show are salicylic acid and vitamin C. 

We’ll walk you through what each ingredient can do for your skin and how you can use them together for even more impressive results. From the pros at Skin Pharm, here’s how you can incorporate them into your skin care routine.

First up, salicylic acid basics

Salicylic acid is a member of the beta-hydroxy acid group, often referred to as BHAs. BHAs are organic, carbon-based compounds that can be found naturally in plants, fruits and vegetables. 

As opposed to the water-soluble alpha-hydroxy acid group (AHAs), BHAs are fat-soluble due to their extra carbon molecule. This fat solubility is the key to their effectiveness and the specific benefits they can provide for the skin. 

Salicylic acid comes from the same category of drugs as aspirin, a class called salicylates. It is found in willow bark. When it is applied to the skin, it is able to use its fat-soluble status to penetrate deeper into the pores than many other topical products. 

That’s where the acid portion of being a beta-hydroxy acid comes in. The acid dissolves the protein bonds between dead skin cells, making it easier for them to be cleared away from the skin. This is what makes salicylic acid such an effective exfoliant. 

Typical benefits of salicylic acid include:

  • Can reduce the likelihood and frequency of breakouts
  • Decreases oil production
  • Promotes the formation of collagen
  • Brightens the complexion
  • Reduces pore size
  • Can help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation

Although salicylic acid is often talked about in regards to people with blemish-prone skin, it is just as beneficial for people without those issues. However, because it is an exfoliant, it also has the potential to cause irritation to the skin – especially if you’re never used an AHA or BHA before. For this reason, it’s important to start slow.

Next, vitamin C basics

Vitamin C, on the other hand, is categorized as an antioxidant. That means that it works to neutralize a dangerous type of molecule known as a free radical. Free radicals are molecules that lack an electron in their outer shell, making them feel unbalanced. 

In an attempt to balance themselves out, they bounce around the body trying to steal them from other molecules (which can be cell membranes, proteins, fats and even DNA). That process then makes those molecules unstable, leading to many different issues including the signs of visible premature aging. 

To stop that from happening, vitamin C is more than happy to lend some of its electrons to those free radicals. That keeps them from continuing to wreak havoc in the body, slowing down the oxidative stress that the process causes. 

In addition, vitamin C is also an essential component of the synthesis of collagen. It’s thought that the natural production of collagen in the skin slows down about one percent a year after we turn 30. 

Counteracting that degradation is one of the main targets of anti-aging skin care products. The more collagen that we have in our skin, the more firm and youthful it appears. 

Typical benefits of vitamin C include:

  • Helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Protecting the skin from sun damage
  • Boosting collagen production
  • Helps reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation
  • Plumps and firms the skin

Vitamin C is one of most across the board skin care ingredients out there, as it has a very high safety profile. The potential for toxicity is incredibly low, and the risk of side effects (other than an allergic reaction, which is also low) are mostly confined to things like minor skin irritation.

Here’s how to combine salicylic acid + vitamin C

Although salicylic acid and vitamin C can provide your skin with amazing benefits, they need to be used the right way for you to be able to experience them. There are a few different ways that you can do this.


One of the easiest ways to begin to incorporate salicylic acid and vitamin C into your skin care routine is by applying them at different times of the day. This is the recommended application method for anyone starting out with either ingredient – and especially those with more sensitive skin. 

Vitamin C tends to be at its most beneficial when applied in the morning so that it can also provide its sun-protective benefits. Our Glow Factor 10% vitamin C serum is a useful product here, as it can help guard against all kinds of environmental stressors. 

It’s generally recommended to wait until your vitamin C serum absorbs before using other products like sunscreens or moisturizers.

Then, in the evening, you can use your salicylic acid product. Serums and toners can work, or you can use a cleanser that contains the ingredient. 

Our Papaya Enzyme Cleanser contains not only salicylic acid but also papaya enzymes for even more exfoliation and skin brightening potential. It’s also pH balanced for use by all skin types. Our Crystal Clear clarifying pads are another great option, too — they contain salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids to keep breakouts at bay.


If you really want to take it slow, you can ease into it by starting your salicylic acid and vitamin C on totally different days. 

That can be every other day, every few days or whatever your skin can handle. This allows your skin to have more time to adjust, and you can build up to being able to use both ingredients every single day.

If you do have sensitive skin, keep an eye out for symptoms like redness, irritation, tightness and peeling. That may indicate that you’re moving too fast with your new skin care routine, or that you may have a sensitivity to one (or both). 

If so, stop for a few days, then start with a single product and move slowly from there. 


Although it is often more effective to apply salicylic acid and vitamin C separately, there are ways that you can use them together as well. It’s the order that makes the most difference. It really comes down to science.

While vitamin C usually absorbs easily into the skin, it has been found to penetrate most effectively on skin that has lower pH levels (around 3.5 on the pH scale). That’s where salicylic acid comes in. An acid itself, it also lowers the pH of the skin. When you apply it before vitamin C, it helps it to be at its most beneficial.

All that to say, use your Clarifying Pads before your Glow Factor!

However, for this application to work, wait a few minutes after swiping a Clarifying Pad across your face to apply Glow Factor. Applying them too closely together can dilute both products and doesn’t allow either to be as effective as they can be.

Why pH matters

The conversation around skin care products mostly always focuses on their benefits. Does it firm the skin? Can it reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles? Sure, but how?

A lot of that comes down to pH. The pH scale spans from zero to 14, with anything seven and under being classified as an acid and anything over that being classified as a base. 

The skin has a natural Ph of around 4.7, mostly due to a layer on the surface of the skin known as its acid mantle. It helps to balance the microbiome and protect both the skin’s surface and its lower layers from external threats. 

Finding skin care products that work with and balance out the pH is optimal. We discussed how salicylic acid and vitamin C can work together to create an optimal environment for the skin. However, paying attention to the pH balance of the products you use is also important. You want to stick with products that are close to the skin’s natural pH. If the products you’re using have a difference of more than 1.0 to 2.0 on the pH scale, it’s especially important to take time between product applications.

To summarize...

Salicylic acid and vitamin C are both effective products on their own but, when combined, they can be even more beneficial. Whether you’re looking to brighten your skin, reduce the likelihood of blemishes or just help slow down the skin’s natural aging process, these ingredients may be just what you’re looking for. 

When you know the right way to combine them and use the right products, you’ll be amazed at how your skin can look. At Skin Pharm, we’re ready to help you on your skin care journey!


Studies on the effect of salicylic acid on normal skin - DAVIES | British Journal of Dermatology

Topical L-ascorbic acid: percutaneous absorption studies | PubMed

Vitamin C in dermatology | PubMed

The Acid Mantle: A Myth or an Essential Part of Skin Health? | PubMed


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