Skin Care Power Trio: Tretinoin, Vitamin C And Hydroquinone

Updated April 28, 2020

When faced with skincare products for anti-aging, skin brightening and correcting discoloration, even the most educated skin care goddess (or god) has difficulty making a choice when it comes to the Power Trio: Hydroquinone, Tretinoin and Vitamin C. After all, we're inundated with blogs and magazines articles warning that Vitamin C should NEVER be used in conjunction with tretinoin, generic Retin-A.

It's also understandable to think that Hydroquinone and Vitamin C both do the same thing, so why use both?

We're here to tell you why you should use all three if you want real results that will turn you into a devotee of this POWER 3!

We'll explain why with some FAQs:

Can Vitamin C and tretinoin be used together?

Yes, but not at the same time. When used in the right order, Vitamin C in the morning or afternoon and tretinoin at night before bedtime, they magnify the benefits of each other.

How do tretinoin, Vitamin C and hydroquinone work together?

Topical Vitamin C only works if it can be absorbed into the skin. This is where prescription-only tretinoin and hydroquinone 4 step in. Tretinoin and hydroquinone both increase cell turnover. This, in turn, causes exfoliation, the shedding of the thick outer layer of skin. Without exfoliation, Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) could never penetrate the thick outer layer of the epidermis.

Side note but VIP fact, Obagi's prescription Vitamin C products with 10% pure L-ascorbic acid have the highest absorbency rate on the market!

When you're putting all of this effort into your skin, you want to make sure your skincare products arrive at their destination. That's no easy feat. Our skin can have up to 20 outer layers of dead skin cells!

This is how you do it right: If you are using all 3 products separately, apply hydroquinone and Vitamin C in the morning and tretinoin at night. So, this is how you start your day: in the am, apply hydroquinone, then Vitamin C, then top it all off with sunscreen if you're going to be exposed to the sun. 

Why is sun protection so important when using tretinoin and hydroquinone?

As top-quality prescription strength tretinoin and hydroquinone remove years of aging and skin damage they bring new skin to the surface. Skin that has no natural protection. If you don't protect it you are not only undoing your progress, you're also risking real skin damage.

Looking for some super-efficiency? Obagi offers several two-in-one products that make skin brightening and sun protection easier:

Obagi Sunfader is a two-in-one Rx product that combines sun screen and 4% hydroquinone.

For some guidance to help to help you stay on track, Obagi C-Rx Systems provide a 5-step morning to evening program. In addtion to cleanser and toner, it includes, 10% pure Vitamin C plus hyperpigmentation-fading hydroquinone. For your skin try, Obagi C-Rx System.

Obagi Nu-Derm System with 4% hydroquinone is a 7-step program. In addition, Obagi's largest sellers Nu-Derm Blender and Nu-Derm Clear, you get cleanser, exfoliator, toner, a rich moisturizer, and sun screen.

Obagi Professional-C is another multi-tasker that provides sun protection and Vitamin C. Protecting your skin made easy!

How do I choose a quality Vitamin C formula?

Make sure you are purchasing a product that is science and research backed. Vitamin C is only effective in a topical solution if it can be absorbed by the skin. This requires a pH of around 2.0 to 3.0. Since that's an acidic pH, it can cause skin irritation. Not only will a prescription-grade formula have the optimum pH level, but it will also include skin-soothing ingredients. Another quick note, the L-ascorbic acid formula must be stable, fresh and packaged in a dark container to prevent deterioration of Vitamin C.

Do hydroquinone and Vitamin C do the same thing? Vitamin C vs Hydroquinone, which is better?

Yes, Vitamin C and hydroquinone both fade hyperpigmentation. In fact, hydroquinone and Vitamin C work the same way. Each inhibits the production of the enzyme tyrosinase. That's important because tyrosinase synthesizes the pigment melanin. In the case of hyperpigmentation, the skin is producing or has already created enough melanin to cause dark spots. But when it comes to which is the winner, the votes are in.

Clinical research proves that hydroquinone is the most effective product to fading melasma (pregnancy mask) and other brown-grey patches on the skin. So instead of buying both hydroquinone and Vitamin C, how about buying 4% prescription-strength hydroquinone and just washing your face with freshly squeezed lemons and oranges. Right? WRONG! You won't accomplish anything except painful skin irritation.

What is a good idea, however, is eating and enjoying delicious citrus recipes. Vitamin C is essential for your innate immunity, your body's first line of defense against threats. Vitamin C supports wound healing and building blood vessels, tendons and ligaments.

It's a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radicals and sun damage. Even so, you can't skip the sunscreen.

What is the difference between retinol, tretinoin and retinoic acid?

Tretinoin and retinol are both retinoids. Retinoids are natural derivatives of Vitamin A. However, tretinoin is only available with a prescription, while retinol is OTC. Tretinoin is much more potent than retinol because it is the same acid (Retinoic Acid) the body synthesizes from Vitamin A. Once applied to the skin, tretinoin is ready to go and is easily absorbed by the skin and begins boosting skin cell growth. On the other hand, retinols must undergo a two-step process before the skin can reap any benefits.

Because it's so essential to skin care, tretinoin is available in a variety of potencies to meet the need of every skin type: 

Skin Care Trio at a Glance:

  • Hydroquinone 4% - The #1 choice for hyperpigmentation-erasing and skin lightening
  • Tretinoin (Retin-A) - The most used and research-proven anti-aging product for collagen-boosting, skin firming, skin renewal ... and let's face it almost everything else related to anti-aging! Plus, it's been used for 30+ years as a first-line treatment for acne. Yes, tretinoin is hard to beat.
  • Vitamin C - Also among the elite in skin care ingredients, Vitamin C brightens and erases discoloration by stimulating skin cell renewal and blocking the creation of the skin pigment melanin.
If your skin is especially sensitive, instead of using prescription tretinoin, you may want to start out with Obagi's Obagi360 retinol skin care line.
Remember: Always apply broad-spectrum sunscreen when using hydroquinone and tretinoin. 



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