You already know that consuming vitamin C is good for your health, and you may load up on oranges and grapefruits to give yourself an extra boost during the winter cold season. Vitamin C occurs naturally in the skin, but also has plenty of benefits when applied topically. Here’s a closer look at what vitamin C is, where to find it, and what it can do for your skin.
What is Vitamin C?
According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water soluble nutrient. Bodies need it to form muscle and collagen, which assists in wound healing and keeping skin plump and a firm. It is also considered to be an antioxidant in the body and according to the Mayo Clinic, may help protect against damaging free radicals. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit as well as broccoli, peppers, baked potatoes, and tomatoes.
Vitamin C is found naturally in the skin. In a 2017 article, “The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health” by Juliet M. Pullar, Anitra C. Carr, and Margreet C. M. Vissers published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the authors note “Normal skin contains high concentrations of vitamin C, which supports important and well-known functions, stimulating collagen synthesis and assisting in antioxidant protection against UV-induced photodamage.”
What is Topical Vitamin C?
The vitamin C found in skincare products is usually listed as ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbyl phosphatem ascorbyl palmitate and retinyl ascorbate. The most commonly used is L-ascorbic acid, and it is also the most researched.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, L-ascorbic acid is the purest and most potent form of vitamin C, and the only version of it that can fully be absorbed by the skin. “Once L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is applied to the skin it is immediately absorbed, cannot be washed off, and will remain in the skin for up to 72 hours.”
What Are the Benefits of Vitamin C For the Skin For Skin?
Vitamin C is considered a powerhouse skincare ingredient and it’s a true multitasker. The dermatologist Dr Patricia Wexler told CNN that topical vitamin C is “Twenty times more potent than the oral intake.”
So what exactly will it do for skin? Vitamin C is best known for helping to make the skin look brighter. Since vitamin C is an acid, it helps whisk away dead skin cells, which leaves the face looking smoother and brighter, and feeling softer. It may also inhibit melanin production, which results in skin looking brighter. Regular use may also help to minimize the appearance of fine lines due to cell turnover.
In an article published in the American Academy of Dermatology, board-certified dermatologist Lauren Eckert Ploch suggests that women in their 30s, who are at the “crossroads of prevention and treatment” for things like dark spots, can try topical vitamin C and retinoids along with sunscreen.
Vitamin C may also help boost hydration levels, especially when paired with hyaluronic acid, and is often used by anyone trying to minimize the appearance of acne scars, as well as dark under eye circles.
But that’s not all that vitamin C can do. According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, which means “it protects the skin from free radicals — unstable oxygen molecules that break down skin cells and cause wrinkles. Vitamin C may help protect skin from sun damage and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.”
Vitamin C may help encourage collagen production. Healthline reported on a small scale study, whose results were published in 2015 in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology Journal. The article, “The role of vitamin C in pushing back the boundaries of skin aging: an ultrasonographic approach” found that “applying a 5% vitamin C solution for 6 months helped increase skin thickness compared with a placebo solution. Thicker, collagen-rich skin is less likely to show wrinkling than thinner skin.” As Healthline noted, “Although the study enrolled only 60 participants, it shows promise in supporting vitamin C as a collagen booster.”
It is also thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, and may help improve uneven skin tone. A 2013 article by Pumori Saokar Telang in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal notes, ““Vit. C is a naturally occurring drug with multiple desirable effects. With an excellent safety profile, it finds increasing use in photoageing, hyperpigmentation, tissue inflammation and promotion of tissue healing.”
Vitamin C may also offer some protection against UV exposure. This doesn’t mean it is a sunscreen replacement though, so it’s better to think of it as a potential enhancement.
A 1998 article in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal by Sheldon R. Pinnell, MD and Doren L. Madey, PhD states “New studies show that topical vitamin (L-ascorbic acid) is an excellent antioxidant for UVA and UVB (290 to 320 nm) protection, making it a useful adjunct to (but not replacement for) sunscreens. The authors also note “and unlike most sunscreens, once vitamin C gets into skin, it cannot be rubbed or washed off or run off with perspiration. The protection seems to last unchanged for days.
A 2011 article by Alexander J. Michels, Ph.D. at Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University explains vitamin C’s benefits in this way: “Despite inconsistencies in vitamin C preparations and study design, the data suggest that vitamin C is most effective in protecting against damage induced by UV light and also has utility in the treatment of photodamage and/or skin wrinkling. Although vitamin C appears to benefit dry skin and may support wound healing, further research is needed to determine the effect of vitamin C on both. Lastly, the greatest effects of vitamin C supplementation are seen when it is combined with other micronutrients, such as vitamin E and zinc.”
Which Skincare Products Contain Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is found in several skincare products such as moisturizers, masks, toners, face mists, oils, masks, eye creams and cleansers. Some companies sell vitamin C-based spot treatments to target discoloration, as well as dissolvable sheets. It is also sold in a powder form that can be added to a moisturizer or serum or mixed with water.
The most common way to get vitamin C is in a serum, as they are lightweight, absorbed quickly and can be layered under products. Only a few drops of a serum are needed and most people apply it under a moisturizer in the morning. In general vitamin C is found in water-based products or in an anhydrous one- which means without water, such as a powder form.
All vitamin C based products should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
How Should Vitamin C Be Used?
The vitamin C product you select should dictate how and when it should be used. If you’re using a vitamin C serum, it should be applied in the morning as it may help protect the skin against UV rays. Some vitamin C infused products are meant to be used specifically at night, so always read the label carefully.
Who Should Use Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is suitable for all skin types and ages, whether you are young or mature, and have dry, oily, normal or sensitive skin. However as with all products, irritation can occur so as a rule of thumb its best to test patch first and see how your skin reacts.
What Percentage of Vitamin C Should I Look For?
Every product contains varying amounts of vitamin C. Read the label carefully. Most products tend to contain between 15-20% vitamin C, while some go up to 30%. When reading the ingredients list, vitamin C should be one of the first few ingredients. A little trial and error is always needed to find the right product for your skin type as a higher concentration may irritate your skin; bigger concentrations aren’t always better when it comes to certain ingredients. If you are new to vitamin C, start with a lower concentration a few nights a week and work your way up.
Can I DIY a Vitamin C Product?
While you may be a fan of an occasional yogurt-honey mask or applying slices of chilled cucumber to the eyes, you probably want to avoid a DIY vitamin C option. Although squeezing lemon juice on the skin is a trend, applying pure lemon juice could be very drying to the face although some people swear by it for their hands and shoulders. Always test patch first.
Are There Any Downsides to Using Vitamin C?
Vitamin C isn’t very stable, which means it breaks down when exposed to light, heat and air, which can all render it less effective. Look for formulas in an air-tight package, a pump or a dark glass bottle. The addition of ferulic acid and vitamin E may help stabilize the formula. Vitamin C may also cause mild stinging or redness when first applied. It usually goes away with continued use but any concerns should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, a water-soluble vitamin C, tends to be less irritating than L-asorbic acid so may be better for sensitive skin.
If you’re using a product containing retinol, you may want to alternate days when retinol and vitamin C are used to avoid irritating the skin. If you are also using products with salicylic acid and glycolic acid, you may want to avoid using vitamin C-spiked products on the same day.
What Should I Look for in a Vitamin C Product?
The ingredients list should include a form of vitamin C, such as L-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphatem ascorbyl palmitate or retinyl ascorbate.
Many serums blend vitamin C with other antioxidants and vitamins. The right formula for you will depend on your skin type and concern, such as dry skin or anti-aging. If hydrating skin is a priority, look for a serum that also contains hyaluronic acid, a moisture magnet that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, or glycerin, a humectant. Other serums contain additional fruit enzymes sourced from cloudberry, pomegranate or kakadu plums, to help exfoliate dead skin cells, which helps to leave skin looking and feeling softer. Some vitamin C serums contain “greens” such as algae, spinach and kale for extra antioxidants.
Which Vitamin C Products Should I Try?
Vitamin C is one of the key ingredients to incorporate into a skincare routine, as it helps keep the signs of aging at bay, while helping skin look and feel smooth. When deciding which product to buy, consider Formulyst.
Formulyst makes it easy to create your own skincare routine. Each skincare concern is assigned a number, and your personal combination will be just as unique as you (and your skin) are. All you have to do is find your formula, and follow the numbers.
One of the cornerstones of the Formulyst philosophy is incorporating a serum into your routine. Why a serum? They are lightweight, easily absorbed and help deliver a dose of nutrients to the skin. Think of them as the workhorses of a skincare regimen.
Formulyst Active Serum is packed with good for you skincare ingredients, such as nourishing vitamins B and E, as well as vitamin C. Rounding out the all-star list are ferulic acid and niacinamide. The antioxidant ferulic acid, which is found in nuts and seeds, help to stabilize vitamins C and E, and may boost its potency. Niacinamide also plays a key role- this antioxidant, a version of vitamin B3, is thought to help reduce redness while also helping skin looking brighter and smoother. Working together, this serum helps fade the look of hyperpigmentation and dark spots, and leaves skin looking smooth and feeling hydrated.
Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, American Academy of Dermatology, CNN, Healthline, Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology Journal, Indian Dermatology Online Journal, Aesthetic Surgery Journal.