Skincare » Vitamin C for Skin: Benefits, Side Effects & Uses

Vitamin C for Skin: Benefits, Side Effects & Uses

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Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) conjures up a litany of metaphors. Vibrant. Hydrating. Energizing. But Beautifying?

‘Beauty descriptors’ – think supple, luscious, clarified – have not historically been affiliated with vitamin C. In fact, the two might even appear at first glance to be incongruous. What does vitamin C have to do with healthy skin and radiant texture?

We all adore the nutritional benefits gleaned from consistent vitamin C intake but when it comes to its topical benefits, vitamin C has been veiled in misinformation. When it comes to the well-established universe of beautifying foods, other players have always gotten more attention: olive oil, avocado, honey. But vitamin C skin care is quickly gaining momentum in the social beauty imagination and is soon set to become a tried and true staple of the fridge-to-face beauty movement.

In today’s article, vitamin C for skin will be examined in closer depth. What benefits can you accrue from incorporating this powerful compound into your skincare routine? What distinguishes vitamin C as a beautifying agent? Let’s dive in!

In this article:

What Is Vitamin C Skin Care All About?

We all want to be beautiful on the inside and on the outside. Vitamin C helps us achieve those ends. Just as vitamin C nourishes and alkalizes our digestive system and circulation, so too does it refresh and hydrate our skin cells. But rather than wax lyrical about this sunny compound, which is also called ascorbic acid, we’ll show you the specifics of how vitamin C skincare products work their facial magic.

Did you know that vitamin C is a vital component in both the dermis and epidermis of the skin? Vitamin C is transported to the skin through the bloodstream. Transport proteins that relay the ascorbic acid are found throughout our skin cells.

What Is Vitamin C Skin Care All About?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant and a vital compound in the process known as collagen synthesis, which keeps our skin supple. It is a key component in collagen synthesis because it hydroxylates the skin’s collagen, stabilizing it and improving its relationship with the epidermis. Vitamin C for skin also prevents cell death (apoptosis) and reduces redox-sensitive cell signaling.

The real reason that vitamin C serums may have been late to the party when it comes to topical application? Creating safe and effective topical deliverables has proven difficult.

Ascorbic acid, like many natural compounds, is unstable when exposed to variable environmental conditions. It is only stable at a pH level below 3.5 and penetrates the skin as a micro particle. Formulating a stable serum that imparts vitamin C in a gentle fashion has been a challenge for beauty chemists and skincare marketers alike.

Vitamin C skin care is trending as of late because effective topical formulas that can be safely metabolized by the skin have become easier to formulate. With more efficient blends hitting the market we expect the vitamin C skincare wave to gain more and more momentum moving forward.

Types of Vitamin C Skincare Products

Ascorbic acid is the active form of vitamin C that you will find in most skincare formulations. Ascorbic acid can be quite harsh on the skin because of its low pH, so derivatives like Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, which both have a pH of 7, have cropped up in skincare blends in lieu of traditional ascorbic acid.

While you are reading the labels, watch out for vitamin C in disguise. The following ingredients are all vitamin C by another name: sodium ascorbyl phosphate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, retinyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, and L-ascorbic acid.

L-ascorbic acid is the most potent collagen booster and should be the ingredient you seek out if you want to rapidly reduce fine lines. It is also the least stable form of vitamin C and can deteriorate the most rapidly when exposed to adverse environmental conditions.

Ascorbyl palmitate is more stable and is more suitable for sensitive skin types, but the results are less rapid. Ensure that vitamin C or one of the derivatives above is high on the ingredient list. Otherwise you may be placing your great expectations on a product that is more faux than fabulous.

Types of Vitamin C Skincare Products

Before you slather your skin with homemade orange juice, keep in mind that ascorbic acid is a potent compound and there are best practices that should dictate its application.

Scientific studies have demonstrated that a topical solution should contain no more than 20% vitamin C solution. Anything higher than this golden number has proven to oversaturate the skin and reduce the skin’s absorption.

The pH levels of the solution are another component that counts! The topical blend should result in a pH below 4. A lower pH helps to transport the ascorbic acid into the skin cells, effectively promoting absorption. The golden number is a pH of about 3.

Be aware that vitamin C travels with an entourage. Some of these ingredients have tongue-twisting names like disodium isostearyl 2-0 and tetraisopalmitate ascorbyl.

Vitamin C can also be enhanced by hyaluronic acid, or vitamin E, which works in its own right to boost collagen and help skin cells retain moisture. Together the two are a dynamic force against dehydration, poor skin tone, reduced elasticity, and inflamed pores.

Ferulic acid is another friend of vitamin C that doubles up its antioxidant potential. There is one compound that you should be on the lookout for, though: water! Because vitamin C oxidizes so rapidly, avoid choosing a product that touts water as a key ingredient. These formulas will lose effectiveness more rapidly and will offer you less value for your money.

How to Pick the Right Vitamin C Formula for Your Skin

We made a cursory mention of it in the introduction but it bears repeating that vitamin C skincare products must abide by a strict set of qualifications in order to be safe and effective.

Pay Attention to the Potency!

For the best results, look for products that contain a concentration between 10-20%. Any formula that contains 3-10% concentration will still be effective over time but will work less rapidly.

Most popular commercial vitamin C skincare products will contain the desirable concentration but a little label reading goes a long way. For women with more sensitive skin profiles, a concentration between 8-12% will be a wiser choice.

Although slightly less powerful than their higher percentage counterparts, these blends will be far less likely to create redness or irritation. Feel free to experiment with a lower concentration if you have sensitive skin, or if you are a newcomer to the world of vitamin C for skin.

Consider Vitamin C Serums

Vitamin C has been incorporated into a spectrum of skincare products that run the gamut from serums to masks. Dermatologists agree that vitamin C serums are the most effective delivery method.

Serums introduce vitamin C into the skin in a gentle but powerful way and contain the most active vitamin C. Serums are effective because they are concentrated and play well with other products. Serums dry quickly and absorb rapidly, making them the soundest choice for shotgun results.

While vitamin C serums are certainly the most potent form of C, there is a range of formulas that exist that may be more effective for you skin type, or specific requirements. Simply put, some women prefer cleansers or moisturizers to the more potent serums on the market.

While there is a vitamin C serum out there for everyone, your skin type can certainly dictate which products you should be eyeing more closely.

  • Those with oily skin should incorporate a refreshing vitamin C laced cleanser or foam into their skincare routine.
  • Those with dry skin should select a vitamin C saturated moisturizer.
  • Those with sensitive skin should look for creamy moisturizers and oils that contain the most gentle form of C: tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate.

That being said, we do strongly advocate the use of vitamin C serums as the best way to get rapid and sustainable results.

Vitamin C Benefits for Skin

Watch Out for Proper Packaging!

When it comes to vitamin C for skin, be cognizant of the packaging! In regards to topical vitamin C, stability needs to be maintained to ensure product effectiveness and packaging play a big part in this. Exposure to air, light, and bacteria can deleteriously impact the integrity of the vitamin C because the compound oxidizes so easily.

Most vitamin C products will come in airtight bottles that dispense the cream or serum via a pump apparatus. Dark glass bottles and metal bottles are ideal packaging formats.

Twist-off jar containers are a less desirable mode of packaging. Be wary of the expiration date as well. With natural compounds like vitamin C, there is a time horizon component. Simply put, the vitamin C formula will lose efficacy over time.

Benefits of Vitamin C for Skin

Vitamin C has a wealth of juicy benefits, making it a diverse and reliable skincare staple.

Antioxidant: Check! Bye-Bye Free Radicals: Check!

Because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it confronts and neutralizes the free radicals borne from UV exposure and atmospheric pollutants. Free radicals are compounds that have come into contact with oxygen and consist of an unpaired electron. When they interact with healthy cells they provoke degeneration and eventual cell death.

Free radicals are no small threat to the health and beauty of your skin. They break down the collagen stores in the epidermis and place heavy stress on the skin cells by impeding oxidation and dehydrating your skin molecules.

Vitamin C plays a supportive role, helping skin cells combat the agitators that place oxidative stress on the skin. This allows the skin’s oxidizing functions to operate more effectively. Better oxidation leads to improved skin tone and healthier, cleaner pores.

The end result of its antioxidant powers is reduced inflammation. This should serve as an exciting wake-up call for women prone to redness and irritation.

Vitamin C Combats Sun Damage

Vitamin C reduces melanin production and there is a body of research that suggests that vitamin C can heal skin damaged by sun exposure and reduce the appearance of age spots and pigmentation. If you have exposed your skin to excess amounts of damaging ultraviolet rays, whether through too many sessions at the beach or the tanning salon, know that vitamin C serums have your back.

Vitamin C is a powerful tool in combating the ageing and degenerative results of UV exposure. By blocking the production of tyrosinase, a compound involved in the pigment production process, vitamin C can reduce the occurrence of future sunspots and lighten existing ones.

It also reduces lipid peroxidation and limits the presence of cytokines, an inflammatory compound.

Keep in mind that vitamin C isn’t a sunscreen, as it doesn’t absorb the UVA and UVB rays, but it’s effective in reducing the sun damage on your skin.

Vitamin C for Skin Boosts Collagen Production

Vitamin C promotes the development of collagen; in fact, collagen can’t be produced without it! Collagen is a fundamental protein-based compound that keeps skin supple and lifted. Collagen is responsible for the smooth and firm skin we have in our youth.

Our natural stores of collagen are depleted as we age and as we encounter environmental stressors and free radicals. Because vitamin C stimulates collagen production, infusing it into your skincare routine reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time.

Vitamin C can also reduce the wrinkles and crow’s feet bred from UV exposure and will generally help you sustain a more glowing complexion.

Vitamin C Serums Mean Clarified Skin Tone

In tandem with its collagen enhancing properties, vitamin C also promotes vibrant and clarified skin texture. Vitamin C can aid in reducing the frequency of blemishes and helps strengthen the skin barrier to promote moisture retention. More moisture means less rogue oil production and a more luminous skin tone.

Vitamin C, in its capacity as an antidote to the adverse effects of UV exposure, also reduces the appearance of uneven skin tone due to sunspots and discoloration. If pigmentation is a concern that you want to address naturally, vitamin C for skin will be your best line of defense.

Vitamin E Regeneration

There is some scientific research that suggests that vitamin C can support the body’s antioxidant system by regenerating vitamin E that has come into contact with free radicals. The result is a robust internal antioxidant system that reverses cell damage and creates a healthy skin structure.

Research on vitamin C intake suggests that it may reduce trans-epidermal water loss in the body. There are studies being undertaken currently to discern whether vitamin C can reduce water loss in the skin and whether it is an effective hydrating agent.

So Long Scar Tissue

Vitamin C skin care is also a killer regenerator. It speeds up wound healing and can help reduce the appearance and texture of scar tissue.

Damaged skin tissue requires the presence of vitamin C so if you have scars that linger a little too long on the skin surface, boost your diet with vitamin C and use a topical moisturizer to speed up the healing process.

Vitamin C Skin Care Is Crowd-Pleaser

Vitamin C has major crowd appeal. Whether you were born in 1900 or 2000, or at any point in the interim, you will find that vitamin C can benefit you. Our best advice is to start now!

Vitamin C skin care is safe and gentle enough for consistent use regardless of your age or experience with active skincare products. Whether you are just beginning your skincare journey or have had extensive wear and tear through UV exposure, vitamin C works right away to begin repairing and supporting the skin cells of the dermis and epidermis.

If you have any doubts, just know that vitamin C will begin its free radical fighting magic immediately.

How to Use Vitamin C Serums for Skin

Are There Any Side Effects to Vitamin C for Skin?

Vitamin C is powerful, potent, and bold. Given these personality traits, vitamin C doesn’t cooperate with all skincare compounds.

Active ingredients, like glycolic, salicylic, lactic acid (all power players in their own right), and retinol should be used sparingly when abiding by a C-heavy skincare regimen. Combining vitamin C with one of the above actives results in irritation and increased facial redness.

If you choose to include actives in your skincare regimen (and you should, as they do have a wealth of their own respective benefits), incorporate them slowly and economically. Overdoing the application will irritate your skin and will preclude the vitamin C from being its best self.

Because of its potency vitamin C should be incorporated into the skincare routine conservatively for women with sensitive skin profiles. Introducing a higher percentage blend into your routine may cause redness and uncomfortable irritation.

We recommend trialing a lower percentage blend when beginning your journey with vitamin C serums and other skincare products. Generally speaking the skin will become accustomed to the vitamin C and adverse side effects will subside in time, if they appear at all. Unless you have hardier skin, be patient and avoid jumping into the deep end in a bid to get fast results.

It also pays to mention that while your skin will begin accruing the benefits of vitamin C usage immediately, visible results in regards to the reduction of fine lines and discoloration may take anywhere from 3-6 months. Vitamin C is not a quick fix like Botox or Juvederm and should be incorporated into your routine for the long haul.

For women with acne-prone skin, vitamin C serums can certainly be a boon but there is an important disclaimer to note. When reading the ingredient list, be wary of products that include inactive silicone bases. These silicon bases have the potential to rev up sebum production and clog pores, eventually triggering breakouts. Many formulas are specifically designed for women with oily and blemish-prone skin – just be thorough in your search.

How to Use Vitamin C Serums

First things first, vitamin C serums can be used everyday. And while it is well-loved at all times of the day, vitamin C shines its brightest in the morning. When vitamin C-infused skincare products are applied in the a.m., they have enhanced efficacy in protecting your skin cells from free radicals and UV radiation.

Vitamin C is safe to use twice daily and can be applied before bed to guard the skin and support healthy cell maintenance while you sleep.

  1. Cleanse

    Cleanse your skin prior to applying any vitamin C serums or moisturizers. When pores are filled with makeup, oil, and dirt, they form a barrier that prevents the effective absorption of the vitamin C skincare product. Ensure your pores are open and ready to soak in the C!

  2. First Serums

    Vitamin C serums should always be applied before moisturizers. The key distinction between the two is that serums are designed to deeply penetrate the skin tissue. They are of a much thinner consistency and this allows for deep absorption. Moisturizers do their work on the top layer of the skin. The work of fighting free radicals occurs deeper in the skin so we generally favor vitamin C in serum form.

  3. Apply

    Massage the vitamin C serum into your skin with clean hands. Rub the product in using circular motions. Don’t neglect the neck, as many of the signs of ageing become visible here first.

  4. Give It Some Time

    Allow time between application of the vitamin C serum and the other products in your routine. The ingredients in your makeup or moisturizer may speed up the oxidation process and will result in deteriorated effectiveness at best, irritation at worst.

  5. Apply Sunscreen

    For top-level protection, apply a broad-spectrum face sunscreen after you have let the vitamin C serum soak in. This will ensure totally comprehensive protection from UV rays and will prevent free radicals from wreaking havoc on your skin.

  6. Store

    Being a natural compound, vitamin C is sensitive to its surroundings. UV exposure can lead to deterioration of the formula, so we advise storing your vitamin C skincare products in a cool, dark location. And by cool we mean room temperature – no fridge required.

Photos via @morganalisonstewart, Instagram