The benefits of vitamin C are numerous. Adding a vitamin C serum to your skincare routine could dramatically help improve your skin health. Here is why.
If like me you fall into the category of “skinimalism”, long before pinterest declared it a trendy term, you will understand why topical Vitamin C, hailed as an A-List superstar ingredient in skintellectual circles, could be a game changer for your skincare routine.
If you simply want to layer fewer but better active ingredients to help you achieve a bright, firm, smooth, and healthy glowing skin, then Vitamin C is one those remarkable skincare gems that could help you achieve these results. Let’s explore what Vitamin C is and its main benefits for your skin, how to choose the right vitamin C for your skin type and needs, and how to add vitamin C to your skincare routine.
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What is Vitamin C, and what are its benefits for your skin?
Vitamin C in Human Skin:
Vitamin C is the most abundant water-soluble antioxidant found in human skin, particularly when you are young and healthy, as vitamin C is present in high levels in the skin’s outermost layers (epidermis and dermis).
However, unlike plants and some animals, humans are unable to synthesize vitamin C due to the absence of the enzyme L-glucono-gamma lactone oxidase. Irrespective of vitamin C consumption in your healthy diet, only a fraction will be biologically active on your skin.
Furthermore, clinical studies show that vitamin C concentration levels in the dermis and epidermis decrease as we get older and as a result of pollution and excessive unprotected sun exposure (UV damage). These lead to skin dullness, loss of firmness, skin discolouration and uneven skin tone compared to what the skin once was.
Hence the need to boost vitamin C skin intake through effective topical solutions in the form of cosmeceuticals to better support your skin health and radiance. In relation to this, there are various active forms of vitamin C you will have come across in beauty product formulations namely:
- Ascorbic acid, also known as L-Ascorbic Acid, which is the most researched (and possibly the most unstable form of vitamin C) in terms of its benefits for skin
- Tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate, a stable oil soluble form of vitamin C
- Ascorbyl glucoside
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
- Retinyl ascorbate
- Ascorbyl palmitate
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP)
- Ethylated Ascorbic Acid (EAC), which is an “etherified derivative of ascorbic acid” that consists of vitamin C and an ethyl group linked to the third carbon position. This makes Vitamin C stable and soluble in water and oil formulas.
The above derivatives of vitamin C tend to be more stable but in some cases less potent than direct ascorbic acid; however they still remain very effective forms for the skin.
Vitamin C for Skin Benefits:
There are numerous benefits of vitamin c for skin worth considering:
- As a potent antioxidant, vitmain c helps neutralise and remove oxidants, such as those found in environmental pollutants and after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or other sources that contribute to premature photoageing.
- It helps prevent and fade hyperpigmentation – Vitamin C derivatives, including magnesium phosphate ascorbyl (MAP), act as skin brighteners due to their melanin inhibiting properties, helping fade dark spots, brown spots and even out skin tone.
- Vitamin C promotes collagen production, the protein that keeps skin firm and elastic by stabilising the collagen molecule through hydroxylation, and by stimulating collagen formation in the dermis by the fibroblasts cells. When molecules are hydroxylated, they become more water‐soluble. Fibroblasts synthesise collagen and build and repair the structural components of the skin, contributing to wound healing.
How to choose the right vitamin C for your skin
Vitamin C, as a water-soluble and charged molecule, is difficult to absorb by the skin epidermis that acts as the human body’s physical barrier.
It works best between a concentration of 5-20%. Whilst people with normal skin and strong skin barrier can go for potent vitamin C with concentration levels of 10-20%, those with dry and sensitive skin (e.g. acne-prone, eczema, rosacea) might experience tingling sensation and are better off with less potent formulas.
Furthermore, the skincare ingredient is only stable in beauty product formulations with water only when pH levels are below 3.5 or in waterless formulations.
Depending on your skin sensitivity, look for product formulations that combine vitamin C + vitamin E + ferulic acid, as they appear to be very effective.
By adding vitamin C and E to your skincare routine, you are giving your skin twice the antioxidant tools to fight damage from free radicals and UV radiation than vitamin C by itself, thereby increasing the effectiveness of your sun protection when used with sunscreen.
Ferulic acid acts as a shield that protects against free radicals formation from pollution, ultraviolet light, or infrared radiation, all of which accelerate skin ageing.
How and when to apply vitamin C
The best way to add vitamin C to your skincare ritual is to simply apply a small amount of the beauty product once or twice per day to clean and dry skin, depending on your skin type. Apply it after you have used your daily facial cleanser and toner before your moisturiser, sunscreen and makeup.
If you have sensitive skin and need a bit more hydration and moisture, go for a hydrator such as hyaluronic acid to counterbalance dryness and a richer moisturiser (certified organic jojoba oil and unrefined shea butter) to boost elasticity and skin barrier function.
Vitamin C can be safely used in conjunction with other active ingredients, although when used alongside retinoids and benzoyl peroxide within the same timeframe, it may become less effective.
The combination of vitamin C with retinoids (vitamin A) may trigger over exfoliation, resulting in increased skin and sun sensitivity. Separate into day and night routines.
Blending benzoyl peroxide with vitamin C negates the efficacy of both ingredients as benzoyl peroxide will oxidise vitamin C. They are best used on alternative days.
The best vitamin C serums
From gels, creams, powders and serums, there are many options for you to explore if you intend to add vitamin C to your self-care routine. Below is a shortlist of high performing vitamin C serums for normal, oily, acne-prone and sensitive skin for all budgets that deserve a place in your bathroom cabinet.
In this serum,TruSkin Naturals uses a stable and gentle form of vitamin C (sodium ascorbyl phosphate) with botanical hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and witch hazel to bring you a wallet friendly yet effective beauty product. Witch hazel acts as a potent anti-inflammatory ingredient whilst hyaluronic acid supports skin tissue hydration and health, and vitamin C and vitamin E together deliver powerful antioxidants and skin brightening properties. It can be used morning and/or night, and it works best for normal skin.
If you are new to vitamin C, have a problematic skin type (inflamed, fragile, sensitive skin), and want to prevent signs of premature skin ageing, C-Tetra with its lightweight, fast-absorbing jojoba-based formula might be the right Vitamin C serum for you. It currently works wonders for my allergy-prone, acne-prone, and eczema-prone skin. The stable non-irritating vitamin C (tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) combines vitamin E to combat sun and pollution-induced damage, helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone with daily use and reinvigorate dull, tired looking skin.
I am very fond of the way Beauty Pie has opted to house its highly innovative Superactive Capsules, with a double dose of pure Vitamin C at 10% and Vitamin E acetate in biodegradable cases made from red seaweed to keep them fresh and stable, away from light and air. Kiss goodbye to skin dullness with a single daily dose of these fragrance-free capsules that will help you achieve a bright, firm and baby smooth skin with reduced hyperpigmentation whilst protecting your skin from free radicals.
The Medik8 vitamin C (Ethylated L-Ascorbic Acid) is a potent oil-like based serum designed to combat the advanced signs of skin ageing, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone. The 30% concentration of vitamin C blended with turmeric root and botanical extracts confers this serum incredible power to protect skin from free radical and stimulates synthesis of new collagen and elastin. Fine lines and wrinkles are visibly diminished, skin texture is refined, and pigmentation marks are minimised. The serum is suitable for normal skin types.
The C15 Super Booster is another winning combination of the effective trio of stabilised vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) at a pH of 3.0 blended with vitamin E and ferulic acid to reduce visible signs of ageing for smoother, brighter, and firmer-feeling skin. The formula is further enhanced with skin-smoothing peptides to optimise hydration. Apply once or twice daily. Dispense 2–3 drops, and add to your favourite moisturiser. Normal and oily skin types can definitely give it a go.
Juliet M. Pullar et al. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health – ncbi (The National Center for Biotechnology Information)
Patricia K Farris (2005). Topical vitamin C: a useful agent for treating photoaging and other dermatologic conditions – National Library of Medicine, ncbi
Firas Al-Niaimi et al. (2017). Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications – Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology
Romain de Dormael, et al. (2019). Vitamin C Prevents Ultraviolet-induced Pigmentation in Healthy Volunteers: Bayesian Meta-analysis Results from 31 Randomized Controlled versus Vehicle Clinical Studies – Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Volume 4 (1) – Jan 1, 2005, Relevance of vitamins C and E in cutaneous photoprotection
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Volume 11 (4) – Dec 1, 2012, Stability, transdermal penetration, and cutaneous effects of ascorbic acid and its derivatives
Darr D, et al. (1996). Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8869680
Lin FH, et al. (2005). Ferulic acid stabilizes a solution of vitamins C and E and doubles its photoprotection of skin – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16185284