What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C is an antioxidant molecule that plays a vital role in our skin's health by protecting it against free radicals. Free radicals are electrically charged molecules that can be created by pollution and the sun's radiation. When free radicals penetrate the skin, they break down our collagen, contributing to sagging skin and wrinkles. Free radicals also stimulate the formation of brown spots and skin cancer. An antioxidant is a molecule that can collect these free radicals and neutralize them before they damage our cells. This protection is different from the protection sunscreen provides, and should be used together daily to slow the signs of aging and prevent the formation of skin cancers.
Vitamin C is the most well-studied antioxidant in topical skin care products. Multiple studies show that antioxidant serums with vitamin C, often stabilized with vitamin E, protects your skin against photoaging. It's important to know that the skin is very good at keeping things out, so these antioxidants need to be mixed into a well-formulated, easily-absorbable product to ensure those essential and expensive vitamins get deep enough into the skin to give protection.
There are several forms of vitamin C. The most common forms used in skin care products are L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ethyl ascorbic acid, and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate.
How else does vitamin C benefit the skin?
Vitamin C is also an essential ingredient in our ability to synthesize collagen.
Is it safe for most skin types? Who should avoid vitamin C? Are there potential side effects and risks?
Yes, vitamin C is very safe for most people. However, it is important to realize that it is an acid (ascorbic acid) and can therefore irritate sensitive skin types. If you have very sensitive skin, you need to pick a lower percentage of vitamin C because your skin is too good at absorbing ingredients, which makes it more sensitive. Most studies show benefits to the skin when using serums with 10% vitamin C. Higher percentages do not mean better results but can increase one's risk of irritation.
How can you add vitamin C into your daily skin care routine? How do you use it?
I use a vitamin C serum every morning on clean, bare skin. It is the first topical I apply to my face, neck, and upper chest. I then follow it with Doctor Rogers RESTORE face cream, a zinc-based sunscreen, and then potentially some makeup.
How long does it take before you start to see results like fading pigmentation, plumping, etc.?
It depends on how damaged your skin is, how good of a job you are doing using the serum, how well formulated the serum is, and how young you are since that dictates how quickly your skin regenerates. Generally, you may see improvement at two weeks, but most clinical studies measure results when using a product with vitamin C after 12 weeks.
Do you have any recommendations for products with Vitamin C?
- Hyper Skin - Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum
- skinbetter science - Alto Defense Serum™ 30 ml
- SkinCeuticals - C E Ferulic® with 15% L-Ascorbic Acid
- Revision Skincare - Vitamin C Lotion 30% 1 fl oz
- Avène - A-OXitive Antioxidant Defense Serum
- Drunk Elephant - C-Firma™ Fresh Day Serum
Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.