How to Use Vitamin C to Brighten Up Your Skin
Vitamin C skin care is having a moment. Celebrities are touting it on social media, it’s all over store shelves, and maybe it’s even part of your skin-care routine already.
Of course, you want to know whether what’s in your skin-care products will actually do something for your appearance. So, does vitamin C truly have brightening benefits? Yes. Is it too harsh for sensitive skin? No.
Read on to learn more about these questions and all the benefits of vitamin C skin care products (and how best to use them).
What Is Vitamin C?
We know you can get vitamin C from orange juice, but for your skin, vitamin C is a different story. At the basic level, vitamin C is a naturally occurring antioxidant. L-ascorbic acid is the chemically active (and the most biologically active) form of vitamin C.
When applied topically, vitamin C has anti-aging, anti-pigmentary, and photo-protective qualities. However, researchers are still working on the best and most stable formulation to deliver vitamin C to skin with maximum benefits.
How Does Vitamin C Benefit the Skin?
We spoke with Dr. Brooke Caufield, a dermatologist with Colorado Dermatology Group, about the benefits of adding vitamin C to your skin-care regimen.
Helps premature aging and offers sun protection
Photoaging is what happens when your when your skin is repeatedly exposed to ultraviolet rays, which can damage cells and make small DNA mutations, says Caufield. Sunscreen helps protect your skin from these damaging rays, and vitamin C can help in a variety of ways, too.
Vitamin C can potentially prevent or reverse the signs of photoaging, which is one of the top reasons Caufield recommends adding it to your skin-care regimen.
According to one study, people who used a topical, 10% concentration of vitamin C over a 12-week period showed a statistically significant reduction in photoaged scores and improvement in wrinkling.
Has anti-aging qualities
Our skin starts to show signs of aging naturally, but external factors like sun damage can speed it up. Luckily, vitamin C is helpful for collagen production, as it increases the gene expression of collagen and is a co-factor for key enzymes that help stabilize collagen fibers.
“Vitamin C helps produce collagen and prevents the breakdown of collagen,” says Caufield, “so those two things make the skin look smoother, maybe even a little plumper, to help make fine lines less noticeable.”
Treats age spots and other dark patches
Vitamin C also helps brighten skin and treat hyperpigmentation (patches of darker or discolored skin), like age spots.
“It’s involved somewhat in blocking the steps that lead to melanin production, so that is where we get some of the brightening effects from it,” says Caufield.
Research backs this up: A study in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that after subjects used a topical formula with 25% vitamin C for 16 weeks, there was a significant decrease in pigmentation caused by melasma (a condition that causes dark patches).
Adding Vitamin C to Your Skin-care Routine
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, so we need to get it from outside sources for a variety of reasons. The tricky part is that not all forms of vitamin C will permeate your skin in the most beneficial way.
L-ascorbic acid, for example, is the most active form, but it is also very unstable and doesn’t absorb into the skin well, according to Caufield.
“You do have to actually invest in a good vitamin C that has gone through a process to acidify it, so it can absorb into the skin quite quickly before it becomes inactivated,” she explains.
According to that same study of vitamin C for pigmentation issues, skin-care products should have a concentration higher than 8% to have actual benefits. However, anything above 20% can cause irritation, so reputable products often have a concentration between 10% and 20%.
Caufield recommends adding vitamin C to your skin-care routine once a day. She says that the medium of delivery (oil, lotion, serum, etc.) matters less than how the vitamin C was produced. Make sure that you are buying a product from a company that has taken the steps to acidify it or you won’t reap its maximum benefits.
If My Skin Is Sensitive, Should I Use Vitamin C?
“Even people with sensitive skin can use vitamin C,” says Caufield. “It doesn’t increase your sensitivity to the sun. The biggest thing is that sometimes people do feel a little bit of stinging when they first put it on and that’s probably if they are getting into those higher percentages.”
The stinging should go away as your skin improves and grows accustomed to the product. If stinging persists, move to a lower percentage of vitamin C.
The Best Vitamin C Products on the Market
When it comes to vitamin C, you get what you pay for. Dr. Valerie Tokarz, of Tokarz Dermatology in Rhode Island, recommends looking for products that contain both L-ascorbic acid as well as a combination of other forms of vitamin C, like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate. By including other forms of vitamin C, the solutions can pass through your skin’s membrane easier.
“You get benefits of these different compounds at different levels of the skin,” she says. “There is a benefit right at the surface of the skin with the L-ascorbic acid, and then there are benefits further down with the other forms.”
Isdin Melatonik Overnight Recovery Serum contains not just ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate but also another compound that helps with fine lines. “There is vitamin C in it, but it also has an ingredient with a retinoid property and that allows for better penetration and better skin turnover in general,” says Tokarz. $128
SkinCeuticals is another brand that Tokarz recommends as she has seen good results with patients who use their line of vitamin C products. In that line are formulas that contain L-ascorbic acid ranging from 5% concentration to 20% concentration. $70 to $166
Revision Skincare has two products with vitamin C, the Vitamin C Lotion 15% and the Vitamin C Lotion 30%. Both contain tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. These lotions also contain vitamin E, another antioxidant that is beneficial for your skin. $90 to $122
- Vitamin C in dermatology www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
- Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605218/
- Use of topical ascorbic acid and its effects on photodamaged skin topography pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10522500/
- Topical L-ascorbic acid: percutaneous absorption studies pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11207686/
- New developments and novel therapeutic perspectives for vitamin C pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17884994/