What does Vitamin C do for your skin? Get the 411 from the experts on Vitamin C topicals

Many skincare gurus are swearing by the implementation of a vitamin C serum. But is it really that essential to have in your routine? Let's explore!

What is vitamin C?

  • We know of vitamin C to be rich in citrus fruits and a lifesaver in avoiding colds and sniffles. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a naturally occurring antioxidant promotes the neutralizes free radicals and helps promote collagen in our bodies. This can be hard-hitter in skincare as free radicals lead to aging skin as collagen begins to break down. Collagen is key in helping target acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (looking at you acne scars).

But what is its purpose?

  • Vitamin C is largely used to lighten hyperpigmentation or as a brightening agent. Vitamin C can do this by inhibiting melanin production equaling lessened dark marks. It’s also thought to reverse the conversion of DOPA to o-DOPA quinone (which is a skin pigment). Vitamin C can also have positive effects on acne. Because collagen has a leading role in skin elasticity, vitamin C can be a great preventative measure in term of antiaging.

What about vitamin C stability?

Vitamin C is a fragile queen, as it is famous for losing its efficacy if exposed to air, heat or light. We can usually tell that it degrades when the formula begins changing colours. Degraded vitamin C can stain/darken skin, so unless people are looking for a self-tanner in a bottle, we want to make sure the vitamin C we use is in a stable form.

Vitamin C, an ingredient of many names:

  • L-Ascorbic Acid (L-AA)

  • Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate

  • Ascorbyl Palmitate

  • Ascorbyl Tetra-tetraisopalmitoyl or Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate

  • Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate

L-Ascorbic acid is the most potent of all vitamin C forms and is the cream of the crop in terms encouraging collagen generation. However, this comes at a cost as it can cause reactions due to its low pH. L-ascorbic acid is also the most unstable form of vitamin C and is usually suspended in another ingredient to help with stability

  • Tip: You will often see L-Ascorbic acid paired with vitamin E; the combination is a one-two punch in sun protection!

Popular formulations:

  1. C-Firma™ Vitamin C Day Serum by Drunk Elephant

  2. C15 Vitamin C Super Booster by Paula's Choice

  3. Vitamin C Suspension 30% in Silicone by The Ordinary

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate is a vitamin C derivative that have positive effects in overall tone brightening. As it mechanism is to convert into L-ascorbic acid, it is also useful in boosting collagen production.

Popular formulations:

  1. Youth to the People Superfood Firm and Brighten Serum

  2. Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10% by The Ordinary

  3. Super Glow by Glossier

Ascorbyl Palmitate and ascorbyl tetra-tetraisopalmitoyl are stable forms of vitamin C. Both will help with brightening but are not generally effective in targeting collagen production, so not as useful for anti-aging. However, both ascorbyl Palmitate and ascorbyl tetra-tetraisopalmitoyl are much more gentle forms of vitamin C so good options if you're thinking of dipping your toes into the vitamin C game or you have dry or sensitive skin.

Popular formulations:

  1. Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% by The Ordinary

  2. Vitamin C Ester Intensive Brightening Regimen 15% by Perricone MD

Like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate convert into L-ascorbic acid and much more gentle due to its more neutral pH. Sodium ascorbyl phosphate is effective in brightening overall tone and has been found to be effective in preventing breakouts as it can reduce inflammation.

Popular formulations:

  1. Vitamin C Serum 10% SAP by Mad Hippie

  2. Booster-Brighten Vitamin C 15% by Dr Skin Clinic

There are so many different kinds out there; how do I choose?

It really depends on your skin and what you are looking to target. If you have used vitamin C before and have developed a tolerance for it already, you may be looking level to a more potent form and try L-ascorbic acid. If you have sensitive or dry skin, you may want to try ascorbyl Palmitate. If you are looking to target acne, you may want to reach for a formula with sodium ascorbyl phosphate.

Be cautious of reaching for a high percentage vitamin C with the thoughts that it will work more quickly or efficiently; this is not the case many times. Though there are brands that simply sell a high percentage pure ingredient product (such as powdered L-ascorbic acid), these formulas can cause negative reactions and may sometimes be at a higher potency than is recommended for regular usage. Stronger formulations do not automatically mean the product will provide better results.

You also want to look at the packaging for your vitamin C products. Because vitamin C is prone to instability, make sure that they are not stored in clear jars or tubing. Ideally, your product will be in an airtight dark/opaque pump bottle to minimize contact with light or oxygen. Store you vitamin C in a cool, dark place to treat her well, like the potato queen she is 🥔✨

What about DIY ways to get vitamin C in your routine, like lemon?

You can find a host of lemon juice skincare hacks everywhere. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C and citric acid and many equate these DIY hacks as an anti-inflammatory and help target hyperpigmentation. Though many would like a natural product with effective active ingredients, there isn't a way to know the potency of the vitamin C or citric acid in any one lemon - one overly ripened lemon may contain more than the next lemon.

The dangers in not being aware of the acid in lemons can result in a host of reactions. Sunburns are a common response to the use of topical lemon. This lemon juice acid can also cause skin irritation which can be exacerbated by sun exposure. Some research has shown reactions to citrus fruits causing an inflammatory reaction called phytophotodermatitis or leukoderma (vitiligo) spots.

Where in my routine does it go?

This depends on what type of product you choose to implement. If it is a serum, you'll apply after washing and toning, but before moisturizing.

Tips on how to implement?

Start low and slow! Serum strengths can vary greatly. Make sure you start by introducing a low potency formulation. Doing a patch test to ensure you are not allergic to vitamin C is always recommended.We preach sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen always! When using actives, like vitamin C, it is important to protect skin by wearing sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher daily.

Vitamin C can be used morning or evening. Due to its sun-protecting qualities, many prefer using vit C products in the AM when the skin is most prone to to UV radiation. If you choose to use in the AM, make sure your product is fully absorbed into your skin and you have applied sunscreen before heading outside, as its effects can be counterproductive when in direct contact with sunlight.

Okay, should there be anything I look out for after implementing?

Vitamin C can famously cause irritation. Watch out for any signs skin inflammation, dryness, redness, increased sensitivity or burning/peeling. Don't be scared to scale back frequency or discontinue if the formulation you choose is too abrasive for your skin.

If you are a retinol user, make sure you separate its application from your vitamin C as using both at the same time can cause reactions.

Similarly, if you are a benzoyl peroxide user, make sure you space out their applications as BP can reduce the efficacy of vitamin C.

Some of my faves:

  • Hyper Clear Brightening Clearing Vitamin C Serum

  • Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask with Vitamin C by Youth To The People (YTTP)

  • Vitamin C (THD Ascorbate): The latest clinically-proven form of stable, potent vitamin C works to firm and brighten the look of skin.

  • Paula's Choice RESIST C15 Super Booster











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