7 Science Backed Benefits Of Topical Vitamin C For Skin

If you’ve been following the trends in skin care in recent years you can’t have avoided hearing the hype about the benefits of topical vitamin C for skin.

It’s hailed for its anti-aging powers, with an ability to remove fine lines and wrinkles, repair photo-damage and protect the skin from the sun.

If you’re anything like me, then you’re sometimes skeptical of the sensational marketing claims that always accompany the latest fad product that hits the market.

So what’s the real story with vitamin C?

A lot of scientific research has been done into how vitamin C interacts with your skin.

Today I’m going to show you why you should strongly consider using vitamin C as a regular part of your skincare routine.

The Importance Of Vitamin C For Good Health

Sources Of Vitamin C

Most of us know vitamin C as one of the essential vitamins that are required to maintain good health. It plays a key role in a number of biochemical pathways in the body and the skin.

It’s required for our immune system to function and is crucial for the production and maintenance of blood vessels, connective tissues, cartilage, and scar tissue. (1)

It also acts as a powerful antioxidant that protects tissues from the damaging effects of free radicals, and can help to protect you from cardiovascular disease as well as reducing the risk of stroke.

As we cannot produce or store vitamin C within our body we have to consume it in our diets every day.

Centuries ago, sailors participating in long voyages were at significant risk of dying from a disease known as ‘scurvy’.

Due to their poor diets that were often lacking in fresh fruit and vegetables, scurvy became one of the biggest causes of mortality in sailors.

This caused a lot of investigation into the importance of nutrients for our health, and it was discovered that citrus fruits could protect them from the disease.

They didn’t know it at the time, but a vitamin C deficiency was causing the symptoms of scurvy, that included ulcers, gum disease, bleeding under the skin, and pain in the joints and legs.

This is largely due to the role that vitamin C has in the production of collagen, a protein that is crucial for the production of strong connective tissue and which is responsible for giving the skin its strength and firmness as well as aiding in its repair and maintenance. (2)


Is Vitamin C Good For Your Skin?

Vitamin C For Skin

The important role that vitamin C plays in skin health and regeneration has been utilized, albeit unknowingly, by people throughout history.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in Tibet, women who wanted to treat skin issues used the berries of the sea buckthorn plant, which have a high vitamin C content. (3)

The Egyptians, Mayans, and Native Americans all used rose hips, which are high in vitamin C, to improve and heal their skin. (4)

Vitamin C can be obtained through your diet by eating healthy high vitamin C foods like dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, papayas, tomatoes, bell peppers, peas, broccoli, and berries.

If you are consuming the recommended nine daily portions of fruit and vegetables then you should be easily surpassing the minimum daily vitamin C recommendation.

However, while being good for your general health, vitamin C that is ingested is not adequately delivered to the skin for its rejuvenating and antioxidant properties to be significant.

Vitamin C is soluble in water, and consequently, a lot of the vitamin C we consume in our diet is quickly excreted.

This is where topical application of vitamin C has a clear advantage for skin care. When the vitamin C is applied directly it’s possible to raise its concentration in the skin to a much higher level than through ingestion. (5)


Topical Vitamin C In Skin Care

Vitamin C Serum

Vitamin C that’s used for skin care is most effective in the form of a serum, which can be prepared at home using a vitamin C powder. It can also be found in vitamin C creams, vitamin C facial cleansers, and vitamin C body lotions. The four main factors that determine the effectiveness of the best vitamin C serums for skin are the type of vitamin C, the stability, the concentration, and the pH.

The different types of vitamin C include L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl palmitate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, and dehydroa­scorbic acid.

Of these, L-ascorbic acid is the most powerful and most heavily researched. It’s the one most commonly used in well-formulated skin care products.

But it’s also the one that’s the least stable. Ascorbyl palmitate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, and dehydroa­scorbic acid are all quite stable but are also less effective.

One study showed that while these vitamin c derivatives can help to improve the moisture content of the stratum corneum, they were not as successful in having an antioxidant effect as L-ascorbic acid. (6)

Despite its problems with stability, L-ascorbic acid is preferable for use in a well-formulated skin serum, and studies have shown that the stability can be increased by the use of other antioxidant compounds like ferulic acid. (7)

All forms of vitamin C can potentially be destabilized when exposed to air and light. So it is important to keep any vitamin C formulations in air-tight containers and in a cool, dark place, preferably in a dark glass bottle.

Another crucial aspect of an effective serum for use on the skin is the concentration of free L-ascorbic acid that is present. Some preparations don’t contain enough for biological activity.

The maximum concentration that gives optimal skin absorption is 20%. At higher concentrations than this, your skin will absorb a lesser amount of the antioxidant.

The pH of the solution is also an important factor. Studies have demonstrated that serums with a pH below 3.5 help L-ascorbic acid to enter the skin. (8)

L-ascorbic acid is well tolerated by people with normal, oily, or combination skin . But some people with dry or sensitive skin can find it irritating and prefer to use one of the derivatives.


Vitamin C And Collagen

Vitamin C And Collagen

A large part of the benefits that vitamin C has to offer your skin concern its role in stimulating the production of collagen.

Collagen works together with elastin to provide a framework for the skin that gives it strength, form, and firmness. The elastin gives skin its suppleness.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, constituting around a third of all proteins, and approximately 75% of the protein that is found in the skin.

It’s also a key constituent of many forms of connective tissues (9), and can be found in blood vessels, ligaments, tendons, bones, and cartilage.

Collagen consists of polypeptide chains that come together to form a ‘super helix’.

This super helix structure helps to give collagen its incredible tensile strength, which is stronger than steel wire of a comparable weight.

The making of the super helix requires several steps in which vitamin C plays an essential role (10).

But as the skin ages, vitamin C levels in the skin decline thereby affecting the rate at which new collagen can be produced to replace that which is breaking down and leading to the signs of skin damage that we associate with aging.

This process is accelerated by the skin’s exposure to UV rays and other environmental factors and pollutants.

A number of scientific studies have shown that the topical application of vitamin C on skin can induce collagen synthesis. (5) (11)

As well as assisting in the hydroxylation reactions described above experiments indicate that vitamin C induces the synthesis of collagen by enhancing gene transcription. (12)


Vitamin C As A Biological Antioxidant

Structural formula of vitamin C on blackboard with orange

Your skin is reliant on antioxidants to protect it against oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

Sometimes free radicals occur naturally during the process of metabolism, but sometimes environmental factors such as pollution, UV rays, and cigarette smoke are responsible for the formation of these free radicals, which cause damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA, causing cells to die.

Free radicals are highly reactive and short-lived molecules that have an unpaired electron in their outer shell. They seek to involve themselves in chemical reactions which allow them to capture the electron they need to gain stability.

They do this by reacting with the nearest molecule they can, which in turn will become a free radical after losing an electron. This starts a chain reaction which can cause cellular damage. (13)

In normal circumstances, your skin can cope with these free radicals, but if there are not enough antioxidants available, or the production of free radicals becomes overwhelming then damage occurs.

When a protein in a collagen strand loses an electron to a free radical a change to the chemical structure of the collagen occurs at that point.

Over the years of accumulating many small breaks in the strand it becomes disorganized and damaged. The outward signs of this process occurring are visible on the skin as it begins to sag and fine lines and wrinkles appear.

The most plentiful water-soluble antioxidant that is present in your skin is vitamin C. It can neutralize the harmful free radicals by donating one of its electrons, thereby stopping the electron capturing chain reaction.

Vitamin C is stable in this form, so it doesn’t behave as a free radical, and acts as a scavenger that helps to prevent cellular damage and the onset of visible aging of your skin.

Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant in your skin. It’s fat soluble and plays an important role in preventing lipid peroxidation in the cell membrane. Vitamin C helps to recycle oxidized vitamin E thereby increasing protection from free radical oxidation. (16)


The Benefits Of Topical Vitamin C For Skin

Vitamin C has a number of benefits for your skin:

1. Removes Fine Lines, Wrinkles, And Photo-damage


Oxidative damage that occurs to collagen causing lines and wrinkles to appear on the face is a feature of both the damage caused by exposure to sunlight and the natural aging process.

Increasing the concentration of vitamin C in the skin stimulates increased collagen synthesis to repair the damaged skin.

One study found that people who applied topical vitamin C to their face showed a reduction in wrinkles and fine lines on their skin after only 12 weeks. (17)

Other studies have shown similar findings. A three-month study on 19 volunteers with photo-damaged skin showed significant improvement in skin texture, wrinkling, skin tone, and sallowness. (16)


2. Photoprotection

The Benefits Of Topical Vitamin C For Skin - Photoprotection

Vitamin C can help to prevent the damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet light.

It doesn’t protect the skin in the way that a sunscreen does, as it doesn’t absorb UV light. Instead, it’s vitamin C’s ability to act as an antioxidant that enables it to neutralize the free radicals that are produced by UV rays. (19)

In doing so it helps to protect against damage to DNA and structural proteins. Damage that eventually shows itself on the skin as lines and wrinkles.

Studies have shown that topical vitamin C and vitamin E used together show an increased ability to prevent photo-damage. (20)


3. The Healing Of Wounds

Wound Healing

Vitamin C also plays an important role in the healing of wounds. When you have a wound the body has to increase the formation of new tissue to cover the affected area. This requires an increased production of collagen, which vitamin C is needed for.

In the process of healing a wound, vitamin C levels decline quickly, and people who are deficient in vitamin C are slow to heal.

Studies have shown that even in people who are not deficient in vitamin C wound healing can be accelerated by supplementing. (21)


4. The Treatment Of Acne


Acne is a skin condition that causes a lot of distress and discomfort for many people. What makes it even more difficult is that its causes are not entirely clear, and treatments that work for one person might not be effective for another.

Vitamin C has been scientifically proven to be effective in treating acne. Studies have shown that it’s a strong antimicrobial that can kill the harmful acne causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes. (22)

Its antioxidant properties can also help to limit the oxidation of sebum, which is considered to be a comedogenic factor in the formation of acne.


5. Melasma, Pigmentation, And Age Spots


Melasma is a condition which results in patches of skin discoloration on the face and neck of an individual.

Vitamin C has been shown in scientific studies to be useful in the treatment of this affliction. (23)

It helps to limit the formation of melanin and reduce the oxidized melanin that is visible on the skin.

In one study 16 women suffering from melasma were treated with a 5% vitamin C cream for 16 weeks. This produced a 62.5% improvement in appearance by the end of the experiment. (24)

In the same way, vitamin C can be used to treat age spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation. It also has a use for skin lightening and skin whitening.


6. Rosacea


Rosacea is a skin condition that is characterized by small dilated blood vessels, redness, swelling, and inflammation on the face. Its exact cause is still unknown and people of all ages are affected by it.

Studies have been carried out using topical vitamin C to reduce the reddening of the face. In one study daily use of a 5% vitamin C cream resulted in definitive improvement in 9 out of 12 volunteers. (25)

It’s thought that the production of free radicals plays an important part in the inflammatory reaction that is seen in rosacea. The ability of vitamin C to neutralize these free radicals might explain its ability to help the condition.


7. Fading Scars And Blemishes


Topical vitamin C can play a useful role in reducing the appearance of scars and blemishes. Its ability to lessen the hyperpigmentation can fade the angry appearance of the skin. (26)

A study on reducing the appearance of surgical scars on Asian skin found that both the elevation and the redness of the scars was reduced by applying vitamin C to the skin from the point in time that the stitches were removed until a 6 month period had elapsed. (27)


Final Thoughts

With all the supporting scientific evidence, it’s clear that vitamin C has a range of benefits for the skin.

This is of particular interest to people who are concerned about anti-aging, as it has the ability to both protect the skin from age-related and UV damage, while also being able to rejuvenate old and damaged skin to a more youthful appearance

The best way to experience the benefits that vitamin C has on the skin is by using a topical preparation, which can significantly raise the concentration found in the skin and increase its ability to have an effect.

Vitamin C serums for the face are widely available on the market and are the number one choice if you are looking for a proven and safe method of skin rejuvenation.

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