We're guessing there is a good chance you've heard vitamin C recommended as a must-have ingredient in your skin care routine. Throughout the past five years, vitamin C has held skin care "ingredient du jour" status in women's magazines and among many beauty influencers, making it likely that you're already using products that feature vitamin C. But for those who don't know much about this ingredient or what it does, allow us a few minutes to explain the benefits of vitamin C and how it can help your skin.
Vitamin C 101
Vitamin C has long been recognized as beneficial to our general health but it has important benefits that are specific to our skin. As a potent antioxidant, it helps to neutralize free radicals that are caused by oxidative stress in the body and threaten to damage our cells. (Oxidative stress can occur due to natural factors inside the body, as well as external factors, such as exposure to UV rays, cigarette smoke, air pollution and more.) Given that free radicals contribute to the onset of certain diseases and encourage the characteristics associated with skin aging, the antioxidant features alone makes vitamin C an attractive addition to your skin care regimen. However, there's more. Vitamin C also helps to boost collagen production and decreases its degradation, helping skin to appear firmer and plumper, and interrupts melanin synthesis, giving it the ability to reduce discoloration in hyperpigmented areas of skin. Research also suggests that vitamin C may encourage the skin's ability to protect itself from moisture loss.
Thus, you can look at vitamin C as packing a four-way punch:
- Vitamin C can help protect skin from signs of aging by fighting free radicals
- It has anti-aging qualities, including diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen production
- It brightens and evens out skin tone by addressing hyperpigmentation (dark spots) that is often caused by sun exposure
- It helps to minimize the potential for dryness
It's quite an impressive list of benefits from one ingredient and makes a pretty convincing argument for the regular use of vitamin C products in your skin care regimen!
Getting Vitamin C to the Skin
While we often think of vitamins as a consumable tablet, in skin care applications, topical vitamin C is typically used. The skin certainly benefits from a vitamin C supplement (and an antioxidant-rich diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables) but to achieve the benefits outlined above, we want a concentrated dose of the vitamin to reach the skin directly.
The challenge in using vitamin C topically is that it must be absorbed into the skin before it can have an impact. The stratum corneum - the outermost layer of our skin that is comprised of dead skin cells and lipids - is a naturally water-resistant barrier that keeps bad things out of our bodies while holding in moisture. As Lexli founder, Dr. Ahmed Abdullah explains, "if our stratum corneum weren't water-resistant, our skin would inflate when swimming!" Because of this fact, skin care products must be formulated in a manner that can penetrate the stratum corneum or they will simply sit on the skin's surface, offering no improvement. Additionally, vitamin C becomes less potent when exposed to oxygen or exposed to light so it must be packaged in a manner that maintains its stability. For both of these reasons, vitamin C is today often encapsulated into nanoparticles that protect it from exposure and allow it to be transported across the stratum corneum. These nanoparticles are then placed into serums or creams and sold in bottles or jars that do not allow light to enter.
Forms of Vitamin C
Vitamin C's main form is ascorbic acid, which often appears on labels as L-ascorbic acid. This is the most popular form used in skin care products and the most biologically active. In fact, skin care studies that demonstrate the vitamin C benefits outlined above typically use this form, so it's a safe bet. However, some individuals may be sensitive to it and could experience skin irritation. For this reason, derivatives of vitamin C, which may be gentler, are often used. These forms of vitamin C convert to L-ascorbic acid in the body but do so at varying levels of efficiency. Because of that, if you can tolerate ascorbic acid, we recommend using it. If it's too much for your skin or if you consider yourself to have sensitive skin, try a derivative of vitamin C, including:
- Ascorbyl palmitate
- Calcium ascorbate
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
- Sodium ascorbate
How to Use Vitamin C
Because vitamin C serums or creams can help to protect against sun damage, we recommend incorporating them into your morning skin care routine, immediately after cleansing your skin and before applying moisturizer. However, it's important to note that vitamin C will not protect your skin from sunburn. Therefore, it is still vital to apply sunscreen as your final morning skin care step.
Vitamin C serums are beneficial because of their lightweight, readily absorbed nature, which makes it easy to layer additional skin care products on top. However, vitamin C can readily be found incorporated into skin care products with other uses, such as exfoliators and moisturizers, which can make your skin care regimen even easier and more cost-effective. Regardless of the product you choose, it's wise to do a bit of research to know the form of vitamin C that is used in the product and to understand the delivery system it utilizes, while evaluating the packaging to ensure it doesn't let light in.
Finally, it's just as important to properly store your vitamin C skin care products to ensure they maintain optimal efficacy and potency. Always store them in a cool, dark location and completely close the jar or bottle after every use. You can expect vitamin C serum and cream to have a shelf life of 3-6 months after opening. However, we're hopeful your product won't last that long. After all, you'll only notice the benefits of vitamin C in skin if you use the product regularly.