Not all Vitamin C skincare is created equal.
We’ve broken the science into 10 bite-sized chunks so you can ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from Vitamin C when applying it to your skin and incorporating it into your diet.
Chemistry not your forte? Don’t worry- check the sidebar notes for some quick definitions and explanations.
WHAT IS VITAMIN C?
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant found in abundance in the human skin. It helps to protect the skin from UV damage, boost collagen production, fade scarring, brighten the complexion, while also reducing hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, redness and breakouts. It’s part of a synergistic group of chemicals that exist to protect the skin from free radical damage and premature ageing. When the skin is exposed to UV light, pollution, toxins and other stressors, Vitamin C protects the skin from oxidative stress. It does this by donating electrons to neutralise free radicals, effectively halting the cascade of damage these destructive molecules cause.
SIDEBAR: Free radical? Unstable atom, molecule or ion that bounces around the body looking for atoms to bond with. Enter: antioxidants. Antioxidants bond with free radicals and stop them from causing harm.
Vitamin C fights HYPERPIGMENTATION
- Melanocyte: Melanin-producing cells
- Melanogenesis: When melanocytes produce melanin
- Tyrosinase: Speeds up the production of melanin
- Melanin: A natural pigment responsible for giving skin and hair its colour
In a study done by Hwang et al using Ascorbic Acid at 25%, a significant decrease in hyperpigmentation caused by melasma was reported after 16 weeks of topical Vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid) application. However, the clinical effects of Vitamin C may not be as pronounced as other topical chemicals like hydroquinone - a controversial skin bleaching ingredient.
Melasma? Skin condition in which brown patches appear on the face.
ABOVE: Results of using Gold Dust and Moisture over four weeks.
Method: use week on, week off.
Vitamin C promotes COLLAGEN production
Vitamin C has also been reported to assist with collagen stability via an interaction with enzymes prolysyl and lysyl hydroxylase, this is also referred to as the hydroxylation of collagen, and this process increases extracellular stability and support of the epidermis.
SIDEBAR: Importance of collagen stability? Stable collagen is less likely to be destroyed by environmental stressors. Keeping your skin looking more youthful for longer. Lastly, Vitamin C helps to turn on collagen gene expression. This was observed in a 2009 study by Duarte et al where Vitamin C played a key role in the stimulation of DNA repair in cultured fibroblasts.
What is PHOTOAGING?
Photoaging is damage caused to the sun by UV exposure. Vitamin C limits the damage but shouldn’t be confused with SPF in sunscreen as it doesn’t absorb or reflect UVA or UVB rays away from the skin. It protects the skin from photoageing using an antioxidant mechanism to neutralise free radicals. When the skin is exposed to UV light, pollution, toxins and other stressors which cause free radical damage, Vitamin C protects the skin from this oxidative stress. Vitamin C donates electrons to neutralise the free radicals, effectively halting the cascade of damage these destructive molecules cause.SIDEBAR:
UVA: Ultraviolet rays that play a big role in premature aging
UVB: Ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn
Vitamin C reduces INFLAMMATION
Vitamin C is a NFkB inhibitor. NFkB (nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells) is a protein responsible for the activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This protein plays a key role in causing inflammation. Vitamin C is a NFkB inhibitor, which means it plays a key role in the inhibition of inflammation in the body and skin. This is important for inflammatory skin conditions like acne vulgaris and rosacea. Vitamin C can have a positive effect to reduce the inflammation associated with these conditions.
STABILITY VS. BIOAVAILABILITY
One lipophilic antioxidant worth noting is Vitamin E. As discussed above it’s important to pair Vitamin C with a lipophilic material to increase absorption into the skin. Why not pair it with the best possible material?
Vitamin E has been found to work synergistically with Vitamin C to help with cell regeneration (collagen production) and photoprotection! Both antioxidants work in their respective hydrophilic and lipophilic compartments of the cell to limit UV damage and reduce cell apoptosis (cell death). TOPICAL VS. DIETARY
Topical Vitamin C can only penetrate so far, so in order to get the maximum benefits of Vitamin C it’s important to include dietary sources too.
Topical Vitamin C is important because the epidermis does not have a reliable blood supply, making it unlikely that dietary forms of Vitamin C will reach the epidermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin as shown in figure 1 below. The epidermis is separated by the dermo-epidermal junction. The dermis below has a healthy blood supply from smaller capillaries fed from the larger blood vessels in the hypodermis.Similarly, including foods rich in Vitamin C into your diet is very important because it’s unlikely that topically applied Vitamin C will make its way past the epidermal layers and into the dermis. As explained above, the dermis has a reliable blood supply therefore it has access to dietary nutrients carried into the skin from the blood.
The human body cannot make ascorbic acid like many plants and animals can. We lack an essential enzyme (L-glucono-gamma lactone oxidase) which is responsible for converting glucose into Vitamin C. Dietary sources of Vitamin C are fundamental not only for skin health but for general health. VITAMIN C & E RICH FOODS
TOP TIPS For Vitamin C in Skincare:
- Apply Vitamin C to the skin after sun exposure to help replenish your skin’s Vitamin C levels.
- Apply pure Vitamin C to the skin in the form of ascorbic acid at a pH of 3.5
- Mix Vitamin C with a water & oil based cream or serum and immediately apply to the skin
- Look for water and oil based creams and serums which contain Vitamin E to boost the efficiency.
- Take an internal and external approach to your skincare routine by applying Vitamin C & E topically and adding foods rich in these vitamins to your diet.