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The Simple Science Behind Vitamin C

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Not all Vitamin C skincare is created equal. Let’s break down the science into simple bite-sized chunks because it’s important to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from Vitamin C when applying it to your skin and when incorporating Vitamin C rich foods into your diet.

  • 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 which cause free radical damage Vitamin C protects the skin from this oxidative stress by donating electrons to neutralize the free radicals, effectively halting the cascade of damage these destructive molecules cause.

  •  Vitamin C Skin Benefits

    As described above, Vitamin C can produce a number of beneficial effects in the skin including protection from UV damage, boosting collagen production, fading scarring, brightening the complexion, while also reducing hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, redness, breakouts. Let’s take a closer look at each of these benefits and how Vitamin C works.

    Vitamin C and Hyperpigmentation 

    Hyperpigmentation, melasma, or “age spots” are one of the most common skin concerns, especially here in NZ due to our thin ozone layer. Vitamin C can help with the reduction of hyperpigmentation, melasma or “age spots.”. It’s also (in our opinion) one of the best depigmentation agents. There are two key types of depigmentation substances, ones that are toxic to the melanocyte (not ideal) and substances that interrupt the key steps of melanogenesis (ideal). Vitamin C falls into the latter category of depigmenting agents. Vitamin C interrupts the the key steps of melanogenesis by inhibiting melanin production because of its ability to reduce the ortho-quinones generated by tyrosinase. More specifically an interaction with copper ions at the tyrosinase-active site happens, which then inhibits the action of the enzyme tyrosinase, thereby decreasing melanin formation.

    In a 2009 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. That said the clinical effects of Vitamin C may not be as pronounced as other topical chemicals like hydroquinone - a controversial skin bleaching ingredient.

    Vitamin C and Collagen production

    As well as having antioxidant protective benefits to the skin, Vitamin C is essential for collagen production. Collagen is a key structural protein in the skin. It’s responsible for keeping skin firm and strong. An abundance of collagen is found in youthful skin, whereas collagen begins to deplete in ageing skin and as wrinkles begin to form.

    How does the body synthesise collagen?

    Firstly, the precursor “procollagen” is formed by the amino acids glycine and proline. Vitamin C has a key role in the formation of the polypeptide chains which make up procollagen.

    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.

    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.  

    In short, Vitamin C plays several key roles in collagen production. We like collagen because it helps our skin to maintain its structure and stay looking youthful.

    Vitamin C and Photoaging

    Vitamin C limits skin damage caused by UV exposure. That said Vitamin C is not a sunscreen with SPF because 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 by donating electrons to neutralize the free radicals, effectively halting the cascade of damage these destructive molecules cause.

    It’s been widely documented that skin exposure to UV can lower Vitamin C levels in the skin. Meaning it’s important to apply Vitamin C topically along with eating something rich in Vitamin C after exposure to UV light. This will help the skin replenish it’s Vitamin C levels.

    A 2009 study done by Farris et al found a UV protective effect by Vitamin C, where application of 10% Vitamin C showed a statistically significant reduction of UVB induced erythema at a rate of 52% along with sunburn cell formation by 40-60%. Further emphasizing the benefit of post sun topical application of Vitamin C.

    To further understand why topical and dietary forms of Vitamin C are both essential please refer to the section about this below.

    Vitamin C is anti inflammatory

    Vitamin C is a NFkB inhibitor. NFkB (nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells) is a protein which is responsible for the activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines or put simply 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. Furthermore if we then apply this to a number of inflammatory skin conditions like acne vulgaris, rosacea you can see how Vitamin C can have a positive effect to reduce the inflammation associated with these conditions.

    Now that you know all about the benefits of Vitamin C and the incredible things it can do for your skin it’s important to know about how to incorporate it into your skincare routine and diet. It’s also important to know that not all Vitamin C is created equal. So how do you know you’re getting the maximum benefits of Vitamin C?? Read on to find out!

  • Stability vs Bioavailability Vitamin C trade off

  • Above we’ve highlighted some pretty incredible benefits Vitamin C can provide to the skin like collagen production, photoprotection along with reduction of hyperpigmentation and an anti inflammatory response. However, the benefits of Vitamin C cannot be achieved if you’re using a form which is not bioavailable to the skin.

    Bioavailability to the skin is the ability for your skin to utilise Vitamin C to produce the desired benefits above. There appears to be a trade off between Vitamin C stability in a skincare formulation and bioavailability to the skin. It’s commonly observed that new forms of Vitamin C (vitamin c derivatives) are synthesised in the lab and created to be stable in a formulation. However when applied to the skin the Vitamin C derivative must change back to ascorbic acid before it can be bioavailable to the skin. For example the addition of a phosphate group can increase Vitamin C stability - creating a new and more stable synthetic form of Vitamin C however it’s bioavailability to the skin is limited.  

    That said, recent studies suggest encapsulation into a lipospheric form may be a game changer - by assisting with transport into the lower layers of the epidermis and could result in increased uptake. That said this technology uses synthetic chemicals and is therefore unavailable in Tailor Skincare products. 

    On the flip side natural Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is widely considered as the most bioavailable form of Vitamin C. However it’s famous for its instability in skincare formulations. This video by the Australian Institute of Personal Care Science highlights the instability of Ascorbic Acid by using heat and light as variables.  

    So here at Tailor Skincare we took it upon ourselves to create a product which would harness the benefits of Vitamin C in the form of naturally derived ascorbic acid and Tailor Gold Dust was created. Now it’s not as simple as rubbing Vitamin C powder on your face to get the desired benefit. Gold Dust is a high maintenance product for our customers out there who want to take their skincare routine to the next level.

    Having Vitamin C in dry crystal form is the first step to unlocking the bioavailability of ascorbic acid. However there are a couple of other things which need to happen along side this for your skin to benefit from this powerful antioxidant and this is because of the way your epidermis is structured.

    PH plays a role in Vitamin C bioavailability to the skin

    Ascorbic acid must be formulated at a pH level of 3.5 to enter the skin. This does mean that applying pure Vitamin C is not for anyone with sensitive skin as the material can tingle upon application.  

    Oils assist with Vitamin C absorption into the skin

    Topical delivery of Vitamin C into the skin is complicated because of the lipophilic (oil loving) nature of the outer epidermal layers. Vitamin C is a hydrophilic material meaning it has an affinity for water. According to Belinda Carli, Director of the Institute of personal care science Vitamin C “being coated in a lipophilic substance will actually help with epidermal delivery.” Therefore, in order to penetrate into the skin it’s important to pair Vitamin C with an oil loving material or skincare formulation containing oils or oil loving materials.  

    Vitamin E & C synergy 

    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. But 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 absorption of Vitamin C

    OK so now that we know that Vitamin C must be topically applied at a pH of 3.5 in a lipophilic medium and with the presence of Vitamin E to help with collagen synthesis. We need to outline how deep the effects of topical Vitamin C will reach. Because Vitamin C when applied to the skin can only penetrate so far. Meaning, to get the maximum benefits of Vitamin C it’s important to include dietary sources too.

    Why is Topical Vitamin C important?

    The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin as shown in figure 1 below. As you can see the epidermis is separated by the dermo-epidermal junction. You will also see the dermis below this with a healthy blood supply from smaller capillaries fed from the larger blood vessels in the hypodermis.  

    Figure 1. 

    Topical application of Vitamin C is important because the epidermis does not have a reliable blood supply. Therefore it’s unlikely that dietary forms of Vitamin C will reach the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). This is why topical application of Vitamin C is so important and widely favoured in dermatology practices.  

    Why is Dietary Vitamin C important?

    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.  

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  • The human body can’t make Vitamin C
  • Furthermore, the human body cannot make ascorbic acid like many plants and animals can. Because we lack the essential enzyme L-glucono-gamma lactone oxidase, which is responsible for converting glucose into Vitamin C.  Therefore making dietary sources of Vitamin C fundamental not only for skin health but for general health.

    Which foods are rich in Vitamin C?

    Food Item Vitamin C (mg)
    1 red capsicum 240
    1 grapefruit 94
    1 kiwifruit 85
    10 strawberries 50
    1 orange 46
    1 boiled kumara 30
    1 tomato 30
    1 cup boiled silverbeet 27

    Which foods are rich in Vitamin E?

    Food Item Vitamin E (mg)
    Half Avocado                                                     1.6
    1 tablespoon Canola Oil                                           1.9
    1 tablespoon Sunflower Oil                                6
    10 almonds                                    3.1
    5 walnuts                                         3.8
    1 tablespoon sunflower seeds                                 5.7

  • Top Tips for adding Vitamin C into your Skincare routine

  • OK so by now your brain will be full to the brim about the benefits of Vitamin C and about it’s unstable and high maintenance nature. So to help you incorporate Vitamin C into your skincare routine so you can receive the benefits of this powerful antioxidant here are my top tips:

    1. Apply Vitamin C to the skin after sun exposure to help replenish your skin’s Vitamin C levels.
    2. Apply pure Vitamin C to the skin in the form of ascorbic acid at a pH of 3.5
    3. Mix Vitamin C with a water and oil based cream or serum the immediately apply to the skin
    4. Look for water and oil based creams and serums which contain Vitamin E to boost the efficacy.
    5. 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.
    6. Download our eBook with tonnes of healthy recipes with skin loving ingredients.

    Need help picking the right products for your skin? Start your free skincare consultation right here!


    Reference List

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/ https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C https://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2009/5/Revitalizing-Aging-Skin-with-Topical-Vitamin-C/Page-01

    https://personalcarescience.com.au/adm/index.aspx?sec_ID=692 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19298775 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18973801 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12522365 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23652896 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22206077 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4687614/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11207686/ https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C https://nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/vitamins/vitamin-e https://nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/vitamins/Vitamin-C https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/glossary#hydroxylation