When was the last time you rolled your eyes at the mention of some new “miracle” product that promised to make you look twenty years younger, fix all of your relationship troubles, and let you eat all the Ferrero Rocher your heart desired without gaining an ounce?
Yeah, we’ve heard it all, too.
So many people in the health and beauty industries make radical claims that it’s hard not to become jaded by all the pomp and glitter that mask empty promises.
Seriously…where’s the scientific data to back up the notion that drinking celery juice will clear up your acne (not that we have anything against celery)?
Before you let out a sigh of cynicism though, we’re here to tell you that an ingredient exists that actually has the scientific heft to make it worth your attention when it comes to your skin health.
And it’s probably in your kitchen right now.
Yep, vitamin C.
While we won’t promise that adding vitamin C to your skin care routine will make you rich and famous, we can tell you that it has numerous benefits that can make a big difference to your skin.
Not Just for the Common Cold
You may have reached for some vitamin C the last time you felt a cold coming on, but this micro-nutrient (which doesn’t actually do a whole lot for your sniffles) plays a more vital role in your overall health than you may realize.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means that it’s a substance that neutralizes free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are unstable and highly reactive. They’re like jilted lovers at a dance wandering around trying to find someone else to hook up with. They move around the body looking to bond with other molecules so that they can become stabilized, causing a lot of damage in the process.
Free radicals occur as a result of some natural processes – like metabolizing our food – or from outside sources like air pollution, hazardous chemicals, and UV radiation from the sun.
In short, they’re everywhere.
The damage caused by free radicals can lead to a number of different diseases and is a major factor in the aging process. In fact, many of the signs of aging that appear on the skin, notably wrinkles and sagging, are caused by oxidative stress (the term for damage caused by free radicals).
The good news is that antioxidants can protect us from oxidative stress because they act to neutralize free radicals. Antioxidants like vitamin C are found in many of the fruits and vegetables we eat, so it’s important to eat a healthy diet.
Ever heard of scurvy? That’s the disease that used to plague sailors when they didn’t get enough vitamin C through their diet. The result is a host of symptoms, including fatigue, bleeding gums, easy bruising, poor wound healing and other skin issues.
Because our bodies don’t naturally make vitamin C, we must get it elsewhere in order to maintain our health, including the health of our skin.
Vitamin C and Skin Health
Vitamin C is essential to skin health because one of its main functions is to regulate collagen synthesis. Collagen is the protein that provides structure to the skin, and we produce less and less of it as we age. Environmental factors, like UV radiation and smoking, can also lead to a decrease in collagen. This decrease leads to the formation of wrinkles as the skin’s structure breaks down.
In addition, vitamin C increases the reproduction of fibroblasts, the cells responsible for secreting collagen and other proteins 1. In lab settings, it has even been shown to aid in repairing fibroblasts’ DNA 2.
Because it is an antioxidant, vitamin C protects the skin from the damage caused by free radicals. By combating oxidative stress, vitamin C can help repair the skin and reduce the signs of aging. It also appears to reduce the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin darkening.
What might that look like for you? Adding vitamin C to your skin care routine can result in:
- An increase in collagen and improved skin structure
- A decrease in fine lines and wrinkles
- Improvement of skin’s overall texture
- Brightening of dark spots
- Possible reduction of inflammatory lesions, such as acne
But is it enough to just eat a bunch of oranges to see these results?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Supplement or Serum?
Theoretically, you could just consume large amounts of vitamin C to reap the anti-aging benefits that it provides for your skin, but it doesn’t really work that way. While it’s good idea to eat foods rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, little of these nutrients will actually reach the outer layers of your skin because there aren’t enough blood vessels in those tissues to deliver them 3.
Therefore, it is important to use a topical application of vitamin C so that your skin can receive this vital nutrient. Serums are the best choice because they are the most effective at delivering vitamin C to the skin. In fact, research suggests that topical vitamin C is more effective at protecting the skin from sun damage than a vitamin C supplement taken orally 4.
However, be aware that there are different forms of vitamin C in skin care products and only one – ascorbic acid (vitamin C’s natural form) – has been shown to effectively penetrate the skin to the deeper layers3. Ideally the formula will have a concentration of 10% – 20% vitamin C; any amount outside that range will result in lower absorption1.
The bottom line: for optimal skin health, make sure you feed your body plenty of vitamin C both internally and externally.
Even better, pair it with vitamin C’s best buddy, vitamin E.
Vitamins C and E: The Dynamic Duo
Vitamin C alone is a powerful ingredient with many benefits for your skin, but it turns out that this antioxidant is even more potent when coupled with vitamin E. Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps skin cells repair themselves from damage caused by free radicals. It is especially helpful in protecting the skin from sun damage, improving the appearance of scars, and moisturizing dry skin.
Scientific studies have established that vitamins C and E used in combination are much more effective at protecting the skin from sun damage than when either vitamin is used alone. They work synergistically to fight free radicals and, when applied topically together, provide superior protection against skin cancer and UV-induced sings of aging4.
That being said, no vitamin C and E formula will ever be a replacement for regular sunscreen, but a good serum containing both of these vitamins can be used under sunscreen for maximum skin protection benefits.
In addition to vitamin E, ferulic acid, an antioxidant that is found in grains, can boost the effectiveness of vitamin C even further. Vitamin C is chemically unstable and reacts with air and light, rendering it ineffective (that’s why a quality vitamin C serum will be packaged in a dark bottle).
The addition of ferulic acid, however, stabilizes the vitamin C while also creating the right acidic environment necessary for maximum absorption into the skin5. In fact, a study showed that the addition of ferulic acid to a solution of vitamins C and E doubled its effectiveness in protecting the skin from sun damage6.
How to Use Vitamin C
As we mentioned above, if you want to reap the benefits of vitamin C, you’ll need to select a serum that contains 10%-20% vitamin C, as well as vitamin E (usually listed as tocopherol) and ferulic acid. Our C E Ferulic+ & Brightening Complex is a good choice because, in addition to these three ingredients (including 20% vitamin C), it also contains vitamin B for extra skin nourishment.
If you’ve read our article on an effective skin care routine, you’ll know that it’s best to apply serums after you’ve cleansed and toned your face, but before you apply any creams. We suggest you use a vitamin C serum in the morning and allow it to dry before applying sunscreen. Vitamin C is known to be very well tolerated by people of all skin types, but it’s always a good idea to test it out first to make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin.
Finally, vitamin C can go bad if it is exposed to too much air and light. You’ll know this has happened if your serum goes from clear to a dark yellow or brown color. You can stave off the breakdown of the serum by keeping the bottle firmly closed and storing it in a cool, dark place.
When it comes to caring for your skin, adding vitamin C to your routine is a no-brainer. This ubiquitous vitamin not only provides noticeable benefits to your skin, it has the science to back it up. Applying a vitamin C serum daily can go a long way toward protecting your skin from sun and other environmental damage. It may not cure the common cold, but it will keep your skin looking youthful and vibrant.