POSTED: 22 Jan 2018


Vitamin C is not only a powerful antioxidant but it is often claimed that it helps stimulate collagen production. In skincare, Vitamin C is used as both a brightening and anti-ageing agent. Yet, there’s much confusion regarding the most active form and concentration. In this post, we’ll investigate the claims around Vitamin C for skincare and separate the fact from fiction.

What Are The Benefits Of Vitamin C For Skin?

First of all Vitamin C is a renowned anti-oxidant. This means that it neutralises free radicals which are created in the skin as a result of oxidative stress. This type of stress occurs primarily as a result of sun damage. Hence, Vitamin C can help guard against sun damage. This does not mean that it can replace sunscreen however and should be used in combination with sunblock.

Vitamin C is frequently used as a brightening agent for skin. This is related to both its anti-oxidant properties and its ability to disrupt pigment production in the skin. So in addition to preventing damage by free radicals, it also helps the skin repair itself from oxidative stress. Hence, sun spots and other patches of hyperpigmentation caused by sun damage are helped to repair by Vitamin C. This gives rise to a more even skin tone which appears brighter. Vitamin C also disrupts melanin forming steps which result in reduced pigment formation. This gives skin a brighter appearance but without being toxic or damaging the pigment-containing cells.

Another skin anti-ageing benefit of Vitamin C is that it stimulates collagen production as well as the creation of better quality collagen. Since collagen is the protein that is responsible for firmness and plumpness in the skin, increase in the production and quality of this protein can smooth out wrinkles and enhance the thickness as well as pliability of the skin.

Increasingly, Vitamin C is being used for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown to inhibit the activation of pro-inflammatory mediators. In skincare, this means that it can help relieve inflammatory conditions such as acne and rosacea. It has also been shown to promote wound healing and reduce post-inflammatory pigmentation using the same mechanism.

How To Use Vitamin C For Skincare

With regards to skincare, beyond having Vitamin C as part of a normal healthy diet, the main benefits are derived from directly applying Vitamin C to the skin. The most important thing to consider is the type of Vitamin C and concentration. This is important because Vitamin C is unstable and hence you need a product that is stable enough on the shelf. It also needs to act on the correct layer of the skin when applied. The other issue is regarding concentration. Vitamin c needs to be high enough strength to act on the skin effectively but not so high that it irritates or burns the skin.

Confusingly, there are many different forms of Vitamin C. The most common of these are ascorbic acid and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. Both ascorbic acid and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate are water-soluble forms of Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is the most popular form of Vitamin C used in skincare as it has the highest potency and absorbed most quickly when applied to the skin. It is, however, less stable and needs to be prepared in a suitable solution to prolong its shelf-life. Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, on the other hand, is more stable and has an affinity for fat which helps it penetrate into the skin more easily. It also helps hydrate the skin and prevent water loss. There are many other forms of Vitamin C such as 3-O ethyl ascorbic acid or Ester-C which are available in a number of skincare products and have been marketed as being more effective and stable. It’s worth keeping an eye out for any future trials that compare these with ascorbic acid or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate for skincare.

According to scientific trials, the effectiveness of Vitamin C is proportional to its concentration up to 20%.  Hence you should see greater benefit from using a higher concentration of Vitamin C but this peaks at 20% concentration. after which, there are greater risks of irritating or damaging skin and no greater benefit. Studies have shown, that the greatest efficacy is achieved by applying a 20% Vitamin C and topping up every 8 hours to keep a steady reserve of Vitamin C on your skin which will potentiate its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.

Best Vitamin C Skincare Products For The Face

Whilst, you can find Vitamin C in the form of serums, creams and skin patches. Only the serums contain the active forms of Vitamin C. Another key point is the preparation of Vitamin C. It has been shown that the anti-oxidant effects of Vitamin C can be potentiated when used in combination with Vitamin E and Ferulic acid (another anti-oxidant). With that being said, here are our top picks of Vitamin C skincare products:

Paula’s Choice Resist Anti-Aging C15 Super Booster

Contains the powerful trio of Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid 15%), Vitamin E and Ferulic acid. Add this to your moisturiser or serum then apply to your skin.

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

We love this serum as it contains ascorbic acid and ferulic acid. What’s more, it builds up a reservoir of Vitamin C on your skin and hence the results are apparent up to 72 hours after you’ve applied it.

Medik8 C E-Tetra Vitamin C Serum

This is an old favorite of ours as it contains a low irritation formula which is great if you are new to Vitamin C or have sensitive skin. It contains Vitamin E and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and has been designed to penetrate the fatty layer of the skin.

Dr Dennis Gross Skincare C + Collagen Perfect Skin Set & Refresh Mist

This spray contains3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid, ascorbic phosphate, collagen as well as a number of humectants. Whilst they say it penetrates makeup, we would recommend reserving this for times when you’re not wearing makeup and looking for a way to refresh your skin during the day or evening with this handy little spray.

If you fancy learning more about skincare and skin health check out these pages on our blog and website:

Retinol as an anti-ageing product

The benefits of hyaluronic acid in skincare

Our ultimate guide to glycolic acid for skincare

Our insider’s guide to chemical peels professionals skincare

How to put together a bespoke skincare routine for your skin type

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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