While vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in our skin, we are unable to produce this naturally, thanks to a centuries-old mutation,. Even eating a vitamin-rich diet, which includes leafy greens and citrus fruits, can only do so much. That’s because vitamin C is water-soluble, and doesn’t stay in the body for long. It needs to be replenished on a regular basis.
Worse still, research has shown that oral ingestion of vitamin C isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Its absorption in the small intestine is limited, which means that its bioavailability is inadequate. The best way to combat this is to apply vitamin C topically. This is 20 times more effective than ingesting vitamin C orally, a statistic that really accounts for the rise in popularity of vitamin C skincare products.
Types And Variants Of Vitamin C
Several different types of vitamin C are used in skin care formulations.
L-ascorbic acid is the most bioavailable and most studied form of vitamin C. It is hydrophilic (water-based), a trait that means it may struggle to penetrate the skin despite its small molecular structure and weight. That said, it can make its way down to the dermis (the skin’s middle layer) if it is featured in a skincare formulation with a PH of below 3.5. In a lower PH formulation Vit C is more stable and much more readily absorbed. Absorption is also increased by encapsulating L-ascorbic acid in lipid molecules. However, the low PH can make it unsuitable for sensitive skin.
Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is a gentler, water soluble form of Vitamin C. Although it is similar in molecular weight to L-Ascorbic Acid it is a more stable form of the active.
Sodium ascorbyl phosphate and Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate are derivative forms of Vit C, the human body is able to metabolise these to L-Ascorbic Acid. They are more stable and less irritating forms of the active.
How Vitamin C Skincare Can Benefit You
First and foremost, vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to fight free radical damage. Its water-soluble nature helps it to protect the aqueous or water compartments of human cells. These attributes are bolstered when vitamin C comes into contact with glutathione – otherwise known as the “master antioxidant”.
When used in sunscreens, it is extremely useful in the battle against UV and environmental damage.
Vitamin C plays an important role in collagen production and synthesis. Collagen is the protein that keeps our skin taut, firm and supple, but will experience a natural decline as we get older. Vitamin C is not only valuable in the production of collagen type 1 and type 3, but it also inhibits the breakdown of healthy collagen by stimulating matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzyme activity.
Vitamin C can also address pigmentation irregularities by hindering the production of tyrosine – a key enzyme in the creation of melanin – and inhibiting the inflammatory pathways that lead to rosacea, acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It is essential to the proper functioning of the immune system.
Yes, this is a micronutrient that really can do it all!
Things To Look For When Buying Topical Vitamin C
As mentioned above, vitamin C serums and formulations are inherently unstable. When exposed to air or light, L-Ascorbic Acid oxidises and turns orange or brown in colour. Vitamin C skincare products should therefore be packaged appropriately to stop this from happening. An amber bottle will help to protect the vitamin C product from exposure to light. Remember, your vitamin C should be clear to straw-coloured. If it isn’t, it may not be as effective.
Vit C is most effective with the addition of other anti-oxidants such as vitamin E, Ferulic acid and Vitamin B. These substances work in partnership to both stabilise vitamin C and improve its efficacy, making it better tolerated by sensitive skin.
Another point to look out for when choosing a formulation for sensitive skin is that formulations that are closer to the PH of the skin are less irritating for sensitive skin.
In terms of strength, you should probably select a product with a concentration higher than 8%. Anything above 20% is regarded as being just as effective as those in the 10-20% category, and may even cause unnecessary skin irritation.
How To Integrate Vitamin C Into Your Skincare Routine
In my opinion, the best time to use a vitamin C product is in serum form. Application should take place during the day, before moisturising and after cleansing, to make the most of its free radical-combatting properties and to increase sun protection.
As vitamin C and retinol (vitamin A) don’t tend to mix well, I’d advise using vitamin C in the day and retinol at night. Retinol can have an impact on the skin’s ability to absorb vitamin C and may even make it unstable.
There are many vitamin C products on the market, but those with a higher price point will generally indicate that the brand has spent more time and effort on research, trials and studies to put together a stable and effective formulation.
I stock several different vitamin C product options on my webshop, so please click here to explore these in further detail. If you have any other questions, please contact me directly. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.