How Does Vitamin C Work on Your Skin?
Skin Care

How Does Vitamin C Work on Your Skin?

Apr 19, 2022

Vitamin C is one of the few ingredients that can rival hyaluronic acid’s popularity in the beauty industry. Arguably, it’s more popular in healthcare overall. We know about its nutritional value, immune-boosting properties, and how it benefits our bodies in general.

Our skin, however, has a unique relationship to Vitamin C.

What is Vitamin C?

Before we discuss any compound or ingredient, it always helps to define it first 

Also known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient commonly found in fruits, vegetables, and recently 一 skincare serums.

While it doesn’t occur naturally in beauty products, we’ve learned to harness its properties for our skin. Those properties are the subject of countless health studies. But what makes this nutrient different, and how does it work on our skin exactly? 

What is it used for in skincare?

Vitamin C offers a wide range of skincare benefits, from fighting irritation and inflammation to evening skin tone. As potent as it is by itself, it also promotes other vital processes like collagen production and cell regeneration. 

How we consume Vitamin C plays the biggest role in the effects we see. 

Intake: oral

Ingesting Vitamin C, either as a supplement or by eating nutrient-rich foods, is great for overall health. While our digestion system breaks down a lot of it before reaches our skin, our bodies can’t function properly without enough nutrients.

As an immune-booster, Vitamin C helps combat viral and bacterial infections, which can inflame the skin. Studies suggest it can even help lower blood pressure in its acidic form. While it’s not the main cause of premature aging, high blood pressure restricts the flow of oxygen to the skin, with can trigger the signs. 

Skin dries faster when it doesn’t absorb enough oxygen, making wrinkles more prominent. Even a cupful of berries or orange slices supports healthy skin, along with hair, nails, and bones.

Of course, there’s a more direct method.

Intake: topical 

Topicals apply Vitamin C directly to the skin, usually in the form of a tincture or serum. Vitamin C Serums help focus the effects on problem areas. As a concentrate, a serum clings better to the surface, helping the skin absorb more nutrients before they can wash away. 

Since we’re focusing on Vitamin C’s relationship to skincare, most of the benefits listed below will come from topicals, not food.

Skincare benefits of Vitamin C

  • Hydration

Most moisturizers don’t “add” water to the skin, they lock it in. Creams and lotions create a protective barrier that keeps moisture from evaporating on the surface. Vitamin C, on the other hand, sinks into the skin and hydrates from deeper layers.

As a water-soluble acid, it has an easier time penetrating the surface layer of skin, the epidermis.

  • Hyperpigmentation

Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can wreak havoc on the skin. Sun exposure is one of the most common environmental stressors. If we don’t protect our skin, UV rays can lead to hyperpigmentation.

Melanin, the hormone responsible for pigmentation, plays a vital role in protecting our skin from sun damage. While it's a natural shield against sun damage, UV overexposure can trigger an abnormal production of it in the skin. These concentrated “pockets” of melanin appear as uneven skin tones in the mirror.

Vitamin C helps by reducing the presence of tyrosinase, a vital enzyme for melanin production. When applied over a short period, this faded dark spots without affecting normal levels of melanin. 

  • Brighten complexion

Over longer periods, however, Vitamin C can slow down melanin production overall. While this can lead to a duller complexion in some people, it can brighten the skin in others. Note: less melanin means less protection from the sun. 

Using Vitamin C to brighten your complexion will make sunscreen a bigger part of your skincare routine. You’ll need to pay attention to exposure outdoors to avoid further damage.

  • Collagen production

Collagen, along with hyaluronic acid, is responsible for giving skin structure. Sun exposure and aging, in general, slow down collagen production over time, making the skin appear looser and deepening wrinkles. 

Vitamin C doesn’t just boost collagen synthesis, it’s impossible to produce collagen without it.

  • Anti-inflammatory 

Prolonged exposure to sunlight creates free radicals in our skin. These are unstable molecules that cause oxidative stress, a process that can damage skin cells long after we’ve shaded ourselves from the sun.

Nutrients like Vitamin C are the reason fruits are such powerful anti-inflammatories. Vitamin C is rich in antioxidants, the molecules that “stabilize” free radicals and render them harmless.

Topicals are more effective for eliminating free radicals in the skin, which are directly caused by sun damage. It’s one reason why so many sunscreens come with added Vitamin C. If your sunscreen has a cirtusy smell, check the ingredient’s label! 

  • Reducing dark circles

As a powerful moisturizer, Vitamin C keeps the skin hydrated for longer. This creates the healthy, plump appearance we associate with youthful skin. 

The folds around our eyes are constantly creasing, so it's no surprise that wrinkles often form there first. Vitamin C serums can strengthen the eyelid dermis, keeping the skin elastic enough to avoid permanent lines.

As the dermis thickens, it conceals the blood vessels around the eyes, reducing the appearance of dark circles. Generally, it can take up to 6 months to see the full effects, but the results are worth it! 

Risks

Vitamin C is beneficial in healthy amounts, but too much of it at once can create unnecessary health problems. Our bodies can only process so much ascorbic acid in a day. We absorb between 70%-90% of Vitamin C in moderation (30-10 mg/day). At 1 g/day, the absorption rate drops below 50%. 

What we can’t absorb, we flush out, and for good reason.

Too much Vitamin C in our system can lead to side effects like nausea, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, kidney stones. That said, it’s safe to use in recommended amounts. If you want to make the most of Vitamin C for your skincare, remember to apply in moderation!