What Does Vitamin C Do for the Skin?

With so many skin care products available, it’s hard to make sense of which ones may work best for your skin. One ingredient you might see is vitamin C.

Vitamin C — the same vitamin C found in your citrus fruits — is an antioxidant that the body doesn’t naturally make. Vitamin C can be made synthetically or extracted from foods. Antioxidants are substances that can help delay or slow down damage to cells, both topically and through digestion. This includes the skin, so that means vitamin C can be useful to fight off premature aging, says Dr. Michael Rodriguez, a cosmetic surgeon with Gentera Center for Plastic Surgery in Coral Gables, Florida.

[SEE: What to Know About Botox and Other Cosmetic Procedures.]

Benefits of Vitamin C for Skin Health

Some other skin benefits associated with vitamin C include:

— Repairing aging skin, including wrinkles. It does this by getting absorbed in the skin and neutralizing free radicals that damage the skin and cause signs of aging. Free radicals are unstable molecules in the body that can contribute to aging. The body is exposed to free radicals through ultraviolet rays, also known as UV rays, chemicals and air pollution.

— Evening out skin tone and brightening the complexion.

— Promoting new collagen production, which is a protein that helps make the skin more elastic.

— Reducing acne.

— Working against sun damage because of the way it neutralizes free radicals.

[SEE: Surprising Things that Can Increase Sun Sensitivity.]

Types of Vitamin C for Skin

Among the various skin care products, like cleansers, moisturizers and others, serums are the type most likely to contain vitamin C. Serums are typically used after you clean your face but before moisturizing it. The goal of most serums is to provide the skin with a high concentration of special ingredients, such as vitamin C or hyaluronic acid. Vitamin C may be included in other products, but it’s usually best absorbed via a serum.

Other names for vitamin C in skin products include:

— Ascorbyl glucoside.

— Ascorbyl palmitate.

— L-ascorbic acid.

— Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.

L-ascorbic acid is the purest form of vitamin C in topical products, but it also can be the most irritating. The other forms are gentler on the skin.

Eating foods rich in vitamin C, such as most fruits and vegetables, also will provide the same benefits to your skin, says Dr. Lindsey Bordone, a dermatologist with Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. In fact, eating vitamin C-rich foods is the best way to keep your blood vessels strong so they will deliver vitamin C to the skin, she says. The recommended daily amount of vitamin C is 90 milligrams for men and 75 milligrams for women.

[Read: Sunscreen Recommendations.]

Who Should Use Products With Vitamin C?

A product with vitamin C also can be useful if you live in an area with a high UV index, says Jill Black, a holistic health practitioner, licensed esthetician and founder of Jill Black Holistic in Miami. This means that the area you live in gets a lot of sun.

Although vitamin C is appropriate for most skin types, including dry skin, you’ll want to avoid it if you have sensitive skin. That’s because vitamin C could be irritating for you. This includes patients with eczema, Bordone says.

If you’re unsure if a vitamin C product is right for your face, test a small amount first on your arm to gauge your reaction to it, advises Dr. George Bitar, a plastic surgeon and founder of Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute in Fairfax, Virginia.

3 Tips for Choosing the Right Vitamin C Product

Finding a good vitamin C product doesn’t require shelling out a lot of dough. Still, you want to make sure you’re getting a quality product.

Here are a few tips to help you select the right vitamin C product for you:

Look for a colorless product in a dark bottle. That’s because when a serum with vitamin C is exposed to light, it becomes unstable and will not work properly. “If you have a (vitamin C) product that is yellowing, this is the reason,” Bitar says. Keep the bottle in a dark place at home to avoid exposing it to light.

Pay attention to concentrations. Vitamin C product concentrations can range from less than 1% up to 20% or 30%. The higher concentrations may be irritating to sensitive skin. It’s a good idea to start with concentrations on the lower side first, like 5% or 10%, to see how your skin reacts.

Review other ingredients that are part of the product. Black believes the pairing of vitamin C with vitamin E is a “powerhouse couple” because they both are antioxidants. Another ingredient called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, or THD ascorbate, has lipids that bond to the skin and help reach the skin’s deeper layers, says Rachael Gallo, a licensed esthetician and operations manager with Silver Mirror Facial Bar, with locations in New York City and Washington, D.C. Vitamin C and retinol is another combination that can help fight aging, Gallo says.

How to Use a Vitamin C Skin Product

Most skin care experts advise using vitamin C with your morning skin care routine. This is because you’ll go out and get exposed to UV rays and air pollution. Even if you can’t see them, they can prematurely age you, Black says.

Use your vitamin C product on clean skin before you use a moisturizer. Apply a thin layer, as too much vitamin C can cause flakiness. You can apply a few drops on the face but also your neck and chest. Make sure to use a moisturizer afterwards that has a broad-spectrum SPF so you’re giving your skin better sun protection.

It’s also OK to use a vitamin C serum in the evening before using a moisturizer. A nighttime application can be useful because this is when most of the cell turnover in the skin takes place, Gallo says. Nighttime application also is useful for those using vitamin C for acne, Rodriguez says.

Have some patience while waiting to see a difference in your skin. The amount of time it takes to see a noticeable difference for dark circles or spots varies and could range from three weeks to two months, says Dr. Michael Horn, a Chicago-based plastic surgeon.

While vitamin C skin care products aren’t associated with any major side effects (unless they’re used on sensitive skin), it’s possible to notice some redness and stinging when you first start to use them, Horn says. Those should reduce as your skin builds up a tolerance to your product. If those effects don’t stop after your initial uses, it’s best to stop using the product.

Other Tips to Keep Your Skin Healthy

If you’re focused on finding a product with vitamin C for healthier skin, make sure that you follow other sensible skin care advice. “A product or ingredient can only work to its maximum efficacy if other lifestyle factors are in place,” Horn says. This includes:

— Eating an overall healthy diet (including foods that are high in vitamin C).

— Using an SPF of 30 or higher on your skin.

— Not smoking.

Avoiding too much alcohol. If you choose to drink, the federal government recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

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What Does Vitamin C Do for the Skin? originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 05/17/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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