Vitamin C For the Skin: What Does it Do?

We all know the old adage that vitamin C helps to boost your immune system which has many of us reaching for it when we feel a cold coming on. In fact, the overall health benefits of vitamin C for your body are some of its most widely recognized and understood traits. But in recent years it has started to garner a new reputation as a powerful skin care ingredient prompting stores to line their shelves, both physically and digitally, with products that boast its prominence on their ingredient lists.
But what does vitamin C do for your skin? It is a question we commonly hear from our customers in and out of the clinic. As with many premium skin care ingredients, it seems to have risen in popularity without much explanation or education on its uses, which is a shame given the variety of skin concerns topical vitamin C application can help address.
The Benefits of Vitamin C on Skin
As a powerful ingredient for our body’s health, it is no wonder why vitamin C can provide so many benefits as a skincare ingredient as well. We sat down with our very own Kate Somerville skincare expert Kelly Viavattine, esthetician to the stars, to learn why vitamin C is touted as such a miracle ingredient.
Protects Against Free Radicals
First and foremost, vitamin C “helps protect your cells against harmful free radicals,” says Kelly. Free radicals are destructive molecules which are created as a result of exposure to certain environmental pollutants such as smog, dust, cigarette smoke, and the sun [1]. These molecules can wreak havoc on our skin in the form of skin discoloration, loss of volume and decreased resiliency. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C, however, help to neutralize these molecules on the skin and minimize their visible effects. This singular benefit supports all of the other advantages of vitamin C.
Brightens & Evens Skin Tone
As a gentle and natural acid, vitamin C also works as a light exfoliant which can help smooth away layers of dead skin cells and helps with uneven skin tone. With frequent and consistent use, this can help to soften the appearance of dark spots or discoloration such as hyperpigmentation revealing brighter and more even skin.
Aids UV Photodamage Prevention
Even with regular sunscreen – and we do hope you are using it every day – ultraviolet (UV) photodamage is possible. Vitamin C on the skin can help to strengthen the skin and minimize the damage done by harmful rays from sun exposure. Even so, vitamin C is not a sunscreen and should not be treated like one, though it is a great addition to your daily UV-fighting routine.
Reduce Redness
Vitamin C as a skin care product is a powerful antioxidant that can help to reduce redness and inflammation in the skin. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, topical vitamin C was found to be effective in reducing redness and improving overall skin tone when incorporated into a skin care routine [2].
Vitamin C for the Skin
You may think you know vitamin C and that it would be easy enough to find on your product labels but, in reality, there are several different forms this powerhouse ingredient may take.
The most commonly used form of vitamin C in skincare is known as ascorbic acid as it has the highest potency when applied topically [3] and absorbs into the skin quickly. Our Mega C Vitamin C Brightening Facial is formulated with this key ingredient and is our most potent yet stable Vitamin C product that delivers brighter, more even looking skin fast.
Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) is another commonly seen derivative of vitamin C which is water-soluble, making it more effective in lower concentrations. If you see either of these listed on a product label, you are purchasing a true vitamin C skin care product.
However, the type of vitamin C you choose to purchase is not the only factor to consider when seeking out products. Unfortunately, vitamin C is a temperamental active ingredient that can destabilize quickly when it comes into contact with the air and sunlight. To avoid wasting your money on a product that will quickly become ineffective, you will need to keep an eye out for a few things. First, look for a stabilizing ingredient alongside vitamin C. Vitamin E and ferulic acid are some of the most commonly seen ingredients used for this purpose [4] while also providing their own list of benefits to the skin. For example, vitamin E can help to further protect against and limit the damage of harmful free radicals [5] while ferulic acid can help enhance vitamin C’s defense against sun exposure and UV light.
These ingredients can be found in everything from cleansers and masks to moisturizers and serums. In some cases, such as with Kate Somerville’s +Retinol Vita C Power Serum, you may even see vitamin C combined with other powerful ingredients to create a more effective treatment that can address multiple skin concerns at once.
In addition to the ingredients, pay close attention to the actual packaging of the product you are purchasing. Opaque glass or plastic containers will ensure that sunlight does not negatively impact the ingredient while a pump or other air-restrictive device can help to limit the vitamin’s exposure to oxygen.
Thankfully, vitamin C is usually a safe ingredient for all skin types – though you can never say for certain as every individual’s skin is unique and may react differently. If you have sensitive skin, in particular, try utilizing a formula without a lot of added ingredients so you can monitor your skin’s response to vitamin C specifically. Each derivative of vitamin C may interact differently with your unique skin type, so if you experience any adverse reactions, try switching to a different form.
Potential Risk and Side Effects
However, it is important to note that high concentrations of vitamin C may cause irritation and redness, especially for those with sensitive skin. It is always best to patch-test the product before incorporating it into one’s skin care routine and consult with a dermatologist if you experience any adverse reactions [8].
Adding Vitamin C to Your Skincare Routine
Even though vitamin C has a lot of benefits on its own, it is most effective when used as part of a regular skincare regimen. Incorporating certain products prior to your vitamin C usage can help prepare your skin while following with additional steps may help enhance its benefits. Here is one of the best ways to add vitamin C into your routine effectively.
1.) Cleanse
Using a gentle foaming wash will help remove excess dirt, oil, makeup, and other debris from the surface of your skin which allows accompanying products to readily access your skin.
2.) Toner
Designed to slough away any remaining residue left from your cleanser or water, applying a toner is a quick and easy step that will ensure your face is in its cleanest state possible.
3.) Exfoliate
A few times each week you will want to exfoliate to remove the top few layers of dead skin on your face. Doing so helps to open up your pores and allows your vitamin C product to penetrate deeper in the skin, making it more effective.
4.) Serum
 A serum will provide the highest concentration of vitamin C and deliver maximum benefits. If you have multiple skin concerns, look for a product like our +Retinol Vita C Power Serum, which is formulated with two ingredients: retinol and vitamin C, that can combat the visible signs of aging while evening and brightening your skin tone.
5.) Moisturize
Finish things off with an extra dose of hydration for your skin. Unfortunately, many women think their skin is oily and not in need of moisturizer but any excess oil may be the result of dry skin. Ensuring your skin is hydrated will give you a youthful complexion and skin that is soft to the touch.
It may seem simple enough but the order in which you layer your product can impact their effectiveness. So though you can customize your routine to fit your needs and desires, try to stick to something resembling this order.
How often to use a Topical Vitamin C?
It is recommended to use topical vitamin C once daily, preferably in the morning, to help protect against environmental damage, boost collagen production and promote healthy skin [7].
Combining Vitamin C Skincare Products with Other Ingredients
A rising trend in the world of skincare is the mixing of ingredients or products. In addition to helping you customize your skincare routine to better fit your exact needs, it may also be more budget conscious and effective. For example, layering or combining a vitamin C serum with a peptide product, such as the Kx Active Concentrate Bio-Mimicking Peptide Serum, can address multiple skin concerns as the vitamin C works to brighten your complexion and the peptides offer other anti-aging effects. Retinol is another ingredient that pairs well with vitamin C to refresh dull, tired skin and help you achieve a visibly firmer, brighter and more youthful complexion.
However, you must also use caution with skincare cocktailing as some ingredients can cause skin irritation and redness. Niacinamide, for example, is a derivative of vitamin B3 and is commonly used in skincare to treat irritation but, when combined with vitamin C turns into niacin which can cause inflammation and other unpleasant side effects. Learn more about the benefits of mixing skincare ingredients and how to do it.
What does vitamin C do to your skin? Well, a lot! As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C protects your skin from otherwise damaging free radicals while helping to soften the appearance of some signs of aging such as fine lines or wrinkles. It also works wonders for brightening and evening your skin tone, improving the look of skin elasticity, and helping to prevent sun damage. That is a long and varied list of benefits for a single ingredient! It is no wonder why so many women tout it as a miracle worker in skincare products.
Ready to achieve youthful skin and a glowing complexion? Shop our complete line of vitamin C products from Kate Somerville today.

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