The importance of Vitamin C in the fight against colds is familiar to many of us, but did you know that Vitamin C can be amazing for your skin too? Dr Dami gives us the lowdown on the benefits of incorporating it in our health regime.
What comes to mind when you think of Vitamin C? Do citrus fruits such as oranges, clementines and lemons come to mind, or do you recall ancient stories of sailors who suffered bleeding gums as a result of scurvy? Whatever the case, in addition to these, Vitamin C is also essential to having healthy skin.
Our bodies are not able to produce Vitamin C which is why we depend on external sources such as the foods mentioned above. Despite eating all of these foods, only a tiny amount actually gets to our skin. As a result, research has shown that applying Vitamin C directly to our skin can provide some benefit.
So, what are some of these benefits?
- Antioxidant: Vitamin C is a crucial antioxidant in fighting off harmful ‘free radicals’ which are released when the UV rays from the sun come into contact with our skin. If left unchecked these free radicals can cause a lot of damage to the skin. Unfortunately, UV rays also deplete the little Vitamin C we have in our skin, hence the importance of using serums containing vitamin C to replenish what is lost.
- Anti-aging: Vitamin C helps to stimulate the production and simultaneously prevent the breakdown of collagen. This is the scaffolding material in our skin that helps keep it taut instead of saggy. By keeping our skin taut, the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles are reduced.
- Sun Protection: Vitamin C may not absorb the UV rays from the sun like sunscreen does, however, it protects the skin from the damaging effects of the UV rays such as redness, sunburn and production of the destructive ‘free radicals’ mentioned earlier. This effect is four times more obvious when Vitamin C is combined with Vitamin E and eight times more obvious when the two are combined with ferulic acid.
- Anti-inflammatory: Vitamin C helps with inflammation associated with various skin conditions such as acne. It does this by reducing NFKB, a substance in the skin, known to drive the inflammatory process.
- Brightening: Unlike many harmful products which kill off the cells that make melanin, Vitamin C helps to prevent the formation of melanin from these cells without killing them. This is very helpful when trying the treat dark spots left behind from acne or skin darkening conditions such as melasma.
Did you know that there are many types of Vitamin C formulations on the market?
This area can be a bit of a minefield so we’ve tried to highlight the most important ones.
L-ascorbic acid or L-A-A is the active and most researched form of Vitamin C from which we get most of these claims. By default, this makes it the Gold standard by which other formulations are compared to. Despite its efficacy, it is a very unstable molecule and is converted to less active forms when exposed to air, light or heat. As such product packaging is everything! You really want your L-A-A to be packaged in an air tight, darkly coloured pump to get the best of it. However, this is not always possible. It is therefore recommended to wrap your sample in aluminium foil (if it doesn’t already come in a darkly coloured container) and to store it in the fridge. This helps to increase its longevity as it is devoid of heat and some degree of light.
Furthermore, concentrations greater than 20% of L-A-A and a pH >3.5 will reduce penetration of the Vitamin C product into skin. That said, some good L-A-A products include Timeless CE Ferulic, La roche-posay redermic C10, Paula’s choice RESIST C15 super booster, Skinceuticals CE Ferulic and Skinceuticals Phloretin CF.
To overcome this barrier of stability, other stable forms of Vitamin C have been produced. Some of these substances penetrate the skin more readily however still need to be broken down to the active form (L-A-A) in order to work. The main problem with this is we don’t know exactly how much of the active ingredient we are getting. On the plus side, these stable forms may provide a suitable alternative as pure L-A-A may be too irritant for some skin types given its acidity. Examples of these stable forms include:
- Ascorbyl-6-palmitate – e.g Perricone MD Vitamin C ester 15%
- Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate – e.g the Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
- Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate – e.g Medik8 C-Tetra
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate – most stable form e.g the Ordinary Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 10%
- Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
- Ascorbyl glucoside – e.g. the ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12%
Finally, my golden rule of thumb is to always look at the ingredient list of any product claiming to contain Vitamin C. If the Vitamin C ingredient is listed as one of the first five ingredients then this is a good sign. If, however it is listed much further down, I would advise that you save your money and get something else because, in my opinion, such a concentration would likely be too little to have any real effect.