Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 03, 2020
May Help Protect Against Sun Damage
The antioxidants in vitamin C may help defend against the damage that UV light can cause. That doesn’t mean that you can use a vitamin C skin serum in place of sunscreen. It can’t replace SPF since it doesn’t absorb UVA or UVB rays. But if UV light does get into your skin, some research suggests that vitamin C can help blunt the harm.
Might Lighten Dark Spots
Vitamin C-based skin care products may lighten patches that are darker than the rest of your skin, called hyperpigmentation. In one study, vitamin C applied to the skin for 16 weeks significantly cut down on these spots. But experts say it will take more research to confirm how well vitamin C creams work.
Helps Smooth Wrinkles
Vitamin C is a powerful ingredient in many anti-aging products. Some studies show that it can reduce the appearance of wrinkles when you use it for at least 12 weeks. A healthy diet that’s high in this nutrient might help, too. Research suggests that people who eat more vitamin C have fewer wrinkles. It’s not limited to citrus fruits. Broccoli, red peppers, and spinach are chock full of it, too.
This protein is naturally present in your skin and helps keep it from sagging. But your body slows down collagen production as you age. Vitamin C applied to the skin can encourage new collagen to grow. It also helps maintain the collagen you do have and protects the precious protein from damage.
Vitamin C can help wounds heal more quickly. You could take supplements, get more of the nutrient in your diet, or apply it to your skin. All help close open sores -- especially in people who don’t already get enough of the stuff. The vitamin helps the body produce the collagen necessary to resolve this type of injury.
In one study, vitamin C gel applied to the skin made surgical scars less noticeable. In the experiment that included 80 people, half of them put the vitamin-infused silicon gel on their wound daily for 6 months after their stitches were removed. Afterward, their scars were less visible than those of the people who had not used the product.
Choose L-ascorbic Acid
This form of topical vitamin C is the most active and the most researched. Skin care products sometimes contain other types that aren’t as effective, like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate. Check the label so that you get the kind with the most evidence behind it.
Pick a Potent Product
Look for serums with a concentration of vitamin C between 10% and 20%. Lower than that might not bring the promised benefits, and higher could irritate your skin without bringing any additional value.
Apply After Cleansing
Dab on vitamin C cream or serum after you wash your face and before you apply moisturizing lotion. It could sting or make your skin red at first, but that should go away if you keep using it. Test any new products on a small area before applying them to your whole face.
Be Careful With Combinations
Go easy if you want to use a vitamin C serum along with other acidic skin care products like retinol. Together they could irritate your skin. Consider using them on alternating days rather than at the same time.
Be Smart About Storage
Keep your vitamin C serum away from light and air -- both can hurt the ingredients. Choose a product in a dark-colored container to protect it. Seal the lid tightly and stash it somewhere cool, dark, and dry.
Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables
It’s not all about lotions and serums. The vitamin C in food helps promote healthy skin, too. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, kiwis and strawberries are all packed with the stuff.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: “Vitamin C and Skin Health.”
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Hyperpigmentation.”
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: “Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications.”
Harvard Health Publishing/Harvard Medical School: “Skin Serum: What it Can and Can’t do.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Dietary Nutrient Intakes and Skin-aging Appearance Among Middle-aged American Women.”
Cedars-Sinai: “Collagen for Your Skin: Healthy or Hype?”
Nutrients: “The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health.”
Harvard Health Publishing/Harvard Medical School: “Finding the Right Serum for Your Skin.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Understanding the Ingredients in Skin Care Products.”
Mayo Clinic: “Wrinkle Creams: Your Guide to Younger Looking Skin.”
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.”