If you have your head in the skin care game, you’ve likely heard of vitamin C serums.
Vitamin C is touted as one of the best ingredients on the market for pro-aging support — and the key to maintaining a smooth, even, and glowing complexion.
Although you’re probably getting vitamin C in your diet, there’s no way to guarantee it’s going straight to your skin. Using serums and other topical products is the most direct way to reap these benefits.
There are plenty of benefits to using vitamin C on your skin. Vitamin C—also known as ascorbic acid—is a water-soluble nutrient that plays an important role in keeping your skin healthy. Topical vitamin C is clinically proven to have a wide range of clinical applications thanks to its antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-pigmentation properties.
For example, vitamin C:
- is safe for most skin types
- provides hydration
- can brighten your skin
- can reduce redness
- can reduce hyperpigmentation
- can reduce the appearance of under-eye circles
- promotes collagen production
- may help prevent sagging
- may protect against sun damage
- may soothe sunburns
- may help wound healing
- Make collagen, used to keep skin youthful and plump
- Heal wounds
- Maintain and repair damaged skin and cartilage
- Diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Brighten up complexion, reduce redness
- Even skin tone
- Reduce the appearance of dark spots
- Prevent premature aging
Vitamin C is one of the most well-researched skin care ingredients. When you’re young, levels of this powerful antioxidant in the skin are abundant, but they naturally deplete as you age.
Vitamin C skincare products such as serums and moisturizers can help supplement, leading to skin that feels firmer and has a brighter, more even complexion.
Researchers have discovered that when it comes to healthy skin, topical vitamin C is significantly more effective than consuming it.1
Adding Vitamin C to your skin care routine can not only brighten your complexion but also protect against skin damage caused by sun exposure and harmful free radicals. This potent antioxidant is commonly used in face cleansers, serums, oils, and moisturizers.
Benefits of Vitamin C for Skin Care
Vitamin C has many benefits for the skin, including the potential to:
Reduce Under eye Circles
When you notice dark circles under your eyes after a night or two of bad sleep, you’re actually seeing a network of blood vessels just under the skin.
In a small clinical study, researchers observed that vitamin C helps reduce and prevent dark circles under the eyes by strengthening the otherwise thin, delicate skin under the eyes. Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties make skin more elastic and resilient, helping conceal the blood vessels underneath.2
Vitamin C is absolutely essential for producing collagen in the body. Collagen is the building block of skin, hair, muscles, and tendons, and it is what keeps our skin looking youthful and smooth.3 As we age, collagen production slows down, which may lead to sagging skin.
When applied topically, vitamin C accelerates the production of both collagen and elastin, which help keep the skin plump and firm. Topical vitamin C can help prevent premature aging of the skin, restoring a youthful, smooth appearance to the skin.
Hyperpigmentation—a common condition characterized by the development of darker spots on the skin—is most often caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and environmental stresses. Although harmless, hyperpigmentation can make you appear older.
One study found that vitamin C’s antioxidant properties play an important role in combating unwanted dark spots and preventing signs of aging caused by sun damage.4 Vitamin C also helps inhibit the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme that aids in the production of melanin, preventing hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin C doesn’t have an effect on normal skin coloration—it won’t fade away normal dark skin pigmentation, only the abnormal melanin deposits caused by sun damage.
Without sufficient moisture, the epidermis (top layer of skin) starts to dry out, which leads to itchy, scaly skin and premature aging. Hydration is vital to keeping your skin healthy and youthful-looking.
Fortunately, vitamin C is clinically proven to help skin retain water, keeping it plump and smooth and preventing it from becoming too oily or dry. Researchers found that individuals who were given a supplement containing vitamin C showed significant and sustainable improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, and roughness.5
Blotchy, uneven, and red skin can result from a number of factors, including inflammatory skin conditions (e.g., eczema and rosacea), sun exposure, hormones, and medical conditions.
But you don’t have to live with skin redness, thanks to vitamin C. A significant body of research shows that this powerhouse vitamin minimizes redness thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.6 Vitamin C also helps mend damaged capillaries that cause skin redness, creating a smoother, more even complexion.
How to Use Vitamin C for Skin Care
Whether your skin is dry, oily, or a combination, vitamin C is beneficial for skin health, helping it look and feel healthier and younger longer. There are two ways to use vitamin C for skin care: nutritional intake and applying it topically.
Foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges and berries, offer many health benefits. And while it’s true that you can get plenty of vitamin C by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, dietary vitamin C generally won’t provide enough for you to see a noticeable improvement in your skin.
This is because dietary intake of vitamin C is sufficient to reach lower levels of your skin, but generally won’t reach the top layers of the skin. However tasty, eating a pint of blueberries isn’t likely to help your skin get that youthful glow (even if it's great for the rest of your body). That’s where topical vitamin C comes in.
Topical vitamin C is absorbed directly into the topmost layers of the skin, allowing it to get to work immediately on smoothing the skin, reducing fine lines and dark spots and protecting against free radicals.
Vitamin C is available in facial moisturizers and serums. Serums are more concentrated than moisturizers and more easily absorb into the skin, which is why more skincare specialists recommend vitamin C serums.
Sometimes, less is more. Most research says that vitamin C is best implemented into your skincare routine when used as a topical serum. Even serums containing low concentrations (under 1%) of vitamin C still deliver antioxidant protection and skin benefits.
How Often to Use Vitamin C?
For best results, apply vitamin C topically 1-2 times a day—morning and night. Be sure to apply a moisturizer with a broad-spectrum SPF after vitamin C application for daytime. Follow the directions on your product’s packaging, as instructions may vary from product to product. If you find your skin is sensitive to daily application, try starting with applying a low concentration a few times a week or every other day, then build up use as tolerated.
Ready to incorporate vitamin C into your daily skin routine? Your skincare routine should generally include:
- Vitamin C serum
Before you go all-in on the vitamin C, test a patch of skin with a lower-concentration formula to see how your skin reacts. Some minor tingling is normal, but if you experience anything more intense, stop using the product and talk to your dermatologist.
Vitamin C is generally safe when consumed in foods or applied topically. However, those with sensitive skin or allergies may experience a yellowish discoloration of the skin.7
Some people may experience irritation such as stinging, itching, and dryness after using topical vitamin C. This can be treated by layering a moisturizer over the vitamin C serum when you use it, in addition to moisturizing daily. If you have sensitive skin, you can also start with a lower concentration of vitamin C to observe how your skin reacts.
No matter your skin type, it’s important to test vitamin C out before making it a part of your regular skin care routine. Start by applying vitamin C every other day or every few days, and then work your way up in frequency to avoid potential redness and irritation.
Research on Future Possible Uses Underway
Continuous efforts are being made to research other benefits of vitamin C, including its effects on hair growth, wound healing, smoking-related skin aging, scars, and stretch marks.
When purchasing a vitamin C serum, look for dark bottles. Vitamin C breaks down when exposed to light or air, so dark glass bottles help maintain its efficacy and stability.