Vitamin C has moved from the bruit bowl to become a buzz ingredient in skincare. But why is it being hailed as such as a hero and how best should you use it?
If we were dishing out awards for the quiet achiever of our skincare regimes, you might have though the usual suspects like sunscreen (a daily essential) or retinol (an anti-ageing powerhouse) would be obvious frontrunners. However, Vitamin C – the nutrient synonymous with oranges and found in a bunch of serums and moisturisers – is one of the most important and underrated substances we can use on our complexion.
While skincare buffs will be well versed on its brightening capabilities, the benefits of vitamin C go well beyond a light bulb glow. “Vitamin C has a wonderful duality: it both brightens and firms the skin”, enthuses New York – based dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross. “Not only does it help to lighten and break up pigmentation you might already have, it also prevents dark spots or sunspots from forming in the future. Vitamin C, in all its brilliance, also increases your skin’s natural production of collagen, giving skin radiance and vitality”.
To understand the importance of vitamin C-spiked skincare, it helps to get your head around free radicals. While their name suggests otherwise, free radicals are unstable molecules that cling to healthy cells, eventually weakening them. And they’re everywhere: in pollution, smog, ultraviolet rays and cigarette smoke. Even the unavoidable process of getting older encourages free radical production, which pokes holes in skin-supportive collagen and shows up on our face as dehydration, fine lines, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.
A powerful anti-oxidant, vitamin C plays a role in counteracting this damage and protecting against it in the first place. Just don’t expect your body to get a head start. Unlike biological anti-angers like hyaluronic acid and collagen vitamin C isn’t produced by our internal systems or our skin, which is why it’s imperative to source it via the food we eat and supplement it through your skincare regimen.
According to a 2017 study on the role of vitamin C in skin health, while a good diet contributes to good skin, we can only reach the epidermis through our skincare. “The foundation of vitamin C use in skincare is built on the premise that it can be delivered to the superficial layer of the skin through topical application”, explains Dr. Edwina Morgan from Brisbane’s Kailo Wellness Medispa, which offers intravenous vitamin C in our beauty regimen, we can aid in skin regeneration and repair, brightening, treating uneven skin tone and accelerating skin renewal”.
This may sound simple enough, but vitamin C is actually one of the trickies ingredients to get from serum to skin. “It must be formulated carefully”, says neuroscientist and skincare enthusiast Dr. Claudia Aguirre, nothing the main hurdles – oxygen exposure, light sensitivity and compromised freshness – all diminish the ingredient’s efficacy. “L-ascorbic acid is the main form of vitamin C, but there are many other forms that are less irritating and don’t oxidise as quickly. The main point is to have a stable form vitamin C that gets delivered to the skin”.
Naturally, the best skincare brands are navigating handy solutions. Skincare startup Skin Regimen, separates the ingredients in its 15.0. Vit C Booster into two parts – a powder sachet and serum – to preserve its freshness. To combat oxidization through light exposure, many formulations like Kiehl’s Powerful – Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate, are housed in amber bottles made of glass. And to maintain their kick, some experts even suggest keeping C-serum refrigerated.
Another common drawback of the ingredient? Absorption. If it feels tacky on application there’s good chance it’s coasting on the surface. Gross swears by the L-ascorbit acid in his eponymous range for its ability to pass through both water and lipids in the skin. “This is important because the unique duality of this form of vitamin C allows for the best penetration of the ingredient into the skin cells”, he explains.
Taking a radical new approach is Elizabeth Arden, which has encapsulated its pioneering formula in a vegetable-gum wrap to keep the single-use vitamin C as fresh as possible. “The more stable it is, the more potent and efficacious it will be once applied to skin”, says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a consulting dermatologist for the brand’s latest launch, Vitamin C Ceramide Capsule Radiance Renewal Serum. The story beauty brand has even heralded a new oil-based delivery system. “Water-based vitamin C products are more likely to evaporate off the skin”, says Philippa Curnow, national education manager at Elizabeth Arden Australia. In this “oil-loving” form, vitamin C is attracted like a magnet to the skin’s natural moisture barrier and “delivery to the skin’s surface is optimized”, says Engelman.
Get all of these things right and the benefits of vitamin C range from a brighter complexion and smoother skin tone to diminished hyperpigmentation. Better still, experts argue using vitamin C in conjunction with vitamin E can boost its efficiency. “(Vitamin E) has alos been shown to hydrate the top layer of the skin and improve its water-binding capacity, making Vitamin C more readily absorbed”, notes Curnow. And while we’re not suggesting you swap out your SPF anytime soon, using this vitamin duo in tandem with a sunblock, says Morgan, will offer and added defense. “When both of these vitamins are used in combination with a broad spectrum sunscreen, it offers greater protection against UV damage”.