Beyond being an essential dietary nutrient, vitamin C is also important in skincare for its ability to promote collagen production, reduce the appearance of dark spots (hyperpigmentation) and providing antioxidant benefits. But are all vitamin C products created equally? And why drop precious dollars on vitamin C-infused products when you could just eat oranges and kiwi fruits? Scroll down to find out.
Why is it important to include vitamin C in your skincare instead of reaping its benefits through your diet?
While you can easily include vitamin C in your diet (papayas, kiwi fruit, bell peppers and citrus fruits are some reliable sources), only a small amount of what you consume reaches the skin to bring about visible results.
What are some visible results one can expect from using a vitamin C-infused skincare product?
Scientific research has shown that vitamin C has the ability to:
- – Lighten dark spots (hyperpigmentation) such as sunspots and acne scars as well as brighten a dull complexion. It works by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production.
- – Provide antioxidant benefits. Instead of stealing electrons from your skin cells, free radicals from polluted air will then scavenge electrons from antioxidants (such as vitamin C) instead. This is how using a vitamin C product prevents oxidative damage that causes ageing.
- – Help maintain a healthy skin structure. Vitamin C promotes the production of and stabilises both collagen and elastin in your skin. This helps to maintain your skin’s firmness and reduce the appearance of fine lines, making your skin look more youthful.
Many products claim to contain vitamin C. Are they all the same?
No. Vitamin C comes in several forms and the purest and most bioavailable form is known as l-ascorbic acid. The compound’s water-soluble nature allows it to penetrate into the dermis and epidermis layers of your skin easily. It sounds simple, except that this star ingredient also comes with complications. These include:
- – An unstable nature. L-ascorbic acid degrades easily in the presence of oxygen and light, which is why numerous vitamin C products are stored in dark and airtight glass bottles in order to delay oxidation.
- – A low pH level. L-ascorbic acid is most effective at a pH of 3.5. But this acidity can disrupt your skin’s natural acid mantle that stands at between pH4.5 and pH5.5, thus causing irritation and sensitivity. This might not be good news for anyone with compromised skin.
- To overcome this shortcoming, skincare brands have formulated l-ascorbic acid in safe concentrations (most ideal at 15%) and infused soothing ingredients into the mix. This allows us to safely reap the ingredient’s full benefits.
- Turning to vitamin C derivatives is also an effective solution. Derivatives go through a conversion pathway in the skin cells and they only become effective when they are converted into l-ascorbic acid. While the derivatives’ reduced bioavailability from the conversion means that they’re less potent, the upside is that they have been proven to be more stable (hence, have a longer shelf life) and are much gentler on the skin. This then makes it more suitable for consistent long-term use. One thing to note is that they generally come in oil or an oil-like form, so they also have moisturising properties too. Some derivatives you should take note of include:
- – Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
- – Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate
- – Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
- – Ascorbyl palmitate
- – Ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitate
- – Sodium ascorbate
- – Ascorbyl glucoside
- – Ascorbyl 2-phosphate 6-palmitate
- – 3-O-ethyl ascorbate
Are there ingredients we should avoid while using vitamin C?
There are a couple. As mentioned, vitamin C is acidic in nature, so try to avoid ingredients that could potentially weaken your skin barrier. Such include retinoids, acids (like AHAs and BHAs) and spot treatments (like benzoyl peroxide). These ingredients promote skin thinning and interaction could possibly result in skin sensitivity and cause irritation. Instead of using vitamin C together with those ingredients in the same routine, you could either pick a day in the week to focus on its benefits (e.g. vitamin C on Mondays, retinol on Wednesdays, AHAs on Fridays, etc) or use them in separate routines (such as vitamin C in the morning and retinol at night).
Should it just be used as a standalone product?
Not necessarily. You could incorporate vitamin C in the same regime as hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (find out more about the ingredient here), panthenol (vitamin B5) and niacinamide (vitamin B3) and they help to counteract any irritation or dryness. Otherwise, you could also enhance its antioxidant benefits with ingredients like vitamin E and ferulic acid.
When should you use vitamin C products then?
You could use it in your day and night routines. Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C with sunscreen in the daytime. Together, they provide a powerful protective shield against both oxidative and sun damage, preventing sunspots and premature ageing.
In the evening, vitamin C helps to restore and repair damaged skin by boosting collagen production. Those with acne scars or sunspots can also count on vitamin C to break up melanin clusters in your skin while you sleep, resulting in a more even skin tone in the morning.
Who will benefit most from vitamin C products?
Those who are frequently exposed to the sun or pollution such as cigarette smoke. Those who are looking to reduce the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation will benefit most from this. Otherwise, most skin types can benefit from a product with derivatives or in low-percentage dosages. Sensitive skin types should always do a patch test first and monitor your skin’s reaction before making a purchase.