When we think of Vitamin C, it usually reminds us of citrus fruits, oranges or lemons or something else, but here is a fun fact, fruits like Papaya, Strawberry and Kiwi contain more vitamin C than citrus fruits which are typically associated with Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a naturally occurring nutrient in our body and is very important for our health and daily functioning of our body, including improving immunity in our body and fending off the free radicals, thus protecting us from possible infections and diseases.

Vitamin C is not only important for our health it is also one of the most important skincare ingredients and is part of the very vital ABC’s of skincare. In this article, lets try to understand what are the benefits of Vitamin C for your skin, how it helps your skin and how you can use it in your skin care regimen.

Quick Links:

  1. What are the Benefits of Vitamin C for Skin?
  2. The science behind Vitamin C
  3. Vitamin C and its derivatives
  4. How to use Vitamin C?
  5. Layering with Vitamin C
  6. Precautions to take

What are the Benefits of Vitamin C for Skin?

Vitamin C is an MVP of skincare because of its anti-oxidant properties and its ability to fight off free radicals from our skin. The list of amazing benefits that Vitamin C provide for our skin include:

  • Brightening our skin by reducing melanin production
  • Reducing Dark Spots
  • Reducing Hyperpigmentation, which is a major potential problem for Indian skin
  • Help smooth wrinkles
  • Help smooth the rough texture of our skin
  • Boosts collagen production in our skin
  • Protects against skin discolouration
  • Protects against UV damage caused by sun exposure
  • Helps alleviate UV damage

The science behind Vitamin C

Vitamin C in its purest form is also known as Ascorbic acid or L-Ascorbic acid, It is a naturally occurring nutrient in our bodies and is needed to function normally

Collagen makes up 75 to 80% of our dry skin mass, and the rest of the skin is mostly made up of water, hyaluronic acid and elastin. Collagen fibres create the structural network for elastin and hyaluronic acid, which are responsible for skin’s elasticity and hydration. While elastin keeps our skin firm, bouncy and terain its shape, collagen acts as the glue that binds the cells together.

The issue of concern is that collagen in our skin thins with our age, so much that once we reach the age of 20, we start losing 1% of collagen and elastin every year. So as we age the collagen fibres begin to break, making our skin lose elasticity making it saggy and also thin.

If you want to alleviate this problem by using collagen creams, promising to make your skin look younger, you’d be disappointed to learn that these creams don’t work. Especially because the collagen molecules are quite large to penetrate the epidermis layer of the skin and thus leaving it ineffective and rendering any anti-ageing effects that you feel temporary.

Apart from Retinol, The ingredient that really works on building the fibroblasts which eventually form collagen and elastin is Vitamin C. Vitamin C plays an important role in the production of collagen and helps replenish the loss of collagen that we suffer due to age. Vitamin C also stimulates ceramide synthesis, ceramides are important for your skin’s hydration, which is especially important for Indian skin as our skin contains a lesser amount of ceramides, compared to caucasian skin.

Vitamin C is also a very important ingredient when you are looking to remove your hyperpigmentation. When applied topically, Vitamin C interacts with the tyrosinase, inhibiting the conversion of amino acid tyorise into melanin and thus reducing pigmentation.

 

Vitamin C and its derivatives

Vitamin C in its purest form i.e. Ascorbic acid or L-Ascorbic acid is a very unstable ingredient,  it is very sensitive and it can change very easily depending on temperature, light and air in the environment, which means it oxidizes very easily and goes bad very easily unlike other active ingredients like retinol and niacinamide. And this is one of the reasons that many say that Vitamin C is hard to use.

While these days. the skin care formulations have been developed to use Ascorbic acid directly in products, for example with Ferulic acid and Vitamin E to make it stable, the more popular usage of Vitamin C is through its derivatives. Vitamin C derivatives are very stable forms of Vitamin C, they not only will not go bad easily but also will not cause inflammation when used in your skincare routine, and have similar benefits on the skin like ascorbic acid, but they are not as potent as Ascorbic acid. Any Vitamin C derivative which is applied on the skin breaks down into ascorbic acid which is then absorbed by the skin.

Here is a list of some of the popular Vitamin C derivatives that you find in skincare formulations and their potencies compared to the purest form of Vitamin C.

Vitamin C Derivative Potency
L-Ascorbic Acid 100%
Sodium Ascorbate 95%
Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate 60%
Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate 55%
Ascorbyl Palmitate 40%
Tetrahexyldecy Ascorrbate 13%

Here we can see clearly that Vitamin C derivatives are less potent than Ascorbic acid, but the efficacy of the formulation containing any of the forms of Vitamin C cannot be solely decided on the particular form of Vitamin C used, but efficacy is also determined by how good a formulation your skincare product is.

Here is a deeper look into 4 common Vitamin C derivatives.

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate:

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, popularly known as THD is a gold standard form of Vitamin C derivative.  THD is an oil-soluble form of Vitamin C and because of its fatty acid components, it can relatively easily penetrate deeper into the layers of the skin.It is also oxygen stable, which means that when exposed to air it won’t get spoiled.

THD is especially used in skincare products, where the formulations are designed to brighten your skin or lighten hyperpigmentation and dark spot treatments. It is frequently used in oil-based serums or moisturisers and works really well on dry skin.

3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic Acid:

Another more popular vitamin C derivate, 3-O-Ethyl Ascorbic acid is very well known for its skin brightening properties. It is a great anti-oxidant and aids in collagen synthesis and the best thing is that it is an anti-irritant too. Because of its water-soluble nature, you will find this ingredient a lot in serums and gel-based moisturizers and is used in formulations with concentrations between 0.1% to 3%.

Magensium Ascorbyl Phosphate:

Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate or MAP is another water soluble and a very stable derivative of Vitamin C. Some of the important benefits of MAP include increasing the hydration levels of skin and brighten, smoothing an even out your skin tone. Due to its creamy texture it is generally used in moisturizers, but it is also used in some serums.

How to use Vitamin C?

Like with any of the ABC’s of skincare, i.e., alike Retinols and Niacinamide, when you are beginning it is advised that you start with lower concentration and then gradually increase it. Unlike retinol, Vitamin C can be started at any age and can added to your skin care, especially as a protection against free radicals and UV damage and environment in the day time and for repairing your skin and repleneshing it in the night time.

The concentration of Vitamin C that you want to add to your skin care will depend on your skin care needs, if you just want to add it as an anti-oxidant, you can start with 0.5% to 1% Vitamin C strengths, while if you are looking for antipigmentation benefits of Vitamin C, consider going for products that contain 10 to 15% or even 20% of Vitamin C.

Because our skin is slightly acidic and the pH is generally between 4 to 5.5, Vitamin C to penetrate the stratum corneum(the outermost layer of our skin) and to be effective should be around 3.5 and studies have shown that if it pH of Vitamin C is higher then they are less effective.

One thing that we with Indian skin have to be careful is that when you are going for high concentrations of Vitamin C, the formulations require the pH of Vitamin C to be kept low to be stable and you cannot put anything with too low pH on your skin as it will trigger melanocytes and cause more pigmentation. And also because Vitamin C sensitizes your skin to UV, make sure you don’t use very high concentrations of Vitamin C during the day.

Layering with Vitamin C

With Hyaluronic Acid:

Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid are often used together, because they have great synergies in hydrating, repairing and protecting your skin. And when Vitamin C is used in higher concentrations, layering first with Hyaluronic Acid will create a moisture barrier, which will protect skin from irritation or dryness caused by Vitamin C.

With Niacinamide :

It has been a long-standing myth that you cannot use Vitamin C and Niacinamide together, which actually was true way back when the study was indeed done, i.e., in the 1960s, but nowadays both of these ingredients work well alongside each other. With the modern formulations, both Vitamin C and Niacinamide are stable and doesn’t affect the efficacy of either of the ingredients and they indeed are a great combination if you are yearning for some amazing glow on your face.

With Retinols :

Retinols can be irritating for your skin and when used with Vitamin C, especially with low pH like 3.5 which is the concentration that Vitamin C is indeed effective, layering both can exacerbate the irritation. Though you can use both Retinol and Vitamin C on the same, it is advised that you use Vitamin C in the day and Retinols in the nighttime skincare routines.

With AHAs & BHAs :

Unless you have dry or very very sensitive skin, you are good to use Vitamin C with AHA’s and BHA’s and the popular advice that acids destabilize Vitamin C is actually a misconception. On the contrary, studies have shown that using your AHA’s and BHA’s before applying can improve your results. AHA’s and BHA’s exfoliate your skin by removing the dead cells and when you apply Vitamin C after that, Vitamin C penetrates your skin easily.

When layering AHA’s and BHA’s with Vitamin C, make sure you start applying the ingredient which has lower pH first.

Precautions to take

  • When you are using Vitamin C in your AM routine, make sure you protect with a good sunscreen with an SPF of 50 with broad protection
  • In your AM routine, don’t use Vitamin C with very high concentrations
  • Don’t mix Vitamin C with Benzoyl peroxide, as it will render Vitamin C less potent
  • Make sure you store your Vitamin C products properly and don’t expose them to lot of air or sun, as it will oxidize the product and make them go bad.
  • If you have dry or very sensitive skin, make sure you don’t quickly jump to higher concentrations, but start with 5% and gradually increase as your skin gets used to Vitamin C.
  • Notice for any colour changes in your Vitamin C products, because if it is turning yellow or brown, the product has been oxidised and may be actually of little use then.

This article is medically reviewed by our expert dermatologist, Dr Nagakeerthana Sunder, M.D. DVL

References :

  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11853951/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28805671/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11207686/

 

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