Skin Sleuth: What Is Vitamin C and How Does It Work?
Close your eyes and picture what your daily routine looks like every morning. Really, do it. What do you start with? You wake up, probably check your phone (guilty as charged, here), finally get out of bed, shower and brush your teeth. Maybe you even take some vitamins to give your body a boost and help it perform at its best throughout the day. Next, comes your skin-care routine. What you might not realize is that your skin needs vitamins, too, to help combat the pollutants and free radicals it faces throughout the day. Here’s where a vitamin C serum comes in.
“Vitamin C is called vitamin C because it’s vital,” emphasizes Rocio Rivera, Ph.D., and Vice President of L’Oréal Paris Scientific Communications. Below, Rivera breaks down exactly what’s in the ingredient (scientifically known as ascorbic acid) and explains why incorporating it into your skin’s routine is essential.
So, What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a commonly name-checked antioxidant found naturally in citrus fruits and dark, leafy greens. In general, antioxidants help combat damaging free radicals that can lead to signs of premature aging in the skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Vitamin C specifically plays an essential role in maintaining skin’s healthy appearance.
What Makes Vitamin C Different?
Although vitamin C is in the larger family of antioxidants, Rivera notes that it’s actually unique because it’s highly active, but equally deactive. “Because vitamin C is very effective, it can be deactivated easily by light, water and oxygen,” she says. “Those three key things are important to take a look at when you are considering what vitamin C formula you want to use on your face.” This means that a highly potent vitamin C formula has the right concentration on the inside and the right packaging to protect it on the outside.
What to Look for When Buying Vitamin C Skin Care
“The first thing to take into consideration when you’re looking for a vitamin C formula is the percentage,” says Rivera, adding that you want your formula to have a pure 10-20% vitamin C in it. You should also make sure your formula doesn’t contain water. “You really want an an-hydrous formula that, however you use it, won’t come into contact with air or with light,” she says. Look for a product housed in an opaque, metal tube. Metal is important because as you push the formula out of the tube, it will not allow oxygen to go into it and corrupt the solution. In short, a higher-potency vitamin C product does not necessarily mean a higher price tag — it means well-packaged.
In the past, good vitamin C packaging used to only be available in high-end cosmetic stores or dermatology offices, like the cult classic SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic — but L’Oréal Paris, with its Derm Intensives 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum is helping change that narrative. “The 10% Vitamin C Serum is the first one of its kind to go to mass,” says Rivera, and it has all of the elements needed to preserve the formula flawlessly. Although packaging is “usually the least sexy element you look for in a formula, it’s extremely important,” she reiterates.
How to Incorporate Vitamin C Into Your Routine
Incorporating vitamin C into your skin-care routine is easy: It should be the first step you do in the morning and the last step you do before bed. In fact, your vitamin C serum actually serves as a great base for sunscreen. “If you put on your vitamin C before your sunscreen or SPF, it helps boost sun protection and is a proven anti-ager,” says Rivera. In that same vein, vitamin C should always go underneath other skin-care additives, like glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid or retinol. You also want to make sure you’re letting it sink into the skin, which shouldn’t take more than a minute.
The fact that water can deactivate a vitamin C serum, however, can cause confusion when it comes to application. Rivera says people often ask her what happens if they apply their serum on damp skin. “When I say that water deactivates vitamin C serum, I don’t mean that it will happen immediately,” she says. “It only does so when it’s in contact with water for a long time at a high level.” This means that your face can be a little bit wet and you’ll be totally fine — you won’t need to worry about deactivation.
How Do I Know My Vitamin C Serum Is Working?
Unlike some skincare products that may take a long time to show results, vitamin C’s results generally appear quickly. “You should see luminosity about a week after you start using it,” Rivera says, “but let’s be clear that vitamin C is a process, and you need to apply it consistently, day and night.”
Why You Need Vitamin C Now
Considering antioxidant-rich products exist seemingly everywhere, what makes vitamin C so different than others in its family? “Vitamin C is one ingredient that has dermatologists singing its praises,” says Rivera. “It’s fragrant-free, paraben-free, mineral-oil free, allergy tested and great for sensitive skin.” Plus, every skin type can benefit from it, she says, so no matter what your morning routine looks like, this is the vitamin that will slip right into your ritual to get your skin ready for the day.
Photo Credit: Chaunte Vaughn