What Is Vitamin C and How Does It Work? We Asked a DermatologistOctober 20, 2023
Vitamin C, scientifically known as ascorbic acid, should be a staple in your skincare routine. The potent antioxidant has anti-aging benefits, protects your skin from free radicals and helps brighten your overall complexion. To find out just how vitamin C works and what to look for when incorporating the powerhouse ingredient into your skincare routine, we turned to Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
What Is Vitamin C For Skin?
Vitamin C is an antioxidant naturally found in citrus fruits and dark, leafy greens. Like most antioxidants, vitamin C can help fight off free radicals, which are basically impossible to avoid — these unstable molecules are triggered by environmental factors such as pollution, smoke and UV exposure. Free radicals can deplete your skin’s moisture barrier, as well as lead to signs of premature aging in the skin, including fine lines, wrinkles and discoloration. However, that’s not where the skincare benefits of vitamin C end.
“When added to your daily routine, vitamin C provides a range of benefits, from evening out your skin tone to reducing pigmentation and shielding skin from the visible impacts of pollution,” says Dr. Frank. “It is a powerful antioxidant that, when combined with SPF, can be an added boost against UV light.”
What Does Vitamin C Do For Your Skin?
According to The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, using 10% topical vitamin C daily over a 12-week period reduced photoaged scores (or measures of sun damage) and improved the look of wrinkles.
Vitamin C can also be paired with ingredients such as retinol, hyaluronic acid and other antioxidants like ferulic acid to further stave off signs of aging, dark spots and dullness in the skin. “Hyaluronic acid (HA) and vitamin C go hand in hand and become even stronger when paired together,” Dr. Sarah Sawyer, a Skincare.com consultant and board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham, Alabama, previously told Skincare.com. “HA works to attract water molecules that make skin plumper for a hydrated, healthy glow, while vitamin C works to [visibly improve the appearance of] aging skin.”
How to Use Vitamin C in Your Skincare Routine
You should consider your skin type when determining what kind of vitamin C is best for you, says Dr. Frank. “Vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid is the most potent, but can irritate dry or sensitive skin,” he says. “For more mature skin, THD ascorbic acid is fat soluble and can be found in a more hydrating lotion form.”
In order for it to be effective, your formula should contain 10% to 20% vitamin C. “The best vitamin C formulations also contain other antioxidants like vitamin E or ferulic acid,” Dr. Frank says. For oily skin, we recommend the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic With 15% L-Ascorbic Acid, which combines vitamin C with 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid. For dry skin, try the L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum, which combines 10% vitamin C with hyaluronic acid to attract moisture.
Vitamin C products are sensitive to light, so you should always store them in a cool, dark place. They should come in a dark or opaque package in order to prevent oxidation. If the color of your product starts to take on a brown or dark orange hue, it’s time to replace it, advises Dr. Frank.
How Often Should You Use Skincare Products With Vitamin C?
Once you find a vitamin C formula that works for your skin, you can make it a daily step in your morning skincare routine. Start by applying a vitamin C serum on freshly cleansed skin, then follow it up with a moisturizer and finish off with your sunscreen to increase UV protection.
Serums will typically contain the most potent dose of vitamin C, which is great for those who are looking for more immediate results. However, if you have sensitive skin and you prefer a less concentrated dose of vitamin C, consider using a moisturizer or sunscreen that contains the ingredient, rather than a serum.
How Do I Know if My Vitamin C Serum Is Working?
“Like any topical, it takes time to see the benefits,” says Dr. Frank. “With consistent use and with the right product, you should see a brighter, more radiant complexion with a slight decrease in pigmentation. This will only happen with consistency and pairing a good vitamin C with sunscreen.”
The Best Skincare Products With Vitamin C
This serum is raved about by dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts alike for its potent, antioxidant-packed formula. Powered by vitamin C and ferulic acid, it helps to defend against environmental stressors as well as improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles, sagging skin and dullness. The serum combines 15% pure L-ascorbic acid with fellow antioxidants vitamin E and ferulic acid and is housed in a dark bottle, all of which add to the product’s stability and potency. The lightweight, fast-absorbing consistency makes it ideal for all skin types and easy to layer under the rest of your A.M. skincare regimen.
If you’re struggling with enlarged pores but also want to fight off signs of aging, this non-comedogenic vitamin C serum is a must-have in your routine. A combination of 12% pure vitamin C and antioxidant vitamin E pair up with salicylic acid to reveal smoother, tighter, more even-toned skin. After eight weeks of consistent use, this serum has been proven to leave skin looking brighter and feeling smoother with less visible pores.
To give your skin a gentle boost of antioxidants and brightening benefits, look no further than the Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C. This moisturizer addresses multiple signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, uneven skin tone and dark spots. Inside the formula, you’ll find vitamin C, firming phyto peptides and niacinamide, another antioxidant-rich ingredient that helps to soothe skin and fade the look of dark spots. This moisturizer is gentle enough for all skin types, including sensitive skin.
See visibly brighter, more even-toned skin in as little as one week with this serum, which combines three types of vitamin C for maximum potency and stability. A superfood cocktail of vitamin C and plant-derived caffeine (sourced from yerba mate and guayusa), it instantly absolves your skin of morning puffiness and delivers serious brightening effects over time. Squalane and dragon fruit also help to replenish and lock in skin’s essential moisture.
The next time you’re wandering the skincare aisle at the drugstore or filling up your cart on Amazon, take a peek at this cost-effective vitamin C serum, which rings up at less than $20. Formulated with 10% pure vitamin C, it provides antioxidant protection and visibly brightens for smoother, more even-looking skin. Those with dry and/or sensitive skin will be especially fond of this formula, as it contains hyaluronic acid and three essential ceramides to attract moisture and help replenish the natural lipids in your skin’s barrier.
Tackle the look of dark spots, discoloration, loss of firmness and wrinkles with this protective serum from skinbetter science. In addition to vitamin C, it’s formulated with 17 (yes, 17!) antioxidants, which shield your skin from oxidative stress and increase its radiance. Within 12 weeks of consistent use, you’ll notice a decrease in dullness, uneven skin tone and redness, in addition to a firmer, smoother complexion.
If most vitamin C serums feel too harsh for your skin or you just prefer to keep your skincare routine very minimal, try this multitasking sunscreen. It combines broad-spectrum SPF 50 with a photo-stable antioxidant complex and vitamin C, erasing the need for an extra serum. We love it for all skin types, including those that are sensitive, because the formula is fragrance-free, oil-free, non-comedogenic and allergy-tested. The sheer, lotion-like formula blends in easily, and won’t pill under makeup or leave behind a white cast on dark skin tones.
Dark circles can happen to anyone, whether they stem from genetics, allergies, a lack of sleep or excess sun exposure. This eye cream can help diminish their appearance in just one week, thanks to ingredients like 10% pure vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and tri-peptide. The dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested formula is clinically demonstrated to help soften the look of dark circles, smooth crow’s feet and help reduce puffiness. While the brightening benefits will take at least one week to start becoming visible, you’ll notice your under-eye area will appear smoother and more hydrated immediately after application.
Don’t let dry patches and dull skin get you down. This ultra-nourishing overnight mask has you covered with THD ascorbate, a gente and particularly stable form of vitamin C, alongside an antioxidant-rich superberry blend, squalane and hyaluronic acid. To use, cleanse your skin and smooth on the mask like you would a moisturizer. The next morning, wash off the formula for softer, smoother skin with an increased glow.
This gentle serum is worth noting if your skin is extra-sensitive and prone to bouts of redness or irritation. It’s made with only 5% vitamin C and gently brightens, increases radiance and provides antioxidant defense.