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May 25, 2023 9 min read
Gen Z doesn’t know how good they have it. Back in the 90s, we were forced to slough our entire faces off with St. Ives Apricot Scrub before burning every pore we had with some too-astringent toner seemingly designed for maximum destruction.
Luckily, the world of skincare routines has evolved and our knowledge of (and expertise behind) top ingredients and products has improved significantly. From brick and mortar stores to beauty bloggers and YouTube channels, there’s a wealth of information out there!
One ingredient in particular that people can’t seem to get enough of is Vitamin C. Hailed as a superpower for skincare, it’s suddenly everywhere and in everything. But what are its primary benefits? How is it supposed to be used properly? And what should you look for when seeking out a new skincare product or supplement with Vitamin C?
As the summer season approaches, we put together this comprehensive guide to Vitamin C as it relates to your skincare routine. Read on for the details!
Depending on how old you are, it might be hard to remember a time when vitamin C wasn’t universally seen as somewhat of a catch-all superpower nutrient. To understand how this came to be (in part), it’s crucial to discuss the work of Linus Pauling.
Pauling was a renowned chemist and Nobel laureate who played a pivotal role in popularizing the concept of “megadosing” with vitamin C to enhance immune strength. In the 1970s, he championed the idea that super-high doses of vitamin C (upwards of 2,000mg or more) could prevent and treat various illnesses, from the common cold to cancer. Though not without controversy, his work sparked a significant interest in the potential health benefits of vitamin C and set the stage for further scientific exploration in the field.
Pauling's advocacy of vitamin C megadosing stemmed from his belief that the nutrient acts as an antioxidant and aids in neutralizing harmful free radicals in the body. He conducted studies and published several books and articles, such as "Vitamin C and the Common Cold," which gained widespread attention. However, it is important to note that Pauling's views on megadosing with vitamin C were controversial and met with skepticism from many in the scientific community.
Over time, the scientific understanding of vitamin C has evolved, and its role in immune function and overall health has been better elucidated. While Pauling's claims about high-dose vitamin C preventing or curing diseases were not universally supported by subsequent research (his work and arguments weren’t without detractors), his work did pave the way for a more comprehensive exploration of the nutrient's benefits.
Since then, the beauty and cosmetics industries have “discovered” the power of vitamin C and poof - it’s everywhere. This has accelerated in recent years thanks in part to the rise in popularity of Korean beauty (known as K beauty) products and skincare routines. Dozens of the latest “it” products are packed with different vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients that promise a dewy, glowing complexion.
Once the Asian skincare pioneers became mainstream throughout the United States and other parts of the world, companies like SkinCeuticals, Goop, La Roche Posay, and Paula’s Choice have joined the party. Both sufficiently “buzzy” and backed by science - and dermatologists’ recommendations - these brands have capitalized on the wave of popularity with their own vitamin C products ranging from creams to serums and everything in between.
Across social media - particularly TikTok - creators and influencers speak directly to audiences of users keen to learn the best ways to level up their skincare routines. No matter their skin concerns, they’re fighting everything from environmental factors (sun exposure, pollution) to free radicals and damaged cells.
Many of these creators are dermatologists or aestheticians with legitimate credentials that back up their claims. Trusted by millions of people across the globe, they recommend products, share skincare routine hacks, and dispel myths using research rather than simply following what’s “cool.” Their power to recommend one product that goes viral in a matter of hours, flying off the shelves and selling out almost instantly, is the newest phenomenon to take the Internet by storm.
With the arrival of summer, our skin receives increased exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. While soaking up those warm summer rays can certainly be enjoyable, it can also lead to various problems, such as collagen breakdown, reduced skin elasticity, uneven tone, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and even impaired wound healing.
To help mitigate these risks, incorporating vitamin C into our routine becomes paramount to protect and revitalize our skin. Whether applied topically or consumed orally (through food or supplements), this powerhouse nutrient offers a wide range of benefits that promote a healthier, more radiant complexion.
If you’re curious about topical applications, vitamin C serums or creams are the go-to choices for many skincare enthusiasts. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, possesses potent antioxidant properties that help combat free radicals generated by sun exposure. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage collagen, the protein responsible for maintaining skin's structure and elasticity. By neutralizing these free radicals, vitamin C aids in preserving collagen levels, thus minimizing breakdown while maintaining a firm, supple skin texture.
Additionally, vitamin C promotes collagen synthesis, enhancing the production of new collagen fibers. This effect not only helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, but also improves skin elasticity, making it more resilient against environmental stressors. Increased collagen production also promotes wound healing, as it supports the formation of new tissue and accelerates the repair process.
Uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation are common concerns, particularly after sun exposure. Vitamin C tackles these issues by inhibiting melanin production, the pigment responsible for lending our skin its color. By reducing melanin synthesis, vitamin C helps to fade existing dark spots and prevent the formation of new ones, resulting in a more even and radiant complexion. Regular use of vitamin C can help restore a youthful glow and improve the overall texture of our skin.
While topical applications offer direct benefits to the skin, oral intake of vitamin C through supplements or a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is equally crucial. Vitamin C taken this way acts as an internal defense system, supporting the skin (and more!) from within. It aids in the synthesis of collagen throughout the body, including the skin, providing a comprehensive approach to maintain skin health. It also helps to boost the immune system, enabling the body to combat symptoms typically associated with inflammation and to heal wounds more efficiently.
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It's important to note that while both topical and oral applications provide benefits, they work in different ways. Topical vitamin C delivers a higher concentration directly to the skin, making it effective for targeting specific areas or concerns. On the other hand, due to its greater bioavailability, oral intake ensures that vitamin C is distributed throughout the body, benefitting not just the skin but other organs and systems as well.
Last but not least, don’t forget that the best defense is a good offense! When it comes to protecting your skin, no amount of vitamin C serum or nutritional supplement can do the same heavy lifting of a high-quality sunscreen. Remember to reapply your SPF early and often, especially after periods of swimming or physical activity, and limit your exposure to the sun during peak hours. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Now that you’re armed with the most essential information, you’re probably feeling ready to pick up some skincare products that contain vitamin C. We understand how overwhelming it can be, given the sheer array of options available.
However, if you narrow your focus on the following three key areas, you’ll be set up for skincare success:
When choosing a topical vitamin C serum or cream, it's essential to consider the concentration and stability of the product. Look for serums or creams with a concentration of 10-20% active vitamin C and a pH lower than 3.5 for optimal results. Typically, this quality of product is only available through your dermatologist, so don’t be shy about booking an appointment. Also note that proper storage will ensure it maintains its stability and efficacy
Within dietary supplements, liposomal technology tends to be the most powerful when compared to traditional formulas, such as powders and capsules. It involves encapsulating vitamin C within liposomes, which are microscopic lipid spheres. This technology enhances both the stability and bioavailability of vitamin C, allowing for better absorption, delivery, and efficacy to target areas.
Ingredient Sourcing: It’s always best to opt for products that use high-quality vitamin C from reputable, traceable sources. Look for ascorbic acid or sodium ascorbate; for example, DSM’s Quali-C is the only ascorbic acid produced in the west. Nearly everything else comes from China and is much harder to validate in terms of quality and transparency.
Many skincare gurus and beauty bloggers will talk about combining skincare powerhouse products for a stronger effect. This is an excellent way to make your own personal arsenal work for you and to ensure maximum impact - and results. However, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure you don’t accidently end up doing more harm than good.
Given that vitamin C promotes the synthesis of collagen, combining both provides a super synergistic effect. Since both provide support in skin health, think of it like an enhanced layer of protection to give your skin the boost it needs. What’s more, you don’t necessarily have to take the two supplements together, making it even easier to complement your intake and reap the rewards.
If you’re going to use a vitamin C product combined with retinol, it's generally recommended to apply the retinol before bedtime and vitamin C in the morning to avoid potential irritation or redness. However, given that every person’s skin is different, it's always best to start out with lower concentrations and gradually increase usage while monitoring your skin's reaction.
When combining vitamin C with hyaluronic acid, the hydrating effect is intensified. Just bear in mind that the order in which you apply them is key. Since vitamin C is sensitive to air, water, and light, you should apply it to clean, dry skin before adding your hyaluronic acid on top. This will create a barrier that locks in moisture and seals in the anti-aging properties of your vitamin C.
If you plan to use your vitamin C with a product that contains vitamin E, the antioxidant properties that fight free radicals will be augmented. Not too shabby!
Finally, make sure you store any vitamin C product in a cool, dark place. It’s very photosensitive, meaning the product will be less effective after being exposed to direct sunlight. Many products also benefit from the extra boost of being kept in the refrigerator to protect its antioxidant properties.
There’s no doubt that vitamin C packs a powerful punch and can prove to be an incredible ally in your skincare routine. No matter what you see in the latest viral TikTok or hear recommended by a friend of a friend of a friend, remember to always consult with your dermatologist for tips and guidance on different vitamin C products and formulas.
It’s essential that you complement any topical applications with a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some of the most vitamin C-dense foods include citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Given that vitamin C can be weakened or destroyed by light and heat, optimal nutritional intake occurs when foods are raw/fresh or just lightly cooked. Think of it as the perfect excuse to throw together a massive salad or whip up a spectacular smoothie!
Wear your sunscreen (and make sure it’s high quality!), stay hydrated, eat a nutrient-dense diet, and you’ll be good to go! Physical barriers that protect you from the sun, such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, are another ideal way to minimize skin damage.
Relying on one specific product or ingredient for a “quick fix” or “one-size-fits-all” solution is only going to lead to disappointment. At the end of the day, it’s all about habits versus hacks. We know, you’re probably sick of us saying that by now! But it’s such a core part of our ethos, we’d be remiss not to mention it again. No matter what you do, focus on long-term adjustments to your routine and lifestyle that support your wellness in a balanced, healthy way.
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