Vitamin C was one of the most googled skin care terms of 2020. So does it deserve the hype and is it right for you?

Let’s start with the benefits of Vitamin C. We hear a lot on social media about it making the skin brighter – in large part because Vitamin C reduces skin roughness. But let’s list out the primary documented benefits of Vitamin C: It

1)     helps reduce premature aging (due to its antioxidant abilities)

2)     improves the quality and growth of collagen in the skin

3)     reduces hyperpigmentation  

4)     reduces sunburn (and other consequences of UV exposure)

But there are some potential downsides, it can occasionally cause some discomfort (redness, itching, slight burning sensation and bumps under the skin). These can be reduced by applying a moisturizer. Skin which is initially sensitive to Vitamin C can usually get used to Vitamin C, it just takes a lot of patience and persistence. Vitamin C does have anti-inflammatory abilities and while that should mean that it helps with conditions like acne, there is no documented evidence for that. On the contrary and again there is no documented evidence it is anecdotally linked to an increase in the risk of breakout for those prone to it. It is also very unstable, so as well as needing to be stored in airless, opaque containers, it needs to be formulated at a pH of 3.5 or less (which may increase its irritation) or in a water free or low water formulation (often oil based). Manufacturers often try and get around these issues by bonding Vitamin C with other chemicals (like Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate and Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate) but there is just no evidence that they work.  

In addition, the ability of Vitamin C to be effective when applied to the skin, depends on the level of Vitamin C in the skin (before application). For example if our Vitamin C levels are saturated it does not seem to be effective. And of importance, Vitamin C levels in the skin drop as we get older.

So the bottom line is that despite the Instagram obsession with Vitamin C, the primary benefits of Vitamin C are for aging, sun damaged skin and the more mature among us. But if it doesn’t irritate or cause breakout then there is no downside to using it, no matter your age.

If you share our nerdish interest in some background and how it does what it does, then the rest of this article is for you ….

Background

Vitamin C, originally called Hexuronic Acid was renamed Ascorbic Acid in 1932 when it was established to be the compound in citrus fruits which prevented Scurvy. Interestingly (to us anyway) the British are sometimes referred to as Limeys, because the British navy usually chose Lemons and then Limes as their citrus fruit of choice to stave off scurvy.

Since then science’s understanding of its role in our bodies has come a long way. It is a Vitamin that we cannot synthesise and has to be consumed. Which is strange, because we rely on it for some critical functions including formation of blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in bones. It also plays a critical role in the body’s healing process and is also involved in the process by which we absorb and store iron.

OK but this is a skincare blog, so what does it do for the skin and how does it do it?

1)     Reduces premature skin aging (as an antioxidant)

Before we can talk about antioxidants we need to talk about free radicals and oxidative stress.

Free radicals (Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS) are unstable oxygen containing molecules (with an uneven number of electrons). They are created naturally in the body as a by-product of oxygen metabolism, and also by exposure to environmental stress or pollution eg. Heavy metals, cigarette smoke and radiation and most commonly – the sun’s UV rays.

Our bodies do have some use for these unstable molecules because they play an important role in regulating some functions, but elevated levels can cause harm, damaging cell membranes or DNA, which in turn can lead to accelerated aging, strokes and cancer.

Not sure about the products for you? Take our Skin Quiz.

Antioxidants, whether created by our bodies, consumed in our diet or applied to our skin are able to donate a spare electron to these ROS to stabilise them hopefully at a “Goldilocks” level.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant – able to donate a free electron and stabilise ROS. When applied to our skin, Vitamin C helps stabilise excessive ROS and reduces some of the classic signs of premature sun induced aging (at the extreme – think “leathery looking skin”) like wrinkles, fine lines and skin roughness. And it is the reduction in skin roughness that is associated with increased skin brightness.

While there are a number of ingredients able to perform this task, there tends to be a relationship where the ingredients best able to act as antioxidants tend to be some of the least stable ingredients. That means that having an acceptable commercial shelf life, then getting the ingredient to penetrate the skin barrier after application without being degraded and still able to perform its antioxidant function once inside the skin, is no easy task. Properly formulated Vitamin C has been shown to be one of the few potent antioxidants that can.

2) Improves collagen growth and formation

Vitamin C plays an important role in the enzyme chain involved in creating and maintaining collagen, one of the main building blocks of the skin matrix, giving it volume, smoothness and elasticity (it is a co-factor for two enzymes involved in stabilising the collagen molecule structure and also for turning on the genes responsible for collagen creation). When applied to the skin it has been shown to significantly increase collagen production.

3) Reduces hyperpigmentation

Vitamin C plays a role in reducing hyperpigmentation (like age spots) in two ways. As an antioxidant, by stabilising ROS, it switches off the signal used to create pigmentation in response to UV. It also interacts with Copper ions in the skin that would otherwise trigger the creation of pigment by tyrosinase.

4) Reduces sunburn

When applied either before or after exposure to the sun, Vitamin C reduces the sunburn. While this is largely because of its antioxidant capabilities, (so it should be under point 1), if you have ever suffered sunburn and looked for something that works – well Vitamin C does!

Just note that Vitamin C can come with a little sting especially on sensitive skin, so this wouldn’t be suggested for someone with sensitive skin.

With all the things that Vitamin C can do, we think the hype for Vitamin C is almost deserved. And if premature aging and sun damaged skin are what you have, this is an ingredient that should be near the top of your list. But its limitations (occasional irritation) and limited benefits for those with younger skin have us feeling that it may be just a touch over hyped.

 

SHOP ESK’S VITAMIN C SKINCARE PRODUCTS

Reverse “C” Serum

A powerful antioxidant serum that hydrates, repairs the visible signs of aging and protects the skin against further damage. The antioxidant Vitamins C (L-Ascorbic Acid – 10%) and E (Tocopherol – 1%) are combined in their most potent forms and work to repair and prevent the appearance of aging including fine lines, wrinkles pigmentation and skin roughness.
For skin repair, protection and moisturising of dry and normal skin.

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C Serum Lite

A powerful antioxidant serum that hydrates, repairs the visible signs of aging and protects the skin against further damage. The antioxidant Vitamins C (L-Ascorbic Acid – 10%) and E (Tocopherol – 1%) are combined in their most potent forms and work to repair and prevent the appearance of aging including fine lines, wrinkles pigmentation and skin roughness.
In order for Vitamin C to be stable it needs to be in an oil base, C Serum Lite has a finer oil base, suited for oilier skin and more humid environments.


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