- Topical vitamin C can be a helpful treatment for acne scars, with regular application.
- Vitamin C can be combined with other topical treatments to increase its healing properties.
- Vitamin C can also be used to prevent acne, thus preventing future scarring.
Can Topical Vitamin C Treat Acne Scars?
Acne scars take two forms: atrophic and hypertrophic.
Atrophic scars are often deep-set, and result from the body being unable to regenerate skin after sustaining significant skin damage.
Hypertrophic scars are thick scars (sometimes raised), that result from the overproduction of collagen after an injury to the skin – in this case, due to acne.
While little research has been done on vitamin C’s efficacy in treating acne scars, topical vitamin C has been found to improve the complexion when treating hyperpigmentation and melasma. Vitamin C’s ability to reduce hyperpigmentation suggests it has the potential to reduce the appearance of, if not completely treat, acne scars.
How effective is it?
Generally, it depends on the extent and age of a person’s scars. One study found a topical gel containing vitamin C was able to significantly reduce the elevation and discoloration of fine facial scars at 6 months.
Another study demonstrated that an application using a combination of hyaluronic acid (HA) and vitamin C provided a visible improvement in scars that were more than 4 weeks old. Clinical studies on the long-term effects of topical vitamin C on acne scars, however, are scant.
Can vitamin C help with older scars?
Vitamin C is involved in all phases of the wound healing process, particularly because collagen cannot be produced without vitamin C. Collagen is found in multiple parts of the body, including the skin, and it helps to maintain skin elasticity. It is collagen’s elasticity and ability to resist infection that helps to close and heal wounds.
Although collagen is most effective when treating new or open wounds, it can also help reduce the appearance of old scars by promoting healthy tissue growth (as it is composed of amino acids). It is the presence of vitamin C in the skin that will stimulate the production of collagen, thereby softening the wound.
Although this is possible in theory, there is little clinical evidence to support the efficacy of vitamin C in treating old scars, and therefore this treatment cannot be guaranteed.
Microneedling with vitamin C
Microneedling uses tiny needles to puncture the upper upper layer of skin and cause injury. The skin responds to this damage by producing collagen to heal the skin, which reduces the appearance of scars.
Before and Afters
How Should Topical Vitamin C Be Used to Treat Scars?
A 10–20% concentration of vitamin C serum can be applied to the face once or twice per day – morning and evening. Applying it in the morning gives the added benefit of UV protection.
If you have sensitive skin, consider starting with one application a day to build a tolerance to the treatment.
Vitamin C is not readily absorbed through the skin. For maximum absorption, the pH level of the skin should be at 4 or below, and the product being applied should contain vitamin C formulated as ascorbic acid.
The skin’s normal pH level varies slightly from person to person, but generally it is within a range of 4–7. In order to ensure that your skin stays around 4 or lower, you may want to wash your face with an alpha hydroxy acid cleanser (AHA) or any other cleanser with a low pH. Products with AHAs that have an FDA approved pH of as low as 3.5 can lower the pH of the first three layers of the skin.
After washing your face, apply a few drops of vitamin C serum to your fingers. Rub it gently into damp skin and let dry. Allow your skin a few minutes to absorb the serum before you continue on with your regular skin care routine – such as applying a moisturizer, or OTC or prescription acne product.
This delay will give the vitamin C the opportunity to absorb properly. However, there is a limit to how much vitamin C the skin can retain; and if your skin is saturated with vitamin C, additional skin care products will have no real effect.
A number of other topical treatments can be effective in reducing the appearance of acne scars. Vitamin E, green tea and onion extract have all been shown to be useful treatments in managing scar tissue.
Whether or not vitamin C can be combined with vitamin B3 (niacinamide) or vitamin A (retinol) is a contentious issue. Consult a dermatologist if you have questions pertaining to those combinations.
Vitamin C to Prevent Scarring
Preventing acne prevents future scarring, and vitamin C has been shown to be effective in reducing the effects of acne breakouts in those with acne-prone skin.
One study demonstrated a significant reduction in acne-related inflammation in 4–8 weeks using a topical vitamin C treatment. Of note is that this reduction was not achieved with the more common L-ascorbic acid but rather with sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), another type of vitamin C.
A reduction in inflammation will help manage the severity of acne before it has the opportunity to scar; less inflammation means less potential damage to the skin.
Acne scars are difficult to treat, but vitamin C can help improve their appearance in several ways with consistent use.
It can help prevent the formation of acne scars by improving skin health. During the process of scar healing, vitamin C promotes collagen so that scars will be smaller and less noticeable. Once an acne scar has formed, vitamin C may not be able to heal it completely, but its ability to reduce hyperpigmentation can make it less noticeable.
Those with acne scars should understand that the scars will not disappear overnight, no matter the treatment. Consult a dermatologist to find out your best course of action if you are concerned about your acne or extent of scarring.