- Topical vitamin C is prized for its anti-aging, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- With regular use, this vitamin can improve the appearance of acne scars
- It can also reduce the risk of scars developing by tamping down inflammation and promoting wound healing
- Vitamin C is most effective when combined with ferulic acid and vitamin E
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that has been well studied and scientifically proven to provide significant benefits to skin. Photoprotection and repairing sun damage, minimizing the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and hydrating dry skin are just some of the benefits provided by vitamin C. Acne scars can also be treated and prevented with regular topical application.
Can Topical Vitamin C Treat Acne Scars?
While there is a paucity of clinical studies on topical vitamin C and acne scars, there are many studies that support its many skin-enhancing characteristics, particularly when combined with other active agents or therapies.
Acne is an inflammatory disease and as such, can cause significant scarring due to injury to skin tissue, which has a negative impact on quality of life and self-image.
As an inflamed lesion heals, skin repairs itself by producing new tissue as a final step in the wound-healing process; this typically results in a scar. Acne scars can take two forms: atrophic and hypertrophic.
Atrophic, or depressed scars, are shallow indentations that result when the skin produces an insufficient amount of collagen; hypertrophic scars are raised, and result from an overproduction of collagen. This excess is believed to be a result of chronic dermal inflammation which promotes abnormal fibroblast proliferation and collagen synthesis.
Topical application of vitamin C can enhance the overall appearance of skin and improve both types of scars through different mechanisms of action, primarily collagen production, tissue repair and depigmentation.
While there are several forms of vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid is one of the most popular found among skin care ingredients as it is the most effective at penetrating the skin barrier.
How effective is it?
Some studies have shown that vitamin C levels are reduced in individuals with skin inflammation compared to those without. One study reported that the greater the acne, the lower the vitamin C levels in skin.
Increasing levels of this vitamin can therefore reduce this inflammation which in turn will alleviate redness, swelling and pain associated with acne breakouts. Importantly, this also prevents skin damage.
Hyperpigmentation is another skin complaint that occurs alongside acne scarring. Dark marks can develop once a lesion heals due to an overproduction of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. This is referred to as postinflammatory inflammation (PIH).
Vitamin C can inhibit melanin production so that dark spots will fade and lighten with time. It can also produce an overall brightening effect for your complexion.
Vitamin C has strong antioxidant capabilities to protect skin cells from damaging free radicals that result from external pollutants and UV rays. This activity can minimize acne breakouts, lower the risk of scarring and protect the skin.
Antioxidants have also been shown to increase blood flow to the area, to make scars less rigid and to blend into the surrounding area.
Another important quality of vitamin C is that it can promote elastin and collagen production to smooth, plump and firm skin during the wound-healing process. The body controls homeostasis of ascorbic acid to ensure its availability for collagen synthesis; this process works to build up and fill in depressed scars for a more uniform appearance.
Studies demonstrate this vitamin’s efficacy in treating scars. One study of a vitamin C gel led to a significant decrease in elevation and discoloration of facial scars by month 6.
Another study using a combination of hyaluronic acid and vitamin C in scars that were more than 4 weeks old successfully reduced the appearance of scars and had high patient satisfaction.
Can vitamin C help with older scars?
Although collagen is most effective when treating fresh wounds, it can help reduce the appearance of older scars by promoting healthy tissue growth to normalize the scar and suppress melanin synthesis to fade pigmentation.
Microneedling with vitamin C
Microneedling is a treatment that can be used to successfully reduce the appearance of scars.
Tiny needles puncture the upper layer of skin and cause superficial injury; this not only breaks down the scar tissue but prompts the wound-healing process to stimulate collagen production to heal the skin. Both actions reduce the appearance of scars.
Adding a potent topical to this treatment produces enhanced results, as the solution is better able to absorb. In one study combining vitamin C with microneedling on acne scars, improvements included firmer, smoother skin with less PIH.
Before and Afters
How Should Topical Vitamin C Be Used to Treat Scars?
Topical vitamin C is safe for all skin types and skin tones. To achieve the best results in minimizing your acne scars, keep the following in mind:
- Choose a product that contains a concentration of 10–20% L-ascorbic acid; while there are many vitamin C products to choose from, an ideal choice is a vitamin C serum as it is a fast-absorbing, concentrated lightweight formula
- pH level is another important factor as this affects the permeability and stability of the vitamin; choose a product that has a pH of 2.5–3.5
- Prepare your skin by cleansing with a low pH cleanser; apply morning and night, after a cleanser and toner but before a moisturizer; use consistently for best results
- Always apply a sunscreen before going outdoors; not doing so can worsen hyperpigmentation, prevent scars from healing and cause skin damage from UV rays
- Vitamin C can cause irritation as it is highly acidic; If you have sensitive skin, you may wish to apply once a day to allow your skin to become accustomed to the solution
- If using a serum, pour or pump a spare amount into the palms of your hands and gently pat and press into your face; do not rub. If using a cream or lotion, you may gently rub into your skin
- Wait one minute to allow the product to completely absorb into your skin, then continue with your skin care routine.
Best results are achieved when vitamin C is combined with other active agents; this is because on its own, it’s unstable and fails to penetrate into the skin, rendering it useless.
Adding vitamin E or ferulic acid stabilizes vitamin C and doubles photoprotection of skin. This guards against inflammation and can effectively lighten melasma and PIH.
You can also obtain greater results when you use a product containing glycolic acid or retinol (a vitamin A derivative and a weaker form of retinoid) beforehand.
Both bolster the effects of vitamin C as they have the same characteristics, notably as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. In addition, both exfoliate to clear the skin of acne-causing debris and dullness.
Lastly, niacinamide and vitamin C pair well together as both target hyperpigmentation, stimulate collagen, improve the skin barrier and protect skin.
Vitamin C to Prevent Scarring
Vitamin C has been shown to reduce inflammation and subsequent tissue damage in acne-prone skin through its antioxidant and inflammatory qualities. This minimizes or prevents scar formation in those with acne-prone skin.
Topical vitamin C products can help prevent inflammation in acne-prone skin to reduce or eliminate the risk of scar formation. This vitamin can also help fade existing scars due to its many powerful qualities.
Vitamin C boosts collagen production to repair, strengthen and protect skin, guards against damage from free radicals, provides photoprotection, heals wounds, lightens dark spots, brightens a dull complexion, and hydrates dry skin.
All these characteristics combined result in scars that will be smaller and less noticeable.
For best results, opt for an L-ascorbic acid serum that contains ferulic acid and vitamin E for a synergistic effect. This powerful combination can improve the appearance of scars and also contribute toward skin health with consistent use.
If you feel you aren’t achieving satisfactory results, consult a dermatologist to find out your treatment options.
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