- The antioxidant properties of water-soluble vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, play an important role in skin health.
- The antioxidant activity of vitamin C can provide protective effects against UV-induced damage caused by free radicals.
- The effect of vitamin C antioxidant serum can be hydrating and brightening, leaving skin feeling renewed.
Environmental irritants such as UV rays, pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and other toxic chemicals trigger the formation of free radicals, which can target skin cells for an overall negative effect on your skin’s health.
Although it is common knowledge that consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C found in foods such as citrus fruits can boost the immune system, it is also true that including antioxidants in your skin care regimen can help your skin fight free radical damage by limiting their production.
Vitamin C’s Antioxidant Benefits
Vitamin C’s beneficial antioxidant effects are significant and are an important part of many people’s skin care routines for this very reason. Vitamin C serums and creams have both grown in popularity in recent years.
The biggest difference between a vitamin C serum and a cream or moisturizer is found in its texture. While serums tend to be thin and silky with a higher concentration of ingredients aimed at penetrating the skin to target specific concerns, creams offer similar benefits but are primarily focused on hydration.
- Vitamin C serum’s powerful antioxidant properties have been shown to protect against signs of UV-induced photoaging, such as wrinkles and dry skin.
- Vitamin C counteracts hyperpigmentation caused by sun exposure.
- Vitamin C’s antioxidant defense has anticarcinogenic properties that may help prevent skin cancer.
Mechanism of action
When skin is exposed to high levels of UV radiation, it can trigger a condition known as oxidative stress, which in turn causes skin damage.
The antioxidant properties of topical vitamin C in the form of creams and serums works to protect skin from high doses of oxidative damage by providing the electrons needed to neutralize free radicals, rendering then ineffective.
Skin Care Applications
The proper protocol for applying your vitamin C serum or cream depends on what kind of product you have chosen and the other products within your skin care regimen.
Typically, it’s best to apply your skin care products in order of thinnest to thickest consistency.
Since serums tend to be thinner, use them immediately after cleansing and toning but before moisturizing. Vitamin C creams and moisturizers are usually thicker in consistency, so it’s best to use them at the end of of your skin care regime, after toning.
Since topical vitamin C products offer protection from daily skin irritants, including UV rays and free radicals, preventative morning use is understood to be the most effective time to apply it.
Some recommend applying it before bed for better absorption, since most people apply fewer products to their skin at night.
Still others apply vitamin C twice a day in order to maximize its skin care benefits. Find what works best for you and properly follow the instructions and recommendations on your chosen vitamin C antioxidant product.
Do Vitamin C Antioxidant Serums Really Work?
Vitamin C antioxidant serum works to counter photodamage such as wrinkles, dry skin and hyperpigmentation incurred by free radicals. Choosing a vitamin C serum that will work for your skin, however, involves some product research.
When browsing products, look for a serum that includes L-ascorbic acid (LAA) at a concentration of 10–20%. Concentrations higher than this can irritate sensitive skin. While it is commonly believed that vitamin C serums with a concentration of less than 15% are ineffective, some studies indicate that vitamin C concentrations as low as 3% can improve signs of photodamage.
Vitamin C serums that include tocopherol or vitamin E and/or ferulic acid tend to be more effective at providing antioxidant benefits to your skin. Vitamin E is widely recognized for its ability to accelerate the skin’s healing process and treat dry skin. Vitamins C and E combined with ferulic acid can also provide significant photoprotection.
Lastly, be sure to choose a vitamin C antioxidant serum in a dark glass bottle, as clear bottles can’t properly protect the serum from sun exposure and may result in a reduction in potency.
If you’re looking for an alternative to vitamin C to include in your skin care regimen, there are several other effective options available. These include:
- Niacinamide or vitamin B3 is a powerful antioxidant that improves the skin’s texture and tone when included in topical skin care products.
- Arbutin, found in the bearberry plant, can hinder the development of melasma or hyperpigmentation.
- Retinol, or vitamin A, is a highly effective antioxidant that has been shown to have photoprotective properties.
The role of vitamin C in offering potent antioxidant activity that is beneficial to the skin has been well studied and is worth exploring for anyone interested in boosting their level of UV protection against potentially harmful free radicals triggered by exposure to the sun. Those seeking a credible solution to hyperpigmentation or dry skin may also see results with topical vitamin C.
The regular topical application of topical antioxidant vitamin C offers can protect skin from the damaging effects of free radicals for an overall brighter, healthier-looking complexion.
- Pham-Huy, L. A., He, H., & Pham-Huy, C. (2008). Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health. International journal of biomedical science : IJBS, 4(2), 89–96. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614697/
- Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. (2017). Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(7), 14–17. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605218/
- Fitzpatrick RE, Rostan EF. Double-blind, half-face study comparing topical vitamin C and vehicle for rejuvenation of photodamage. Dermatol Surg. 2002 Mar;28(3):231-6. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11896774
- Sarkar, R., Arora, P., & Garg, K. V. (2013). Cosmeceuticals for Hyperpigmentation: What is Available?. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 6(1), 4–11. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.110089
- Dorgan, JF; Schatzkin, A. (1991) Antioxidant micronutrients in cancer prevention. Hematology/oncology Clinics of North America [01 Feb 1991, 5(1):43-68]. DOI: 10.1016/S0889-8588(18)30453-2
- Telang P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 4(2), 143–146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593
- Raschke T, Koop U, Düsing H, -J, Filbry A, Sauermann K, Jaspers S, Wenck H, Wittern K, -P: Topical Activity of Ascorbic Acid: From in vitro Optimization to in vivo Efficacy. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2004;17:200-206. doi: 10.1159/000078824
- Zussman J, Ahdout J, Kim J. Vitamins and photoaging: do scientific data support their use? J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010 Sep;63(3):507-25. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2009.07.037
- Burgess C. Topical vitamins. J Drugs Dermatol. 2008 Jul;7(7 Suppl):s2-6. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18681152
- Ertam I, Mutlu B, Unal I, Alper S, Kivçak B, Ozer O. Efficiency of ellagic acid and arbutin in melasma: a randomized, prospective, open-label study. J Dermatol. 2008 Sep;35(9):570-4. doi:10.1111/j.1346-8138.2008.00522.x
- Schagen, S. K., Zampeli, V. A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 298–307. doi:10.4161/derm.22876
- Murray JC, Burch JA, Streilein RD, Iannacchione MA, Hall RP, Pinnell SR. A topical antioxidant solution containing vitamins C and E stabilized by ferulic acid provides protection for human skin against damage caused by ultraviolet irradiation. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Sep;59(3):418-25. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2008.05.004