- Research has shown that the application of topical Vitamin C lightens skin effectively.
- Topical vitamin C in the form of creams, serums and other products work to reduce the amount of melanin produced by pigment skin cells.
- Vitamin C applied topically is effective at addressing hyperpigmentation conditions such as dark spots, melasma, age spots, and sun spots, among others.
While some who try topical vitamin C products to treat hyperpigmentation skin conditions, others simply want to lighten and refresh their skin tone.
Does vitamin C lighten skin?
While some studies indicate uncertainty when it comes to vitamin C’s ability to lighten skin, others show that the vitamin and many of its derivatives do have the ability to lighten skin–also referred to as skin whitening or brightening.
Still other research points to vitamin C’s ability to prevent and reduce pigmentation caused by exposure to UV rays, as well as its ability to prevent inflammatory hyperpigmentation at the site of an injury.
How does vitamin C lighten skin?
Vitamin C lightens skin by inhibiting the amount of melanin your pigment skin cells generate. When applied topically, vitamin C interacts with tyrosinase, the main enzyme responsible for the conversion of the amino acid tyrosine into melanin, thereby reducing pigmentation.
What form of vitamin C lightens skin?
Researchers have identified three vitamin C derivatives which efficiently convert to L-ascorbic acid once applied to the skin, leaving it firmer, healthier, and more youthful looking—among them ascorbyl-glucoside.
Clinical studies have shown that ascorbyl glucoside safely reduces common forms of hyperpigmentation such as age spots and traditionally difficult to treat melasma.
Additionally, OTC vitamin C creams with added vitamin A and/or soy offer mild pigment-lightening properties, while vitamin E in particular improves vitamin C’s effectiveness in the skin.
How to use vitamin C to lighten skin
The lightening process can be accelerated using home peels and home microdermabrasion, since exfoliation helps skin care products penetrate more effectively.
For facial lightening, vitamin C serums are potent and usually about a 20% concentration of L-ascorbic acid, vitamin c’s most active ingredient. The concentration will depend in part on the other ingredients added.
Vitamin C serums typically offer a higher concentration of vitamin C than moisturizers, and are thinner in consistency so penetrate the skin more easily to address specific concerns. Vitamin C moisturizers on the other hand are made primarily for quality skin hydration but may also address other skin concerns depending on the other ingredients included.
Here is a basic rundown of application steps for your topical vitamin C products:
- For better absorption, do a gentle facial scrub to remove dead layers of skin.
- Rinse off the scrub and pat dry.
- Apply the vitamin C product to your skin and massage it in gently, in a circular motion.
- Wait a few minutes for it to absorb and dry, and then apply a moisturizer, or use the product as your moisturizer.
- Be sure to wear sunscreen if you’re spending time outdoors.
- Use your product 2-3 times daily or as directed by the instructions.
- For evening use, apply just before bedtime when light exposure is less of a problem.
Expect that your skin tone or dark spots will lighten over time. How long this takes will vary with each person but in general, you should notice a visible difference after 2-3 weeks, and a significant difference after 8-12 weeks.
It’s important to continue using your vitamin C product regularly in order to see a change. As well, always be sure to apply a minimum 30 SPF sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
Safety & side effects
Vitamin C does not accumulate in the body, and has been deemed safe for use in skin care products.
Although rare, potential side effects of topical Vitamin C may include yellowish skin discoloration, a skin rash or allergic reaction, itching, or depigmentation of the hair. If any of these or other unusual symptoms present, discontinue the use of your product right away.
Topical vitamin C products are part of an effective skin care regime for anyone coping with conditions involving hyperpigmentation, as well as those who simply want a little facial brightening.
Vitamin C works to reduce the amount of melanin your pigment skin cells generate, for an all-around lightening effect.
- De Dormael, R., Bastien, P., Sextius, P., Gueniche, A., Ye, D., Tran, C., … Tricaud, C. (2019). Vitamin C Prevents Ultraviolet-induced Pigmentation in Healthy Volunteers: Bayesian Meta-analysis Results from 31 Randomized Controlled versus Vehicle Clinical Studies. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 12(2), E53–E59. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6415704/
- Telang P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 4(2), 143–146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593
- 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/
- Taylor, Mark B. MD; Yanaki, Jamal S.; Draper, David O. PHD; Shrutz, Joe C.; Coglianese, Mark PHD. (2013) Successful Short-Term and Long-Term Treatment of Melasma and Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation Using Vitamin C With a Full-Face Iontophoresis Mask and a Mandelic/Malic Acid Skin Care Regimen. jddonline.com/articles/dermatology/S1545961613P0045X/1/
- Elmore AR. Final report of the safety assessment of L-Ascorbic Acid, Calcium Ascorbate, Magnesium Ascorbate, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium Ascorbate, and Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate as used in cosmetics. Int J Toxicol. 2005;24 Suppl 2:51-111. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16154915