Vitamin C is the science-backed and expert-approved underdog of the skincare world. There are several benefits to adding this potent ingredient to your skincare routine, but for a first-time user, the sheer number of products, formulations, and instructions can be daunting – but it doesn’t have to be that way! Vitamin C isn’t as complex as it seems. Here’s why.
What Is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant known as Ascorbic Acid or L-Ascorbic Acid. It helps protect your cells against free radical damage which, in short, are unstable molecules that cause damage to cells resulting in premature ageing, dark spots, breakouts, and wrinkles. Vitamin C is one of the best studied ingredients in skincare and it’s so celebrated that it even has its own dedicated day – Vitamin C Day is marked annually on April 4th!
Before I go into the benefits of vitamin C, I want you to understand that although it does have incredible benefits, it’s not a quick-fix product. In fact, it can take up to 12 weeks to see visible differences. Think of vitamin C as a product to prevent skin damage and protect your cells like an armour. Another important thing to remember is that not all vitamin C serums are created equal, and formula and clinical studies matter.
When Vitamin C is paired with vitamin E and ferulic acid, it can enhance the product enormously. But this may be hard to find as the vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid combination is actually patented by Dr. Sheldon Pinell (the founding scientist and chief medical advisor of SkinCeuticals), who was the first to discover how effective this combination was through years of research and clinical studies. He currently has 10 patents on his products.
What Does Vitamin C Actually Do?
In a nutshell, it can have the following functions.
Vitamin C prevents:
- Free radical damage
- Skin sagging
- Loss of firmness
- Sun damage
Vitamin C encourages:
- Collagen and elastin formation
- Wound healing
Vitamin C reduces:
- Pigment production
Vitamin C improves:
- Skin tone and texture
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Skin’s natural regeneration process
- Uneven skin tone
Is It a Must in My Routine?
In my opinion, yes! You wouldn’t go to war without armour, so why stop now? Vitamin C helps in protecting yourself and preventing damage. It works in perfect synergy with sunscreen for even further protection, though there are some differences in opinion. If you want to protect your skin from any of the above issues, it can be achieved by using other ingredients, too. However, as mentioned before, vitamin C is still a highly acclaimed ingredient in skincare – not without reason!
Does Price Matter?
When it comes to skincare, you can always find a bigger price tag, but does it actually make a difference? Not necessarily.
The costs of such products could stem from a variety of things ranging from rare ingredients, concentration, potency, and clinical studies to marketing and packaging. So, a more expensive product does not always mean a better product. When looking for skincare products, consider available clinical studies, potency of ingredients, and formula.
How and When Should I Use Vitamin C?
Use it first thing in the morning, after cleansing, and follow up with sunscreen. Sunscreen works in synergy with your vitamin C serum and improves UVA and UVB protection. One application of three to four drops on the face and neck will last you 24-72 hours without needing to reapply, depending on the product. Some brands may direct you to use the product in the evening, but that really depends on the ingredients. For instance, if it contains resveratrol, it may be a repairing antioxidant that can be applied in the evening, but as a rule, most vitamin C serums should be used in the morning to give you better protection when paired with your sunscreen.
Vitamin C in Forms Besides Serum – Yay or Nay?
In short, the type of vitamin C product you use comes down to your preference, budget, and time, but each form has its own pros and cons.
- Longer shelf life
- The most stable form
- Relatively cheap
- You must be careful with how much you apply – too little is not effective, too much can be irritating
- You must dissolve it into a serum with the correct pH level, something that most people are unlikely to do
- Could be unsuitable for sensitive skin
Oil and Silicone Form
To identify these products, look at the texture – is it oily or does it have a silicone feel, unlike water?
- More stable than water-based serums as oils and silicones are protected from water, oxygen, and light in this form. Hence, it lasts longer and can safely be stored for a long period of time
- The texture is an acquired taste and can be slimy and gritty
- Those with oily skin may not like this form as they won’t like the feeling of oil or product on their skin
This will have a water-based consistency.
- Absorbs quicker
- Easy to use
- Good texture
- Shelf life isn’t as good as the other forms
- Some people can be put off by the scent of water-based vitamin C – it’s commonly thought to smell like coffee or hotdog water
Why Does My Skin Tingle When I Use Vitamin C?
This can happen for several reasons.
- The potency may be too strong
- Incorrect pH level
- If you’re using the powder form, you may have used too much that, again, increases potency and causes it to become unstable
- Skin sensitivity – try using a lower percentage (around 10%)
- Rosacea – if you suffer from rosacea, start with a lower percentage (around 10%)
How Should It Be Stored?
Store it in a cool, dark place. You’ll find that some vitamin C serums come in brown, blue, or green glass bottles to protect the serum from breaking down due to light and heat exposure. If this happens, you’ll notice the serum becoming darker.
Vitamin C serums should be almost colourless or very light in colour. Once the serum degrades, it changes colour to yellow, orange, dark orange, and then brown. The darker the colour, the less effective the product will be. If your vitamin C serum becomes dark quickly, the formula may not necessarily be that great or it may have expired.
Can I Use Other Acids/Products Alongside Vitamin C?
Benzoyl peroxide is known to oxidise vitamin C, so avoid using this at the same time as it can make your vitamin C less effective. But aside from that, yes, you can use other acids and retinols or retinoids. Just use them in the evening as it may otherwise cause irritation.
Are Vitamin C Products with a High Percentage Better?
The maximum L-Ascorbic acid you can use is 20%. After that, it doesn’t do much more than lower percentages. High percentages can actually be irritating, so they aren’t always recommended. 10-15% is optimal.
With So Many Vitamin C Products Available, How Do I Choose One?
When trying to find the perfect vitamin C product, consider the following.
Always look for this type of vitamin C as it is the gold standard. It must have a concentration between 10% and 20% (less isn’t effective, more is unnecessary).
For better efficacy, find a formula that also contains vitamin E and ferulic acid. If you have acne or breakout-prone skin, I advise against getting vitamin E and try to shop for an alternative.
Buy products with dark or tinted glass, or airtight packaging.
As discussed before, each formulation has its own pros and cons, so pick based on your preference.
pH of 3.5
A pH of 3.5 allows for optimal absorption. Also, be sure to avoid products with unnecessary ingredients, fragrance, low potency, and no clinical studies. Personally, I recommend SkinCeuticals antioxidant serums as they remain universally unmatched. If you have the budget, go for it!