It’s a combination you see more often in skincare these days, but what are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid and how do they help your skin? Danial Judd finds out.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a vital part of anyone’s diet. It’s a small sugar molecule made out of glucose but the human body can’t perform this conversion so we need to get it from our food. In skin care it’s applied directly to the skin as this provides higher levels of vitamin C in the layers of your skin than can be achieved from dietary vitamin C, studies show. Once in the skin, vitamin C can act as an antioxidant where it protects your skin cells from sun damage. It can also improve the appearance of already damaged skin by boosting collagen levels.
Vitamin E is another antioxidant vitamin and is in fact a general name for eight similar molecules: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Vitamin E is fat soluble which lets it readily absorb into your skin and spread into the membranes of your skin cells. The vitamin E in our diet normally comes from vegetable oils, leafy greens and eggs.
Ferulic acid rounds out this trio of antioxidants. It’s a small molecule found in seeds, grains and the bark of trees. As well as acting as an antioxidant, it absorbs some UV radiation, acting in a way, as a weak sunscreen. (Note: this does not mean it is a sunscreen or a replacement for a sunscreen, but it helps limits the damage the sun can do to your skin.)
How do they work?
Antioxidants are a group of molecules that protect your cells from damage by free radicals. Free radicals are incredibly reactive molecules created by things like UV radiation and pollution. They can wreak havoc inside your cells, damaging your DNA and creating mutations that can lead to certain types of cancer. Antioxidants can safely react with free radicals, neutralising them before they damage other parts of the cell. The body normally responds to free radical based photodamage by triggering an inflammation response which stops the damaged cells causing problems but also leads to a loss of collagen in the skin and results in wrinkled and sagging skin. Studies show this combination of antioxidants protect skin from the initial photodamage, lowering the inflammation response and the subsequent loss of collagen.
While all three of these antioxidants are available individually, it’s in this trio that they really shine. Vitamin C is naturally unstable and quickly turns into its oxidised form when exposed to air and sun light. When it’s combined with Ferulic acid and vitamin E its stability is greatly improved. Not only does the combination give a more stable product, but it also gives better photoprotection than any of the antioxidants individually. As vitamin C can ‘recycle’ vitamin E when it is oxidised by a free radical, the photoprotection of those two together is four times that of the separate antioxidants. Adding Ferulic acid doubles this again to eight times the photoprotection when compared to any of the individual antioxidants.
As well as antioxidant properties, vitamin C also plays a direct role in restoring collagen lost through aging and photodamage. Vitamin C acts as a switch in your skin cells, telling them it’s time to start making new collagen. Once production starts, vitamin C also helps build the special amino acids needed for stable collagen chains. Lastly, it also acts as a switch to turn off the production of enzymes that break down collagen, protecting the newly built fibres. The combo of these effects helps restore skin elasticity by undoing the damage done to collagen levels before treatment.
These antioxidants products typically come as a serum and are easily applied at home, by the user. You should make sure to clean your face first and rub the product into your skin, giving it time to absorb. They are usually applied once daily.
Are there risks and side effects?
Generally these ingredients are well tolerated by most people but in some cases vitamin C creams may cause a stinging sensation, redness and dry skin. Ferulic acid as well, this can trigger allergies to wheat and grains if it is produced from those sources. Vitamin E may also irritate the skin. If you’re unsure, try a patch test on the inside of your wrist.
So is it worth it?
In combination, vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid offer great protection from the damage and signs of aging that can be caused by the sun’s UV rays. It seems well worth it as something to add to your skin care regimen. Prices range from as low as £16 to well over £100 depending on the brand.
- Traikovich, S.S., Use of topical ascorbic acid and its effects on photodamaged skin topography. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 1999. 125(10): p. 1091 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10522500
- Lin, J.-Y., et al., UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2003. 48(6): p. 866-874.
- Geesin, J.C., et al., Ascorbic acid specifically increases type I and type III procollagen messenger RNA levels in human skin fibroblast. J Invest Dermatol, 1988. 90(4): p. 420-4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3351329
- Kivirikko, K.I. and R. Myllyla, Post-translational processing of procollagens. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1985. 460: p. 187-201. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3008623
- Nusgens, B.V., et al., Topically applied vitamin C enhances the mRNA level of collagens I and III, their processing enzymes and tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase 1 in the human dermis. J Invest Dermatol, 2001. 116(6): p. 853-9.