Antioxidants like Vitamin C are a must have in your anti-aging skincare arsenal, Chandni Patel explains why.
We often think of Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid as our ‘go-to’ ingredient when our immune system needs supporting in the winter to fight off flu’s and colds. But it has numerous other health benefits including preventing and treating diseases like scurvy, lowering hypertension, increasing absorption and utilisation of iron, wound healing, bone health and strengthening blood vessels. And when it comes to skin, it has a multitude of positive effects, which is why it’s such a popular ingredient in skin care products.
Known as a ‘powerhouse vitamin’ studies have shown it helps rejuvenate aged and photodamaged (sun damaged) skin by boosting new collagen production and slowing down its degradation. This helps in maintaining the skin’s elasticity, giving it a smoother, younger-look.
There are two types of aging – intrinsic, which is largely determined by your genes, and extrinsic which involves lifestyle factors such as bad diet, pollution, smoking, drinking and sun exposure. These make us age prematurely, making our skin lose its plumpness and look thinner with wrinkles and visible lines.
It is possible to tackle these external factors and slow down these skin changes. And this is where Vitamin C comes in. When it comes to sun damage, studies have shown it’s a powerful weapon that protects the skin from UV light damage. That doesn’t mean that it’s a sunscreen but topical application has been shown to reduce the amount of redness associated with burning. And because it’s an antioxidant it can also help end the destructive chain of cell damage caused by free radicals which are produced by the damage the sun can do.
Pigmentation and Vitamin C
And, it has been shown to help reduce redness and areas of pigmentation.
Exposure to UV rays from the sun can lead to the appearance of dark spots causing the appearance of hyperpigmentation and discolouration. This often appears on the face but also on the neck, chest and hands. Topical application of vitamin C can brighten up your skin by lightening the spots.
At the cellular level it plays a vital role in collagen production and helps ward off the enzymes the body produces that break it down. This helps keep the skin looking firmer and plumper.
So overall, it works to improve the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, as well as helping restore the skin’s vibrant glow.
Eat it or wear it?
So how do we ensure we take in enough vitamin C? As vitamin C happens to be one of the most water-soluble antioxidants in our bodies experts recommend consuming a diet rich in this vitamin to maintain optimal levels daily. This will be essential to various processes in the body rather than relying on supplements unless of course advised to do so by a health professional.
One of the best sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits – oranges, grapefruits, lemons and lime. Other fruits like strawberries, cherries, kiwi and papaya are packed with this nutrient too as are vegetables including brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens (kale, chard, mustard greens), broccoli, bell peppers and winter squash.
These nutritious foods additionally provide other vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to help keep us healthy.
It’s worth noting that smoking and drinking depletes vitamin C levels.
Vitamin C in skincare
When it comes to our skin health, research clearly has shown that replenishing collagen stores in skin directly through topical application of vitamin C is an effective way to improve the signs of ageing. This can be done by using this vitamin in the form of serums, gels, lotions and tonics.
What’s important though is the concentration and the packaging.
Vitamin C is highly unstable and oxidises – or simply put, it goes off – quickly. To maintain its shelf life, so to speak, look for packaging that does not open – that is, airless pumps. Also as day light degrades it, make sure the packaging does not let in any light. It should be in dark glass or opaque packaging.
Some products, like the ESK C-Forte 2+ have micro-encapsulated the vitamin C to help maintain its stability as well ad Vitamion E and Ferulic acid. Products formulated with Ferulic Acid and other vitamins like Vitamin E, B3 and B5 it can help improve stability and performance.
To be effective, most studies say it should be in a concentration of between 8-20% and the most effective form is L-ascorbic acid. Other forms may be more stable but what the products gain in stability they may trade off with efficacy.
Vitamin C serums should be clear or very slightly coloured – straw coloured. If it’s yellow or dark brownish-yellow it has oxidised and won’t do your skin any good.
A water-based product may be better for people who are prone to acne or breakouts.
Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 5, Vitamin C.
Traikovich SS. Use of topical ascorbic acid and its effects on photodamaged skin topography. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999 Oct;125(10):1091-8.