If there was a Regina George of the skincare world, it would be vitamin C (hyaluronic acid is much more of a Karen, tbh). Vitamin C first showed up in serums, but soon moisturizers, body care, and even scalp care got in on the trend. Now, she’s everywhere.
But this popular skincare ingredient is the reigning queen for good reason. The list of vitamin C benefits for skin is long—it both protects and repairs skin, among many things. So if your routine is lacking in this powerhouse ingredient, now is as good a time as ever to join the masses. But before you pick out your vitamin C of choice, here’s everything you need to know about all the vitamin C benefits for skin.
About the Experts:
“Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a naturally occurring antioxidant that increases photoprotection in the skin by increasing cell survival following UV exposure,” explains Bryce Anthony, an esthetician and skincare pro in New York City. Think of it like a wingman for your cells, helping them create brighter, healthy skin—while also helping to defend them against free radicals and environmental aggressors like pollution and damaging sun exposure (we’ll explain more on that soon).
You know how you automatically associate vitamin C with oranges? That’s because this skin-essential vitamin is most prevalent in fruits and veggies, but those nutrients don’t always make their way to the skin’s level by simply just enjoying them as a snack. That’s where topical vitamin C skincare products come into play—trust us, there are tons of reasons to incorporate them into your routine. The best part? The experts love the legendary ingredient just as much as you will.
Unwanted dark spots and discoloration, whether they’re from aging, sun damage, or old breakouts (we’re looking at you, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), are the quickest way to dull your glow. Enter vitamin C. “Vitamin C removes the top layers of skin by weakening the lipids that bond them together,” says Dendy Engelman, MD, an NYC-based dermatologist. It sounds intense, but it basically means vitamin C scrubs away dullness and discolored cells through chemical exfoliation to reveal a brighter, more even skin tone without the harsh physical effects that physical exfoliating scrubs and tools may have.
Get all the brightening effects by adding a vitamin C serum (we love ORIGINS GINZING™ Into The Glow Brightening Serum for it’s multi-action hydrating and exfoliating properties) into your a.m. skincare routine pre-moisturizer and sunscreen daily if it’s gentle enough, or save the treatment for your weekly Sunday self-care routine if your skin is a little more sensitive.
Not to put a damper on fresh air and sunshine, but both air pollution and UV rays create what are known as free radicals in your body. “Free radicals are highly destructive molecules that can wreak havoc on your skin,” says Dr. Engelman. “They are unstable and in search of a missing electron. When free radicals steal an electron from other molecules, it leaves them unstable in return.” This means those molecules are more susceptible to premature aging (both deep wrinkles and fine lines), hyperpigmentation, and uneven texture. Pretty much everything you don’t want for your skin.
Don’t worry, we know staying inside isn’t an option (getting your vitamin D is just as important), so we have a solution: antioxidants, like vitamin C. The powerhouse ingredient is just as good at helping protect your skin cells from that free radical damage as it is everything else. If you’re already happy with your current skincare lineup (which better include a daily sunscreen for protection!), try working vitamin C into your routine through makeup. Our favorite right now is the OLEHENRIKSEN Banana Bright+ Vitamin CC Stick—it’s a handy color correcting stick that brightens dark circles and features not one but two (!!) forms of vitamin C.
The same exfoliation properties that promote cell turnover to brighten your skin also lead to a boost in collagen production. Need a refresher? Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it’s what keeps your skin strong and plump. Problem is, as you age your collagen supply takes a hit, which can lead to sagging, less bouncy skin.
Vitamin C, like the oil-soluble THD ascorbate kind in SUNDAY RILEY C.E.O Glow Vitamin C + Turmeric Face Oil, has anti-aging properties that can help. “It’s a highly acidic vitamin, so when you put it on, it tricks your skin into thinking it’s damaged,” says Dr. Engelman. “So your skin sends production into overdrive to restore collagen proteins to heal itself.” It’s the same general theory behind popular skincare procedures like microneedling and lasers—only on a much more approachable, at-home level.
Incorporating vitamin C products into your skin routine is fairly easy as it can be applied topically either daily or every other day. Consistency is key with the C! However, there are a few caveats to be aware of. “With any active, you want to slowly introduce it into your routine, starting with two to three times a week, then working your way to daily use,” says Anthony, advising that starting off with high percentages might lead to unwanted irritation—especially for sensitive skin types. If you have inflamed acne, Anthony recommends skipping out on vitamin C until you’re in the clear, so as not to exacerbate the condition.
While you can use a vitamin C serum (the most common delivery method) either in the morning or in the evening, there are perks to using it after your a.m. cleanse. “Applying vitamin C in the morning can help to fight free radical damage throughout the day and even help to supercharge your SPF,” says Anthony. Looking for fewer steps? Try a brightening cleanser, like MURAD Essential-C™ Cleanser, which exfoliates gently enough for daily use and has an invigorating citrus scent that’ll give your skin and your senses a nice wakeup call. If you already have a ride-or-die cleanser and aren’t looking to switch things up, opt for a moisturizer-SPF combo that’s spiked with vitamin C, like SUPERGOOP! Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40 Serum instead.
If you decide to opt for a nighttime application, we love the idea of incorporating a vitamin C-infused product like MUDMASKY® Vitamin-Infused Eye Serum into your routine. It’s packed with all kinds of skin-loving vitamins in addition to vitamin C that help firm and refresh the delicate skin under the eyes. One tip for using a vitamin C product at night: Make sure not to use it in tandem with benzoyl peroxide, which could cancel out all vitamin C’s benefits.
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