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How To Correctly Use Vitamin C, Aka the Most Googled Skincare Ingredient Ever, To Transform Your Skin


Vogue Arabia, July/August 2019. Photo: Jason Kim

There’s a holy trinity when it comes to skincare: SPFretinol and vitamin C. According to the top experts, if you’re armed with all three and you use them correctly, you’re pretty much guaranteed brighter, smoother, healthier skin.

It’s no wonder then that vitamin C has been the most searched-for skincare ingredient ever, according to data analyzed by Cult Beauty, with the query “What does vitamin C do for your skin?” dominating Google searches the past year.

But vitamin C isn’t new. In fact, it’s been a skincare staple for years. We know it’s super beneficial for us, yet many of us are guilty of leaving it on the back-burner in favor of a shiny new ingredient.

Luckily, there’s a new influx of high-tech serums, oils, moisturizers and even supplements that have fine-tuned this notoriously unstable ingredient (which degrades when subjected to air, light and heat and doesn’t play ball with retinol and AHAs) to create even more powerful, reliable and user-friendly solutions.

Put simply, vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means that it’s a potent agent to fight oxidative damage, and not just on the skin’s surface. Our bodies suffer oxidative damage too when our immune system activates to fight off pathogens, therefore vitamin C plays a vital role in recovery from illness, supporting the development of our warrior white blood cells and fighting inflammation that can damage the tissues and organs.

Registered Nutritional Therapist and Naturopath Lauren Windas outlines: “Evidence shows that regular vitamin C supplementation can reduce the duration of cold symptoms by an average 8% in adults. This translates as one day less of illness”. All in all vitamin C is a VVP — a very valuable player.

Where can we get vitamin C from?

“L-Ascorbic acid (better known as vitamin C) is essential for humans as we cannot synthesise it by ourselves,” explains Linda Blahr, Head of National Training at SkinCeuticals. “You can implement vitamin C in your daily diet by eating vegetables & fruits with a high concentration of vitamin C. However, the skin is the last organ addressed within the digestion process, so there is a need for ‘topical Vitamin C’ formulations that work efficiently within the skin’s metabolism.”

It means while our bodies can get vitamin C from our food, our skin needs to be topped up with our skincare.

What does vitamin C do for skin?

As far as skincare goes, vitamin C has its own benefits. Including its ability to even out skin tone, tackle pigmentation, brighten complexion for a lit-from-within glow, all while gently diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and reducing the rate of the natural loss of collagen. It’s essentially a champion anti-aging ingredient that supports the revival of your skin’s elasticity.

Amongst all of these benefits, research also shows that this ingredient can shield skin from the visible impacts of environmental stressors, including free radicals that induce tissue damage.

One of the great things about vitamin C is that it can come in many forms, so you can use it according to skin type, and personal needs.

Forms of vitamin C in skincare:

– Mask: can be applied to irritated skin to soothe and help reduce swelling.

– Cleanser: most useful when combined with other vitamin C products as it’s always not the most potent, but usually suitable for different skin types.

– Vitamin C serums: some of vitamin C’s most potent formulas come in face serums, they can be included in your skincare routine every day.

– Cream/moisturizers: A multi-use moisturizer that promotes collagen production, which has the potential to thicken the dermis is a bathroom cabinet staple and saves you time too.

– Eye cream: targeted skincare is very effective, and vitamin C for under eyes can help reduce the appearance of dark circles as well as wrinkles and fine lines

– Non-topical (supplements): The beauty in supplements for vitamin C is that it can also be beneficial to the skin but it does the work from inside out. They can be insoluble tablets or in capsule form.

When and how to use vitamin C in your skincare routine:

Contrary to popular belief and unlike AHA’s and BHA’s or retinol, vitamin C is not necessarily vulnerable to sun exposure, so that means that you can add it to your skincare routine every morning and layer it underneath a good 30 or 50+ SPF.

Depending on the form of vitamin C, skin cosmetician and skincare entrepreneur Ole Henriksen’s rule of thumb is to “implement it by layering according to thickness (from lightest product – serums and toners, to thickest – moisturizer, with eye cream and then SPF as last two steps).” shares Henriksen.

What to look out for:

– Type: whether you chose to apply it topically with a serum, as a multi-use moisturizer, or something more targeted like eye cream, make sure you choose the right type of product for your skin type or according to your skin needs.

– Form: the different types of vitamin C are formulated in different forms. The most potent form of vitamin C for oily or normal skin, is L-ascorbic acid, while for dry and sensitive skin, it’s best to go for a more gentle magnesium ascorbyl phosphate which is a water-soluble form of vitamin C.

– Concentration: When starting out with vitamin C the experts advise starting out with the lowest concentration like 10% or 15% and working your way up the potencies.

– pH: absorption of vitamin C can be dependent on its pH level. For normal skin, a low pH of approximately 3.5 is most optimal. For sensitive skin, you should use a formula with a pH of 5 to 6.

– Storage: Whether you opt for water-based vitamin C which is usually more unstable and light-sensitive (typically held in opaque or amber coloured bottles) or anhydrous (i.e.” without water”) which tends to be more stable, even in the presence of sunlight you should make sure your vitamin C is stabilised and kept airtight in a dark, cool space.

Vitamin C can be taken orally or it can be very effective in topical applications. So we’ve rounded up the best vitamin C products, from the most gentle to the most potent for every need and every skin type, to stock up your bathroom cabinet!

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