How Does Vitamin C Help Skin?


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If you’ve shopped the skincare aisle lately (or in the last decade), you know that there is no shortage of anti-aging ingredients on the market. Despite the marketing hype often assigned to a single ingredient, research is clear that using a range of beneficial ingredients is always best for keeping skin at its healthiest. There are some exceptions—standout ingredients that, whether included among a mix of beneficial ingredients or in a concentrated treatment, are among a select few that can treat multiple skincare concerns. Vitamin C is one such example!

Here, we’ll share the research-proven results you should expect from vitamin C, we’ll discuss whether one form is better than another, and share how you can incorporate this powerhouse antioxidant into your skincare routine.

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Recommended Products with Vitamin C

Vitamin C for Anti-Aging & Brighter, Healthier Skin

In any form (and we’ll get to which types work best), vitamin C provides potent antioxidant protection, shielding skin from damaging free radicals—those pesky rogue molecules that promote premature aging. The most abundant forms of free-radical damage are environmental factors we can’t escape—think sun damage, pollution and oxygen—that assault skin on a daily basis, but that’s where topical vitamin C can help (Dermatological Surgery, 2008 & Dermatology Research and Practice, 2012)!

When incorporated into your daily skincare lineup, well-formulated products containing vitamin C can provide a range of benefits that keep your skin younger-looking, longer! See what C can do:

Ascorbic Acid: Vitamin C Royalty

Ascorbic acid—also known as L-ascorbic acid—has the most research of any form of vitamin C when it comes to benefits for skin. For that reason, ascorbic acid is the most form of vitamin C used in well formulated skincare products. When properly formulated, it helps create younger, firmer skin while fading signs of sun damage and post-acne marks.

Ascorbic acid is also a powerhouse when mixed with other antioxidants, or when used alone in higher concentrations, such as 15% or 20% or greater, amounts that can be great for treating extra-stubborn concerns (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2008 & Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 2012).

Recommended Treatments: Add a few drops of Paula’s Choice Resist C15 Super Booster—a 15% ascorbic acid + peptide treatment—to your favorite serum or moisturizer for dramatically brighter, firmer and healthier skin.

Want to target a particularly stubborn brown spot, red mark or wrinkle? Dab a small amount of the Paula’s Choice Resist Vitamin C Spot Treatment, a 25% ascorbic acid concentrate, to the bothersome area and watch them beat a hasty retreat.

Vitamin C: The Extended Family

Good news: There isn’t a single “best” form of vitamin C, but there are only a handful that research has demonstrated are the most stable and effective. Other effective forms include sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate—each derivatives of vitamin C, but all with less supporting research than ascorbic acid (but what research does exist is certainly encouraging).

Each of these forms of vitamin C has a range of benefits that include repair and protection from free- radical damage; the takeaway is that these are more beneficial when added to a blend with other proven antioxidants and cell-communicating ingredients. Look for products that include these with ingredients such as green tea, ascorbic acid, retinol, and/or niacinamide.

Note: All antioxidants, including vitamin C, are vulnerable to destabilizing when exposed to air and light (Skin Research and Technology, 2008). That means if you want to reap the reward of your antioxidant-enriched treatments, only choose those that are packaged in opaque tubes, air-restrictive bottles, or pumps that help keep their ingredients stable!

Recommended Treatments: You’ll find multiple forms of vitamin C in many Paula’s Choice products. Get even more information on how adding a serum or retinol treatment that contains a proven mix of vitamin C and other beneficial ingredients can help improve the anti-aging results of your skincare routine!

Bottom Line

With decades of research around its benefits, vitamin C is a long-established skincare superstar that can help you achieve younger, healthier and more radiant skin. However, like any ingredient, skincare will never be as simple as any single ingredient—just as no single food or nutrient can keep your body healthy, you need more than just one ingredient to keep your skin in good shape, too!

It’s important to mention that vitamin C forms are effective in lower concentrations, so don’t get caught up in the belief that only higher strengths are beneficial for skin. Research has shown that concentrations as low 0.6% provide antioxidant and anti-aging benefits to skin (Skin Research and Technology, 2008). Depending on your concerns, you may do just fine using a regular-strength vitamin C product, especially is said product also contains a range of great ingredients to smooth, repair, and replenish skin.

Without question, vitamin C is a powerful tool in your anti-aging arsenal. For best results, use it strategically and as part of a routine that includes a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen plus irritant-free products that contain a skin-pleasing mix of antioxidants, skin-repairing agents, and cell-communicating ingredients.

Want to know more about another hall-of-fame skincare ingredient? Check out our article, “6 Retinol Myths, Busted” for the basics on getting the most from your retinol treatment—as well as the retinol beauty myths you shouldn’t believe!

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Vitamin C Treatments.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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