What are the primary benefits of using vitamin C on the skin?

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Vitamin C is a vital component for the overall health of skin and other connective tissues.


Benefits of using vitamin C on your skin

Including it in your diet isn’t the only way to use vitamin C to boost your health. It is also well established for its beneficial effects for topical use. While vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid) may be added to cosmetic products ranging from cleansers to masks, the most effective therapeutic use is in vitamin C serums and creams ranging in concentrations from 10%-20%.

The primary benefits of vitamin C on the skin are

  • Skin brightening- evens skin tone and adds glow and radiance to under eye area
  • As an antioxidant for skin health – repairs and defends from damage caused by UV rays
  • Reducing appearance of wrinkles - aids with rebuilding collagen

Vitamin C for skin brightening

When skin is overexposed to the sun, the amount of vitamin C in your skin decreases and melanin is unevenly produced in increasing amounts. Since melanin is responsible for the color of your skin, an excess of it will result in hyperpigmentation in which your body has dark spots and uneven skin tone. Potential discoloration can include dark spots under the eyes, age spots or liver spots.

Vitamin C has a role in regulating the production of melanin. When levels of vitamin C in the skin are normal your skin produces consistent levels of melanin and it has an even tone. Using topical vitamin C can restore vitamin C depleted by sun exposure, restoring the natural levels of melanin production. The cells responsible for creating melanin, melanocytes, are found in the outer layers of skin (epidermis), so topically applied vitamin C can easily reach them and improve hyperpigmentation.

Vitamin C as an antioxidant

Exposure to the sun creates stress on your body, damaging DNA in the skin cells of your body and leading to premature aging of your skin. Through its antioxidant function, vitamin C can reduce the effects of infrared and blue light on damaging the cells of your skin.

Antioxidants like vitamin C work by donating electrons to harmful particles known as free radicals, reducing the chemical potency of the radicals and stopping their ability to do damage to your body’s cells.

Because of how vitamin C is reactive, it is also sensitive to getting destroyed easily by light, heat, and exposure to air. To keep your vitamin C serum as potent as possible, use it in a timely manner and store it in a well-sealed container in a dark and cool place. If stored incorrectly it can react with sunlight, causing it to oxidize, and lose its potency.

Vitamin C for wrinkles

Wrinkled skin is damaged skin. Vitamin C helps your skin heal damage. As a vital part of wound repair, vitamin C helps with wrinkles.

The way vitamin C helps decrease wrinkles is by decreasing damage to the proteins that make up your skin, specifically the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and the lower layer (dermis).

Vitamin C helps the skin heal by supporting the mRNA of collagen - a principal protein in the skin. It also helps increase the production of collagen by stimulating the fibroblasts - the cells in the body dedicated to making collagen. Though fibroblasts are found deep in the skin in the dermis layer, making it harder to reach with topical solutions, research shows that vitamin C is powerful enough to increase collagen and reduce wrinkles even in solutions as low as 3%.

Simultaneously, vitamin C decreases the uneven skin texture from photodamage in the skin by inhibiting the overproduction of elastin that typically comes with excess sun exposure.


Secondary benefits of vitamin C

While vitamin C is highly effective for its primary uses, it is such a potent ingredient that it has several secondary benefits, including:

  • Helping acne
  • Wound healing
  • Reducing risk of skin cancer

Typical solutions for acne don’t include vitamin C, but there have been studies that show vitamin C used alongside retinol can help prevent the overproduction of sebum which can cause acne.

Oral supplementation has long been known to support better wound healing, but there is also a study which suggests vitamin c used topically on a wound can reduce the formation of scar tissue.

Topical use of vitamin C also decreases the incidence of photocarcinogenesis, the process by which skin cancer starts to be formed.


How to best use vitamin C serum

Vitamin C serum, while powerful, needs to be applied correctly to maximize your benefits.

Vitamin C guidelines:
  • Apply it at least once daily
  • Use moisturizer on top of serum
  • Use sunblock in conjunction with vitamin C
  • Adjust % of vitamin C to match your skin

To achieve best results, you need to be dedicated to applying your serum. In studies in which it was used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, it took 12 weeks to achieve results.

Moisturizer helps seal in serum, ensuring your skin absorbs the maximum amount of active ingredient while also preventing oxidation with the air and counteracts the drying action of vitamin C.

Sunblock and vitamin C work well together. Vitamin C boosts the skin protective abilities of UVB sunscreens, so many people combine the two together in their morning skincare routine.

Vitamin C can be drying, but you can manage this by choosing a lower strength solution. If you have dry or sensitive skin, use a 10% solution. If you’re looking for maximum effectiveness and have tolerant skin, choose a higher percentage around 20%.


1. National Library of Medicine. Vitamin C in dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
2. National Library of Medicine. Improved scar appearance with combined use of silicone gel and vitamin C for Asian patients: a comparative case series. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24091488/
3. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Comparison of clinical efficacies of sodium ascorbyl phosphate, retinol and their combination in acne treatment. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1468-2494.2008.00479.x
4. PRIME Journal. The effects of topical vitamin C on the skin. https://www.prime-journal.com/the-effects-of-topical-vitamin-c-on-the-skin/
5. Oregon State University. Vitamin C and Skin Health. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-C