By Sylv T

Empty again?! My neighbourhood supermarket and pharmacy shelves have been stripped of vitamin C for the last few weeks. But no wonder—because of the COVID-19 health crisis, this supplement, known to support our immune system, is in higher demand than ever.

But, did you know that vitamin C can also boost skin health? Let our quick guide help you decide if it’s a simple step you want to add to your skincare routine. 

Vitamin C: An Unsung Hero For Skin

Research has found that vitamin C has numerous benefits when applied to our skin. Here are five of the main ones.

Protects against damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays: Being an antioxidant, vitamin C reduces the oxidative stress the sun’s UV rays have on skin cells by strengthening the skin’s barrier, inhibiting sun damage and prolonging cell survival.

Repairs damaged skin: Increasing the rate of collagen fibre production, vitamin C allows new skin cells to form to replace damaged skin and reduce wrinkles. This process also stimulates repair of cell genetic material, promoting regeneration and wound healing.

Fights against infections: Vitamin C also helps our bodies’ T-cells, a fundamental part of our immune system, mature. This plays a crucial role in our skin’s fight against the invasion of foreign bodies that cause infections.

Prevents hyperpigmentation: Studies have shown that skin pigmentation could be connected to the risk of certain skin cancers. Thankfully, vitamin C has been known to turn skin cells coloured by UV rays back to their original tone. 

Reduces tumour growth: UV radiation can inflame the skin and could cause gene mutation, impact cell repair and eventually cause widespread skin cell death. These events could all contribute to skin cell tumour growth. By lowering the risk of these factors, vitamin C reduces the likelihood of skin tumour formation. 

Why Serums, Though?

Toner, lotion, moisturiser, cream, sunscreen etc. have vitamin C, but among the countless skincare options, the most effective, according to dermatologists, is—surprise surprise—serums!

Serums contain smaller particles without the big “sealing” particles found in thicker products like moisturisers. Their active ingredients can penetrate the skin barrier more deeply and move quickly through the skin.

With more efficient vitamin C absorption and a highly concentrated formulation, it provides an intensive dose to tackle skin issues. Dr Abigail Waldman, an instructor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, even recommends serums as anti-ageing solutions, preferring them over our usual sunscreens or moisturisers. 

But, Bear In Mind…

Before rushing to empty out vitamin C serum shelves as well (and please remember social distancing amidst everything!), there are three common considerations we must note.

Vitamin C can be unstable: Its most natural form, ascorbic acid, is most effective for direct application on the skin. However, it is very unstable in solutions, including serums. When exposed to air, heat, and especially light, it degrades and loses its efficacy.

Maintaining a pH of less than 3.5, or adding other antioxidants like vitamin E to the mixture, can stabilise vitamin C to ensure maximum skin protection. When choosing a product, scan the ingredients list to check these are included.

Not all vitamin C serums are created equal: As with all skincare products, their packaging provides clues on how effective they can be. For vitamin C serums, look first at its ingredients list. L-ascorbic acid, the form of vitamin C best for skincare use, should be one of the earliest ingredients mentioned, ideally within the first five. Its concentration level should also be between 10-20%—anything above that can cause skin irritation without any added benefits.

Look carefully at the serum container too. A dark-coloured bottle or dispenser, preferably glass, with a dropper rather than an air pump, limits vitamin C exposure to environmental degradation. Some manufacturers advise storing the serum in your refrigerator to extend its shelf life, so do check for any storage instructions. Lastly, if your serum comes out yellow (or darker) before its expiry date,  it has gone bad. For the sake of your skin, please throw it away (or get a refund if you can)!

Skin sensitivities: Intense acids, including vitamin C, can cause irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin. Dr Maryam M. Asgari, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School’s department of dermatology, recommends testing out new serums or new combinations of acid-containing products on a small part of our skin before the full application. On the rare occasion that redness, dryness, yellowish discolouration or stinging should ensue, stop all products immediately and consult your doctor to prevent further skin damage.

Vitamin C serums can be a great skin booster, but for true effectiveness, we must be picky about the brand we choose. Remember that our individual skin compositions respond differently to products, so what your peers vouch for might not be suitable or safe for your skin. Ultimately, we must do our own leg work to find the right fit, so that our skin can see healthier days.