Today I'm chatting about one of my favourite skincare ingredients: the Vitamin C. Thanks to marketing and middle school health classes, you may be familiar with the great health benefits of ingesting Vitamin C every day, but as a topical skincare ingredient I feel it needs more careful attention. Not any OJ is going to do the job! Worth mentioning again: the lemons are just props - never slap them on your face. Never, no matter how many Pinterest DYI's tell you to.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C serums are most commonly made of the active ingredient L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA for short), which is a form of Vitamin C. It can come both in natural or synthetic form, and there are no known differences in how they affect our bodies (source). LAA is a rich antioxidant and an essential in your diet with a lot of roles in body functions, such as protecting out immune system, preventing common cold, delaying cancer development and production of collagen. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which humans are unable to synthesis in our bodies, which means it should be ingested every day. Since our digestive system gets rid of the excess, an effective way to get it on your skin is using topical Vitamin C products.
Benefits of Vitamin C in skincare
LAA is a great ingredient for anti-ageing, as stimulating collagen production plays an important part in skin firmness and elasticity. One cause for wrinkles is simply a loss of collagen due to ageing, smoking or photoageing. It protects from free radical damage, and has been found effective preventing sun burn by thickening the dermis layer of the skin (but should not replace your sunscreen!). The topical application of Vitamin C has been shown to lighten hyperpigmentation and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (acne scaring). Overall it gives the skin healthier, more even look.
Finding a product
You might find LAA listed in lotions, creams and other products, but serums tend to have the highest concentrations. Now here comes the tricky part: As an excellent antioxidant LAA is an electron donor and will oxidize in contact with oxygen, becoming ineffective. LAA is particularly unstable and vulnerable to oxidation when exposed to UV light and air. Choosing an opaque container is the safest, that's why I'm often sceptical when I see serums in clear bottles or jars. Look for tubes and airless pumps! Working LAA serums are usually water like clear liquid, and turn yellow to brownish when oxidized or 'gone bad'. When looking for an effective LAA serum you should also check the concentration and make sure it's high - at least 15%. Being an acid, you want the serum to be low pH (less than ~3.5) in order to function and penetrate effectively. I know, many points to consider, but looking into your products pays off.
NIACINAMIDE AND VITAMIN C?
Niacinamide (part of Vitamin B group) is also a very effective anti-ageing ingredient, improving skin look and feel, tone and texture. The worry is Vitamin C and niacinamide forming a 1:1 compound that turns into niacin (or nicotonic acid), and cancel each other's skin benefits. As I'm not a cosmetic chemist, I'd like to link Stephen's article where he explains in detail why these two ingredients can be combined - at least for most people. However many sources still claim these two ingredients should be used separately - one during the day and the other in the evenings for example. Personally I'm not having a panic attack about the matter, but I might discuss it in a separate post once I've gathered more reliable evidences on the subject.
APPLYING LAA SERUM IN A ROUTINE
I've found active ingredients best applied on clean skin before any other products. I'll be chatting more about skin acid mantle in and importance of product pH in another post, but to put it shortly: when choosing a product LAA must be formulated at pH levels less than 3.5 to enter the skin (source). This means if you're using a higher pH cleanser you should allow 15-20 minutes to allow your skin to return a normal pH or use a pH adjusting toner before applying Vitamin C.
Personally, I haven't found a perfect pH adjusting toner for my routine, so I try to use as low pH cleanser as possible and go with that. After cleansing, I take the serum on clean hands and gently spread it over my dry face. I let the serum to absorb about ~15 minutes after application before moving onto the next step in my routine, which are chemical exfoliants (also pH dependant) and retinols. The LAA product I'm using is advised to be used in the evening, so here's my current routine:
1. Double cleanse w/ cleansing oil/balm and a low pH foam
(2. pH adjust the skin (wait time or toner pH <3.5))
3. LAA + 15 minutes wait time
4. Chemical exfoliant / retinol + 15 minutes wait time
5. Rest of the routine
I don't have much sun spots on my skin yet, but I do struggle with very visible post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) or acne scaring. Sometimes the PIH on my face has bothered me even more than active break outs, as the marks are very visible on my light complexion and look apparent for months. I've found applying a Vitamin C serum in my routine to visibly brighten my complexion and slowly fading the PIH. I used to have the need to pinpoint conceal everything on my face, now plain foundation evens out most of my skin. I can highly recommend including a good Vitamin C product in your routine!
Have you incorporated a Vitamin C product in your routine? I'd love to hear more!
The pictures contain product(s) that were generously provided for consideration. Regardless, my opinions are my own honest and unbiased views.