Vitamin C in skincare 101

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

Thoughts

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!

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The pictures contain product(s) that were generously provided for consideration. Regardless, my opinions are my own honest and unbiased views.

Chemical exfoliating 101

When I'm preparing my skincare posts, I want to provide an enjoyable read for both beginners and HC skincare enthusiasts. Some of these pieces of information seem so mundane and general knowledge to me I wonder if sharing them again is worth it? After having multiple chats with my friends, only a few had heard of chemical exfoliants. I think they're unsung heroes of skincare, especially where I live the importance of chemical exfoliating isn't loudly hyped up. Personally I love chemical exfoliants, I think every one should know how to use - or in some cases avoid them!  (PS. never put lemon on your face, they're just for decorative purposes)

Why should one exfoliate?

The uppermost layer of our skin consists of dead skin cells with a cell turnover of ~28 days, which slows down as we age. A packed layer of these dead skin cells can make our skin appear appear dull, uneven texture or congested. Most common form of acne is caused as a hair follicle gets clogged by excess dead skin cells and sebum. Exfoliating gets rid of the dead, old skin cells revealing younger, plumper skin underneath. It helps to brighten our skin, safely get rid of pigmentation or scaring over time, help with texture issues and even acne and blackheads. After exfoliation other skincare products will also penetrate better, making them more efficient.

Chemical exfoliation or scrubs

Scrubs are lotions, gels, etc. which contain small grains of salt, sugar, coffee, oats, powders and unfortunately in some cases microbeads, which pollute our environment. Scrubs can also be washing cloths, dry brushes and gloves, basically any mechanical/physical exfoliator. I find them especially beneficial for my body skin like elbows, knees, legs or anywhere I can use more abrasive exfoliating. The problem with facial scrubs is you can make micro cuts on your face, which can damage your skin, cause redness or sensitivity.  I almost never use mechanical exfoliators on my face, except for my favorite Cure Natural Aqua Gel, which is a very delicate scrub. 

Chemical exfoliators are mild chemical peels that come in two general types: AHA and BHA with various strengths. Not to be confused with putting battery acid on your face, chemical exfoliators can be even gentler than traditional scrubs. Most of chemical exfoliants are toners or lotions you apply on a clean face and don't wash off. This is an effective and safe way to mildly exfoliate your skin many times a week (instead of scrubbing 1-2 times/week), treat acne, congestion and texture issues. A mild strength chemical exfoliator can be well-suited for even sensitive skin types.

What are the differences between BHA and AHA?

AHA and BHA have a lot in common regarding smoothing or evening out your skin, but there are some unique qualities that benefit different skin concerns. Please notice AHA and BHA strengths don't go hand in hand and the you should start from a lower dosage (<1% BHA or <8% AHA) – especially if you're sensitive. Experimenting will show what works the best for you and how often you should apply: from 2 times a day – every other day, for example. Like with all skincare, please use a common sense, patch test and step away if you're irritated. Your skin shouldn't peel or burn.

AHA is short for alpha hydroxy acid, such as glycolic acid (from sugar cane), lactic acid (from milk) and mandelic acid (from almonds). Sometimes called 'fruit acids', as most commonly they can be deprived from foods, such as fruits. AHAs help getting rid of dead skin cells by loosening up glue-like lipids between the cells, revealing reveal brighter and healthier skin underneath. Shedding the dead skin cells can treat hyperpigmentation effectively. They can also plump the skin and help with wrinkling, as all AHAs have some humectant properties. AHAs do increase photosensitivity, so always use a stable sunscreen during the day!  

BHA is short for beta hydroxy acid aka salicylic acid is known acne treatment, as it can penetrate deeper in to pores and get rid of the gunk inside a pore. If you have blackheads, acne or clogged pores is BHA potentially your best friend. BHA can be drying and is often a good choice for combo or oily skin. Personally I have dry and acne prone skin, and I haven't had any problems using BHA. Salicylic acid is derived from salicin and not recommended if you have an aspirin allergy. 

Recap

- AHA is great for: loss of firmness, signs of ageing, treating pigmentation such as scars or sun spots, texture issues, dry skin. Causes sun sensitivity.
- BHA is great for: blackheads, clogged and enlarged pores, oily skin, bumps under skin

pH and concentration

The concern with picking a hydroxy acid product is pH. Too high pH and the acid won't penetrate the skin, too low and you have the risk of irritation. Usually in commercial products, the problem is the former. Also, there's the issue of concentration of acid in the product. In proper chemical exfoliants, the concentration and pH should be listed on the packaging or manufacturer's website. As I said above, you want to start from milder and work your way up, but here's an example what the pH and effective concentration for a leave-on chemical exfoliant should be:

- AHA: pH less than 4, concentration 4-10%
- BHA: pH less than 3.5, concentration 1-2%

Acids in a skincare routine

On Accutane, I don't use any chemical exfoliants to avoid irritation and peeling, but normally my routine would go something like this: I rarely use a traditional toner so I apply AHA/BHA or combo of both after cleansing, both AM and PM. If I'm using combination of both, I'll apply BHA first - assuming it's lower pH (as it should). If I'm using a Vitamin C serum like LAA, I'll apply a pH adjusting toner after cleansing, then the Vitamin C with ~15 wait time to let the product absorb, then acid(s), hydrating essences, toners and so on from water soluble to oil soluble. Recap:

Cleanse (single/double) > pH adjust > LAA Vit C + wait time > BHA > AHA > rest of routine

Use what works for you

As I said, experiment and chose your exfoliant according to your own skin concerns. I'll save the differences between types AHAs and product recommendations for a future post. I hope this introduction post was helpful and gave you more insight about chemical exfoliants and what wonderful benefits they can have for your skin! 

Have you tried chemical exfoliants? Please leave me a comment if these type of basic 101 posts are helpful or should I get into product recommendations and particulars right away.

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