You've probably heard all about vitamin C over the course of your life. Decades ago, as we were growing up, we all knew it as that miracle vitamin that boosts your immune system. Drink orange juice, they said. It's packed with vitamin C to help prevent the common cold and flu!
Well, over the last couple of decades, we've done a lot of research into vitamin C as a society. What we've learned is two-fold:
- Vitamin C probably doesn't boost the immune system the way you might want it to.
- Vitamin C is a core component in the synthesis of collagen, the building block of skin.
- Vitamin C has many other benefits that might have passed under the radar until recently.
Among those many benefits is a range of useful effects on the skin. Vitamin C isn't just about the OJ anymore; it's about serums and infusions.
Protecting Your Skin
We all know that one of the most damaging things for skin is sunlight. UV rays break down collagen and leave skin looking saggy and wrinkled, especially with continual exposure over the course of years. Too much sunlight causes premature aging. And all of that pales in comparison to the risk of skin cancer you develop from spending too much time in the sun.
The main way to protect yourself from sunlight, other than staying out of it, is to wear sunscreen. A good high SPF forms a barrier that protects you from UV rays while still letting you enjoy time spent outside. You avoid sunburn, you reduce the risk of skin cancer, and you drop the damage it does to collagen. What's not to love?
What if you could do more than just wear sunscreen? What if you could add another layer of protection to your skin, helping to restore it and keep it healthy throughout your life?
Good news: you can do so, by supplementing your sunscreen with a vitamin C serum.
What is a Vitamin C Serum?
First of all, let's talk about what a serum is. "Serum" is just a word that means a liquid with a high concentration of something. Your blood is largely made up of serum, which is the fluid that carries all of those blood cells and clotting factors. No, a topical skin serum is not blood-based, don't worry about that.
A vitamin C serum is simply a topical (applied to the skin) liquid that carries a high concentration of vitamin C. Usually, it's a special form of vitamin C that is made to be more soluble, so it can penetrate the skin and reach your deep dermis rather than sit on the surface doing nothing.
There are all manner of serums on the market, from skin cleansing mixtures to age-defying lotions and more. Plus, many other skincare products today have vitamin C added into them simply because it has so many benefits.
The only question is, what are those benefits? Let's find out.
Benefit 1: Vitamin C Boosts SPF
Vitamin C interacts with sunlight. Pure vitamin C oxidizes in the presence of oxygen and sunlight, which breaks it down into its component parts. These parts don't do anything for you. Worse, though, vitamin C can enhance the effects of sunlight in a process called phototoxicity. Lots of medications and irritants like some plant saps do this too, so it's not unusual. Basically, vitamin C can break down some of the melanin in your skin, brightening it. This makes you look younger and more youthful but also makes you more susceptible to sunburn.
However, if you use vitamin C underneath sunscreen, the reverse happens. Sunscreen protects the vitamin C from sunlight, giving it more opportunity to penetrate your skin and get to work. At the same time, the vitamin C also helps boost how well the SPF effects of sunscreen work. Something like SPF30 will be even more effective when applied over vitamin C serum.
Benefit 2: Vitamin C Also Works as a Moisturizer
While vitamin C itself is not really a moisturizer, it's a precursor to another derivative ingredient that is usually found in vitamin C serums; magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. As a derivative of vitamin C, it's commonly found in serums, and it's also a potent benefit for the skin. Specifically, it's a moisturizer.
Okay, well, that's not technically true. Vitamin C and its derivatives don't add moisture to your skin at all. Instead, they form a barrier that prevents moisture from leaving your skin. When you use it over top of an actual moisturizer that includes hydrating ingredients, the vitamin C serum helps trap those ingredients in against the skin. Moreover, when your skin absorbs the vitamin C, it will carry with it the moisturizer. All of this takes place under the sunscreen, so you aren't trapping in grime or drying out your skin.
Benefit 3: Vitamin C Promotes Collagen Production
Collagen is a protein; among the most common proteins in the body, and it's basically the scaffold on which the rest of your cells sit. Collagen is a critical part of bones, cartilage, organs, blood vessels, and skin. Without it, all of those would essentially just be puddles of slush. That wouldn't be very healthy, now would it?
Your body produces the most collagen when you're young. As you grow older, collagen production slows. You don't really notice it until your late 30s or early 40s, usually, but by then, it's often difficult to reverse the process.
Think of it like a net. Every strand of the net plays a part in holding the whole thing together in a nice lattice. If you break a strand, it sags a bit. If you break a few more, it starts to lose its structure. If you break a bunch more, it all sags and falls down.
Skin is a lot like that, except the "net" is millions of strands, so breaking a few isn't noticeable. By the time enough have broken that it's visible, you have a lot of repair work to do.
Luckily, one of the building blocks of collagen is vitamin C. Put vitamin C on the skin, and your body will use it to build more collagen right there for you. What's not to love?
The tricky part is that this really doesn't work quite as much as some people like to tell you. A lot of different factors influence the health of your skin and the collagen production your body pushes through. Eating vitamin C barely does anything simply because of how difficult it is for the body to target something the way you want it targeted. Any excess above what your body thinks it needs is simply passed through your system.
Meanwhile, a serum works better for targeting the vitamin C, but a lot of it doesn't actually penetrate the skin. It can only do so much, you know?
Benefit 4: Vitamin C Fights Free Radicals
Vitamin C is one of the oldest and most commonly-recognized antioxidants. Oxidative stress is caused by oxygen, of course, but also by sunlight and sun damage. It's essentially damage to DNA that can cause anything from spontaneous cell death to cancer. "Free radicals" are basically unstable atoms, tiny bombs floating around your body, waiting for the opportunity to strike and damage a strand of DNA or a cell.
Antioxidants are like decoys. When you introduce them into your body, they float around like giant targets. Free radicals are attracted to them, so they "explode" and damage the antioxidant rather than any critical piece of DNA or cell. In that way, antioxidants like vitamin C help to minimize the risk of diseases caused by DNA damage, like cancer.
As always, we have to be specific here; vitamin C is not a cancer cure and will not guarantee remission or cure cancer. All it does is contribute to the reduction in the chance that you could develop cancer. You have to be careful with "miracle cures" and promises people make above and beyond what science knows. We always try to back our statements with science here, so we're not going to make claims we can't back up.
Benefit 5: Vitamin C Boosts Healing and Recovery
This all goes back to collagen, again, but in a different way. See, when you have damage to your body, whether it's a cut, bruise, or sunburn, that damage is cells breaking down and dying. Your body can heal that, of course. The first part of healing, especially in the case of something like a cut or scrape, is to build a framework with collagen. That framework forms the scaffold upon which replacement cells can grow, knitting a wound back together or replacing damaged or dead skin cells.
Vitamin C can help with wounds, but it can also help with sunburns. Sunburns are widespread, shallow damage, but vitamin C can help with both soothing the pain and with restoring the skin. Of course, your sunscreen should prevent sunburn in the first place.
However, if you play in the water, or wash your face, or even just forget to reapply your sunscreen during a day at the beach, chances are you're going to get a little sunburn going on. By using vitamin C, you can help soothe the damage after the fact and promote healing. That way, even if you have negative side effects, they'll be minimized.
Why a Serum? Why Not Eat Vitamin C?
After all of this, you might be wondering why we're recommending a serum rather than just a dietary supplement. After all, vitamin C is safe to consume, and it's readily available in large dose supplements, including ones that taste great. You can also get a ton of vitamin C through various fruits and vegetables, and that helps your diet too. So why recommend a serum?
The main reason is targeting. Vitamin C is used for a huge array of different bodily processes. When you eat vitamin C, only a small percentage of what you eat ever actually makes it to your skin. Most of it is used to produce collagen for your internal organs, or to heal damage to muscles and other parts of your body, or help keep your cartilage healthy. Very little of it goes to your skin to have an impact.
Meanwhile, if you use a serum, you apply the vitamin C right to your skin directly. It sinks in, and your body recognizes it. "Well, if the raw materials are here, might as well use them." Your body uses that available vitamin C to synthesize more collagen for your skin, right there.
So, if you want any of those major benefits, grab a serum and put it to use as part of your skincare routine. Usually, you'll want to use a cleanser, then a serum, then a moisturizer, then your sunscreen for the best effect. That said, always take the proper precautions:
- Use any product on a small patch of out-of-the-way skin first. If you happen to be allergic or irritated by an ingredient, you don't want to slather it all over your face before you find out.
- Make sure you're using products you agree with and that are free from hostile ingredients like parabens or BPAs that can be damaging to the skin, particularly if you're importing serums.
- Talk to your dermatologist if you have any pressing skin issues or ailments, like eczema, psoriasis, acne, or strange spots that should be examined. Serums and home treatments won't do much for those.
- ALWAYS protect your vitamin C! Vitamin C is photosensitive. Sunlight will oxidize it, and vitamin C alone can actually make sunlight do more damage to your skin. However, using it underneath sunscreen (or just using it at night) can prevent that from happening.
When used appropriately and carefully, vitamin C serums are perfectly fine for your skin and can benefit your overall look. Just make sure that they're safe for you first.
Do you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns regarding vitamin C serums? Be sure to leave a comment down below with all of those! We'd love to hear what you think.