Adding vitamin C to your anti-aging skin care routine can benefit your skin - but it's also very tricky. That's because vitamin C is highly unstable and this is what causes so much confusion. In a nutshell, most vitamin C products simply don't work. Like I said, it can be very confusing!
Using Vitamin C: How to Choose the Best Anti-aging Skin Care Products
Why there is so much confusion about using vitamin C in skin care?
For vitamin C to make significant changes in your skin such as stimulating new collagen to fight wrinkles and skin thinning, your skin needs to have really high levels of vitamin C. However, your body prevents this from happening through diet (too much vitamin C gives you the "runs!"). To "load" the skin to the levels that can effect change, you need to use skin care products crafted with special vitamin C delivery systems. You also need to stabilize the vitamin C and protect it from air and light before you apply it because contact with air and light rapidly inactivate vitamin C.
Why is it good to add a vitamin C product to your skin care?
- Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can destroy skin damaging-free radicals from the sun and other environmental stressors. Free radicals wreak havoc in skin; they ultimately destroy and age skin structures and even cause cancer. Because vitamin C is a powerful skin antioxidant it can help prevent skin damage from UV rays. It is no substitute for sunscreen and sun protection however! This benefit of vitamin C does not require high levels of vitamin C - your skin will benefit from every molecule of vitamin C that it has available.
- High levels of vitamin C in skin have been shown to stimulate skin collagen formation. Collagen formation is the only way to truly reverse wrinkles.
- Vitamin C has some ability to decrease hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the action of tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for melanin production in skin.
In my opinion, a complete anti-aging skin care routine includes well-crafted antioxidants, which may include vitamin C, along with sunscreen and the best collagen stimulating and pigment correcting ingredients. High concentration well-crafted vitamin C products are expensive and difficult to find so you are depending on vitamin C to target skin aging, you need a product that's worth your time and your money. Otherwise, all your good efforts are wasted.
How do you know if a vitamin C product is any good?
Here are the three key things to look for in a vitamin C skin care product:
- It brags that it contains 10% or more of L-ascorbic acid in a stable form.
- The product is formulated in an acid pH.
- Its container is airtight and it does not let light and air penetrate.
You will see other forms of vitamin C in skin care products but I think the evidence points to the best form of vitamin C being the L-ascorbic acid form.
To tell if a vitamin C product is any good, you can figure some of this out on your own. Look for a sour taste and a brown color; when a vitamin C product turns amber color, it is unstable and has been inactivated by oxygen. Also, if it does not taste sour, it’s not acidic and does not have the acid pH necessary for the product to stimulate collagen formation.
I used a professional-level vitamin C skin care product for years in my dermatology practice. I called it my Professional Vitamin C Anti-Wrinkle Treatment Serum. It had 15% stable L-ascorbic acid in a highly acidic pH. Many people loved the product but it was not compatible with sensitive skin due to the acidic pH. A robust vitamin C product also does not layer well in a skin care routine with other products due to the fragility of vitamin C. As it oxidizes on skin during the day, it also tints skin with an amber color.
It's for these reasons that I have transitioned people to green tea polyphenols for antioxidant skin care. My Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy is the most popular product at Dr. Bailey Skin Care for good reason. It loads the skin with the best antioxidants while it soothes facial inflammation from many causes. In my clinical observation caring for many thousands of patients over 35 years of practice, Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy also has the added benefit of reducing the number of precancerous skin growths seen between visits on my skin cancer patients. It's like the skin care version of eating kale when it comes skin health benefits!
This is one of my favorite corrective creams. It does the job. Since using this cream my skin has done a 180. Less redness, facial dermatitis along the sides of my nose. Dianne
This is a phenomenal product for rosacea skins! I have tried thousands of dollars of products and this is easily the best product on the market to control sensitivity and skin redness. It is the only antioxidant infused serum that doesn’t make a fair skin look orangey. Linda A
How do I address collagen stimulation and pigment correction in an antiaging skin care routine?
When I build a skin care routine that fights the signs of skin aging, I focus on adding the best collagen stimulation ingredients. These include a retinoid and glycolic acid such as Retinol Night Cream (or prescription tretinoin) and Glycolic Acid Face Cream. Medical-grade formulations of these two ingredients have much stronger scientific proof for collagen stimulation than vitamin C.
My preference for pigment correction is retinol/tretinoin, AHAs and botanical tyrosinase inhibitors with or without hydroquinone. Get everything in my Ultimate Pigment and Sun Damage Repair Kit.
Can you have vitamin C in skin care products without skin irritation?
Yes! Know that many of my skin care products contain antioxidant levels of vitamin C but in a neutral pH appropriate for sensitive skin. Find vitamin C in my Sheer Strength sunscreens including my Matte Tinted SPF 30 Sunscreen. It is also present in my Daily Moisturizing Face Cream. These two products can be found together in my Fort Knox Kit.
The bottom line with vitamin C products:
Vitamin C skin care products can benefit your skin. To stimulate collagen and control pigment, you need an acid pH product that will be difficult to tolerate if you have sensitive skin. Scientific studies show that it won't work as well as retinoids, glycolic acid and classic pigment lighteners such as hydroquinone. The antioxidant benefits of vitamin C are available in neutral pH products. Crafting a robust vitamin C product is difficult and if your expensive vitamin C product is amber or does not have a sour taste, then the vitamin C is inactivated and/or contains too low a concentration of vitamin C to capture the collagen stimulating and pigment correcting benefits that we all want.
Firas Al-Niaimi, MRCP(UK)(Derm) and Nicole Yi Zhen Chiang, MRCP(UK)(Derm), Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications, J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Jul; 10(7): 14–17.
Sheldon R. Pinnell, MD, Doren L. Madey, PhD, Topical Vitamin C in Skin Care, Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Volume 18, Issue 6, November 1998, Pages 468–470
Ravetti S, Clemente C, Brignone S, Hergert L, Allemandi D, Palma S. Ascorbic Acid in Skin Health. Cosmetics. 2019; 6(4):58. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics6040058