Medical Review By: Gioconda “Gio” Boaz, PA-C
Vitamin C serum has become one of the most popular skincare products for the face, and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want a serum that can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, fade dark spots, prevent and treat sun damage and give skin a healthy glow? The claims may seem too good to be true, but the benefits are real according to one skin care provider.
“Vitamin C has been known to improve skin for years, but it didn’t get the same amount of attention that other skin care ingredients did until recently,” said Gioconda “Gio” Boaz, PA-C, a board-certified physician assistant at Water’s Edge Dermatology.
“I think vitamin C serum is popular now because more information is surfacing on how it boosts the skin’s natural protection against sun damage, fights inflammation and produces a great cosmetic advantage.”
How vitamin C serum works
Vitamin C improves skin’s appearance in several ways. As an antioxidant, it protects against damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Sun exposure increases free radical production. While your diet provides some vitamin C, using a vitamin C serum increases the concentration of the vitamin in your skin. And unlike sunscreen, it can’t be rubbed off. In fact, once vitamin C is absorbed, the protection it offers seems to last for days.
The vitamin also helps the body synthesize collagen and increases skin cell turnover. This means that dead and damaged skin cells are replaced by new ones more quickly, making skin look brighter.
Vitamin C serum can help address:
- Hyperpigmentation. Increasing cell turnover can lighten sun spots (also called age spots), dark spots caused by acne, and dark patches caused by melasma. “One of the great things about vitamin C is that it’s safe for pregnant women, who are vulnerable to developing melasma,” Boaz said.
- Fine lines and wrinkles. Faster cell turnover combined with increased collagen can make wrinkles less noticeable.
- Sun damage. By neutralizing free radicals, vitamin C reduces and helps prevent sun damage. It also works to prevent the sun’s rays from suppressing the immune system. This immune suppression is thought to play a role in the development of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Choosing the best vitamin C serum
Vitamin C serums range in price and the amount of vitamin C they contain. You don’t have to choose one of the pricier options if it’s not in your budget.
“Any vitamin C serum, as long as it’s a “stabilized” vitamin C, is going to be beneficial, and expensive doesn’t always mean better,” Boaz explained.
The amount of vitamin C in serums typically ranges from 5% to 20%. While vitamin C is generally well tolerated, it is acidic and can therefore irritate sensitive skin. Boaz recommends starting off with a lower concentration. Move to a higher concentration if you’re not seeing results and if your skin can tolerate it.
Packaging is also key. Vitamin C degrades quickly, particularly when it’s exposed to light. So, an opaque container is a must.
Application and storage tips
If you have sensitive skin, start by using vitamin C once a day. Apply it in the morning to take advantage of the added protection against sun damage. (Sunscreen is always a must.) For people with sun-damaged skin, Boaz recommends gradually switching to a twice-a-day routine.
Apply vitamin C serum after washing your face and before applying moisturizer and sunscreen. Don’t apply too much serum or you’re wasting your money — three to five drops are plenty.
“It’s normal to feel a brief tingling sensation when you use it. This usually dissipates after a couple of weeks,” said Boaz. “Anything beyond that may mean the serum is too strong for you. It’s also possible that you’re allergic to one of the ingredients.”
To prevent vitamin C serum from degrading, keep it stored in a dark place and replace the cap tightly after use. You can tell when it has degraded by its color. Most serums are pale yellow and turn orange or brown when they spoil. If yours has degraded, it’s time to throw it out.
For best results, apply vitamin C serum every day, Boaz advised. “The protective antioxidants immediately shield your skin. It can take about two months of regular use to start seeing cosmetic results, but it’s definitely worth the wait.”
Article Written By: Jessica Brown is a health and science writer/editor based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Prevention, Johnson & Johnson, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and many more.