Why Your Beloved Vitamin C Serum Might Not Be Doing Its Job

All your questions answered about this must-have ingredient

Vitamin C serum
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s no secret that a vitamin C serum – also known as L-ascorbic acid – has become one of the hottest products in the skincare game. Why? Because they actually work. Vitamin C is a holy grail ingredient aimed to improve the quality of your skin. From texture to uneven skin tone, to overall brightness, and even total skin health, odds are vitamin C can help.
To dive into the basics and help us understand the hype, we consulted well-known NYC dermatologist, Joshua Zeichner, MD.

First things first, what even is vitamin C?

“Vitamin C is a vitamin found in a variety of food and plant sources, particularly citrus fruits. It is a necessary cofactor (aka a “helper molecule”) for many of the body’s normal activities,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It is commonly used topically as an anti-aging treatment because it has antioxidant, skin brightening, and collagen promoting benefits.”
So why do we care about all those things? Because 1. antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging our skin cells, 2. skin brightening doesn’t need an explanation, everyone wants a glowing complexion, and 3. collagen is what prevents fine lines and wrinkles.

What makes it so special?

“As an antioxidant, vitamin C neutralizes free radical damage from the UV light and pollution,” says Dr, Zeichner. “Vitamin C blocks the production of abnormal pigmentation, helping to lighten dark spots and even skin tone, while serving as a cofactor in the production of healthy collagen, so it helps support the foundation of the skin.”
Like we said before, we care about these things! And Dr. Zeichner is helping us reaffirm why.

What can make vitamin C ineffective?

Not every vitamin C serum is made equal. It’s actually a risky business formulating an effective formula. “Vitamin C is highly unstable in topical formulas, requiring an acidic pH and special packaging to protect it from UV light, which can cause breakdown,” says Dr. Zeichner.
Has your vitamin C serum been letting you down? Now you know why. Rule of thumb: before you buy, make sure your serum of choice is protected. Unstable vitamin C can expire in a matter of hours making it totally useless to your skin (and wallet).

How can you incorporate vitamin C into your skincare regimen?

“I typically recommend applying a vitamin C serum as your first layer after cleansing in the morning. Apply sunscreen over it. They work together to protect the skin from UV damage,” Dr. Zeichner tells us. A super easy add — what’s one more step in the grand scheme of self-care?
However, if you have sensitive skin, tread lightly. “In some patients, especially with sensitive skin, topical vitamin C can cause irritation or redness,” says Dr. Zeichner.

Does eating vitamin C improve the efficacy of your serum?

“Topical vitamin C is what works best for skin issues, although oral ingestion has many benefits for your health in general,” says Dr. Zeichner.
So in short, no. Ingesting vitamin C will not increase the efficacy of your serum but yes, vitamin C is good for you so please continue to drink your O.J.

Best serums for your price point?

If you’re looking for a starter serum – easy to find and buy – Dr. Zeichner recommends the L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum. This water-free formula helps maintain the stability of vitamin C and has been clinically tested and shown to be effective. Grab it at your local drugstore, Target or Ulta.

L’Oreal Revitalift Derm Intensives Vitamin C Serum $29.99

Vitamin C serum
Image Ulta

If you’re looking to splurge, Dr. Zeichner recommends the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic®. This patented daytime serum combines vitamin E with vitamin C, a combination that has been shown to be more effective than either ingredient on its own. It also gives you a 15% dose of pure vitamin C.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic® $166

Vitamin c serum
Photo Skinceuticals

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