Is it that our skin is duller than ever due to pollution, sun damage and blue light penetrating our pores (anyone else thinking of switching back to a Nokia 3310?), or is it because we love the idea of a wonder ingredient? Let’s not lie—it’s probably a bit of both, and coming to the rescue right now is the humble vitamin C. Pop a cape on that Satsuma and call it a superhero.
Seriously, the past 12 months have seen a massive influx of new beauty products containing the juicy nutrient (Mintel states that 23% of the vitamin C products out there were launched last year), while Pinterest searches for vitamin C serums are up 3379%, which is insane. One of the reasons we’re doey-eyed about the vitamin, according to Dan Isaacs, formulation and development director at Medik8, is because it’s one of the only ingredients (alongside retinoids and sunscreen) that has masses of clinical data to back up its claims.
“It’s proven to improve the appearance of skin and act as a preventative measure against premature ageing,” continues Isaacs. How? Firstly, it’s an incredible antioxidant. Vitamin C also fights free radicals, which he explains are on a mission to steal electrons from your skin cells that then cause damage and trigger ageing. It also has the potential to increase the efficacy of your SPF. That alone should be enough to get you switched on to the C-word, but wait—there’s more.
Vitamin C can actually control the production of pigment, which is why you’ll find it in so many brightening products (take note if you’re worried about a dull and uneven skin tone or suffer from hyperpigmentation). Lastly, it can stimulate collagen production, which firms and plumps like nothing else. In fact, without vitamin C, there is no collagen production.
Can't I Just Take a Multivitamin?
While you might think you get enough vitamin C through your diet, to really get those collagen boosting benefits, you need to apply it topically. The skin is the last organ to feel the effects of what you’re digesting so by rubbing it in directly to the skin, you’re giving everything a head start.
However, this is where there have been some issues in the past. Vitamin C has been known to cause some sensitivity, especially if you’re prone to that sort of thing. If you’re worried, introduce it gradually or consider a wash-off product (more on those later) or a product containing a lower percentage so you can build up your skin’s resilience and avoid any risk of redness or irritation.
A note on percentages: Because of how active Vitamin C is, it’s used in varying degrees of strength. Usually, it will be between 0.2% to 30%, but the results will be more potent the higher the percentage. If your skin can tolerate it, Isaacs says that the magic number for pure Ascorbic Acid is about 15%.
Why Are There So Many Different Names for Vitamin C?
The reason it’s taken a while for brands to start producing vitamin C–filled formulas is that it’s notoriously unstable and becomes inactive when exposed to light and air. It’s why you might have noticed past formulas require a mix-it-yourself action, and why all vitamin-C products come in dark bottles or capsules to protect them from sunlight as well as extend their shelf life.
However, scientists have developed a number of molecules that help to stabilise vitamin C—such as L-Ascorbic Acid, the purest form of vitamin C and probably the one you’re most likely to see listed on the label (it’s also the one with the most research behind it). Other vitamin C variants are ethylated ascorbic acid, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate and ascorbyl glucoside. While they’re all still the same vitamin, what differs is whether they’re oil-soluble, fat-soluble or water-soluble, as this impacts the penetration and pH levels. The lower the pH, the more likely it will cause irritation (e.g. L-ascorbic) and the more lipid (fat) soluble, the less likely it will be to cause irritation (e.g. tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate).
Finally, there are the vitamin C derivatives born from fruit and vegetables. Papaya, pomegranate, rosehip, acai berries, Camu Camu berries, amla berries, Kale, chia seeds, broccoli and two of 2018’s hotly contested ingredients—moringa and Kakadu plum—the latter of which has the highest natural vitamin-C levels out there.
What Other Ingredients Does Vitamin C Work Well With?
Vitamin E is the perfect support act for vitamin C, as it can help stabilise L-ascorbic acid. But research has shown that if you combine the two vitamins with a sunscreen, your skin will be better protected from UV damage.
Vitamin A is another good combination as it creates an all-around anti-ageing routine.
When Should Vitamin-C Products Be Applied?
Thanks to its radiance-boosting benefits, vitamin C is traditionally applied in the morning, either as a leave-on serum or cream. However, intelligent cleansers and masks that you wash off are now becoming a popular way for consumers to satisfy their craving. Founder of Lixir, Colete Haydon, developed a two-minute mask that provides the right amount of time for the acid to penetrate and revive the skin cells but can then be rinsed off to null any risk of sensitivity that comes with the application of L-Ascorbic Acid.
It’s also beginning to appear in night creams and oils. The thinking behind this is that because its powers aren’t depleted by skin-savaging UV rays and free radicals that strike during the day, it can focus on reducing dark spots while you sleep.
Shop Our Favourite Vitamin C Products Below
Giving you the power to tailor your daily helping of C-vitamins, mix this powder directly with water or water-containing formulas and apply morning or night. Expect a bit of a tingle in return.
With a high concentration of 20% vitamin C and an array of antibacterial and antioxidant ingredients—including the incredibly hydrating hyaluronic acid—skin stays safeguarded throughout the day.
Ethyl Ascorbic Acid (aka vit C) penetrates deep into the skin to pep up uneven, dull complexions in one speedy spritz. For extra sparkly effects, it also has a knack for dissolving calcium build-up that sits on the skin as a result of washing in hard water.
This luxe natural night oil features vitamin C from Moringa, blackcurrant and rosehip. It contains lashings of vitamin E, which helps top up collagen levels. Also, A+ for the cool packaging.
Using an encapsulated form of vitamin C from broccoli seed and kale, this formula stays preserved and inactive until you slap it on the skin.
Designed to get rid of greying city skin, this rinse-away morning mask leaves behind a veil of natural sun protection and helps regulate melanin production. Expect a smooth, more even looking complexion.
Vitamin C puts in an appearance here as an almighty 30% of ethylated ascorbic acid. Also starring vitamin E, this show-stopper of a serum shields from free radicals and stimulates collagen for a noticeably springier complexion.
Don’t baulk at the price—this is part of a three-step anti-pollution programme (Pollution Skin Defense System) that starts with five days of vitamin C vials. This is an 8% solution that stimulates the skin’s defences, which you should apply before bed to calm any inflammation post-daily grind.
Containing Ascorbyl Glucoside which is a water-soluble version of Vitamin C, this works to dissolve and prevent further hyperpigmentation.
As a two-phase, two-product programme, this contains a lotion and a day cream to be used in a fortnightly block (lotion first). Both formulas contain the vitamin C–rich Kakadu Plum to refine skin texture and tone.
So it's pretty clear Vitamin C is worth another look. Are you ready to insert it into your skincare regimen?