Vitamin C is the most commonly referenced ingredient in the skincare world. The mere mention of Vitamin C evokes images of luscious 'citrus' fruits, deeply ingrained in our subconscious. Yet despite the over-familiarity, as a Facialist, I find it is the most confusing topic for my clients.
I am often bombarded with questions like; At what stage do I use Vitamin C in my daily skincare routine? What percentage is good for me? Can I layer other products on top? In serum or cream form? And the dreaded; I get irritated with Vitamin C, I think I am allergic to it.
So here, let me break it down to basics- why it's an integral part of your skincare routine, what you should be looking for and how to use it to its best potential, and more.
MULTITASKER: Vitamin C has a plethora of skin benefits
Vitamin C is a potent natural antioxidant that promotes healthy skin by fighting and neutralizing free radicals — elements that cause damage — in the skin and protecting it from oxidative distress, like pollution and car exhaust cigarette smoke. It has anti-inflammatory properties, so it can help with acne; it evens out skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation by inhibiting melanin synthesis through an enzyme; it helps stimulate collagen production, which helps with wrinkles and fine lines; and it brightens, so your skin will look smoother, glowy, energized, and healthy. Though you may eat foods that are enriched with antioxidant properties. Vitamin C to get this vital vitamin but if you're after visible results on your skin then the topical version is better. And because it's so versatile, it's for everyone.
Which Vitamin C formula is best? There are so many different vitamin C products out there - you'll find vitamin C in pretty much every kind of product in your skincare routine. Brands now formulate toners, face mists, serums, creams, masks, and even oils with Vitamin C, but I suggest a Vitamin C in a serum form because it's more concentrated and serum's generally has a low molecular weight so it effectively penetrates the skin's bilayers. Plus I stress the daily use of Vitamin C so applying it in serum form is so convenient and practical.
Does Vitamin C percentage matter? Not all Vitamin C serums are created equal. It's not enough for a product to have vitamin C on the label — if you cannot locate the exact percentage listed on the ingredient label then it's an indication that the product contains less than 5% concentration, meaning it won't give you the wonder benefits of Vitamin C. You may get a little hydration effect based on the other ingredients the serum is diluted with.
For Vitamin C to be effective and bring about an actual change into the skin it must be 8% or over. Vitamin C is highly unstable meaning that it oxidises the moment it comes in contact with light and air and you want the active ingredient in its most stable form, which is L-ascorbic acid. The percentage of L-ascorbic acid should be between 10 and 20%. Under 8% isn't enough and over 20 is going to very likely cause irritation and inflammation.
So though it may seem that a higher percentage is better and faster-acting, that is simply not the case because the higher the percentage the faster it oxidises and breaks down.
BLEND OR LAYER: Vitamin C has many friends and co-workers it performs well with
If direct application (using it neat) makes your skin sensitive or if you, like so many other skincare junkies I know, want to play with other active ingredients and add use them alongside Vitamin C too then here are some of Vitamin C's friends that pair well together;
Vitamin C + Hyaluronic acid
Hyaluronic acid offers a hydration blanket for the skin and when layer under Vitamin C, this duo becomes a power couple. You get hydration + brightening.
How to use: After AM cleansing apply hyaluronic acid and wait to 30 secs to absorb before following up with Vitamin C. Or simply blend 1 part each in the palm of your hand to create a hydro-lightening blend. Mix and pat into skin.
Good for: Dull/dehydrated skin
Vitamin C + E + Ferulic acid
Vitamin E and Ferulic acid negate free radical damage, so when blended or layered with Vitamin C the combo offers triple protections as powerful antioxidants.
How to use: Cocktail all together and blend in the palm or layer in the mornings.
Good for: Sun-damaged skin, hyperpigmentation, melasma. Boosts the power of SPF.
Vitamin C + Retinol
A combo I am often asked about as more and more consumers have added retinoids to their skincare and are keen to not drop the daily vitamin C use either. Retinols, and other vitamin-A derivatives are infamous for being harsh on the skin, leading to discomfort, irritation, redness, flaking, and extreme dryness. So it totally depends on the retinol strength you are using and how your skin is reacting and tolerating it. If retinol has compromised the skin barrier leading to dryness then adding Vitamin C may cause discomfort. If the skin has adapted the retinol use then it is possible to use Vitamin C alongside Retinol.
How to use: I don't recommend layering these two together as with other combos. Use Vitamin C in the AM and Retinol in PM, sandwiched between hyaluronic acid underneath (for hydration) and light night cream (to create a buffer). This will ensure the skin tolerates both actives and doesn't disturb the skin's delicate pH.
Good for: Treating first signs of ageing, lines, wrinkles, and textural imperfections.
Avoid mixing Vitamin C with strong ingredients like benzoyl peroxide (acne treatment), AHAs, and BHAs - as they will strip the skin's pH, cause irritation and damage its ability to recover.
My Go-to Vitamin C: The ZO Self Activating Vitamin C has been my go-to for professional and personal use for its highly stable formula.
It only activates once pumped, keeping the formula safe from oxidation. The talc-like creamy texture is perfect for blending with other ingredients to boost the results.
During treatments, I adapt the blend/ layering ingredients based on the skin concern I am treating. At home, it can be paired well with any serum and creams to boost complexion, protect and brighten.
Be skin smart. Be Skincredible™
written by Adeela Crown