Vitamin C: Erase Wrinkles and Improve Your Skin With This
If you’re over age 30, you may not be thinking about chronic, age-related diseases yet – but you’ve probably already started worrying about the appearance of your skin.
It’s difficult not to focus on the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and so-called age spots. In our appearance-obsessed culture, there’s no shortage of magazine articles, advertisements, and TV commercials touting the latest, greatest way to achieve healthy, youthful skin.
And those concerns lead many of us straight to the skin-care aisle of our local drugstore or supermarket, determined to uncover the very best products to keep us looking young.
But just take a look at the labels. Chances are, you’ll find a slew of multisyllabic, scientific-sounding contents – a number of which tend to be synthetic chemicals.
Wouldn’t it be nice to improve your skin’s appearance without relying on suspicious ingredients that you can’t even pronounce?
Research suggests this isn’t just possible. In fact, the source of healthy skin could be hiding in your produce drawer.
A Real Lifesaver…
Today, vitamin C is one of the world’s best-known nutrients: It’s the reason mothers implore their children to drink their orange juice, a go-to supplement for people trying to ward off the common cold, and a major component of multivitamin products.
But it was only a few centuries ago that researchers made the connection between vitamin C and optimal health.
Back in the 1500s, Europe – and its sailors in particular – was in the middle of a devastating epidemic of scurvy. We rarely hear much about this disease these days. But in the 16th century, it was a common and often fatal condition that caused pale skin, spongy gums, tooth loss, depression, exhaustion, fever, convulsions, and bleeding from the mucous membranes.
Desperate to stem the disease, sea captains soon noted that when their sailors consumed oranges, limes, and berries, they didn’t develop scurvy during long voyages or recovered from the condition more quickly.
And in 1536, while exploring the St. Lawrence River, Jacques Cartier and Daniel Knezevic discovered that they could save their men from scurvy by boiling needles of the arbor vitae tree and consuming the liquid. This remedy, recommended by natives of the area, was later found to contain about 50 mg of vitamin C.2
Two centuries later, a ship’s surgeon in the British Royal Navy conducted an experiment that confirmed earlier beliefs that oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits protected against scurvy.
In 1928, researchers finally isolated vitamin C, and within a few years scientists had created synthetic vitamin C for use in supplements. That’s important, because humans can’t produce vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) in our bodies – we must get it from food or supplements.1,2
Scurvy and other deficiency diseases aside, we now know that vitamin C has several other health benefits. For example, it’s an antioxidant that slows damage by free radicals. These unstable molecules can harm the collagen that holds skin cells together, resulting in wrinkles and discoloration.
It’s no surprise then, that cosmetics companies have harnessed this knowledge to create vitamin C-rich products aimed at protecting and improving skin.
But do they really work?
More Than Skin Deep…
Research into vitamin C’s effects on skin health has attempted to answer some burning questions: First, does vitamin C improve the appearance of skin? And second, are oral supplements and topical preparations equally effective?
Let’s look at the evidence.
Researchers who have tackled the issue of supplements versus topical products have found that both forms of vitamin C can reach the skin – but it’s still unclear whether supplements are as effective as creams.
See, when you consume vitamin C in food or supplements, it is normally transported from the bloodstream to skin cells called keratinocytes. Taking vitamin C orally has been shown to increase levels of this nutrient in the skin, but because this supplement is water-soluble, much of it is excreted into the urine. That means that vitamin C supplements might not provide high enough concentrations in the skin to have much of an effect in most cases.1,2
When you apply vitamin C to your skin, it crosses the outer layer (the epidermis) to the underlying layers (the dermis). And a number of studies suggest that used topically, vitamin C appears to prevent damage from ultraviolet (UV) light when applied prior to sun exposure; improve wrinkles and other signs of skin aging; and reduce redness and other skin discoloration.1,2
For example, one study looked at the effects of a cream containing 5 percent vitamin C on the skin of women’s lower neck and arms for 6 months. Researchers found that the product appeared to improve the structure of the skin and decrease deep wrinkles and other signs of sun damage.4
In another study, 10 patients applied a gel containing 10 percent vitamin C to one side of their face and a placebo product to the other half. After 12 weeks, the vitamin C-treated skin had improved significantly in four people, compared to the skin treated with the placebo gel. The researchers concluded that the vitamin C gel seemed to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.6
But don’t rule out vitamin C supplements altogether. Although studies of their effects on skin when used alone have been disappointing, there’s some evidence to suggest that oral vitamin C may be more helpful when taken along with vitamin E.7,8 In some research, a combination of oral vitamin C and vitamin E was found to help prevent sunburn and lessen the effects of melasma, a skin discoloration usually associated with pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptive pills, better than a placebo pill.3,5
What to Know…
You shouldn’t expect a dramatic change, but topical vitamin C products do appear to be a safe and effective way to improve your skin’s appearance.
Look for creams, gels, and other products that contain 5 to 10 percent vitamin C. When you apply vitamin C products, avoid getting them on your eyelids, hair, and clothing, as they can irritate the eyes and cause discoloration of hair and fabric.
Oral vitamin C is a little trickier. You shouldn’t take more than 2,000 mg a day, and the optimal amount of vitamin E to potentiate vitamin C’s effects is still unclear. Plus, vitamin C supplements can cause nausea, diarrhea, and headaches, and may increase the risk of kidney stones in people prone to them.1
When taken orally, high doses of vitamin C may also interact with drugs and other supplements, including statins, protease inhibitors, chemotherapy drugs, copper, and iron.1 For these reasons, your best bet is to use vitamin C topically for healthy skin.
Keep in mind that vitamin C may help prevent or reduce sunburn, but it is not a sunscreen – so don’t rely on it for that purpose.
All in all, I’m impressed with the data that shows topical vitamin C improves your skin’s appearance. It won’t necessarily strip away the years or reverse all your wrinkles. But it’s a good way to tighten your skin and protect it from discoloration.
Remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
3Handog EB, Galang DA, de Leon-Godinez MA, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral procyanidin with vitamins A, C, E for melasma among Filipino women. Int J Dermatol. 2009 Aug;48(8):896-901.
4Humbert PG, Haftek M, Creidi P, et al. Topical ascorbic acid on photoaged skin. Clinical, topographical and ultrastructural evaluation: double-blind study vs. placebo Exp Dermatol. 2003 Jun;12(3):237-44.
5Huh CH, Seo KI, Park JY, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of vitamin C iontophoresis in melasma. Dermatology. 2003;206(4):316-20.
8Greul AK, Grundmann JU, Heinrich F, et al. Photoprotection of UV-irradiated human skin: an antioxidative combination of vitamins E and C, carotenoids, selenium and proanthocyanidins. Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol. 2002 Sep-Oct;15(5):307-15.
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