Along with SPF, retinol and a gentle cleanser, dermatologists and other skin experts often tout vitamin C as one of the most beneficial ingredients to add to a simple, everyday skincare routine.
While the popular antioxidant stars in numerous face masks, toners, mists, and moisturisers, the most efficient way to deliver it straight into your skin tends to be with a potent, targeted serum. Just like retinol, though, vitamin C can be pretty tricky to master, as it's an unstable ingredient that's prone to change when exposed to light and air.
With dermatologists and skin specialists recommending vitamin C more than ever, here's everything you need to know about the buzzy molecule, including why you should start using it ASAP.
What is vitamin C?
According to Dr Cara McDonald, Principal Dermatologist and Director at Complete Skin Specialists, vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant known to protect against free radical damage, quell inflammation and brighten the complexion for more radiant-looking skin.
What does vitamin C do for the skin?
Because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it can neutralise free radicals (like air pollution and UV light) and reduce oxidative damage. "Antioxidants are obtained through our diet but can also be delivered directly to the skin via topical application, which has been proven to decrease cellular damage and signs of premature ageing," says Dr McDonald.
Vitamin C is also a known brightener, and using it regularly can even out skin tone. Dr Mcdonald cites reducing the appearance of dark spots or pigmentation as one of the many benefits of vitamin C use, as well as decreasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
How should you use vitamin C?
Dr McDonald says that vitamin C is best applied as the first ingredient on clean skin in the morning, as the skin is exposed to more external aggressors during the day. Dr McDonald recommends serums as an effective means of using vitamin C, but noted that creams could also deliver vitamin C into the skin if formulated appropriately. "The target in the skin for antioxidants is the dermis, where they act to reduce DNA damage and degradation of collagen from UV radiation and other environmental insults," she says on the benefits of using a highly concentrated vitamin C serum.
For example, products like Garnier's vitamin C Serum, could be an effective addition to your routine as it contains a combination of powerful ingredients (like vitamin c and niacinamide) that can help visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots and enhance glow.
Dr McDonald suggests seeking professional advice to repair your skin before starting active ingredients like vitamin C if you're prone to sensitivity.
Which vitamin C is best?
The ideal concentration of vitamin C varies from person to person depending on skin type and level of sensitivity. However, the optimal percentage of vitamin C for effective results is between 10 and 20%.
How can you get the most out of your vitamin C?
"Optimising the skin hydration and skin barrier will help with the use of vitamin C," says McDonald. She recommends starting with a gentle cleanser before using a vitamin C product, finishing with an effective moisturiser for barrier protection and then a high SPF sunscreen layer.
Wearing SPF is essential and will bolster the use of vitamin C because although the antioxidant helps protect your skin against free radical damage caused by UV rays, it does not provide any protection from all the damage caused by UV rays.
"Combined with SPF, it's the perfect combination to defend your skin against these environmental aggressors," McDonald adds.
Does vitamin C cause skin reactions?
Dr McDonald says that vitamin C can cause skin irritation, and those with skin conditions like rosacea may find it difficult to tolerate vitamin C. Signs of intolerance may include stinging and burning on application, redness, peeling and acne-like breakouts.
"As with all new active ingredients, vitamin C should be introduced slowly and not combined with any other new actives until the skin has adjusted and is tolerating it," says Dr McDonald.