Have You Been Using Vitamin C Wrong This Entire Time?

Photographed by Ana Larruy
From beauty brands to dermatologists, it feels like more or less everyone is drumming into us the importance of incorporating 'wonder ingredient' vitamin C into our skincare routines. Known for its ability to brighten skin, protect against the environment and subsequently fight things like pigmentation and dullness, there are countless serums, moisturisers and cleansers formulated with the vitamin. But according to dermatologist Emma Wedgeworth, there is a huge lack of understanding around vitamin C and what it does. And if you're using the ingredient exclusively as part of an evening routine, you won't get the full benefits.
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"I think a lot of people don’t really know what vitamin C is for," Dr Wedgeworth told R29. "It provides protection against things like city pollution and it's also really good at mopping up the stuff your sunscreen can’t, like certain types of radiation that comes from the sun, such as infrared. I tend to always use vitamin C in the morning because as well as having that freshening and brightening effect, it’s also an antioxidant."
Put simply, it makes more sense to use vitamin C in the daytime, when your skin is more likely to be exposed to things such as infrared and pollution which can lead to skin damage. Because of its antioxidant ability to shield skin from said environmental aggressors, Dr Wedgeworth suggests it might not be the best move to use it solely as part of an evening routine. Why? Because your face is essentially just hitting your pillow. London-based consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk expanded: "Further benefits of vitamin C include reduction in collagen breakdown leading to tighter, firmer skin and a brighter, more even skin tone. As such, it makes good sense to take advantage of these benefits in the morning in order to boost the defence barrier provided by our sunscreens." R29 recommends Clinique's Fresh Pressed Daily Booster With Pure Vitamin C 10%, £25, or Kiehls' Powerful Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate, £49.50.
And as Dr Wedgeworth mentioned, vitamin C is even more effective when combined with sunscreen. "I like a combination of physical and mineral sunscreen," she said. "Tinted sunscreens are also good for pigmentation because a lot of them have iron oxide in, which blocks visible light. Together, vitamin C and sunscreen are my top pigmentation busters." Dr Wedgeworth recommends Clinique's Super City Block SPF 40, £19, while R29 likes Heliocare's 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF 50 Color, £32.99 – it lends a slight tint, is dry to the touch and is non-comedogenic, which means it's less likely to clog your pores.
So if it's more beneficial to use vitamin C in the morning, what's best to use in the evening? "Vitamin A," said Dr Wedgeworth, a.k.a. retinol. "This is because of sun sensitivity and repair. There is some evidence that cells regenerate themselves overnight and most vitamin A products can break down in sunlight, as they are often unstable." Try Clinique's new Fresh Pressed Clinical Daily And Overnight Boosters With Pure Vitamin C 10% + A (Retinol) Duo, £30. The vitamin A booster (to be mixed with moisturiser) is formulated at 0.3%. If your skin is super sensitive, Beauty Pie's Super Retinol Ceramide-Boost Anti-Ageing Face Serum, £10.50, is formulated with cell-repairing ceramides, while experts like The Ordinary's Granactive Retinoid 2% In Emulsion, £8, as it avoids irritation.
But back to the vitamin C. Seeing as repair processes tend to take place at night, Dr Kluk mentions that you can use a vitamin C serum as part of your evening skincare routine if you really want to – it won't cause any harm at all. Just be sure to alternate between vitamin C and retinol if you're using both as part of an evening routine.
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