For quite a while there has been a huge vitamin C hype in the beauty field. Supplements are sold everywhere and so are the vitamin C serums that promise youthful skin with fewer wrinkles. But how important is vitamin C for skin and prevention of aging? And is it true that this “miracle vitamin” can make you look younger?
A simplified answer would be yes it can, and yes it is super important for your skin health. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant, protecting your skin against free radicals that increase the aging process. And it’s also an important roleplayer in the synthesis of collagen, which we need for firmer skin. BUT it is not as simple as buying pills or any serum out there in order to get results. Some products can even harm you. In this article, I will explain all you need to know about vitamin C for skin health. And clarify whether or not you need pills or serum.
It’s quite a long post and below you’ll find what I will cover. If you are short on time you can jump to any part you are most interested in. And definitely don’t skip the summary 🙂
- Why is Vitamin C important for the skin?
- What are the best food sources for Vitamin C?
- How much vitamin C should I eat for better skin?
- Should I take supplements with Vitamin C for skin benefits?
- Vitamin C serum, does it work?
Why is Vitamin C important for the skin?
Well firstly, vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is needed for the synthesis of collagen. Which is an important protein that gives support and structure to our skin and that declines as we get older. Vitamin C is also essential for wound healing, and on top of that, it’s an important antioxidant, protecting our skin cells from pollution, stress, and UV-radiation.
Another interesting discovery is that this vitamin seems to increase the regeneration of other antioxidants in the body. That is very exciting since our body-produced antioxidants are extremely powerful when it comes to anti-aging in general.
So this is definitely a vitamin you want to keep track of if you are interested in anti-aging. There is no doubt about that. We need vitamin C and we need it every day for healthy skin.
Vitamin C content in our skin
Once we ingest vitamin C, it is transferred to our blood plasma and different tissues. Including our skin. So the amount we have in our skin is, of course, dependent on our diet. But also of the amount of UV-radiation, pollution, and other stress-factors, that we are exposed to. Because just like the other antioxidants, vitamin C is involved in reducing damage from free radicals. And they will therefore be consumed faster as that happens.
The foods that make us younger
One thing that has been proven in many studies is that a diet high in vitamin C rich foods is associated with younger-looking skin. It’s the same pattern as explained in my previous post about carotenoids. Individuals who consume this kind of food in larger amounts simply have fewer wrinkles and fine lines, compared with individuals who consume less. I find that super motivating to eat even more fruits and veggies! But how come the pattern is exactly the same?
The reason is that antioxidants, especially vitamin C, work best in conjunction with other antioxidants. For example, it’s proven that vitamin C collaborates with our own-body-produced antioxidants (such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase) as well as with antioxidants from our diet. Like vitamin E and the carotenoids.
Fruits and vegetables are the largest sources of vitamin C in the diet. But they also happen to be the largest source of carotenoids and other antioxidants.
Individuals who consume large amunts of vitamin-C-rich foods simply have fewer wrinkles and lines than those who consume less.
With all this said, it’s probably a good idea to have optimal body stores of vitamin C in order to have a skin that works at its best. Not just for the antioxidant effect, but also (not least) for its role in collagen synthesis.
Now let’s move on to the questions; how much should we get? From what sources? And will it benefit us to take more Vitamin C than needed?
What are the best food sources of vitamin C?
Most fruits, vegetables, and berries have good amounts of this vitamin. Some of the best and most easily found sources are for example oranges (and other citrus fruits), kiwifruits, pineapples, and red bell peppers. Some other common and great foods are broccoli, leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, and strawberries.
Since you find Vitamin C in so many types of fruits and veggies it is quite rare to get the total deficiency of it called scurvy. But except for that extreme case, it seems like it’s actually quite common to get less than optimal of this vitamin. Especially among older people.
In general, it’s also a fact that people tend to eat too little fruits and vegetables (see my previous post). And therefore are probably getting less than optimal levels of vitamin C in their skin tissues.
I recommend you read my post about the skin-tightening foods you need every day and follow the guidelines there. That will not just give you great amounts of the carotenoids I address in that article. But it will also give you plenty of vitamin C that will benefit your skin even more.
Another thing to remember is that high temperatures will break down vitamin C quickly. So eat some of your veggies only slightly cooked or raw, and eat more fruit.
How much vitamin C should I eat for better skin?
So what we know from science is that people who consume high amounts of vitamin C rich foods have younger-looking skin with fewer signs of aging, than those who consume less. But do we know exactly how much we should get for optimal results? Nope, afraid not. It seems to be lacking in those studies. What science does know is that a deficiency of vitamin C will hinder important skin functions. And it is therefore believed that similar processes (but to a less extent) occur when body stores are below what is optimal for us. Even though exactly what is optimal is not really set.
Anyhow, the recommended daily allowance is set to 75 mg for women (120 if you are pregnant or breastfeeding) and 90 mg for men. This recommendation is based on the prevention of vitamin C deficiency (scurvy). And higher intakes are definitely recommended for health benefits, not at least for the skin.
It’s a fact that people tend to eat too little fruits and vegetables. And therefore are probably getting less than optimal levels of vitamin C in their skin tissues.
My recommendation is to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to increase the vitamin C levels in your skin. If you are considering supplements to increase the intake even more than check out my section below.
Should I take supplements with Vitamin C for skin benefits?
That answer is a bit controversial. And it seems like it first and mostly depends on your diet. Vitamin C in the form of pills will, of course, increase the vitamin C levels in the skin IF your plasma levels are low. But if your vitamin C levels are saturated already from a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, then your skin won’t gain much from the supplement at all.
As I mentioned above, most people could probably benefit from adding more vitamin C rich foods in their diet. That means more fruits and vegetables. But should supplements be worth considering?
Well, we do lose a lot of vitamin C constantly during exposure to stress, both internal and external (such as pollution and sun). So I don’t think it hurts to take some extra in the form of supplements. Just as an extra precaution during stressful times. As long as we always make sure that fruits and vegetables are our staples.
Also, don’t go crazy with supplements, since they can cause side effects that you can read more about in the next section.
Can Vitamin C supplements cause side effects?
When it comes to food no. You can (most likely) not get too much of vitamin C by eating fruits and vegetables. But when it comes to supplements, yes you can experience side effects if you take excessive amounts.
The upper limit you should not exceed
The tolerable upper intake (UL) is 2000 mg. This UL means it’s the highest daily intake likely to not cause any risks of side effects.
Doses above 2000 mg per day can cause adverse effects such as stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, blood in urine and more urinating than normal. Also, individuals prone to kidney stones should definitely be extra careful with too high doses of this vitamin C And definitely not take doses larger than 1000 mg per day.
Besides those well known side effects, an excessive intake of vitamin C may cause some nutrient imbalances.
There have been discussions on whether or not vitamin C supplements can cause deficiencies of copper, but the outcome is still unclear. The same goes for the discussion of whether vitamin C can reduce the uptake of vitamin b12 or not. Also, vitamin C enhances the absorption of nonheme iron. Which may be a concern for people who have the disease hemochromatosis. High doses of vitamin C could, in that case, cause iron overload in those people and damage tissues in the bodies.
So, just to be on the safe side, make sure you do not exceed the 2000 mg for vitamin C that is set for upper tolerable intake. This includes both food and supplement intake.
For me, personally, I eat plenty of food that contains a lot of vitamin C. That’s my base and those food sources will always be superior over any supplement. Since they also contain the perfect cocktail of other important antioxidants. I do take some extra vitamin C as a supplement on certain days, but no more than 500 – 1000 mg.
What if I take too high doses of vitamin C already?
I know it’s easy to get excessive amounts of vitamin C with supplements. So I thought it would be appropriate with a section about overdoses and what to do.
Taking high doses of vitamin C for a while will speed up how you metabolize it. So if you are decreasing your intake you will have to do it gradually. Otherwise, you may risk getting too low amounts during a transitional phase. For example, if you are taking supplements with several thousand milligrams of vitamin C per day, it will be a good idea to reduce your intake by 500 mg each week until you reach 1000 mg or less per day.
There is really no need to take larger doses than 1000 mg per day. And always, always remember that the best sources of vitamin C are the fruits and vegetables. I’m nagging I know.. But it’s true! Now let’s move over to something else. The hype about topical vitamin C.
Vitamin C Serum, does it work?
They are sold like crazy. Almost every skincare brand has its own vitamin C serum. Some of you may have experienced good results and some may have had bad reactions. And the reason is that vitamin C as topical treatment can cause both good and harm. Depending on your skin type and on the formulation of the product.
I wish I know what I am about to explain, before I started to experiment with different serums. If you are using or thinking of using a vitamin C serum, then here is what you need to know.
Does vitamin C serum build collagen?
So we know that vitamin C is essential for collagen production. But will it help to add the vitamin topically? Will it even penetrate or is it a waste of money?
The short answer is that vitamin C serums probably can help increase collagen production if you are short on vitamin C from your diet. Again, we need more studies. But here are some interesting facts that skincare brands won’t tell you.
The results from studies that have examined the effect of vitamin C serums, have not been cohesive. Some people get an effect on increased collagen production, but some don’t. One study also showed specifically that individuals who eat a diet with plenty of vitamin C showed no or little effect of a topical serum.
When it comes to the studies that have shown a positive result on collagen production, they have been performed on already wrinkled skin. That has made the outcome a bit uncertain since those test-persons could likely be eating less than optimal amounts of vitamin C-rich foods. As mentioned above, it is not very uncommon, especially among older persons, to have a low intake of vitamin C. And if that is the case among the test persons, then increased production of collagen might just be a result of returning back to normal.
When it comes to studies about vitamin C serum’s ability to reduce UV-damage in general, it seems to follow the same pattern. Serums have shown to be helpful, but again it depends on the person’s diet. When vitamin C was low in the blood plasma from the beginning, the serum would help. But when the vitamin C status was already optimal in the plasma, there was no absorption of the topical vitamin.
It seems like individuals who eat a diet with plenty of vitamin C show no or little effect of a topical serum.
The take away from these results is that you should first of all build up your vitamin C levels with food if you are looking for the collagen production and antioxidant effect. That is cheaper than a serum and it also includes countless with additional health benefits that your body will thrive on. A tip is to just follow my guidelines in my previous post. That will for sure take your skin and health to a new level.
Having said that, a serum with vitamin C can be good for other purposes. And I use a serum myself every day, mostly for its effect on pigmentation. I also use it in conjunction with other antioxidants, as a bonus-protection against all the stress-factors that my skin encounter each day. Pollution, UV-rays, stress, and even a cold will consume large amounts of antioxidants from your skin. And just to be on the safe side I like to add some extra from the top.
Another positive thing about vitamin C serums (aside from the anti-aging aspect) is that it helps with improving wound healing. And it also minimizes certain scar formations. If this is a concern of yours.
Now if you want to use a serum with vitamin C, always make sure it is in a mix with other antioxidants (for example vitamin E, astaxanthin, and ferulic acid). Because as I mentioned earlier, it works best as part of a team. I’ll go into depth
You also want to find a stable form that your skin tolerates and that doesn’t oxidize easily. I will explain more about this below.
Can Vitamin C serum irritate skin?
Yes, too harsh vitamin C serums can irritate your skin quite a lot. It can cause inflammation and acne and actually contribute to breaking down collagen. Which will do the opposite of preventing skin aging. And I will explain why.
Vitamin C in its pure form, ascorbic acid, can only be penetrating the skin if the PH level is below 4. That is very acid and can cause a lot of irritation and redness for many skin types. Mine included. Another problem with pure ascorbic acid is that it oxidizes very easily in the presence of light or oxygen. And when that happens it will become a so-called pro-oxidant. Instead of fighting free radicals, that means it will cause more of them.
Due to these reasons, the skincare industry has come up with many different derivates of vitamin C. These are kinder to the skin and more stable to use in facial products.
Vitamin C in serums can cause both good and harm. Depending on your skin type and on the formulation of the product.
So, if you decide to start using a vitamin C serum, you must choose a form that your skin tolerates. If you have a sensitive skin type then be extra careful. I have extremely sensitive skin and I only use the vitamin C derivate called sodium ascorbyl phosphate.
To learn more about how to find the best antioxidant serum for your face, I recommend you read my next blog post that goes into detail about that topic.
Will Vitamin C serum cause breakouts?
Yes, vitamin C serums can indeed cause acne for some people. But again, that depends on which form of vitamin C that you use. My advice if you want to be certain to not cause any breakouts, is to choose the derivate sodium ascorbyl phosphate. Not just is it mild and stable, and not causing irritation. But It is also actually very effective in treating acne. Several studies have shown its efficiency against acne and inflammations, so this ingredient can definitely be worth adding in your anti-acne regimen. Discuss with your dermatologist.
To learn more about vitamin C serums, and which one I use myself everyday, check out my article about astaxanthin and vitamin C serums.
- First of all, besides being a great antioxidant, vitamin C is super important in order to have our collagen synthesis at it’s best. Just never ever forget that the best sources of vitamin C are fruits and vegetables. Eat plenty of them every day since we need this vitamin exactly every day for optimal results.
- If you take supplements, don’t go nuts with them. There is really no point in taking more than 1000 mg extra per day in addition to your diet. If you exceed a total amount of 2000 mg you can experience side effects and potential nutritional imbalances.
- Serums with vitamin C will probably not increase any collagen production unless you have too little vitamin C in your diet. But it can still be good for other purposes, such as hyperpigmentation and as part of a larger mix of antioxidants.
- Be aware that many vitamin C serums can be highly irritating. And if you experience irritation or acne from using the serum, then stop immediately. I recommend the vitamin C – derivate called Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP). Since it is the mildest (yet effective) form.
I highly recommend you to focus on getting plenty of carotenoids in your diet (follow my guide in my previous post). That way you will also get all the vitamin C you need. If you want to add a vitamin C serum for extra precaution or for treating acne or hyperpigmentation, then make sure you use it in a stable form and in a cocktail with other antioxidants. There is just so much to say about serums with vitamin C so I decided to write a separate post that goes into more detail about it. You find it here 🙂
See you soon again!