Anti-aging products are sought after among women and men because we don’t want to look or feel old (me included!). Our strong desire to capture youth has us looking at (and experimenting with) age-fighting foods, nutrients, and products. One nutrient that really stands out is vitamin C.
The relationship between Vitamin C and the skin
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and also the most common one found in human skin. The presence of vitamin C in the skin is critical because it plays a significant role in repairing damage from free radicals, preventing these injurious molecules from transforming into skin cancer, and warding off the aging process, including the formation of wrinkles. Thus, this intimate relationship between vitamin C and skin should not be underestimated.
When we expose our skin to sunlight, it’s a double-edged sword. Sunlight is necessary for the production of vitamin D, and a limited amount of unprotected sun time (meaning no sunscreen) is required for the nutrient to be produced by the body. However, sunlight as well as environmental pollutants and smoking take their toll on the skin, resulting in a loss of these critical vitamins as well as drying and damage to the skin.
According to dermatologist and research scientist Karen E. Burke, MD, of New York, “Even minimal UV [ultraviolet] exposure can decrease the vitamin C levels in the skin by 30 percent, while exposure from the ozone of city pollution can decrease the level by 55 percent.”
What is special about Vitamin C for anti-aging?
Anti-aging methods often involve the skin and specifically how to avoid or fight wrinkles. This leads many of us to try face lifts, Botox, dermabrasion, laser, and other ways to improve the appearance of our skin. Although it’s true that adding vitamin C to your diet or using products containing the nutrient will not guarantee we will look younger or banish our wrinkles, it is a natural, safe option that helps replace or restore the vitamin C we lose from our skin as we age. Thus, vitamin C should be an integral part of your anti-aging efforts.
Vitamin C and Age Spots
As the skin ages, it is prone to the development of age spots, which are discoloration on the face, neck, and hands that are caused by exposure to UV rays. One study found that applying a combination of 8.8% lactic acid and 1% ascorbic acid resulted in a lightening of age spots over three months. Another recommendation is to use a vitamin lotion or serum that contains at least 10 percent vitamin C. Another option is to dab lemon juice on the spots daily until they fade (this is a longer process but worth a try if you are up for it. The citric acid in the lemon juice acts as a natural bleaching agent. Leave it on for at least 30 minutes or overnight until they start to fade).
Vitamin C and Wrinkles
One of the characteristics of aging is a decline in the level of collagen, a protein that provides elasticity (“bounce back power”) to the skin. The loss of collagen results in wrinkles, especially on the face and neck. Vitamin C in the form of food, supplements, and skin products all may help with restoring some of the collagen that is lost as we get older.
A new way to introduce vitamin C to the skin has been developed, and it involves a microneedle patch that is loaded with vitamin C (ascorbic acid). In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 23 individuals applied a vitamin C patch to the crow’s feet area on one side of their face and a placebo patch on the other side every four days. A separate trial was conducted on 51 individuals to check for skin irritation and sensitization associated with use of the patch.
The authors found that the micro-needle patch that contained vitamin C resulted in a significant improvement in photodamage and roughness. The irritation and sensitization evaluation showed that the patch was not associated with any skin problems. Overall, it was concluded that the microneedle patch with vitamin C “can be used efficiently in the anti-wrinkle cosmetic field with patient convenience.”
Using Vitamin C
Eating foods rich in vitamin C is the best way to get this nutrient. Foods that are the richest sources of vitamin C include guava, oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, kiwi, green peppers, and the spice sumac (my favorite!).
If you take vitamin C supplements, you can expect to absorb 70 to 90 percent of the nutrient when you take 30 to 180 mg daily. However, doses greater than 1 gram daily cut your absorption to less than 50 percent. Some vitamin C supplements also contain bioflavonoids, which enhance absorption of the vitamin.
Clinical studies have shown that topical forms of vitamin C can increase the production of collagen in both young and aged human skin. Vitamin C serum is a bioactive form that can help protect the skin. It is recommended you use topical vitamin C after exposure to UV light and not before. Some research indicates that a combination of vitamin C, zinc, and tyrosine can boost the bioavailability of vitamin C 20 times when compared to using vitamin C alone.
Serums that contain vitamin C lose their effectiveness when they are exposed to light. Therefore, choose items that are in dark containers and store them away from light.
[Editors Note: We recommend using a collagen supplement such as the ones from NeoCell. Their powder can even be added to your glass of Uncle Matt's Organic Orange Juice and for the damage already done we love the Sun Repair line from Goddess Garden.]
SourcesDray T. How to remove age spots with vitamin C. Livestrong
Ki HM et al. Effects of palmitoyl-KVK-L-ascorbic acid on skin wrinkles and pigmentation. Archives of Dermatology Research 2017 Jul; 309(5): 397-402
Lee C et al. Evaluation of the anti-wrinkle effect of an ascorbic acid-loaded dissolving microneedle patch via a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 2016 Aug; 38(4): 375-81
National Institutes of Health. Vitamin C
Smith WP. The effects of topical 1(+) lactic acid and ascorbic acid on skin whitening. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 1999 Feb; 21(1): 33-40
Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatology Online Journal 2013 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 143-46
Traikovich SS. Use of topical ascorbic acid and its effects on photodamaged skin topography. Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery 1999 Oct 125(10): 1091-98