The “OMG – Ingredient to Know” posts on my blog were not something that was meant to be a series mostly because these posts demand extensive research and added pressure to keep it as accurate as possible. Along with that significant amount of effort into simplifying the chemical-terminology laden language and squeezing it into a crisp write-up has been challenging. But I have been receiving wonderful response and thanks to the heaps of great feedback I plan to continue this series. On a friend’s special request the ingredient in spotlight this time is Vitamin-C.
Vitamin C has always been a front-runner on the health and well-being front. I am sure you remember Scurvy and the scary images that were printed in our school science text books. It’s also a hero in the beauty and skincare world due to its skincare prowess. Recently Vitamin C seems to be having its hour of glory in the beauty industry, with tonnes of new launches in their bright orange package with citrus graphics. (Hint: Clinique’s Fresh Pressed Range)
Q: How does Vitamin C help skin?
Boosts collagen production:
Vitamin C’s skin-health benefits are primarily attributed to its potential in supporting synthesis of Collagen. Collagen works hand-in-hand with Elastin to support the skin. It provides the framework that gives form, firmness, and strength to the skin, whereas Elastin gives skin its flexibility.
Prevents skin damage and also fixes it:
Vitamin C helps brighten the skin as it treats pigmentation, along with other signs of ageing. It also aids in skin’s ability to heal itself, it can be relied upon to reduce red and brown spots the kinds which appear post pimples/ acne. It’s also good for exfoliation and has anti-inflammatory properties, which will help if one is acne or rosacea prone. It prevents damage and also fixes stuff in case the damage has already occurred.
Defends against free radicals:
Vitamin C is a potent natural antioxidant that protects against free radicals to prevent premature ageing.
Q: What do you mean by potent Antioxidant?
A: To explain this I need to get into the chemistry of this so bear with me for a minute.
Antioxidant like Vitamin C can neutralize free radicals in the skin. Free radicals are atoms or molecules with an unpaired electron. They are extremely reactive and short-lived. Due to this, their destructive power is limited to the place where they are created, which is most often in the cell’s mitochondria.
As it is nature’s law to have a matching electrons, these free radicals are going berserk to complete their odd electron. In this mad rush, free radicals tend to attack nearby chemical compounds. These chemical compounds can be those involved in important enzymatic reactions, or even a part of a DNA molecule (i.e important stuff that should not be destroyed). As a result, the damage left behind can wreak havoc throughout the body, such as in heart muscle cells, nerve cells, and the skin. Unfortunately, free radicals cannot be avoided and need to be dealt with every day.
This can happen anywhere in the body but in the particular matter of skin, when a free radical (The formation of these free radicals can be attributed to Sun Exposure in case of Skin.) shoplifts an electron from one of the proteins in a strand of collagen, it causes a change in the chemical structure of the collagen at that point, creating a tiny break in the strand. Once a bundle of collagen has many such tiny breaks that have occurred over the years, it becomes damaged. As a result, the skin begins to sag and wrinkle.
Although our skin naturally has methods to deal with this oxidative damage (antioxidants being one of them), aging and environmental stresses like sun exposure, pollution etc can gradually overpower these protective control mechanisms.
Applying a low-molecular weight antioxidant like vitamin C is a very effective way to boost the skin’s natural protection against age-causing free radicals. Vitamin C is an electron donor and therefore an excellent free radical hunter.
Q: Possible to swallow a tablet of Vitamin C and reap its benefits?
A: Vitamin C is an important nutrient for overall health, but little reaches the skin when orally consumed (Life is hard!), because its absorption is limited by active transport mechanisms in the gut. Vitamin C levels in the skin decline with age, so the most effective method for replenishing vitamin C in the skin is to apply it directly to the skin.
Some studies have shown that simply applying vitamin C daily for 2-3 days can achieve favorable levels in the skin. It is also known that once a topical antioxidant is absorbed into the skin, it cannot be washed or rubbed off. So, even after stopping application, significant amounts of vitamin C will remain in the skin for up to 2-3 days.
Results from clinical trials have shown when vitamin C is applied topically, it promotes collagen formation and tone down the effects of free radicals, helping to maintain firm and youthful skin.
Q: At what age can one start using Vitamin C?
A: At any age, in fact, earlier the better!
Signs of aging are a cumulative result of natural aging and manifestation of things that have happened over time ie. lifestyle (junk-food/ cigarettes/ alcohol), exposure to sun and pollution etc. So Vitamin C can especially help mitigate these & an early start will help!
Q: What are the different kinds of Vitamin C and which is most effective for skincare?
A: There are several different kinds of vitamin C.
Ascorbic Acid also known as L-ascorbic acid is the Vitamin C hero and is most common for skincare—it absorbs the quickest and has the highest potency when applied topically. This powerhouse ingredient is backed by research for significantly brightening and evening skin tone.
Other than the above there are other forms of Vitamin C that also have considerable research demonstrating their stability and efficacy. Namely, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate, retinyl ascorbate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl glucoside. Ester-C, a trademarked form of vitamin C that’s been made more effective with Calcium Ascorbate. It comes with a lot of claims, but not a lot of data backing it up. 3-O ethyl ascorbic acid is another, this is relatively new form of vitamin C doesn’t have much supporting research either. These are often included in the formulation of many a moisturizer, serum, essence, or toners. So you might want to make a note of these for label reading!
Q: How to select the right Vitamin C product?
A: I have already repeated these words on numerous occasions on this blog – read the Label!
This will help you in identifying vitamin C in its many forms. Also pay attention to where its listed in a product’s ingredients list (higher is always better). This way you can separate the good products from the mass.
Look for L-ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbyl palmitate and retinyl ascorbate on the ingredients label.
Other ingredients you should look for in vitamin C products include magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (this is the most stable and preferred vitamin C compounds), disodium isostearyl 2-0, L-ascorbyl phosphate, ascorbic acid sulphate and tetraisopalmitoyl ascorbic acid. The effects of topical vitamin C can also be enhanced by other powerful antioxidant agents such as Ferulic acid and Vitamin E.
Q: Which form of Vitamin C should I use Cream/Mask/ Serum?
Vitamin C is available in a variety of creams, serums, powders and trans-dermal patches. Of these formats, the serum contains active Vitamin C. Serums are a concentrated way to get anti-aging ingredients into the skin which can then be layered with other products with no interference. (Convenient!)
(Not so convenient!) Powdered formulas tend to extend the shelf life of the products. Some companies make Vitamin C in crystal form because, vitamin C can oxidize when it gets exposed to air. However, if it’s in a crystal form, you can add it last-minute, mixing a little into one of your serums and this prevents it from oxidizing.
Q: What concentration level to opt for?
A: Finding the right potency that suits one’s skin is important. A potency of 10-20 per cent means that results for the skin will be seen quicker and with better results. But higher concentrations also run the risk of causing skin irritation.
Concentration of between 3 to 10 per cent will also be effective, in an L-ascorbic acid or ascorbic acid form.
But increasing the concentration beyond 20 per cent does not result in greater skin absorption and won’t necessarily pay off. Bare in mind, Vitamin C products need to be introduced to your skincare gradually, so that skin doesn’t react. Once you’re sure your skin can handle it apply up to twice daily – morning and night.
Q: Does packaging matter?
A: Packaging serves a very important purpose in the skincare sphere and I am not talking about fancy bottles and their cute labels! Regardless of which format you choose, any Vitamin C product will destabilize when it comes into contact with the air. Remember oxidative stress! This is the disadvantage of losing those electrons.
Vitamin C is an unstable molecule which oxidizes quickly on exposure to light. When antioxidants are exposed to light and air too frequently they can break down, so it’s best to opt for formulas in opaque and air-tight packaging, pumps, individually wrapped products. Buy small bottles so you can use it up before it expires. And after every use ensure to seal it properly and store in dark places.
Q: So does that mean it has a low shelf life?
A: Yes, since its not a very stable molecule, vitamin C products won’t last forever. Most vitamin C-infused products, once opened, the shelf life is about a year—but crystals or powder can last longer. So fresher the better!
Q: Are there any ingredients that it is incompatible with?
Yes, there are a few incompatibilities which could bring about adverse reactions such as stinging sensation and redness. It’s best to avoid retinol, glycolic acid, salicylic acid and lactic acid when using Vitamin C or to gradually implement these active ingredients to produce less visible skin irritation.
Folks with acne prone or sensitive skin might breakout from Vitamin C product primarily due to the base content of the product example silicones or other inactive ingredients (which help keep the vitamin C stable longer). So make sure you read the ingredients carefully before choosing a Vitamin c product.