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Vitamin C is famous for its health benefits, but does it come to mind when you think about your skin health? If not, it should. Vitamin C benefits skin by visibly evening out skin tone, supporting elasticity, visibly fading dark spots and minimizing the look of wrinkles, all while helping skin look more radiant overall.
Those beauty benefits don't simply appear on their own, though. "Humans don't have the enzyme to create our own Vitamin C," explains Jessica Snell, associate director of franchise and R&D at Neutrogena®. "We have to get it through ingesting foods." However, there is one other option — applying Vitamin C topically.
Here's the science behind how Vitamin C benefits skin and why this vitamin is a powerhouse part of a strong skincare routine.
Free radicals are around you at all times. That's because they're generated by exposure to common aspects of your environment such as pollution, smoke, UV rays from sunlight and other external aggressors. "Free radicals create an inflammatory response in the skin," Snell says. "That will show up as dull, tired skin as well as wrinkles, dark spots, uneven skin texture and uneven skin tone."
Luckily, your skin is naturally loaded with antioxidants that combat these free radicals and prevent oxidation. "Antioxidants neutralize the electron of a free radical," says Snell. "An antioxidant calms that free radical and stops it from doing any more damage to the skin." Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the skin. It protects against oxidative stress by donating electrons to neutralize the offending free radicals.
This actually helps improve what's already there, according to Snell. "You'll see visibly improved skin tone and texture and visibly improved dark spots, because it's helping reverse damage from the sun. Vitamin C also works on the melanin in the skin, so it improves the look of dark spots by lightening them and visibly evens out skin tone."
While the skin's antioxidants — the ones you get from eating antioxidant-rich foods — do a great job protecting your complexion from free radicals, a long day spent in the sun tends to deplete them. That's where topical antioxidants come in.
Because it is likely that dietary nutrients are not easily able to reach the outermost layers of the skin, your skin will always appreciate a top up in the form of a serum. Independent research found that applying Vitamin C topically fights photoaging and supports skin’s natural collagen to help keep skin visibly firm and target pigment that leads to dark spots.
Vitamin C comes in many forms, but L-ascorbic acid is one of the most studied for skin health. There are ways to support the effectiveness of L-ascorbic acid to help get the ingredient up close and personal with skin. "That's how it's able to deliver fast, noticeable results," says Snell.
In 2017, the Neutrogena® team put together a poster for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) evaluating L-ascorbic acid and its protection against particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and UV rays. "We showed the ascorbic acid was the most effective at reducing free radicals from PM 2.5 and from UV compared to its derivatives."
However, for all its advantages, L-ascorbic acid is very unstable. It degrades in the presence of oxygen or light, meaning it won't carry those same skin-saving effects. There are two ways to stabilize Vitamin C — either using a more stable derivative of Vitamin C or formulating, processing and packaging L-ascorbic acid to ensure maximum stability.
With this problem in mind, Neutrogena® created an innovative way to stabilize Vitamin C: Vitamin C capsules. "We have an anhydrous — meaning it doesn't have water — formula, and then we're using a capsule," says Snell. Removing water and putting the product in capsules protects the Vitamin C from light and air, so it's able to remain stable. It also helps with the potency to release the power of always fresh, concentrated Vitamin C. The Neutrogena® poster for the AAD reported that the capsule version of Vitamin C significantly reduced free radicals on the skin.
How else does this Neutrogena® formula pump up the glow factor? It uses 20% Vitamin C, which a journal study cited as the highest concentration of vitamin C that can be absorbed into the skin. "Beyond that, there are diminishing returns," says Snell.
She adds that formulations are always getting better. "We are constantly learning and studying the ingredient, and investigating: How do we formulate it? How do we deliver it? How do we bring out the best of that ingredient?"
In a consumer study of Neutrogena® Rapid Tone Repair capsules, participants observed the following improvements after one week:
A clinical study reported the following benefits after 4 weeks of use:
Vitamin C can be used on a daily basis for long durations, and you can also pair it with other anti-aging ingredients. A truly effective anti-aging skincare regimen for the evening may look something like this:
Neutrogena® Vitamin C serum won't clog pores and is paraben-free, alcohol-free, oil-free, dye- and fragrance-free. If you have sensitive skin, it's best to build up usage over time to avoid irritation — but even starting slowly, be sure to look out for that signature Vitamin C glow.