The ABCs of Beauty: Skincare Experts Explain Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a vitamin that most people are familiar with—we consume them in our fruits and vegetables, and regularly take these supplements to stay healthy. Today, vitamin C-based skincare products also hold an all-important position in any self-respecting beauty junkie's vanity—but it hasn't been that long ago since this active ingredient was effectively formulated into off-the-counter products because of how unstable it is. To shed some light on this highly effective but volatile ingredient, we ask Dr SK Tan of IDS Clinic and Dr Melvin Tan of Epion Clinic to break down the jargon for us.
What is Vitamin C?
An essential vitamin, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that fights off free radicals and also maintains the function of our immunity system to keep our skin and body healthy. While vitamin C supplements are readily available, it is also best to complement it with a vitamin C-rich diet of fruits and vegetables, like citrus fruits, broccoli, cauliflower, and capsicums.
What does Vitamin C do for our skin?
“Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in the skin's natural regeneration process, which helps the body repair damaged skin cells,” says Dr SK Tan, medical director and founder of IDS Clinic.
“In helping to promote collagen production, topical vitamin C can help prevent premature ageing of the skin, helping to prevent or minimise the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.”
Commonly found in brightening skincare, Dr SK Tan shares that vitamin C is known to inhibit the skin’s melanin production and “with continued topical use, can minimise hyperpigmentation and produce an even skin-tone”.
The vitamin also helps to reduce inflammation and lighten post-acne hyperpigmentation.
Who should use it and who shouldn’t?
Most people can benefit from the antioxidant effects of vitamin C, from younger blemish-prone skin to dull and mature skin.
However, those with sensitive skin or known allergies should avoid it.
“People who have very sensitive and dry skin should be cautious and start at a gentler concentration—for example, five per cent—and work up to 10, 15 or 20 per cent, or try alternate-day dosing,” advises Dr Melvin Tan, medical director and founder of Epion Clinic.
What is the best way to use Vitamin C?
Found in everything from ampoules and serums to lotions and creams, various forms of vitamin C are used in skincare.
“The main form is ascorbic acid, which is arguably the most effective, but also the most unstable and difficult to stabilise in formulations,” shares Dr SK Tan.
“Other forms used in skin care formulations that are more stable and easily absorbed include sodium or magnesium ascorbic phosphate (SAP and MAP), ascorbyl phosphate palmitate sodium (APPS) and more.”
Dr Melvin Tan adds that vitamin C in L-ascorbic form works best in serum formulations as opposed to toners and moisturisers, and is also excellent as an adjunct to facials, peels and lasers to improve penetration.
“Its effectiveness is enhanced when combined with other antioxidants such as vitamin E.”
“As part of your skincare regimen, apply over entire face nightly or every other night, and moisturise over the top as topical vitamin C can have a drying effect on the skin,” advises Dr Melvin Tan.
(Related: The ABCs of Beauty: Skincare Experts Explain Vitamin A)
Are there any side effects to Vitamin C?
While vitamin C is generally safe for most people, individuals with sensitive skin can experience “skin irritation and dryness that results in redness, itchiness, stinging and flaky skin,” according to Dr Melvin Tan.
Dr SK Tan adds that some formulations may also cause dryness or mild irritation because of the low pH (acidity) of the formulations.
What ingredients should it not be used with?
There are many myths surrounding what vitamin C should not be used with. In the first part of this series, Dr Lam Bee Lan of Ageless Medical debunked the myth that retinol and vitamin C can’t be used in the same formula.
“It is believed that vitamin C and niacinamide (vitamin B3) should not be used together,” Dr SK Tan observes.
“This has been shown to be untrue as in fact, the use of both may be synergistic. It is true, however, that these two ingredients in the same formulation may be unstable.”
Read more from The ABCs of Beauty: Vitamin A | Vitamin B | Vitamin D | Vitamin E