Vitamin C has always had an excellent reputation for strengthening the immune system. How many times have you been told to eat citrus fruits and drink lots of orange juice during cold season? It is one of the most commonly recommend supplements, and is found in many forms: liquids, capsules, chewable tablets, powders that turn into fizzy drinks, etc.

Vitamin C is also key for healthy skin. While largely recognized for its antioxidant benefits, it is also essential in the skin’s wound healing process. Since Vitamin C helps stimulate the fibroblasts (cells that produce collagen and elastin), and it also helps promote the appearance of youthful, firm, supple skin.

While it may seem logical to apply Vitamin C topically to reap these skin benefits, it’s not always a good idea, as not all forms of the nutrient are beneficial when applied to the surface of the skin. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to deliver Vitamin C both topically and internally, so the skin and whole body can benefit from its therapeutic benefits.

Does Vitamin C really live up to its reputation?

Absolutely. When taken internally from food sources or from high quality, bioavailable supplements, it has numerous benefits for the entire body.

  • It increases the white blood cell count. White blood cells, or leukocytes,are the body’s strongest armor against invaders.
  • It inhibits the formation of an inflammatory fatty acid called arachidonic acid. This chemical has been linked to psoriasis,and also can accelerate the aging process of the skin.
  • It is an antioxidant that combats and neutralizes free radicals in the body.
  • It helps maintain metabolism by assisting in the conversion of fat to energy.
  • It is required for collagen production. Collagen is found in the entire body. It is responsible for keeping our muscles, bones, joints, and tissue intact and functioning properly. Collagen also comprises 70% of the dermis,which is the live layer of the skin. Collagen depletion is responsible for many of the visible signs of aging.
  • It helps the brain create neurotransmitters that maintain healthy metabolic pathways and keep us thinking and communicating clearly.
  • Got scars?  Vitamin C also aids in the skin’s wound healing process, which plays a large role in determining the if and how scarring will occur.

Vitamin C is a skincare super-ingredient.

It is important to take Vitamin C internally, but it is also sometimes helpful to apply it externally to maximize the benefits. The important thing to know about topical Vitamin C, however, is that it needs to be in the correct form to be able to be absorbed into the skin and penetrate into the cells at those deeper layers.

The most common form of Vitamin C comes in the form of ascorbic acid (or l-ascorbic acid). This form is highly beneficial to the body when taken internally; however, there are a few reasons why it is not best form for topical application.

  • It is water soluble, and the skin’s natural barrier is largely composed of lipids (oils). Water soluble ingredients cannot penetrate a barrier layer unless they are specially formulated to do so.
  • It is very acidic, which can inflame and irritate the skin.
  • It breaks down and oxidizes quickly, which means it loses its effectiveness very quickly, meaning that by the time you get it out of the bottle, it’s likely already oxidized and therefore useless.
  • If you purchase it as a powder and mix it with a liquid to then use topically, you have to be sure it is cosmetic grade and suitable for topical application, and that it is compatible with all the components of whatever the liquid’s ingredients are.

Vitamin C ester (ascorbyl palmitate) a more stable form of Vitamin C for topical application. It is both water and oil soluble which means it can penetrate the skin’s barrier layer; it is not acidic, which means it is non-irritant and actually has an anti-inflammatory effect; and it does not break down or oxidize quickly, so its benefits last much longer than both in the bottle and on the skin than l-ascorbic acid.

According to the bestselling classic book The Wrinkle Cureby Nicholas Perricone, MD, Vitamin C ester has been known to reduce irritation and inflammation, and treat conditions such as sunburn and psoriasis. It also stimulates growth of the cells that form collagen and elastin in the skin. This is crucial for any healthy aging regimen, because with regular use, it will help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and give sagging skin a firmer, more toned look. One of the cons of Ester C is that it isn’t as potent as l-ascorbic acid, and more might be needed to be effective.

Newer forms of Vitamin C that commonly used in topical skincare formulations are magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. MAP, like ascorbic acid, is water soluble, but is less irritant and more stable, making it a better choice for topical formulations. It’s not any more likely to pass the skin’s lipid barrier because of its solubility (unless it is packaged into an oil soluble delivery system), but it has gained momentum in the professional skincare market, as smaller percentages are needed to achieve the same desired effects as ascorbic acid. Because it is less irritant and more potent, it may be a good option for people with more sensitive skin.

Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is oil soluble form of Vitamin C, used in topical skincare products. Like MAP, it is also considered to be more potent than ascorbic acid and other Vitamin C compounds, and has a higher rate of penetration because of its solubility. It is also considered to be more bioavailable than other forms of the nutrient.

The main cons of these derivatives is that they are all synthetic, and are often genetically engineered.

While it is absolutely possible to derive benefits of Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid from plants and foods that naturally contain them, there are some risks associated with doing so, and again, because it is a water soluble nutrient, it isn’t necessarily effective to use plants topically solely for the purpose of attaining Vitamin C.

There are no whole food or whole plant-based forms of any of the other above mentioned forms, nor are something that they body produces on its own or with the help of coenzymes and cofactors.

If you have a dark green approach towards topical skincare, you’d likely prefer to stick to using plants containing ascorbic acid in your topical products and treatments, and integrate Vitamin C into your lifestyle by consuming them in your food. Whole foods that naturally contain ascorbic acid are citrus fruits, pineapples, kiwis, guava, green peppers, black currant, and strawberries. Some flowers that contain it are rose hips, purslane, dandelion, violets and hibiscus.

If you do choose to use skincare products that contain Vitamin C, look for ester C, MAP, or tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate over ascorbic acid.

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Herbal Teas with Vitamin C

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