While we’ve had it drilled into us just how beneficial it is to get on board the retinol train, there’s one fundamental skin care ingredient your routine could be missing – and it’s a serious over-achiever.
“Vitamin A is the most effective ingredient in terms of repair and correction, nothing comes close to it. But vitamin C is probably the most powerful antioxidant,” says Director of Research at Medik8, Daniel Isaacs.
He says vitamin C is the one ingredient *everyone* should be using, ‘cause guys – vitamin C is seriously helpful. Also known as ascorbic acid, the skin care benefits of vitamin C are endless. “Vitamin C is one of the best in terms of the amount of benefits it can provide, and also the amount of studies to prove that it really works,” says Isaacs.
Brighten the complexion? Check. Soothe inflammation? Check. Improve uneven skin texture and tone? Check. Prevent fine lines and wrinkles? Check.
“It keeps the skin really healthy, protects it, but also reverses the signs of skin ageing,” explains Isaacs. “It forms collagen and also helps to manage any kind of excessive pigmentation, hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, and also sun damage and ageing of the skin. Not only is it helping with that corrective action, but it also gives you protection from free radicals.”
Kind of hazy as to what free radicals actually are? Free radicals are essentially unstable atoms. To become more stable, they take electrons from other atoms. The victim molecule then becomes a free radical and sets about stealing another electron for itself, thus setting up a domino effect that ultimately causes cellular damage and premature ageing. Antioxidants (like vitamin C) can actually donate an electron to a free radical, effectively stabilising it without becoming a free radical itself. In a nutshell, antioxidants act like helpful scavengers on the skin, seeking out free radicals and disarming them.
And the bit that will *really* sell you on why you should be using vitamin C: “If you use a powerful derivative or use stable pure ascorbic acid (which is what we have in Medik8 C Tetra), you can biologically change your skin,” says Isaacs.
BIOLOGICALLY. CHANGE. YOUR. SKIN. We’re going to need to sit down. Anyone else wondering why they haven’t been slathering this super ingredient all over their face sooner? Because SAME.
In even more good news, all ages can use vitamin C skin care products, and your skin already knows how to make the most out of it. “I think [vitamin C] is really good for skin health and it’s one of these things that’s used naturally by the body anyway,” says Isaacs. “The skin is already using vitamin C, and that’s always a good indication, because it already knows how to handle it.”
Why are there so many different forms of vitamin C?
If you haven’t used vitamin C before and are currently searching Google and FREAKING out because there are *so* many different citrus-themed products, we’ve got you. “There are lots of different forms – they offer the same benefits, but some of them are better than others,” reveals Isaacs.
Vitamin C can appear on the ingredient label as several different names (they’re long and complicated, so we’re not going to go through and name them all or you’ll be here all day), but the one you want is ascorbic acid. “It’s really important that if you’re dealing with anything outside the pure vitamin C (which is ascorbic acid), that there is data to suggest that they are effective,” advises Isaacs.
“The reason why there are so many forms of vitamin C is because it isn’t stable, and what scientists try to do is to actually change the forms of vitamin C itself,” he says. (We’re about to get a little science-y, but stay with us). “So, they take vitamin C, and they tweak the chemicals around the molecule itself to make it more stable. But then the flip side of that it that sometimes making it more stable makes it less active. And so as a brand, in the laboratory we look for alternatives that have a good balance between being more stable, but also being effective.”
To make it more complicated, you might be wondering why vitamin C is also usually teamed with other ingredients, most commonly ferulic acid and vitamin E. Isaacs says to think of these like skin boosters – a couple of besties that work well together. “Vitamin C is often paired with vitamin E; it’s a very common combination, and the main reason is to create a synergy between the two,” he says. “When you combine vitamin C and vitamin E you get a better performance than using them by themselves.”
The top vitamin C products for beginners
Isaacs says that if you’re just starting out, opt for a milder form of vitamin C like Medik8’s C-Tetra Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum. “It’s the most incredibly stable vitamin C, but it’s actually very effective on the skin,” he says. “We say it’s our mildest form because it absorbs slightly slower before it converts to active form on the skin, but that makes it great for anyone new to vitamin C, or anyone with sensitive skin, blemish-prone skin or compromised skin.”
Isaacs says to steer clear of relatively high concentrations, as these run the risk of causing irritation. “If you’re applying something more than 15 or 20 per cent of ascorbic acid (again, pure vitamin C), there tends to be a little bit of a plateau of how much it can absorb. There is a limit, but your skin will tell you if that’s happening.”
Other vitamin C products for first-time users that we also recommend checking out include Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Vitamin C Bright & Plump Moisturiser and Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules.
Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.