Ask Curology: what does vitamin C do for your skin?

How to reap the benefits of topical vitamin C for the skin

Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley, NP
Feb 06, 2020 · 4 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Welcome to Ask Curology, a series on the Curology blog where one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers answers your questions about all things skincare. This week, we wondered if vitamin C serum benefits are worth the hype. Here’s what you should know about vitamin C in skincare.

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Dear Curology,

I’ve always heard that vitamin A is the best anti-aging ingredient, but recently I’ve been hearing a lot about vitamin C serum benefits for mature skin. At 36, I think my skin looks pretty good, but I do want to prevent signs of aging like dark spots and fine lines. I’m a little skeptical about switching up my skincare routine if this is just another trend, so I’m hoping you can fill me in. Does vitamin C work?


Serum Skeptic

Dear Skeptic,

Great question! I’ve also noticed an uptick in vitamin C hype — and of course, misinformation about its actual skin benefits. So, the short answer: you don’t necessarily need to add in a vitamin C product, particularly if you already have a skincare routine that works for you. However, if you’re concerned about dark spots, signs of aging, or wish to add an extra layer of protection from wrinkle-causing free radicals and UV damage, vitamin C may be just what you need.

How vitamin C works

Vitamin C is a naturally occurring water-soluble molecule with powerful antioxidant properties. While eating your daily servings of fruits and veggies or taking a multivitamin is great for your overall health, you may not see much of an effect on your skin.This is because only a small fraction of the vitamin C we eat is biologically available and active in the skin. In order to reap the skin benefits of vitamin C, it needs to be applied topically.

The skin benefits of vitamin C

There are three ways that vitamin C can potentially improve your skin:

  1. Photoprotection. It neutralizes free radicals, which cause photoaging.

  2. Anti-pigmentation. It improves hyperpigmentation (dark spots) by inhibiting melanin formation.

  3. Anti-aging. It repairs fine lines and wrinkles through stimulating collagen production.

Vitamin C may show up as an ingredient in a lot of different skincare products, but a vitamin C serum is the easiest way to supplement an already established skincare routine — plus, there are plenty of affordable options!

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How to use vitamin C serum

To get the most out of your vitamin C, you should apply it in the morning — particularly if you plan to spend an extended amount of time in the sun. I’d recommend applying a vitamin C serum after cleansing and before you apply your sunscreen or moisturizer with SPF. And don’t skip on your regular UV protection — while it provides some protection from the sun, vitamin C does not take the place of your sunscreen.

You also can apply vitamin C topically at night if you prefer — whatever works for you!

Potential side effects of vitamin C serums

Vitamin C has an excellent safety profile, and most people have no trouble adjusting to using it in a topical product. But sensitive skin types will want to take it slowly. If you experience a burning or tingling sensation, particularly the first couple times you use the product, make sure you’re applying it to dry skin, and use it less frequently, working up to daily use.

And if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you already know you’ll want to double-check the other ingredients in the product on CosDNA to make sure they don’t cause acne or irritation.

One last thing: because vitamin C is an unstable molecule, the efficiency of using topical vitamin C depends upon the way in which it was formulated. As there are a number of different active forms of vitamin C, you’ll want to take this into consideration. A change in product color is an indication that your vitamin C has lost its potency. Your best bet is to avoid buying vitamin C serums in bulk and to use them up quickly.

I hope this helps — Curology is always here to help when it comes to addressing skin concerns like signs of aging. If you haven’t already, feel free to sign up for a free month to get custom skincare picked for you by a dermatology provider like me.


Allison Buckley, NP-C

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Allison Buckley Avatar

Allison Buckley, NP

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