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  • Share your skin goals and snap selfies

  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

Is vitamin C good for acne? Everything you need to know

You might know that vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, but here’s how it may help acne-prone skin.

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Curology Team
Nov 08, 2022 · 6 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.
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When it comes to skincare, it's safe to say vitamin C is having a moment. Not only is it a key player in your overall health, but the potential benefits of this naturally occurring water-soluble vitamin are a hot topic in the dermatology world.  

Curious about how vitamin C can help your skin? When applied topically, it’s a powerhouse antioxidant that helps slow signs of aging, reduce dark spots, boost protection against the sun, protect your skin from free radicals, and more. But does it play a role in relieving breakouts?

Is vitamin C good for acne?

Acne is a common inflammatory skin condition that occurs when pores become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. Bacteria that normally live on the skin (C. acnes) thrive in the excess sebum and trigger an inflammatory response—and that leads to acne! There are different types of acne including blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, cysts, and nodules. While vitamin C is not currently recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology to treat or prevent acne,¹ emerging research shows it may help acne-prone skin in a variety of ways when applied topically. 

  • It may reduce acne-related inflammation: Vitamin C is anti-inflammatory, and studies have shown that when applied topically, its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties effectively reduce the number of acne lesions

  • It may reduce the appearance of acne scars: Acne scars develop when the skin doesn’t heal properly following a breakout. The main factors that affect the likelihood of scar formation include acne severity, genetics, and delay in acne treatment.³ Is vitamin C good for acne scars? It may help reduce the appearance of scars by boosting collagen synthesis. One study showed that topical vitamin C use resulted in a significant decrease in the formation of permanent scars.⁴

  • It can improve hyperpigmentation: Those dark spots left over from acne (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, aka PIH) or too much time in the sun (such as sunspots) can happen when certain factors trigger an increase in melanin production. But vitamin C can help by interfering with tyrosinase, an enzyme necessary for melanin production.⁵

Vitamin C Skincare Serum - Is vitamin C good for acne? Everything you need to know

Should I apply vitamin C topically?

Unlike plants and some animals, humans can’t naturally produce vitamin C. And even with high oral supplemental doses, only a small fraction of vitamin C becomes biologically available and active in the skin. That’s why it’s more helpful to utilize topical application for its skin benefits.⁶

While topical vitamin C cannot cure acne, it offers many great benefits for the skin that may help improve breakouts. Applied in the form of serums, cleansers, oils, and creams, here’s how it can help enhance your skin’s overall appearance: 

  • It boosts sun protection: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that’s been proven to protect against sun damage. Combined with your daily SPF, it’s a great way to reduce and help prevent damage caused by oxidative stress, which occurs when the skin is exposed to pollutants and environmental aggressors, including UV rays.⁷

  • It fades hyperpigmentation: Vitamin C helps reduce the appearance of the dark spots (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) often left behind by acne. It does this by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase and suppressing melanin production.⁸

  • It smooths fine lines: Vitamin C increases collagen production, and recent clinical studies have shown that regularly applying it topically can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.⁹ The result is skin that looks smoother.

Woman's hand holding glass of orange juice - Is vitamin C good for acne? Everything you need to know

Potential benefits of oral vitamin C intake

Vitamin C is so much more than meets the eye when you're downing that glass of OJ at the breakfast table—it plays a vital role in many of the body’s functions. It’s also a powerful antioxidant that can help protect the body (including the skin) from damage caused by free radicals. Integrating vitamin C into your diet or via supplements can help: 

  • Boost immune system functioning: Vitamin C is necessary for optimal bodily functioning, and while deficiency is rare, it can result in illness. A healthy, well-balanced diet rich in vitamin C boosts immune system function, which helps encourage the production of white blood cells to fight infection. Oranges, strawberries, broccoli, and kale are delicious—and nutritious—sources of vitamin C. 

  • Protect cells against free radical damage: Vitamin C scavenges harmful free radicals, which are unstable molecules that contribute to signs of aging, among other things. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help to combat. 

  • May improve photodamage: Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties may aid the skin in a variety of ways. For example, it helps increase collagen production, which may help repair photodamaged skin.¹⁰

Speaking of vitamin C supplements, if you’re worried about breakouts, don’t be—no current research indicates that vitamin C tablets cause acne. 

Types of vitamin C

Three common types of vitamin C used in skincare products are L-ascorbic acid (LAA), magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP), and ascorbyl-6-palmitate. The difference between these types is their stability and bioavailability.¹¹

L-ascorbic acid (LAA)

The naturally occurring form of topical vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid (LAA), the most popular form used in skincare products. It is the most biologically available and well-studied.¹²

Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP)

Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) is another form of vitamin C that is stable at a neutral pH of seven. Unlike LAA, which is hydrophilic (soluble in water), MAP is lipophilic (soluble in fats). 

Ascorbyl-6-palmitate

Ascorbyl-6-palmitate is another lipid-soluble form of vitamin C. Like MAP, it is more stable than LAA. 

Potential side effects of vitamin C 

Widely considered safe, most people adjust to using vitamin C with little to no side effects. However, if you have sensitive skin, we recommend taking it slow to minimize irritation or dryness. Here are some recommendations for use when starting out:

  • Apply it to dry skin only. 

  • Try using it once every few days, or every other day, working up to daily use.

How Curology can help

Curology was founded by dermatologists whose mission is to offer accessible dermatology service to all for skin concerns like acne, acne, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging. We help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine—licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. 

Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap a few selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, one of our in-house dermatology providers will create a personalized prescription formula that targets your specific skin goals. They’re always available to answer any questions you may have and modify your formula if necessary as your skin’s needs naturally shift over time. 

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FAQs

Is vitamin C good for acne?

While vitamin C is not currently recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology to treat or prevent acne, emerging research shows it may help acne-prone skin in a variety of ways when applied topically. I may reduce acne-related inflammation and the appearance of acne scars, and improve hyperpigmentation.

What are the benefits of applying vitamin C topically?

Applied in the form of serums, cleansers, oils, and creams, it can help enhance your skin’s overall appearance by boosting sun protection (Combined with your daily SPF), fading hyperpigmentation, and smoothing fine lines.

What are the benefits of oral vitamin C intake?

Integrating vitamin C into your diet or via supplements can help boost immune system functioning, protect cells against free radical damage, and might improve photodamage. Plus, no current research indicates that vitamin C tablets cause acne.

Are there any side effects to topical use of vitamin C?

Most people adjust to using vitamin C with little to no side effects. However, if you have sensitive skin, we recommend taking it slow to minimize irritation or dryness. If that's your case, try using it once every few days, or every other day, working up to daily use, and only apply it to dry skin.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016). 

  2.  Woolery-Lloyd, H., et al. Sodium L-ascorbyl-2-phosphate 5% lotion for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. J Cosmet Dermatol. (2010)

  3.  Kravvas, G., Al-Niaimi, F. A systematic review of treatments for acne scarring. Part 1: Non-energy-based techniques. Scars Burn Heal. (2017)

  4.  Pullar, JM., et al. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. (2017)

  5.  Pullar, JM., et al. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Ibid.

  6.  Al-Niaimi, F., Chiang, NYZ., Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (2017)

  7.  Al-Niaimi, F., Chiang, NYZ., Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. Ibid. 

  8.  Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (July 2017).

  9.  Fitzpatrick, Richard E., Rostan, Elizabeth F. Double-Blind, Half-Face Study Comparing Topical Vitamin C and Vehicle for Rejuvenation of Photodamage.Dermatology Surgery. Volume 28, Issue 3. (March 2002).

  10.  Michels, Alexander J. Vitamin C and Skin Health. Oregon State University. (2010)

  11.  Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications.Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (July 2017).

  12.  Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications.Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (July 2017).

Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Elise Griffin, Physician Assistant Curology

Elise Griffin, PA-C

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