Vitamin C on the Skin


In recent years, cosmetic companies have touted vitamin C as a skin care “wonder drug.” A natural antioxidant, vitamin C has shown promise as a powerful fighter of free radicals, reducing skin damage and visible signs of aging. In addition, vitamin C is also critical in the production of collagen. These vitamin C skin care products range from inexpensive to $200 for a 1 oz. jar of cream. But do these skin treatments really work?

Antioxidant Power

There is some reliable scientific evidence that using vitamin C, or L-ascorbic acid, topically can reduce fine wrinkles and lines, according to the website Smart Skin Care. Vitamin C can rev up the creation of collagen, or proteins, on the skin’s surface, making your skin firmer and more elastic; as an antioxidant, it can clean up free radicals responsible for accelerated skin damage.

A 2009 study published on Science Daily suggests that, in addition to “mopping up” free radicals, vitamin C can even help remove the DNA damage they create. Vitamin C can also help lighten age spots and reduce symptoms of psoriasis and eczema. The scientific evidence and its long history of use—Native Americans mixed vitamin C-rich rosehips into a creamy paste for the face—suggest that vitamin C shows a lot of promise as a “fountain of youth” for the skin.

Feeling Unstable

Unfortunately, many vitamin C skin care products don’t live up to that promise. Vitamin C is inherently unstable; when it oxidizes, it stops providing skin care benefits and may even be harmful, according to Smart Skin Care. They argue that many cheap vitamin C products are already oxidizing on the shelf; in advanced stages of oxidization, a white or colorless product will turn a dingy yellowish color. In addition, only highly concentrated sources of vitamin C are actually effective at reducing skin damage. So, many products out there, even very expensive creams and lotions, are not doing the job when it comes to much-touted skin repair.

Dollars and Sense

So what is a consumer to do? Careful research, for one. Make sure you are picking a reliable product, preferably colorless or untinted so you can spot any oxidization, and using it by the expiration date. Some companies offer “stabilized,” concentrated vitamin C products, which are very expensive but more likely to be effective. In addition, Smart Skin Care suggests trying vitamin C “derivatives”: ascorbyl palmitate, for example, is more stable and less expensive than vitamin C but might be just as effective at fighting free radicals. And newer, more stable derivative products are constantly appearing on the market.

Do-It-Yourself Skin Care

Another option is to make your own vitamin C face cream. Independent cosmetic site The Beauty Brains acknowledges that, while most at-home mixes can’t measure up to store-bought, vitamin C products can be made effectively in your own kitchen. In addition, at sites like Lotioncrafter or Making Cosmetics, you can find pure ingredients to make your own vitamin C mix at home, using tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or other vitamin C derivatives used in store-bought products, at a much lower cost.


A precaution to consider when using vitamin C products: pure L-ascorbic acid is highly acidic and can be extremely irritating to sensitive skin. It does have an exfoliating effect, so you might have peeling when you first use a product or if too much is applied.

It can be difficult to find a fresh, effective vitamin C serum on the market. The evolving line of vitamin C derivatives might provide a solution to the instability of L-ascorbic acid and might even prove to be more powerful at collagen repair. Ultimately, making your own supply might just be the most effective way to have a renewable supply of this very powerful but costly antioxidant.

About this Author

Writing and fitness are Dana Green’s two passions. Based in Montana, she has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for the last 10 years. She is also a NSCA-certified personal trainer and wellness coach. Green is currently the fitness columnist for “Healthy Montana”; she has also written for Kashi and “Flathead Living” magazine.