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In addition to sunscreen and retinol, vitamin C should be an essential part of any skin care routine – all year round, and regardless of skin type. It is a powerful antioxidant that provides many benefits from photoprotection and anti-aging to brightening and anti-pigmentation.
First and foremost it tackles hyper-pigmentation by limiting the activity of the tyrosinase enzyme (which acts as a catalyst in the production of melanin), thereby inhibiting melanin synthesis, lightening uneven pigmentation, and leading to a brighter complexion.
Skin care brands are also keen to tell us about the superhero-like ability of vitamin C to fight free radical damage. Daily sun radiation, pollution and smoking can cause oxidative stress, and the skin can no longer protect itself when environmental free radicals outnumber antioxidants. Vitamin C, however, donates its electrons to free radical molecules, thereby neutralizing oxidative stress, which helps slow accelerated skin aging and the development of skin cancer.
Vitamin C is best incorporated into a skincare routine via concentrated serums – the step that comes after toners and pre-moisturizers. Applied in the morning, the serum will act as a defense shield against free radicals.
To be effective, serum must contain between 8 and 20 percent vitamin C. Vitamin C below 8 percent will not produce significant results. And research shows that serum above 20 percent can be irritating — plus higher concentrations don’t increase its effectiveness. I recommend choosing one that is in the Goldilocks zone (not too low, not too high) from 10 to 20 percent.
(Before I roll out some recommendations, it’s also worth noting that I’ve long given up on the commercial marketing of vitamin C products in yellow or orange containers. Ironically, vitamin C turns a rancid orange color once it begins to oxidize, meaning it loses its efficacy and is on its way. to go! This is a useful thing to know because, as the efficacy drops, you will have to use more of it to achieve the same result.)
RoC Multi Correxion® Revive + Glow, £35.99 for 30ml
Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum, £86 for 30ml
Lixirskin Vitamin C Paste, £35 for 50ml
iS Clinical Super Serum, £155 for 30ml
For starters, the lightweight RoC Multi Correxion® Revive + Glow 10 percent active vitamin C formula will ease skin gently towards results. For seasoned users, Tatcha Violet-C Brightening Serum is a colorless, fragrance-free, 20 percent vitamin C formula with Japanese beautyberry (yes, they’re called that) for antioxidant support, and 10 percent fruit acid reappears without irritation. For gentle relief, I recommend mixing one part hyaluronic acid with one part vitamin C.
For sensitive skin, there is Lixirskin Vitamin C Paste. Instead of a serum, this 10 percent L-ascorbic acid formula is a paste-in morning mask, designed to revive gray and greenish undertones. For the long haul, choose iS Clinical Super Serum, with a time-release technology of 15 percent vitamin C, bioidentical copper tripeptide growth factor, and powerful botanical antioxidants.
Vitamin C is incredibly versatile, but it has a drawback: it’s very susceptible to oxidation, which not only turns it an orange-brown but also reduces its beneficial properties. But a number of brands have tackled this problem ingeniously, like The Nue Co Topical-C, which uses the most stable form of vitamin C, L-ascorbic acid, in powder form, and in an opaque bottle that looks a bit like a salt shaker. It doesn’t activate until you sprinkle the right dose (2-3 shakes) into your serum or moisturizer.
Murad Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum, £82 for 30ml
Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Serum, £165 for 30ml
Lancôme Rénergie HCF Triple Serum, £79.20 for 50ml
Esthederm Photo Reverse High Protection Institute, £57 for 50ml. spacenk.com
But it’s worth noting that you can’t mix vitamin C with everything – for example various acids, which work best in environments with very different pH levels. (I would recommend using vitamin C in the morning and a separate acidic or retinol product at night, as combining them with other active ingredients can be irritating.) To address this, Murad’s Glycolic Vita-C Lightening Serum has created a delivery system that stable with separate chambers that pump the correct dose simultaneously, so there is no prior contact between the ingredients. This ensures that the glycolic acid gently resurfaces dead skin cells to create an optimal environment for deeper penetration of vitamin C.
Vitamin C, however, works well with other antioxidants such as ferulic acid and vitamin E. The anti-inflammatory and photoprotective ferulic acid comes from plant cell walls. Combining it with vitamin C works wonders on areas with redness, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and brown patches associated with melasma. Try cult favorite Skinceuticals CE Ferulic serum (for mature, sun-damaged skin) and later iterations Phloretin CF (for oily skin) and Silymarin CF (for acne-prone skin).
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Hyaluronic acid (HA) and vitamin C are also a good combination as the humectant properties of HA (i.e. it attracts water) can help offset the dryness that can sometimes occur with vitamin C. Lancôme Rénergie HCF Triple Serum uses HA to brighten its cocktail of vitamin C, niacinamide and ferulic acid. Each pump dispenses precise doses through three chambers so they can be blended in the palm of your hand. (It was once believed that niacinamide/vitamin B3 and vitamin C should not be taken, but in fact they can be used together if they are stable forms of vitamin C.)
But the main dynamic power couple is vitamin C and sunscreen: together they are more effective at neutralizing free radical damage and creating defensive UV protection than sunscreen alone. According to one study, using sunscreen and 10 percent vitamin C resulted in a 52 percent reduction in redness and a 40 to 60 percent reduction in the development of sunburn cells. I’d recommend a broad-spectrum sun care product like Institut Esthederm Photo Reverse High Protection or a pre-mixed vitamin C and SPF formula like Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Mineral Sunscreen SPF30, which has a soft, matte finish to correct uneven skin tone. and prevent sun damage. Hopefully, once you find out that vitamin C and SPF go better together, you’ll never separate them again.
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