What’s the deal with vitamin C?



Vitamin C. It’s everywhere - well, not everywhere, but for a good while, it’s been the go-to antioxidant in skincare. Vitamin C serum pricing can range from average to “oh-my-goodness $270 for 30mls?!?”, and it’s a finicky ingredient to keep stable. New formulations and concentrations are constantly being released - but do we really need one?


“Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals," board-certified dermatologist Patricia Wexler told Allure last year, “Because of its antioxidant properties, vitamin C aids in your skin's natural regeneration process, which helps your body repair damaged skin cells."


Vitamin C is also said to promote collagen and elastic production, brighten the skin, lighten pigmentation and just give you an all-round ~ glow.


Personally though, I’ve never found a vitamin C product I really liked enough to bring into my routine on a regular basis. The Ordinary was one of my first forays, and they have an overwhelming number of vitamin C options for all skin types, even a POWDER form of vitamin C if you feel like you just must mix your own (read: don’t do this). The long and short of it is, vitamin C can tingle in a VERY unpleasant way - I don’t consider myself to have sensitive or sensitised skin (especially as I use a retinoid nightly), but it felt like it wasn’t doing anything work that itchy-slightly-burning tingle. Most vitamin C products will warn about use on "sensitive skin" which really doesn't mean much - what my skin can't tolerate, your skin might lap up, but it does say something when it's a common piece of advice in the 'how to use' sections.


Dr Natalia Spierings, a favourite no-nonsense Insta-derm (who works out of both Dubai and London) has this to say:


“The ability of vitamin C to penetrate the skin is a major issue...vitamin C is a water-soluble and charged molecule, and is repelled by the physical barrier of the cells of the epidermis.” Even in the right form, at the right pH, Dr Spierings says, you are only getting SOME penetration, and “whether it results in increased levels in the stratum corneum is unknown - combined with other antioxidants in SPF formulations it may help to protect the skin from UV light damage.” And here’s the key takeaway: “Vitamin C is the most over-marketed and misunderstood ingredient in the market right now.”


Like all skincare, you have to continue use to see the benefits, and the kind of improvements you’ll see with a vitamin C serum can also be found in other prescription products (you’ll never see me not talking about tretinoin).


If you’re interested in sampling vitamin C, start low and go slow - patch test, find an L-ascorbic (commonly regarded as the most effective form) and don’t get sucked into the mega-hype around this ingredient. Paula’s Choice, the aforementioned The Ordinary and Revolution Beauty all have cruelty-free & vegan options that won’t break the bank (especially if you end up regifting to someone else). If you love it, it might just be your soulmate ingredient, but if you find yourself thinking "meh", you're not alone!