Yes, you do. That is the TL;DR version of the rest of this article, so if you came here just for a quick answer — there you have it. But if you’re interested in actually learning what Vitamin C does for your skin, what type of products you should purchase, and some mistakes to avoid making with Vitamin C, then grab something to drink, settle in, and probably get your wallet ready… you know, just in case.
Vitamin C is one of the most universally effective and well-rounded active ingredients in skincare. No matter what type of issues you have with your skin — dullness, hyperpigmentation, redness, fine lines, lack of firmness — Vitamin C will yield some impressive improvements to the appearance of your complexion once you commit to daily application of it.
What is Vitamin C?
Just like the Vitamin C you take to stave off sickness during cold and flu season, Vitamin C in skincare acts as a powerful antioxidant against environmental free radicals that aim to wreak havoc on your face. Vitamin C is used for brightening skin, fading dark spots left behind after breakouts, and establishing a more even skin tone.
How exactly does it do this? The visible effects of oxidative stress, a state that our skin goes into when there are not enough antioxidants to combat the damage caused by free radicals, can present itself as sallow skin tone, redness, and generally unwell-looking skin. Free radicals are created when our cells encounter damaging agents in our environment such as air pollution, vehicle emissions, cigarette smoke, dirt, and UVA/UVB rays.
Extensive oxidative stress can weaken your skin and therefore accelerate aging as well as hyperpigmentation caused by post-acne scarring or sun damage. Vitamin C is not just a potent topical antioxidant, it is one of the more versatile active ingredients as it also stimulates the skin’s production of collagen and is naturally anti-inflammatory — good news for people who also suffer from acne, oiliness, and blackheads.
Basically, everyone benefits from Vitamin C. There is definitely a lot of “fluff” in skincare that you could do without, but if you’re focusing on youth preservation, calming redness and inflammation, fading dark spots, or just wanting that elusive “glow” that only Glossier models seem to naturally possess — you really shouldn’t skip Vitamin C.
How to choose your Vitamin C product
Vitamin C is surprisingly complicated to formulate in a way that guarantees its effectiveness. The active ingredients needed to make a potent serum are extremely sensitive to oxidation and light exposure, so the packaging of Vitamin C products is just as important as the formula itself.
A few of the most popular forms of Vitamin C in skincare are Ascorbic Acid (also L-Ascorbic Acid), Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, and Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate. If you are looking at the ingredients list of a supposed Vitamin C product and none of the aforementioned are listed in the first couple ingredients, the product is not potent enough to show results.
L-Ascorbic Acid is the most commonly used Vitamin C derivative used in skincare, but with a pH of 3.5, it is also the most acidic varietal. Most skin types can tolerate L-Ascorbic Acid, but if you are particularly sensitive, then consider formulas with any of the other commonly used derivatives — just know it will take longer to see the desired results.
Ideally, your Vitamin C serum will be packaged in an air-tight container with a pump that is either an opaque or amber-hued bottle to avoid oxidation and light exposure. A lot of Vitamin C serums come with pipet applicators which unfortunately allow for daily air exposure. While this is not ideal, it does not necessarily mean that it will be a bad product.
With every Vitamin C serum, it is important to understand that there is an expiration date on the product. Take note of the characteristics of your serum when you first begin using it. Once your product changes color, texture, smell, or becomes cloudy, you need to discontinue use immediately as it has oxidized and therefore expired. Vitamin C serums typically have a shelf life of around six months to a year before opened — to avoid wasting money, it is best to use them daily and buy them fresh each time — don’t attempt to “stock up” on a product you like.
How to use Vitamin C Serum
Because the environmental aggressors that create free radicals are typically encountered during the day, Vitamin C is usually incorporated into morning routines. You can use a Vitamin C serum at night, but it will likely negatively interact with other active ingredients typically used at night such as retinol or AHAs. You do not need to apply Vitamin C serum twice a day.
After cleansing, toning, and hydrating with an essence or another serum, layer your Vitamin C serum on before finishing up with moisturizer and SPF. There are like 98 different reasons why you have to wear UVA/UVB protection every single day, but SPF and Vitamin C really are two peas in a pod — both work to lessen the effects of oxidative stress on your skin. Your Vitamin C serum doesn’t have to work as hard when combined with SPF, and vice versa.
Since Vitamin C needs to be applied daily in order to elicit desired results, you need to have a product at a price point you feel comfortable spending every three to four months. CosRX, a Korean brand that is quickly gaining a following in the States, delivers an incredible 20.5% concentration of ascorbic acid — well above most others on the market — in its Triple C Lightning Liquid. Because of this high concentration, incorporate it slowly into your routine by mixing a couple drops into your moisturizer for the first few weeks of use.
A Vitamin C product with a truly cultish following, the Kiehl’s Powerful Strength Line Reducing Concentrate got a revamp last year and is now even more impressive than before. The new formula contains hyaluronic acid along with a 12.5% concentration of L-Ascorbic Acid that layers over skin in a silky sheer finish similar to a primer, creating the perfect protective canvas for your daily makeup.
I really hate to call Drunk Elephant C-Firma a “splurge” as there is a damn good reason for that price tag — it’s just the best. This perfectly-packaged formula contains 15% L-ascorbic Acid, hydrates with ferulic acid and Vitamin E, gently enzymatically exfoliates throughout the day thanks to a variety of fruit extracts, and contains Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer — ingredients that allow all the goodness to penetrate skin deeper than other serums. Vitamin C requires daily and continuous use to see results. If you’re impatient and want to see those results way quicker — C-Firma is your babe.