You hear it all the time. Vitamin C is healthy for you and your skin because it acts to neutralize and counteract the effects of free radicals in the environment that age your skin prematurely. If you’re interested in science, then let’s talk about these dangerous, little free radicals molecules.
Because the skin is the body’s largest organ, naturally you need to take care of it to remain healthy and look younger. You especially need to protect those areas that are more exposed to the environment like the face, neck, chest, and hands.
The most notorious culprits for premature skin aging are the UV light from the sun and environmental pollutants such as smog, dust, cigarette smoke, and radiation. When these elements come into contact with the skin, they create highly reactive free radicals molecules that disrupt cell function, DNA, and cause damage.
So, let’s dive into it by first talking about what you need to know about free radicals and how they damage your skin.
(If you’re not up on your biochemistry, no problem I’m not going to make it the main focus of the post.)
Most everyone has, at some point, heard how important it is to consume a daily dosage of antioxidants. But, for most people, I think the mystery remains. What are free radicals? And why should we consume them in our foods and apply them to our skin? If we do, we can slow down the rate at which we age.
What is a Free Radical?
Well, a free radical is a highly reactive molecule formed within the body as part of the normal aging process. Free radicals also form from environmental pollution, UV light, and other environmental factors. They also impact your skin and make it age faster than it normally would otherwise.
Yes, ingesting foods with high quantities of antioxidants helps to reduce damage caused by free radicals, but will this help keep your skin looking younger? I can’t say for sure. Maybe.
When it comes to the skin and the formation of fine lines, wrinkles, brown pigmentation, dehydration, and skin laxity, free radicals play an essential role.
For example, when UV light or some pollutant such as smog or smoke touches your skin, healthy skin cells get ‘stressed out’ by a process called oxidation – “oxidative stress.” It results in the breakup of molecules within skin cells, causing free-floating, negatively-charged electrons to search out and steal surrounding electrons from other molecules in other cells. This process repeats itself over and over again – in a chain-reaction-like way – with intact molecules always being broken apart by freely-available electrons or free radicals. Gradually it spreads over a more significant number of cells, causing the cells to weaken, and collagen and elastin production to decrease. Fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation form, which leads to less vibrant, thinner, and older appearing skin. Ergo much of what we call ‘skin damage.’
Let’s take an example. Remember how cutting out a piece of an apple makes it quickly change from being white, plump, and juicy to brown, soft, and dry. Well, this is the same oxidation process that we find in the skin and the rapid decay of the apple. In the presence of antioxidants, this process would slow down considerably.
The Natural Aging Process, Can we stop it?
No, it’s not possible to completely stop the aging process. At least not yet at this point. Our bodies naturally will produce less collagen and elastin, and lose tone, thickness, and laxity over time. So don’t think that any mentioned skin treatment will ultimately free you of free radicals and stop you from aging, altogether. It won’t! What it can do is slow down the process. I think, therefore, it’s worth considering.
A Strong Defense by ‘Arming Ourselves’ with the Antioxidants
As the old saying goes, “the best offense is a strong defense.” In the case of anti-aging skincare, I believe this to be true. And one of the most robust defenses is antioxidants.
What are Antioxidants, and how do they work?
Antioxidants are what neutralize free radicals. They do this by naturally donating their extra electrons to free radicals without becoming themselves new free radicals. This effectively neutralizes free radicals – inactivating them and therefore halting (slowing) the aging process as I described above. The body has its natural reserve of these antioxidants, but it’s not enough to continually fight them off – especially in the presence of abundant UV light or air pollution. Thus, we need to continuously apply topical skin creams, lotions, and potions with high concentrations of antioxidants to ‘arm ourselves’ against the damage caused by free radicals.
Hungary and Vitamin C?
Because I live in Hungary, I must mention that it was a Hungarian professor who discovered that Vitamin C was one of the most important antioxidants of the time. This was very much right a hundred years ago and is still true to this day. Dr. Albert Szent Gyorgyi performed his experiments and extracted high quantities of Vitamin C from Hungarian red peppers. He demonstrated its natural healing properties, and to this day, we’re all happy and grateful for his work.
But, since this post is not about peppers, I will move on.
Which antioxidants should I use?
Antioxidants can either be ingested into the body or topically applied to the skin, as I’ve already mentioned. They are present in foods like tomatoes, grapes and green teas. They also come in chemical forms such as Acetyl L Carnitine, Coenzyme Q10, Resveratrol, Selenium, multi B vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E, to name a few.
Exactly how they work when ingested and what illnesses they can prevent or cure is another topic better left for a later post.
For the skin to effectively fight against Free Radical formation, pure vitamin C (L ascorbic acid) is one of the best antioxidants. There is a lot of good science to back up its effects, and you can apply to your skin easily in different formulas.
Pure vitamin C (L ascorbic acid) provides a wide range of benefits for the skin. Some of these include (1)strong antioxidant effects, (2)stimulation of new collagen production and a (3)lightening effect on pigmentation. Vitamin C helps even out skin tone, shield the skin from pollution, improve skin hydration, lighten up brown pigmentation spots, and increase elasticity and tone. Ergo, it’ll keep your skin looking younger, longer!
Pure vitamin C is the antioxidant that we know the most about because it has the most science behind it, demonstrating it’s proven effects and benefits. It’s a water-soluble molecule that, when ingested or applied topically, literally enters almost any part of the body to do its work. And, in comparison to other antioxidants, pure vitamin C also stimulates the production of new collagen, which is excellent for the skin as you know. That’s why I believe that any good skincare regimen needs to include lots of vitamin C applications.
The problem with pure vitamin C is that it’s not stable enough to last a long time. You’ll need to use it up quickly or get a formula with other antioxidants such as vitamin A and E to stabilize. It will last longer, and you’ll save money, not throwing out a bunch of half-full bottles that don’t do anything. These additives will help to stabilize your application which only adds or synergize the effects.
The other issue is that of skin sensitivity. Since vitamin C is strong and acidic, you’ll need to test how your skin reacts to different strengths and formulations.
How best to take care of your skin?
For all the reasons mentioned above (and more), building an effective skincare regimen involves not just going to the store and picking any product off the shelf. Remember that not all skincare products are created equal. There is a lot of science that isn’t quite complete, and thus many products can make varying claims. We want to base a skincare regimen on the best science we know for the right type of skin.
What we do know is that there are a few factors that you should take into consideration. In the end, with so many products on the market, you’ll need to keep experimenting to find what works best for you.
Here are some things that hopefully can help.
Stability – Many of the antioxidants out there come in different chemical forms with some being more stable than others. For example, I mentioned already that pure vitamin C isn’t stable on its own, and doesn’t last long once you’ve opened the bottle.
It only makes sense to buy pure vitamin C if you use the entire product within its short expiry time. If not, find another product that contains other antioxidant stabilizers like vitamin A, E, Ferulic acid or ester derivative forms of vitamin C. These products will last longer. Additive antioxidants can also be synergist to vitamin C and increase its overall effect. In some cases, they may be less effective – but also less irritating. Ergo, which product you choose depends upon what you need and how sensitive your skin is.
Penetration – It’s essential to pick a product that can penetrate your skin to the needed level. Since everyone’s skin has a different tolerance level, you need to test whether your skin reacts negatively or becomes irritated by using a particular product. You should discontinue any product that is making your skin red and itchy.
Concentration – Similarly to the above, you don’t want to use a product that is too strong and irritates your skin. Conversely, it shouldn’t be too weak, or it won’t make any real difference. Generally speaking, an adequate vitamin C product should have a concentration of between 5%-20%.
So, what’s the best skin care regimen to apply? Here are our top picks.
To build healthy skin overall, you need to start from the beginning, and that means cleaning. Because the skin is under constant free radical attack, proper cleaning involves removing many of the harmful agents that cause free radicals to form and damage your skin. Cleansers should be mild, (not harsh) and free of synthetic fragrances or irritating agents that can damage the skin’s natural barrier. This will also make all your other skincare products work a lot better. A good cleanser shouldn’t be greasy and clog pores but should remove all dirt, sebum, oil, and makeup.
Whether your skin is normal, dry, combination or oily, you’ll need to shop around for a product that does the trick best for you. I’ll only list a few products here that I feel are effective and offer value for the money.
Shop Now – Nuskin 180° Face Wash – Active Vitamin C based cream formula to battle pigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles right from the start.
Shop Now – Omorovicza Thermal Cleansing Balm – remove oily makeup and mascara at the end of the day without stripping. Discover the transformative power of Hungarian Moor Mud.
Shop Now – Paula’s Choice RESIST Perfectly Balanced Anti-Aging Cleanser – make your skin feel clean and fresh with this 100% fragrance-free combination-oily skin face wash. Good for acne concerns, large pores, and anti-aging (hyaluronic acid).
The next step in your skincare routine naturally should be a gentle chemical peel or exfoliation. The skin will naturally shed dead cells, but sometimes it may need a little help. Whether its sun damage, makeup, age or pollutants, your skin may not be able to do the job all on its own. This can lead to dull, uneven looking or feeling skin, clogged pores, acne breakouts, blackheads, and wrinkles that appear deeper than they should. With a good skin peeling, you’ll instantly remove layers and unlock, unclog, revitalize and add life back into your skin. Don’t leave it out!
There are three basic types of chemical skin peelers: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA)(Glycolic acid, Lactic acid), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA)(Salicylic acid) and Poly Hydroxy Acids (PHA)(Gluconolactone). All of them do the same thing, exfoliate. Which one you choose depends on how sensitive your skin is and what type of skin you have –dry, normal, combination, or oily.
If you have skin damaged skin that’s very dry, you should use an AHA or PHA peeler. These will exfoliate, rehydrate, and protect your skin’s natural barrier. On the other hand, use a BHA peeler if you have acne or rosacea or your skin is oily or sensitive. BHA exfoliates, is sensitive-skin-friendly, unclogs pores and has anti-inflammatory/anti-bacterial properties.
With many products available, here are just a few you may wish to try out.
Shop Now – THE ORDINARY – Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution – mild, effective AHA exfoliation to improve radiance, clarity, and texture of your skin.
Shop Now – PAULA’S CHOICE RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA – target the signs of aging, reduce pore size and exfoliate to make your skin smoother and younger-looking.
Shop Now – [MEDI-PEEL] PHA Peeling Cream 50ml – lighten and brighten your appearance while reducing the depth of wrinkles.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, vitamin C has some amazing anti-aging properties to fight off harmful environmental elements and produce new collagen. Although many different serums contain important molecules like peptides, retinol, or hyaluronic acid, there’s nothing better to kick-start your day like a good 10-15% vitamin C serum. Using a pure vitamin C serum or a serum that combines with the above-said molecules can make a big difference in the texture and quality of your skin. But, remember, it’s not a substitute for sunscreen or sunblock.
If you have sensitive skin that can’t take pure 10%-15% vitamin C serum, then seek out of some of the derivatives or mixed formulas for a balance. It’s less irritating, more stable, and also beneficial.
Shop Now – SkinMedica: TNS Essential Serum® – a mixed formula of vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, peptides, green tea and olive oils for smoother, brighter, and more youthful-looking skin.
Shop Now – Skin Ceuticals Serum 10 AOX – 10% pure vitamin C serum for those with sensitive skin and just building their beauty regimens. Protect against atmospheric skin aging, lessen fine lines and wrinkles and look marvelous.
Shop Now – Paula’s Choice BOOST C15 Super Booster 15% Vitamin C with Vitamin E and Ferulic Acid – brighten uneven skin tones with this more concentrated 15% pure vitamin C booster serum while combatting the visible signs of aging on your skin.
When it comes down to the bottom line, I can only stress how important it is to support the natural protective function of your skin. Hydration, hydration, hydration is the key. Our bodies are made mostly of water and water maintains function. Day and night creams serve up essential ingredients to your skin to help prevent the loss of – and restore – hydration. Proper hydration supports good interconnectivity of skin cells – which keeps skin smooth and soft – it also maintains the skin’s natural protective barrier. (i.e. bacteria, inflammation)
When you choose a moisturizer, you want as much of the good stuff in it as you can get. I.e., antioxidants, vitamin C in lipid-soluble form, hyaluronic acid, emollients, and anti-inflammatory agents. Avoid any product that may irritate your skin (alcohols, fragrances).
Shop Now – SkinMedica Rejuvenative Moisturizer – restore the soft and supple look of your skin with lipid-soluble vitamin C, retinol and hyaluronic acid to retain moisture.
Shop Now – SkinCeuticals Daily Moisture – for normal-oily skin this mixture of Vitamin E, algae and other botanical extracts will leave your skin soft without any greasy residue. Good for acne
Shop Now – Paula’s Choice CLINICAL Ceramide-Enriched Firming Moisturizer – hydrate with this creamy-smooth lotion containing a high concentration of vitamin C and lipids for maximum resiliency.
So, as I complete my post, I end it with the final step in your skincare regimen, sunscreen! Every day, regardless of whether it rains or shines, apply protective sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 to your skin – especially to the sun-exposed areas of the face, neck, chest, and hands. The hazards of the sun are mostly known, but what’s not is that SPF will protect you from UVB light but not necessarily from UVA rays – the rays that wrinkle. Not to mention the other harmful effects. Going higher in SPF doesn’t add UVA protection. Your product needs to say broad-spectrum or both UVA/UVB protection.
Shop Now – NEUTROGENA SHEER ZINC OXIDE DRY-TOUCH LOTION w. SPF50 – Complete UVA/UVB with maximum SPF 50 strength. Daily use on sensitive skin — hypoallergenic, water-resistant, mineral sunblock.
Shop Now – PAULA’S CHOICE – RESIST SKIN RESTORING MOISTURIZER w. BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 50 SUNSCREEN+ANTIOXIDANTS – healthy, smooth skin daytime protection from city pollutants and sun exposure keeping your skin younger and fresher.
Shop Now – PAULA’S CHOICE – DEFENSE ESSENTIAL GLOW MOISTURIZER WITH SPF30 SUNBLOCK, KIWI EXTRACT, VITAMIN C & E – Daytime anti-aging moisturizer for all skin types. Broad-Spectrum (UVA/UVB) SPF protection moisturizes, smooths and rejuvenates with antioxidants while providing maximum protection against the sun and pollutants.
Shop Now– SPF 30 LIP BALM LIPSAVER 4-PACK – suitable for all outdoor activities, full UVA/UVB protection, anti-aging vitamin E, natural beeswax and olive oil.
Take care of your skin!
Sharing is caring 🙂
Randy Simor MD