Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin C, Including the Best Products to Try

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Vitamin C is one of the most talked-about skin-care ingredients on the market right now—and for good reason. While the vitamin certainly has its health benefits when ingested (hello stronger immune system), it’s also an absolute legend in the skin-care world. When applied topically, it can truly transform your skin.

While we’re willing to bet you’ve heard of vitamin C before, it’s likely you aren’t aware of everything there is to know about benefiting from this rockstar ingredient. Here, we tapped Birmingham, AL dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD to explain exactly what vitamin C is, why we should use it, and the best topical options you can buy right now.

What is vitamin C and what can it do to the skin?

“Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that is a vital component of a complete anti-aging skin-care regimen,” explains Dr. Hartman. When applied topically, vitamin C reduces damage to our cells by neutralizing free radicals, which are highly reactive (and harmful) molecules formed by exposure to environmental stressors like UV light and pollution. These free radicals can degrade collagen and result in dull, saggy, sallow-looking skin.

“Collagen production peaks at age 22 and decreases every decade thereafter, so it is imperative to produce and prevent its breakdown of as much as possible,” adds Dr. Hartman. Translation: By preventing the degradation of collagen, you can stave off wrinkles and keep your skin looking younger for longer.

Vitamin C, which also goes by L-ascorbic acid, also inhibits melanin production in the skin, which helps to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots, even out skin tone, and enhance skin radiance. So not only can you improve fine lines and wrinkles, but you can also create a clearer skin tone when using a vitamin C product, too.

How should vitamin C be incorporated into your routine?

Dr. Hartman advises to apply vitamin C in the morning. “By applying a vitamin C product before you go out into the world, you best prepare your skin’s defenses to combat [environmental] aggressors [like UV radiation and pollution],” explains Dr. Hartman. “It should be applied first after washing with an appropriate cleanser and before applying sun protection factor.”

Is vitamin C safe to use for everyone?

“Vitamin C has an excellent safety profile and is easily incorporated into the skin-care regimen of virtually any person,” says Dr. Hartman. “Most people can use vitamin C for years without experiencing any adverse side effects.”

Vitamin C is also safe to use in conjunction with other active ingredients like hydroxy acids, retinoids and niacinamide. Also, vitamin C is most effective when paired with other antioxidants like vitamin E, ferulic acid and silymarin. “For sensitive-skinned patients, there may be minor tingling and irritation, but it is transient,” says Dr. Hartman.

What vitamin C products do you recommend to your patients?

For an affordable and effective vitamin C product, Dr. Hartman recommends the La Roche-Posay 10% Pure Vitamin C Serum ($40). “[This serum] leaves skin protected and radiant without irritation,” he explains. “It combines a unique triple anti-aging ingredient complex with concentrated 10% pure vitamin C salicylic acid and neurosensine for optimal effectiveness while also being suitable for even the most sensitive skin.”

For those looking for an extra boost of anti-aging benefits in their vitamin C product, the La Roche-Posay Active Vitamin C 10% Wrinkle Cream ($50) is a good option. This product pairs vitamin C with hyaluronic acid to help plump fine lines and improve the overall texture of the skin. Plus, it’s suitable for sensitive skin, too.

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