Back in the day, vitamin C was usually associated with foods and drinks that contain it, like Tang (#TBT), oranges, and Sunny D. Lately, however, the antioxidant powerhouse has become a mainstay of beauty aisles and the star ingredient within all sorts of serums and creams. As you read product labels for these products, though, you may have found yourself wondering, “Well, what does vitamin C do for your skin?”
The buzzy vitamin is so omnipresent because it’s a skin-boosting multitasker with a long list of benefits. It’s a potent antioxidant, first of all, so it’s protective — but also has anti-aging perks, can even out your complexion, and more, and it’s something countless dermatologists recommend people use in their daily beauty regimen.
Vitamin C is generally good for all skin types, with a couple of exceptions. Who should avoid it? Those who are “extremely sensitive,” says Dr. Shirley Chi, M.D., a California-based board-certified dermatologist, says. You should also steer clear of the ingredient if your skin is compromised — Chi points to conditions like eczema flare-ups or skin that’s recently undergone procedures (think chemical peels or laser treatments). “In that case, it can burn when applied,” she explains. It can also further exacerbate irritation or inflammation. Otherwise, she’s a fan: “It should be in everyone’s anti-aging routine,” Chi tells Bustle.
For best practices, vitamin C should be applied in the morning versus at night. “That’s because we face the great majority of environmental stressors [during the day],” says Dr. Alexis Stephens, D.O., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatology adviser for skin care brand Naturium. When you’re using a vitamin C-spiked product, you absolutely have to wear sunscreen — the ingredient causes photosensitivity, which essentially increases your chances of sun damage.
When you’re looking for vitamin C for your beauty shelf, pay attention to the packaging. “Look for a container that blocks sunlight,” says Chi. “That is necessary because vitamin C is very unstable in the sun.” If stored improperly and exposed to sunlight or air, it will oxidize and break down, making it less effective. The key? Look for bottles that look dark or have a metallic lining, says Chi.
It’s important to note that vitamin C isn’t the kind of beauty ingredient that’ll give you instant satisfaction — give it time before you see results. “Vitamin C is a long-term relationship like retinol, and its benefits take time to show up on the skin,” Chi tells Bustle. Be sure to use it regularly, wear your SPF, and soon enough, you’ll experience the following vitamin C benefits for skin.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
1. It Improves Hyperpigmentation
Vitamin C is one of the most research-backed ways to even out your skin and eliminate dullness for a more radiant glow. “It clarifies the skin,” says Chi, adding, “it brightens your skin by helping get rid of dark spots.” Stephens adds that part of its hyperpigmentation-fighting powers is because “it inhibits the production of excess melanin or pigment.” In other words, when using it regularly, vitamin C can help prevent the formation of new dark spots.
2. It Protects Your Skin From Damage
The ingredient is a very strong antioxidant, which is good news for your skin. “Antioxidants work by preventing the sun and pollution from causing damage to your skin,” says Chi. In more scientific terms, the antioxidants in vitamin C target free radicals and environmental stressors, which are outer elements that wreak havoc on the complexion and quicken signs of aging, explains Stephens.
3. It Boosts UV Protection
As mentioned previously, using vitamin C will make your skin more sensitive to sun damage. The added perk of wearing all-important SPF? “Vitamin C works synergistically with sunscreen,” says Stephens. “When worn under a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the daytime, vitamin c has been shown to boost your skin’s defenses against UV-generated damage,” adds Tiffany Masterson, founder of beauty brand Drunk Elephant. So the all-star ingredient basically makes your sunscreen work even better.
4. It’s A Collagen-Stimulating Powerhouse
A beauty refresher: Collagen is the building block of your complexion and is important for supple and firm skin. When you lose it (which happens naturally with age and other external factors), your complexion’s elasticity diminishes. But having a good amount of collagen in your body helps your skin bounce back quickly from wounds or trauma. And vitamin C comes in to help: “Vitamin C triggers collagen production,” says Chi.
Essentially, the ingredient packs two collagen-related punches: It helps stimulate the production of collagen and also prevents existing collagen from being broken down — making it a win-win for an anti-aging beauty regimen.
5. It Calms Inflammation
The benefits keep going — vitamin C also works to soothe inflammation on the skin. It works by preventing certain pro-inflammatory cells (called cytokines) from being activated. Translation? It’s great to use if you’re dealing with acne or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Talk about a multitasker.
Darr, D. (1996). Effectiveness Of Antioxidants (Vitamin C And E) With And Without Sunscreens As Topical Photoprotectants. Acta Dermato-Venereologica. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8869680/
De Dormael, R. (2019). Vitamin C Prevents Ultraviolet-induced Pigmentation in Healthy Volunteers. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6415704/
DePhillipo, N. (2018). Efficacy of Vitamin C Supplementation on Collagen Synthesis and Oxidative Stress After Musculoskeletal Injuries: A Systematic Review. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6204628/
Pullar, J. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/
Sharma, M. (1993). Interaction Of Vitamin C And Vitamin E During Free Radical Stress In Plasma: An ESR Study. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8392021/
Sheded, M. (2019). The Role of Vitamin C in Photosensitivity Attenuation of Antimicrobial Quinolones Group. Science Signpost Publishing. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334679989_The_Role_of_Vitamin_C_in_Photosensitivity_Attenuation_of_Antimicrobial_Quinolones_Group
Telang, P. (2013). Vitamin C In Dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
Dr. Shirley Chi, M.D., board-certified dermatologist
Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant