Vitamin C Serum Benefits: A Guide to Brighter Skin

There really is nothing better than the taste of a sweet, ripe orange on a hot summer day — and while you can’t exactly drink orange juice through your pores, your skin can get the next best thing: vitamin C. 

Vitamin C is a powerhouse of a skincare ingredient. There’s a reason why vitamin C serums are taking off in the skincare industry — they really work. Today, we’ll take a look at what vitamin C really does for your skin and why, if you’re looking to banish dark spots and brighten your skin, this ingredient deserves a spot in your skincare routine

What Is Vitamin C?

So, what exactly is vitamin C? Well, before we can answer that question, we have to first understand what exactly is a vitamin. 

While your body naturally makes chemical compounds like hyaluronic acid and ferulic acid, it can’t produce any vitamins, meaning they have to be sourced from outside the body, either through food or supplements. Though you can’t make them on your own, your body relies on vitamins to function properly

Vitamin C (also known as L-ascorbic acid) is one of these essential but not native vitamins. Alongside vitamin B, vitamin C is water-soluble, which means it can dissolve in water. This quality also helps topical vitamin C products absorb into your skin faster, making it an especially impactful skincare ingredient.

What Are the Benefits of Vitamin C for Skin?

When you eat an orange, your body takes in that vitamin C and uses it to build blood vessels, support muscles, and even strengthen your bones . But what does it do for your skin?

While the benefits of vitamin C serums go on and go, we’ve compiled the top four reasons why this skincare ingredient is one of the best. 

1. Antioxidant Boost

While vitamin C does a lot for your body, as a skincare ingredient, this vitamin’s primary role is as an antioxidant. 

Antioxidants are molecules inside your body that fight off free radicals — unstable compounds that can damage cells and other compounds your body needs to operate. This makes the job of antioxidants especially important. Without them, free radicals can build up and cause your body to go into oxidative stress, causing problems as small as breakouts, loss of elasticity in tissue, and as large as organ damage. 

As an antioxidant, vitamin C benefits your entire body by managing the level of free radicals in your body, including your skin. 

2. Added Radiance

Vitamin C has a naturally brightening effect on your skin. It accomplishes this through two main ways: by hydrating your skin, and by strengthening it. 

When it comes to achieving the glowy skin look of your dreams, moisture is the number one priority. Nobody likes the look of dry, flaky, or even scaly skin. As a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C helps your skin cells retain moisture , supporting your skin health and boosting radiance all in one fell swoop. 

Your skin is held together by a powerful protein called collagen. Too much sun exposure or even the natural aging process can reduce the amount of collagen that your body produces, leading to fine lines, less elasticity, and even skin aging. However, vitamin C has been shown to support natural collagen synthesis , counteracting the look of these signs of aging and contributing to supple, healthy skin. 

3. Even Skin Tone

In addition to added hydration, vitamin C helps brighten your skin by reducing the appearance of dark spots and minimizing any discoloration in your skin. These two benefits work together to even your complexion and your skin tone. 

The powerful antioxidant accomplishes this by blocking your skin’s ability to produce melanin. Dark spots occur on the skin when melanocytes (the skin cells responsible for producing skin-darkening melanin) create more melanin than usual in a particular patch of skin. On the surface, this appears as a brown spot — “AKA dark spots or aging spots on your skin,” notes Johannah Gregg, Certified Family Nurse Practitioner.

Vitamin C works to lighten these spots by preventing your skin from producing this extra melanin. Without this protein pigment, your skin will appear more similar in color to the skin surrounding it, giving you a more consistent skin tone. 

4. Added Support During Sun Exposure

The last (but arguably most important) benefit of vitamin C for your skin is its role in protecting your skin from the sun. 

Vitamin C does not have an SPF, meaning it is not a replacement for sunscreen. So adding a vitamin C serum to your skincare routine won’t stop you from getting a sunburn. However, it does have many skin cell-strengthening properties that make it an excellent wingman for your favorite sun protectant. 

As an antioxidant, vitamin C is a powerful protector of your skin cells . It works to strengthen cell walls, making them more resistant to all kinds of irritation — including ultraviolet light. The stronger your skin cells, the more UV radiation they can withstand. 

When you combine the power of sunscreen and a vitamin C serum, you protect your skin cells from sun damage not only from the outside (the UV ray-blocking effects of the topical sunscreen), but also from within. 

What To Look For in a Vitamin C Serum

Some of something is better than none at all… but not when it comes to skincare products. 

While it may be tempting to grab the first vial you see on the shelf, not all vitamin C serums are made equal. Using the wrong serum can actually cause more problems for your skin than it solves. That’s why choosing a high-quality vitamin C serum is essential to getting the most benefits out of this skincare ingredient. 

When it comes to selecting the right vitamin C serum, it all comes down to the concentration of vitamin C in the product. 

In order to see any benefits of vitamin C, your serum must have a concentration of at least 8%. For even more effectiveness, look for serums as high as 20% concentration of vitamin C — but be mindful, because after 20%, effectiveness begins to plateau. Dermatologists recommend beginning at lower concentrations and gradually working your way up as your skin begins to acclimate to the new ingredient. 

To get the best of vitamin C, try these products:

Can You Use Vitamin C Serum Every Day?

In the same vein, it’s important to be mindful of how often you’re using a vitamin C serum. 

There is such a thing as too much vitamin C. As a nutrient, you need between 75 and 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day — a quantity you can easily achieve with most diets. However, the rules are a bit different when it comes to your skin. 

Generally, it’s safe to use vitamin C every day. That said, it’s important to listen to your skin and go at your own pace. 

Everybody’s skin is a little different, and yours may need time to get used to a vitamin C serum if you’re trying it for the first time. To avoid the potential consequences of using too much of a new product too soon, add vitamin C to your skincare routine slowly. Start with once a week, then a few times a week, slowly working your way up to every morning. 

Is It Better To Use Vitamin C Serum At Night or in the Morning?

Once your skin is ready for you to use vitamin C every day, you have to figure out when during the day to use it. 

Some dermatologists say it doesn’t matter when you use vitamin C – it will brighten your skin just as well if you apply it before bed than if you apply it when you wake up in the morning. However, to get the most out of this powerful antioxidant’s benefits, many say it’s best to use your vitamin C serum in the morning. 

What is their reasoning? So you can pair vitamin C with your sunscreen

When you apply vitamin C in the morning, you can layer it with your daily sun protectant. This allows you to really capitalize on the skincare ingredient’s ability to strengthen your skin cells and help prevent sun damage. 

Does Vitamin C Have Any Side Effects for Skin?

If you have sensitive skin, you’re probably hesitant to introduce a new product to your skincare routine, regardless of the potential benefits. 

Though side effects aren’t common with vitamin C, using too much of it (or even having a certain skin type) can cause some unwanted skin problems. The most common side effects associated with vitamin C are: 

Mild Redness

Keep in mind that vitamin C is an acid , meaning it can be harsh on skin when used in high concentrations. Especially if you have sensitive skin, you might notice some redness when you apply vitamin C serums. To avoid this side effect, try reducing the amount of vitamin C in your skincare routine, either by using it less often or switching to a producer with a lower concentration of vitamin C. 

Mild Tingling

When some people apply vitamin C for the first time, they can experience a tingling or even a slight burning sensation on their skin. This isn’t always an immediate cause for concern. Because your skin is detecting a new product , your neurons may react this way to tell your body something is different. But this kind of reaction shouldn’t last long. If the tingling sensation persists, or the burning gets worse, you should stop using it and reach out to your dermatologist. 

Can You Combine Vitamin C and Retinol?

To avoid these kinds of side effects when introducing vitamin C to your skincare routine, it’s important to consider how it will interact with your other skincare products — especially those that are as powerful as this acidic vitamin. 

One of the most common questions people have when it comes to what skincare products mix well with vitamin C is if they can keep using their retinol products . Well, we’re here to tell you that you can. 

Because retinol is a vitamin A derivative, you don’t need to worry about doubling up on your vitamin C intake and overexposing your skin to the antioxidants. In fact, the effects of vitamin C can actually strengthen your retinol products , making these two serums the perfect duo. 

The Bottom Line

Vitamin C is not only a powerhouse of a skincare ingredient but an essential nutrient for your body. However, consuming it orally (i.e. eating it) isn’t enough: through digestion alone, your skin misses out on most of the vitamin’s brightening and skin cell strengthening benefits. That’s why it’s important to also use a topical vitamin C serum — so that your skin can soak up all the benefits of vitamin C too. 

Incorporating a vitamin C serum into your skincare routine is a great way to support your skin health. From boosting collagen production to its anti-aging effects, this vitamin does a lot for your skin. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular vitamins in the skincare industry — it really is that good. 

So if you’re looking to achieve both beautiful and healthy skin this summer, ditch the extra orange at breakfast and add a form of vitamin C to your skincare routine. Trust us, your skin will thank you for it. 

Sources:

United States Vitamin C Skincare Market Forecast, 2032 | Astute Analytica

Vitamins and Minerals | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Vitamin C and Bone Health: Evidence from Cell, Animal and Human Studies | National Library of Medicine

Definition of Antioxidant | National Cancer Institute

The Role of Vitamin C | National Library of Medicine

Vitamin C and Skin Health | Linus Pauling Institute

Inhibitory effect of magnesium l-ascorbyl-2-phosphate (VC-PMG) on melanogenesis in vitro and in vivo | Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology

A topical antioxidant solution containing vitamins C and E stabilized by ferulic acid provides protection for human skin against damage caused by ultraviolet irradiation | National Library of Medicine

Vitamin C in Dermatology | National Library of Medicine

Too much vitamin C: Is it harmful? | Mayo Clinic

Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants | National Library of Medicine

Histological evaluation of a topically applied retinol-vitamin C combination | National Library of Medicine

What are the benefits of vitamin C serum? Uses and side effects | Medical News Today

Sensory neuron activation from topical treatments modulates the sensorial perception of human skin | National Library of Medicine

NCBI - Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications | National Library of Medicine