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This star player could transform your skin. Here’s everything you need to know about your new beauty squeeze
hen it comes to skincare ingredients, groundbreaking is not a word you’d associate with vitamin C. In fact, it has been used in one form or another since the 1930s. Yet, despite having been around the block a few times, it’s still a beauty power player and is now more popular than ever, thanks to some ingenious new technologies and formulations. As the kids might say of this old-timer, ‘Do you even have a skincare routine if you don’t use vitamin C?’
‘I swear by this ingredient,’ says Dr Maryam Zamani, a renowned oculoplastic (eye area) surgeon and aesthetic doctor. ‘It’s essential for healthy, beautiful skin, as it helps combat imperfections, even out skin tone and fight free radicals.’
Cosmetic doctor and surgeon Dr Sherina Balaratnam is similarly besotted: ‘Vitamin C helps maintain the skin’s structural integrity and reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles.’ Dr Justine Kluk, dermatologist for Garnier, agrees that it’s a powerful and effective ingredient. ‘It’s able to neutralise damaging free radicals and visible signs caused by ultraviolet radiation, smoking and pollution.’
Perhaps most importantly, though, it can help skin achieve serious glow. ‘It has a brightening effect and can be a useful tool for helping to reduce the appearance of pigmentation,’ adds Dr Kluk. Feel like you need some of this good stuff in your life? Here’s the juice on how and when to use it.
‘The right concentration is important,’ says Dr Mike Bell, scientific skincare advisor at Boots. ‘While vitamin C in different forms can be effective at lower levels, you need concentrations of 5% or more of the most active form of vitamin C – ascorbic acid – for it to have an impact on collagen and skin structural integrity.’ We like No7 Youthful Vitamin C Fresh Radiance Essence* Boots Exclusive £19.50/1,950 points (10ml). If you have sensitive skin, however, you may find this higher concentration causes irritation. Plus, greater percentages normally mean a higher price tag, so check the ingredients label and opt for an amount to suit your skin type and budget.
Which leads us on to the different types of formula. Serums tend to contain higher concentrations of active ingredients than creams or lotions, as they’re formulated to penetrate the skin more deeply. No7 Laboratories Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum (see below for product details), for example, is clinically proven to reduce the appearance of dark spots, the key sign of age-related pigmentation.
But serums aren’t the only way to get your daily dose. Wash-off treatments, including cleansers and masks, mean your skin is only in contact with the ingredient for a short time, which makes them ideal if you have sensitive skin.
Using a vitamin C-based product in the morning gives your skin a boost to face the rest of the day – and it’s easy to add some vitamin C to each stage of your routine. Begin with a cleanser, such as Ole Henriksen The Clean Truth Foaming Cleanser, £23/2,300 points (200ml), which has been formulated with ascorbic acid. This means it packs a punch, despite only being on your skin momentarily. Follow it up with Sanctuary Spa 1 Minute Daily Glow Face Mask, £14/ 1,400 points (75ml), which combines three different sources of vitamin C and helps bestow a healthy glow. Then round off the day with the New Nip+Fab Vitamin C Sheet Mask, £7.50/750 points Boots Exclusive (1-pack), to help rehabilitate your skin after 12 hours-plus of make-up and pollution. Rich in ingredients made from natural forms of vitamin C, you’ll look rested even before you get some kip.
If your skin is very sensitive, you should focus on making it more resilient before dabbling with vitamin C. ‘First, soothe it with a cleanser, balm, emollient and daily broad-spectrum sunscreen,’ says Dr Balaratnam. Once it’s feeling more balanced, use products containing vitamin C palmitate, which is much gentler than ascorbic acid.
Not content with reducing redness and pigmentation and supporting collagen production, vitamin C is even more powerful when paired with another ingredient. ‘Combining vitamin C with vitamin E, for example, not only soothes skin, but it also helps reduce oxidative stress,’ says Dr Balaratnam.
Products combining vitamin C and hyaluronic acid are just the thing for those whose complexion feels dehydrated, as the mix is both hydrating and brightening. If your skin feels uncomfortable, try a serum that includes vitamin E, which can be soothing. Concerned about wrinkles? Consider a serum that offers vitamin C with niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) to support collagen. If your skin tends to break out regularly, a serum containing salicylic acid can help control excess oiliness.
However, there is one rule: always apply products in order of consistency, from the thinnest to thickest, so serum first, followed by moisturiser. This is so that the most lightweight – and usually more potent – products can be absorbed more efficiently by your skin, leaving the thicker, heavier ones, such as sunscreen, to work at the end.
Most skin tones can be affected to some extent by unwanted areas of pigmentation. But dark skin tones are particularly at risk of developing hyperpigmentation, because of the increased levels of melanin already present. Some chemical exfoliators – and even laser treatments – can just be far too aggressive to treat it.
It’s not surprising, then, that those with dark skin may find themselves avoiding vitamin C for fear of its potency and making existing pigmentation areas worse rather than better. But don’t worry, because vitamin C can benefit all skin tones.
Dr Balaratnam says, ‘It exists naturally in our skin, so there are no risks associated with its use on dark complexions. In fact, the reverse is true: topical vitamin C can help reduce the appearance of pigmented skin and leave it looking brighter.’
As always, when introducing any new ingredient into your beauty regime, the best way to acclimatise your skin is to ease it in gently. Start with just two or three days a week and if your skin tolerates it well, increase use to daily. However, if your skin feels irritated and sensitive after use, dial it back to one day a week until things settle down.
So here’s to glowing, healthier-looking skin, thanks to this versatile, wonder vitamin.
BEST FOR PIGMENTATION
Dark Spot Correcting Booster Serum* Boots exclusive £38/3,800 points (15ml). Targeting pigmentation requires action on both fronts. This serum, with sophora (a plant used in Chinese medicine), emblica (a type of gooseberry) and vitamin C, aims to reduce the appearance of pigmentation. Apply it to troublesome areas, morning and evening, after cleansing.
BEST FOR LINES AND WRINKLES
Elizabeth Arden Skin Illuminating Brightening Day Serum*, £55/5,500 points (30ml). Vitamin C does a great job in supporting the skin’s natural collagen production. But when it’s combined with niacinamide – a form of vitamin B3 (as in this serum) – it goes one step further. Together, these vitamins bolster the skin’s collagen and elastin to firm and smooth skin over time.
BEST FOR FIRMING AND LIFTING
Vichy LifeActiv Vitamin C Brightening Corrector, £28/2,800 points (10ml). This serum is ideal for anyone who has noticed decreased definition around the jawline; it combines 15% pure vitamin C with hyaluronic acid and maritime pine extract (a type of medicinal bark) to help promote collagen and elastin production.
BEST FOR BLEMISH-PRONE SKIN
New La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C10 Serum, £38/3,800 points (30ml). This daily serum combines vitamin C with salicylic acid to gently exfoliate skin and keep pores clear of bacteria.
BEST FOR UNDER EYES
Garnier Moisture Bomb Eye Tissue Mask, £2.99/299 points (1-pack). Vitamin C and hyaluronic acid brighten under-eye areas and plump up skin. Pop the mask in the fridge before use for an extra-cooling effect.
DO keep your product sealed, as vitamin C is notoriously unstable and can deactivate when in contact with air. So keep a tight lid on it – or look for products with pumps that naturally keep the product airtight.
DON’T store your vitamin C product in direct sunlight. UV can destabilise the formula, so it’s best kept in a cupboard or drawer.
DO pay attention to the symbol on your product that looks like an open pot. The number printed inside the image is the number of months you can use the product once it has been opened before it deteriorates.
DON’T use the product if it has changed colour or doesn’t smell like it usually does – both factors are indicative of the content having gone off.
Words Suzanne Scott Photography Alamy, Rachell Smith Nails Lan Nguyen-Grealis Model Hellyda at Nevs