Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rithi Choudhury (Journalist) on 29th Sep 2020

Is Vitamin C a Powerfulsunscreen should never be avoided Antioxidant for the Skin & Body

Vitamin C a Powerful Antioxidant

I“’m Popeye The Sailor Man…” Remember the skinny animated sailor from Cartoon Network whose secret superpower came from a can of spinach?

What made spinach such a powerhouse? If you've guessed it correctly, yes, it is rich in Vitamin C. Vitamin C has been in the news when it comes to health concerns since we can remember. And for the right reasons, since it hosts many benefits for the skin and overall body health. 

Decoding Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin which our body needs to replenish every day because being water-soluble, it is easily lost from the body, unlike fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A and Vitamin D.

Going back to your science class lessons, vitamins are essential micronutrients that our body needs in small amounts to function efficiently.

Most of us are aware that different vitamins play a different/specific role in the body. Since we are presently covering Vitamin C, we'd be discussing all the benefits Vitamin C delivers: its role as an antioxidant and its cons as well because "every coin has two sides," remember?  

Vitamin C as an Antioxidant 

Dr. Andrea Suarez, M.D from Denver, known famously as Dr. Dray on YouTube, Quotes:

It’s the most efficient antioxidant in the skin as far as what we generate

Antioxidants are substances (molecules) that scavenge free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that are always trying to take an electron from the body cells. As a result, it alters the DNA and wreaks cellular damage. Some amount of free radicals are naturally produced in the body as part of its metabolic activity.

But many free radicals enter the body through exposure to UV rays, smoke, pollution, radiation, etc. Too many free radicals lead to oxidative stress. This is linked with various fatal diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and tumor and also premature aging, like early wrinkles and fine lines, thinning hair, etc.

Our body has its antioxidants to fight these free radicals. Since free radicals also enter the body from outside, it is only wise to provide more antioxidants from dietary sources.

Supplements are not a wise choice unless recommended by a doctor because it is also important to maintain some free radicals (in low concentrations) because these free radicals help fight infections. Therefore there must be a certain balance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body.  

Benefits of Vitamin C for the Skin and Body:

  • Protects Skin From Oxidative Stress: Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant and fights free radicals in the body. Antioxidants bind to these free electrons and thus neutralize them, that is, render them harmless.
  • Strengthens Immunity: Our immune system is the body's first step and the primary defense against diseases and pathogens.

    Oxidative stress and an unhealthy lifestyle weaken the immune system. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which repairs damage and boosts immunity by encouraging production of white blood cells (T. lymphocytes) that help in fighting off infections. But there is no concrete evidence that those taking a healthy amount of Vitamin C will not suffer from cold or flu. Studies, however, show that people who take Vitamin C have a higher recovery rate. 
  • Brightens The Skin: Vitamin C can brighten the skin because of its ability to suppress the formation of Melanin directly. Melanin is the natural pigment that gives skin, hair, and eyes their respective color.

    Dark skin has more melanin, while lighter skin has less melanin. For the synthesis of melanin in the melanocytes (cells producing melanin), an enzyme called tyrosinase is essential.

    When exposed to sunlight, the copper ions present in tyrosinase activate and start synthesizing more melanin as part of the skin's natural defense against sunlight. Vitamin C inhibits the activity of tyrosinase, and that stops melanin formation.  
  • Reduces Hyperpigmentation: Not just Vitamin C directly obstructs melanin formation, leading to dark patches and scars, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce skin inflammation and chances of post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C promotes faster wound healing because it facilitates the production of collagen. Also, the topical application of Vitamin C may help in fading the existing scars and spots.  
  • Keeps The Skin Youthful and Firm: Studies have found that Vitamin C promotes collagen and elastin synthesis in the body. Collagen is a protein fiber present in the various connective tissues that keeps the skin firm and strengthens bones.

    Elastin is the protein responsible for helping the skin return to its original form after it is pulled or stretched. As you age, our body tends to produce less collagen, and as a result, the skin loses its elasticity and sags.  
  • Helps In Iron Absorption: Vitamin C is essential for enhancing the absorption iron from foods we consume. Iron as a mineral is vital for making the pigment hemoglobin that binds oxygen to our red blood cells. A healthy count of red blood cells is important for a fresh and glowing complexion. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, sallow complexion, fatigue, shortness of breath, etc. 

How To Reap Benefits of Vitamin C

1. Diet -

Antioxidants like Vitamin C are best when obtained from a diet like fresh fruits and vegetables. The daily required amount of Vitamin C for an adult is 65 - 90 milligrams per day.
That would mean about 9 servings of fruits and vegetables is ideal for getting the daily required amount of Vitamin C. But it is hardly a reality in today’s busy lifestyle to have those ideal 9 servings of fruits and veggies. This is when supplements come in handy. 

Natural Sources of Vitamin C are : 

  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Potato
  • Citrus Fruits - Oranges. Lime, Lemon, Grapefruit
  • Berries - Strawberry, Raspberry, Blueberries 
  • Kiwi
  • Tomato
  • Watermelon 
  • Spinach and Green Leafy Vegetables

2.Topical Application:

Topical application of Vitamin C has its perks provided. It is used in the right form and concentration to target specific skin concerns. Pure Vitamin C (the chemical name being Ascorbic Acid) is extremely unstable in water and can irritate the skin.

Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid topically is extremely unstable,” says Dr. Suarez. Therefore, cosmetic formulations often use stable, water-soluble derivatives of Vitamin C like SAP (Sodium Ascorbyl Palmitate), MAP (Magnesium Ascorbyl Palmitate), Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, etc.

True that topical application of Vitamin C helps in achieving a brighter skin tone and helps fade hyperpigmentation, but Dr. Suarez says that it is unclear how many chemically modified forms of Vitamin C (to make it more stable) remain intact or could even penetrate the skin to begin to have biologically relevant outcomes for users.

If penetration is a concern, then serum formulations are a suitable option compared to cream formulations. Serums are made up of smaller molecules, which allows the formula to penetrate the skin deeper and quicker than other products.

Typically, these are created with a higher concentration of super-efficient ingredients and often leave out occlusive ingredients such as mineral oil or petrolatum.

Dr. Carlos A. Charles, Founder and Medical Director of Derma di Colore in Chelsea, Quptes: 

By leaving out heavier ingredients that are found in traditional moisturizers, face serums contain a much higher proportional concentration of active ingredients

But serum formulations are not enough for those with dry skin who need to follow up with a moisturizer later. For people with skin conditions like eczema or rosacea, serums can be too potent, as in, they penetrate too quickly and cause irritation. 

3.Supplements:

There is no real risk from taking additional supplements of Vitamin C as being a water-soluble vitamin, it is not stored in the body unlike vitamin A or D, an excess of which causes side effects like liver damage and kidney stones respectively.

Vitamin C, on the other hand, is excreted through metabolic activities- the excess amount at least, and therefore taking a supplement is acceptable, provided it does not exceed the recommended upper limit, that is, 2000 milligrams daily dose. 

Side-Effects of Vitamin C

Overdosing on Vitamin C is rare, but if it happens so, may cause conditions like :

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Heartburn 
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache 
  • Insomnia

Side Effects from topical application of Vitamin C include : 

  • itching
  • redness
  • skin irritation 
  • tingling sensation

Overall, Vitamin C is a decent skin lightening agent and has excellent skin benefits, when taken orally. Topical application is efficient only when used in the right concentration and formula.

Topical Vitamin C should be ideally used in the daytime because sun exposure and the resulting damage are maximum. Since it decreases the melanin count on the skin, the skin becomes more susceptible to sun damage. Therefore, a broad-spectrum sunscreen should never be avoided

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