Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Arpita Singh (Beauty Expert)  on 09th Jan 2021

Learn about L-ascorbic acid a.k.a the anti-aging marvel, Vitamin C.

L-ascorbic acid a.k.a the anti-aging marvel

What is your best defense against the UV rays of the sun? The one word that comes to you almost immediately is sunscreen. And that it should be applied on your skin after every two hours, as long as you are out there in the sun. You may bring in the practice of wearing long sleeves and full trousers whenever possible. Or talk about limiting the time you spend outside. But, do all these guarantee 100% protection against the harmful rays of the sun? No, they don't.

The real deal is, no matter how dedicated you are to the above skincare rituals, your skin will always get exposed to the rays to some extent.

But how about antioxidants and their ability to stay intact on your skin throughout the day? Great idea, indeed! Your skin always dreams of attaining such a healthy state. So, is it possible? Ask for vitamin C! It may help to solve your doubts. 

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Let's know more about vitamin C 

It is a natural powerhouse of many antioxidants and a compound that plants and animals can be easily synthesized from glucose. However, humans (along with some other vertebrates) lack the necessary enzyme in their bodies required to form vitamin C.

As a result, humans need to obtain it from other sources. The most common include citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, papaya, broccoli, etc.

L-ascorbic acid (LAA) is the chemically active form of vitamin C and can only sustain its vitality in a biological environment. To put it simply, it remains effective within its full ability to produce change when introduced in the human body, in regulated quantities.

However, the absorption of vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is limited in the gut. Even if the oral intake of vitamin C is high, only a finite amount is absorbed and used by the body. Food or supplements do not ensure a proper supply of vitamin C to the skin. The topical use of the nutrient, therefore, stands as quite an important practice. 

Interesting fact:

The term "ascorbic" comes from the word "corpus," meaning "no scurvy." In earlier times, sailors used to carry lemons, rich in vitamin C, on their long journeys. This helped them avoid the disease of bleeding gums called scurvy.

UV rays can damage your skin to a great extent. 

● Firstly, what are free radicals? 

One theory states that the body is continuously attacked by oxidative stress, which comes from the UV rays of the sun, pollutants in the air, smoke, unhealthy lifestyles, etc.

The oxygen molecules in the body split into single atoms, each of the atoms left with an unpaired electron set. Now, the electrons, to remain stable, have to be present in pairs. As a result, the unstable atoms (or the free radicals) scavenge the entire body to search for electrons so that they complete their pairs.

But in the process, these free radicals inflict serious damage on the cellular DNA, the cell membrane, and the cellular proteins, including collagen. They can even chemically alter their structures, causing a defect in the functions they serve. 


Research suggests that sunscreen can block only 55% of the free radicals produced in the skin when it is open/exposed to the UV rays.

The UV rays can also lead to collagen breakdown in the skin, negatively affecting its elasticity. Wrinkles and fine lines may appear, most prominently, on your face, neck, hands, forearms, etc. 

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● Two main types of UV rays 

1) UVA 

  • According to a (1999) report, repeated exposures to the UVA rays can enable it to penetrate your skin 30 - 40 times deeper than the UVB rays. 
  • UVA rays bring major alterations in the structure of collagen, elastin, proteoglycans (all being proteins), and other elemental components of the skin. 
  • They can cause skin aging, and in many cases, leading to the formation of melanoma. 

2) UVB  

  • They affect only the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin, overlying the dermis).
  • The UVB rays cause sunburn (which, if severe, can make your skin swell, calling the blisters to pop up). They also produce free radicals in the skin disrupting the protein structure of the epidermis. 
  • In the worst of cases, it can also cause skin cancer. 


Vitamin C is equally effective against both UVA and UVB rays.

Vitamin C is a versatile ingredient. Read about its benefits. 

Vitamin C (a.k.a, L-ascorbic acid) can perform multiple functions for your skin. 

1) It does wonders as an antioxidant. 

Vitamin C forms the major bulk of antioxidants present in your skin. It is water-soluble (hydrophilic) in nature and primarily works in the water-containing parts of the cells.

When your skin is exposed to the UV rays, free radicals are formed in it. Vitamin C's job is to neutralize the free radicals by donating them the required electrons. Now, in the process, vitamin C gets oxidized. But there's nothing to worry about the oxidized forms, as they are relatively non-reactive and will cause no harm to your skin.

Moreover, they can be converted back to the original state of vitamin C with the help of an enzyme and in the presence of glutathione (another antioxidant produced in the body). 

2) UVB  

  • Vitamin C plays a vital role in the making of collagen in our body. It brings positive changes in the collagen molecule, regulating its structure and functions.
  • It serves as a cofactor for the enzymes responsible for stabilizing the collagen molecules. It even stimulates the gene expression for the synthesis of collagen. 
  • It is also involved in repairing the collage damaged by the UV rays. 

3) It can put a stop on the excess melanin, which comes out as dark spots and disturb you. 

Vitamin C interacts with the copper ions present at the tyrosinase active site (tyrosinase is an enzyme responsible for the transformation/conversion of tyrosine into melanin). It inhibits the enzyme to perform its functions and decreases the amount of melanin formed.

However, Vitamin C is an unstable ingredient, and the reason why you can find it in combination with the other skin-lightening ingredients, such as soy and licorice, in many skincare products

4) It's anti-inflammatory action can give you relief. 

Vitamin C holds back the functions of NFkB, which, let us assume, is a major protein factor that activates several pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Now, think of cytokines as substances secreted by certain cells of the immune system and impact the other cells of the body (in this case, skin).

In this way, Vitamin C shuns the inflammation that occurs in some skin disorders including, acne vulgaris, rosacea, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

A 2009 study states that vitamin C can also promote wound healing. 

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How do you make use of vitamin C topically? 

You can avail of vitamin C in several skincare products, ranging from creams, serums to medicated patches and face mists. Out of all, serums do the best work, as pointed out by some dermatologists. Also, it is the only product, which contains the active vitamin C in a colorless form.

Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is unstable, and on exposure to light, gets converted to DHAA (Dehydroascorbic acid), imparting a yellow color to the vehicle (i.e., the medium, which transports vitamin C into the skin).

For the topical formulations containing vitamin C, the pH should be less than 3.5. As in such conditions, the charge on the molecule is removed, and it can easily diffuse through the stratum corneum.

Again the (2009) clinical study has revealed yet another fact, that the efficacy of vitamin C serum is directly dependent on its concentration, but to a certain limit, i.e., 20%. Until this point, the more the strength, the greater will be it's efficacy.

You can apply vitamin C twice daily, in the morning and at night. Cleanse your skin neatly, follow it up with toning, and put the vitamin C product

Minimalist tip:

Don't take your vitamin C product for sunscreen because it doesn't perform any of its functions. On the other hand, its application increases the skin's sensitivity to the sun. So, make sure that you always put on sunscreen in ample amounts before you leave your homes. The powerful duo will shield you against the UV rays of the sun.

A 2008 report even claims that vitamin C, if applied a day thrice (once in every 8 hours), a rich reservoir of antioxidants, will lay predominately in your skin.

And the patch test! It's important to conduct it and see whether vitamin C products clear the personal safety limits. If you face no adverse issues, then your skin is giving you the green signal to use it.

To reap the benefits of vitamin C products, go for a concentration that comes in between (10 - 20)%, or at least get one higher than an 8%.

But be careful that you don't go overboard. Never reach out for a product with a strength of more than 20%, as it doesn't boost the benefits and instead can cause irritation.

A recent (2013) study confirms that one should always apply the topical vitamin C after one's skin is subjected to the UV rays and not before the incident. That way, it produces greater benefits.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in 2002 took ten subjects into research. They were asked to apply the 10% topical vitamin C for 12 weeks. The results after that came as: 

  • Vitamin C was able to reduce erythema (redness, swelling, and painful blisters in some cases), which is induced by the UV rays. 
  • It potentially reduced the risk of skin cancer. 
  • It greatly defended the skin cells against sunburn (which can impair them and even lead to death). 

You can easily incorporate vitamin C in your skincare routine alongside the sunscreens, AHAs' (including glycolic acid), tretinoin, and other antioxidants. 

Vitamin C comes in pre-formulated combinations. 

  • The duo of vitamin C and vitamin E rocks when it comes to a product trying to protect your skin from free radicals. Vitamin E supplements vitamin C, increasing its performance to a good four-time better.
    We know vitamin C is water-soluble, and its functions, therefore, are limited to the cell's water compartments.

    On the other hand, Vitamin E (an antioxidant) is lipophilic (fat-soluble) in nature. Their combination can efficiently protect all the cell parts, irrespective of whether they are made up of fats or have water. Both the ingredients can work in a well-tuned synergy. Also, vitamin C helps to replenish vitamin E in the body. 
  • It has been widely stated that the hit trio of ferulic acid (an effective antioxidant, derived from plants), vitamin C, and vitamin E can bring upon significant changes if used in the concentrations 0.5%, 15%, and 1%, respectively, as per a 2009 study. This combination can boost the "efficacy of vitamin C eight-fold." 
  •  The (1999) report claims that the proportion of vitamin C, which enters the internal circulation and remains active to produce a change, is increased by 20% because of the verified trifecta of zinc, tyrosine, and vitamin C. 

The few Side Effects of Vitamin C

  • The particular area of skin treated gets discolored and turns yellow. 
  • The hair may lose its unique pigment. 
  •  Stinging, erythema, and dryness in most rare cases. But you can easily manage these symptoms using a moisturizer
  • Two severe side effects that have been documented for the topical use of vitamin C are:

    1) Urticaria
    , mostly an allergic reaction, involves a rash of red, round welts with an intense itching and a painful swelling.

    2) Erythema multiforme, triggered by an infection or certain medication. The skin immune system gets alarmed, resulting in a rash (in varied forms) on parts of the body. 

The topical vitamin C products can also stain your clothes if not properly handled. Dermatologists ask to apply them around the eyes with caution.

Vitamin C can be obtained in different forms. 

L-ascorbic acid is the most biologically active form and one which is thoroughly studied. However, it is water-soluble, and this contrasts with the hydrophobic character of the stratum corneum. The result is, LAA penetrates poorly into the skin. Also, LAA is a charged molecule, which further impairs its diffusion across the skin's outer layer.

So, what's the alternative? Many esterified vitamin C derivatives are looked upon the scientists, as they relay the word that their stability is more consistent. They are all fat-soluble. Here are a few: 

  • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP), the most stable and preferred ester-form of vitamin C. It has a hydrating effect on the skin, and it even reduces the water loss from the epidermis, alongside serving with the other benefits of vitamin C
  • Ascorbyl-6-palmitate converts to vitamin C and palmitic acid in the skin. 
  • Disodium isostearyl 2-0 L-ascorbyl phosphate, a popular derivative of vitamin C. Several manufacturers rely on it, owing to its stability. Also, it can smoothly transport the nutrient across the epidermis. 
  • Ascorbic Sulfate
  • Sodium ascorbate is still under research. 

With vitamin C, there are only two concerns. Firstly, whether or not vitamin C will remain stable once it is released from the vehicle in the skin. Secondly, the delivery of the vitamin C product itself, across the outer layer of skin. Experts say that these two areas should be explored more to procure better results from vitamin C. 

The Bottom Line 

You can also find topical vitamin C in powder form. Have it from the fancy brands, or get a food-grade supplement from the local retailers. It is upon you to shop from a credible source.

Take a pinch of it, and mix it in your daily serum or moisturizer. Even though using vitamin C powder seems appealing, there remain some cons to it.

It will help if you didn't forget that you may mix higher or lower quantities as you make yourself a potion-at-home than the required level. It will either cause you irritation or not affect your skin. Also, the potion you make will be highly unstable. So have a cool mind while you decide about the vitamin C powders.

Well, vitamin C has the most reassuring safety profile, one which you can befriend without any fear or doubt in mind. Experts call it the hot ingredient for research. It has the potential to emerge as one of the most sought for anti-aging solutions in future dermatology. 

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