Does Vitamin C Serum Help With Acne: How and Why To Use It

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Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The good news is that several treatments are available to treat mild to moderate acne. One of these treatments is using topical vitamin C.

Does Vitamin C serum help with acne?

Vitamin C serums have anti-inflammatory and collagen-stimulating effects that have been shown to reduce the appearance of acne lesions by decreasing the redness and swelling associated with acne.

What is Vitamin C Serum?

Vitamin C serum is a liquid formulation that incorporates a concentration of one or more forms of vitamin C, and is used to target inflammation, sun damage, and acne-prone skin. These serums can be oil or water-based, and often contain additional ingredients to boost their effectiveness.  

How Do Vitamin C Serums Help Clear Up Acne?

They have antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants help to protect the skin from the free radical damage that occurs with sun exposure.  Free radicals change cellular structure and cause inflammation.    This change in cellular structure also breaks down collagen and elastin, the building blocks of young, healthy skin.  The antioxidants in Vitamin C will therefore lessen the inflammation caused by acne and help to improve the overall look and health of acne-prone skin.

They fight inflammation.

Vitamin C has the ability to prevent new pimples and lesions from forming and diminish their severity. 

Bacteria-causing acne can be induced by inflammation. In this study a 5% concentration of Vitamin C called sodium ascorbyl phosphate “reduced the inflammatory lesions by 20.14% and 48.82% within 4 and 8 weeks respectively”.

This reduction in inflammation from applying a Vitamin C serum can in turn decrease acne. 

Also, less inflammation will improve the appearance of acne.  It will help to decrease the redness and overall irritation of lesions.  

They boost collagen production.

Vitamin C has been shown to increase collagen production in the skin.  This rise in collagen will promote skin healing and improve skin tone.

With regular use of vitamin C serum, scars, hyperpigmentation, and damaged skin due to acne will heal faster than they would otherwise.

They reduce hyperpigmentation.

A recent study concluded that “vitamin C proved to be efficacious in dealing with post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation secondary to acne“.  This is good news for those with acne scars.  

Hyperpigmentation occurs when dark spots form on your skin due to acne or sun damage.  The dark spots and scarring from acne are the result of an overproduction of melanin after a pimple has healed. 

Vitamin C inhibits melanin production thereby helping fade acne scars and preventing new ones from forming.  

Other Benefits of Vitamin C Serums

1. It’s safe for most skin types. Topical vitamin C is well tolerated by most skin types.  Those with very sensitive or dry skin or skin conditions such as rosacea will need to pay attention to the type of Vit. C they use.

Staying away from L- ascorbic acid and sticking to a gentler form such as sodium ascorbyl phosphate will help to prevent any adverse reactions.  

2. It’s hydrating.  Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP), a form of vitamin C found in some serums, has been shown to prevent water loss and improve hydration in the skin.  

3.  It evens out skin tone.  By reducing inflammation and redness, and fading dark spots, Vit. C can help to improve skin tone for a more even appearance overall.

4.  It’s brightening.  As it inhibits melanin production and fades dark spots, Vit. C also helps to brighten skin tone, giving it a more healthy glow.

6.  It improves the look of wrinkles.  Vitamin C products help to stimulate collagen production and improve skin health.  An increase in collagen will improve skin’s texture and elasticity, helping to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.  

7.  It protects against sun damage.  Research indicates that layering vitamin C serum under a broad-spectrum sunscreen has been proven to be more effective at reducing free radical damage from sun exposure than just sunscreen on its own. 

What to Look For in a Vitamin C Serum for Acne

There are several different derivatives of vitamin C used in serums.  The most popular and well-studied is L-ascorbic acid.  Although it is the most potent form, L-ascorbic acid can be harsh in high concentrations, especially on those with sensitive skin. 

If you want a serum that works quickly, and your skin type is fairly non-reactive, then you’ll want to look for a serum with 8-20% L-ascorbic acid.  Generally speaking, the higher the concentration, the quicker the results.  But these higher concentrations can also lead to skin sensitivity and dryness. 

If you are willing to be patient and you prefer to avoid any irritation, go with a serum containing a vitamin C derivative called magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP), or another called sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP).  These variations are more effective at lower concentrations than L-ascorbic acid, thereby resulting in less irritation.

In addition, look for a serum that also includes Vitamin E and ferulic acid.  

A recent study found that topical vitamin c works best when partnered with vitamin E and ferulic acid.  The combination of these three key ingredients increased the efficacy of vitamin C eight-fold.   

This study verifies that a skincare product that combines Vitamin E and ferulic acid will intensify the efficacy without the increasing irritation that could occur with a higher concentration.

How Vitamin C Serum Affects Different Types of Acne

Vitamin C’s benefits will vary based on the type and severity of acne.  Because Vit. C has strong anti-inflammatory properties, those with extremely inflamed acne will see the best results.  

Vitamin C is also a very effective treatment for comedonal acne (blackheads).  Its antioxidant effects decrease sebum (oil) oxidation, which is the source of the “black” color of the pimple.  

How to Use Vitamin C Serum for Acne

Vitamin C serums come in many different forms and strengths. 

You can use products containing other active ingredients in the same skin care routine, but never mix citric acid or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHAs).  Combining either of these with Vit. C can be irritating and cause dryness and sensitivity. 

Also, Benzoyl Peroxide can oxidize vitamin C so it’s best not to apply these ingredients together. Doing so could decrease the efficacy of your serum.   

Apply your serum gently massaging into the skin with your fingertips.  Allow the serum to penetrate and then follow with a moisturizer.  

You can use vitamin C serum daily up to twice a day.  But be sure to start out slow, applying once every other day for the first week, increasing to daily use as your skin adjusts. 

Potential Side Effects of Vitamin C Serum

  • Irritation- This is the most common side effect that often occurs in those with sensitive skin.  If you have reactive skin, use a gentle variation of vitamin C in your skincare routine with a lower concentration and use it only every other day to avoid this side effect.  
  • Sun Damage- Although Vit. C has proven to be an excellent form of sun protection, it can also cause sun damage if not used correctly.  Vitamin C must always be used with a full spectrum sunscreen to be effective.  Using it without a daily sunscreen will cause more harm than good.
  • Flaky Skin-  Because Vitamin C will exfoliate the skin, if it is initially used in a high concentration or used too often, it will cause the skin to flake or peel.  This will eventually go away as the skin adjusts.  This is one of the reasons it’s best to start low and slow- low concentration every other day.  Step it up slowly.  

Can Vitamin C Serums Cause Acne?

Vitamin C serums do not cause acne.  Although some claim that it is a “pro-oxidant” that can damage skin cells as a result of oxidative stress, studies have continually proven that this is not the case.   Instead, Vitamin C is an active ingredient that has been shown to neutralize free radicals that cause cellular damage and inflammation that can induce acne. 

More On Facial Serums

Check out these articles to find out about the benefits of face serums

How Often Should I Use Vitamin C Serum

Best Serum For Hormonal Acne 2022

What Does Serum Do For Your Face

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