logo

DermNet NZ


Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Topical vitamin C

Topical vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a popular vitamin being added to skin care products. Currently there are many advertising claims of topical formulation containing antioxidants that will protect against and reverse aging. However, the truth is that many of the available formulations contain very low concentrations of antioxidants that are not well absorbed by the skin. Vitamin C on the other hand, is an antioxidant, which when manufactured into a stable topical formulation, is proven to be effective in protecting against photoaging of the skin.

How does topical vitamin C work?

To understand how topical vitamin C works an understanding of the relationship between free radicals and antioxidants in the body is necessary.

Topical vitamin C has shown to protect the skin from UV damage caused by prolonged sun exposure by reducing the amount of free radical formation and/or sunburn cells. Exposure to UV light has also shown to decrease the naturally occurring vitamin C levels in the skin, thus topical application of vitamin C restores these photoprotectant levels. Other studies also suggest that vitamin C may play a part in the collagen biosynthetic pathway by activating collagen metabolism and dermal synthesis of elastic fibres.

What is topical vitamin C used for?

Studies have shown the following benefits of using topical vitamin C preparations.

Who should use topical vitamin C?

Everyone will benefit from maintaining adequate vitamin C levels. For most people this can be achieved by eating more than 5 servings of fruit, vegetables and juices daily. There are many topical vitamin C preparations available that claim to benefit photoaged skin. However, almost all of these claims have no rigorous scientific testing to back them.

A correctly formulated topical vitamin C preparation is a difficult and costly process. Many formulations on the market are manufactured cheaply and are basically ineffective. The problems lies in the fact that vitamin C is most commonly found in the form L-ascorbic acid. This is highly unstable when exposed to oxygen, making it become useless. In addition, many of the currently available topical vitamin C preparations do not penetrate the skin sufficiently to make any difference. Research is currently underway to optimize a stable and effective topical vitamin C formulation.

If you are considering using a topical vitamin C preparation you should consult your pharmacist, doctor or dermatologist before starting, particularly if you are already using other vitamin supplements. They can help you determine which vitamins and in which form will be the most effective for you.

The treatment and prevention of scurvy, which is due to dietary vitamin C deficiency, requires oral replacement of ascorbic acid.

Related information

On DermNet NZ:

Other websites:

Books about skin diseases:

See the DermNet NZ bookstore

Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer

DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service.
If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.