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Does Vitamin C Help Acne?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and one of the essential nutrients for the body.

Found in foods like citrus fruits and cruciferous vegetables, vitamin C can be ingested naturally or taken through supplements such as capsules and powders.

With a myriad of benefits for our health, vitamin C is also known as a master antioxidant responsible for giving us a glowy complexion.

But does vitamin C have the ability to help get rid of some more stubborn skin conditions like acne?

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of incorporating vitamin C into your diet and skincare routine as well as how it can help reduce acne, hyperpigmentation, and other skin problems with this component.

Vitamin C Skin Benefits

Vitamin C has long been studied for its skin benefits, which is why it’s one of the most popular ingredients found in many skincare products.

Additionally, while skincare products can work to improve the skin’s health and appearance externally, supplementing with vitamin C can also have many potential benefits that result in skin improvement in various ways.

With that said, here are a few proven skin benefits of vitamin C:

Vitmain C Reverses Free Radical Damage

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which is a component that helps protect the cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Free radicals are components that occur due to normal essential metabolic processes in the human body but are also naturally found in the environment. These unstable molecules float in the air and are present in the ozone, air pollutants, industrial chemicals, and other things we get exposed to daily.

These components cause damage to parts of cells such as proteins, DNA, and cell membranes by latching onto them and robbing them of their electrons.

When this damage accumulates, our now unhealthy cells are not able to repair themselves optimally, leading to a range of health and aesthetic problems such as accelerated aging, visible wrinkles, age spots, and other signs of skin damage.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps reverse this damage by donating its own electrons to the free radicals and thus neutralizing them. This restores the healthy balance in the skin and contributes to a brighter, healthier-looking complexion.

Vitamin C Boosts Collagen Production

Vitamin C has an essential role in connective tissue healing due to being a cofactor in the production of prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase, which are enzymes that synthesize collagen, elastin, and other proteins essential for maintaining strong, healthy skin and joints.

Vitamin C has, over and over again, demonstrated its potential to increase type I collagen synthesis while reducing oxidative stress parameters, meaning that it can help keep the skin looking bouncier and more youthful while reducing visible signs of aging.

But besides improving the skin’s health and appearance, collagen is also vital for bone strength and healing, so supplementing with vitamin C is also beneficial for overall health, especially after an injury or illness.

Vitamin C Fades Acne Scarring

Vitamin C inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme responsible for the production of melanin, which is the brown pigment that gives skin its color.

When there’s inflammation or some sort of imbalance involved (such as hormonal imbalances or inflammatory skin conditions like acne), this enzyme reacts to the circumstances by becoming overactive, leading to dark spots and patches forming on the skin.

By reducing its overactivity, vitamin C can help prevent hyperpigmentation from forming and aid the fading of existing discoloration.

Vitamin C Refines Skin Texture

Coarse, uneven skin texture can be the result of many things, including age, sun damage, or skin disorders.

However, on a chemical level, these irregularities occur when collagen cannot keep up with the skin’s natural shedding process due to either not being produced in adequate amounts or its breakdown being facilitated by the presence of free radicals.

By helping to maintain healthy collagen production and neutralizing reactive molecules, vitamin C can help refine coarse skin texture and even out the complexion.

Vitamin C Softens The Appearance of Fine Lines & Wrinkles

Similarly to skin texture, fine lines and wrinkles are the results of the cell’s inability to repair itself due to the presence of free radicals and decreased collagen levels.

One particular component known as trans-urocanic acid, which is a by-product of filaggrin, a component that plays an important role in the skin’s barrier function, has been shown to decrease when exposed to oxygen radicals.

By donating its electrons and neutralizing the oxidative molecules, vitamin C helps to protect trans-urocanic acid and maintain a healthy skin barrier with properly structured proteins and a smooth appearance.

This essentially results in softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and a toned, evened-out complexion.

Vitamin C Side Effects

While the side effects of vitamin C are few and minor, some individuals may experience uncomfortable reactions when using products that contain this antioxidant.

Here are some main vitamin C side effects to watch out for:

Skin Irritation

Vitamin C found in skincare products is often strong and unstable. It usually requires special storage, minimum exposure to air and light, and often contains other ingredients that can potentially cause skin irritation.

This is why skin irritation is relatively common in those who use high-strength vitamin C products, store them incorrectly, and have very sensitive skin.

If you experience irritation or redness after using a product that contains vitamin C, opt for one with lower strength, or make sure the product you are using isn’t exposed to air, light, and moisture, such as humidity in the bathroom.

Additionally, vitamin C can cause photosensitivity, which is why it’s important always to use high SPF to protect your skin from burning and sun damage.

Flushing

Flushing, redness, and skin sensitivities may occur from topical vitamin C applications and supplements.

This is primarily because vitamin C works by increasing blood flow to the skin, which, in turn, causes capillaries to dilate and bring more oxygen to the skin’s surface.

Although flushing is considered a harmless side effect, if you experience it often or for an extended period of time, it might be best to reduce the concentration of vitamin C in your skincare products or speak to your doctor about taking a lower dose of supplements.

Nausea

Nausea is a common side effect of vitamin C supplements and occurs when the body has difficulty absorbing this component.

To avoid this, consider taking lower doses of vitamin C supplements or variations that are easier to absorb, such as calcium-ascorbate and magnesium-ascorbate.

Alternatively, try taking your vitamin C dose through foods, as this is usually the easiest way to get your daily vitamin C without experiencing any unpleasant side effects.

Heartburn

Another common side effect of overusing vitamin C supplements may be heartburn.

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid traveling up toward the throat.

However, while some people suffer from this occurrence more often than others, vitamin C is known to exacerbate acid reflux, triggering issues like heartburn, which is why it should be taken in moderation, especially by those who are already susceptible to heartburn.

Stomach Cramps

Although rare and highly unpleasant, some people may experience stomach cramps, pain, and diarrhea after taking too much of a vitamin C supplement.

This is because the body is having difficulty absorbing vitamin C, and an overdose may lead to a condition called vitamin C toxicity, which results in symptoms like cramps.

Does Vitamin C Help Clear Acne Breakouts?

Acne is a result of inflammation that has occurred due to stuck sebum inside the pores and the overgrowth of bacteria that feed on the cellular debris.

When the immune system detects the overgrowth of a pathogen, it starts to fight against it by sending inflammatory signals to the site of injury, which results in redness, swelling, and pustular nodules on the skin, known as acne.

Through the production of reactive oxygen species, the inflammatory process may deplete stores of antioxidants in the body, including vitamin C.

This is why supplementing with this antioxidant can help reduce inflammation and soothe the skin, as it helps to both neutralize free radicals and restore antioxidant levels in the body.

This anti-inflammatory action makes vitamin C helpful in reducing acne in some cases.

However, that said, vitamin C can, in other cases, make acne worse. This can happen when used topically and in high concentrations, which irritates the skin and slows down the healing process.

So, while vitamin C can be the savior of acne-prone skin, it should be used with caution due to the potential of exacerbating the condition under certain circumstances.

Can You Take Too Much Vitamin C?

While the limit for an average adult is 2000mg of vitamin C a day, not everyone tolerates this strength the same, and some people may experience unpleasant symptoms due to taking too much vitamin C.

Some symptoms of vitamin C overuse include nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and heartburn, which is why you should opt for smaller doses of this supplement, especially when first starting it.

From there, you can try to build tolerance; however, some people simply cannot go over a certain strength, so listening to your body and monitoring potential symptoms is always a good idea.

If your body is having difficulty absorbing higher vitamin C strengths, it will undoubtedly give you signs that you shouldn’t ignore, and if the symptoms persist, it’s best to reduce the intake back to tolerable strength.

Types of Vitamin C

Vitamin C comes in several different forms that work in various ways to improve your overall health and skin appearance.

Here are some ways you can incorporate vitamin C into your daily routine for best results:

Fruits & Vegetables

Vitamin C is naturally available in many fruits and vegetables you can incorporate into your diet to enjoy the benefits of this component without having to rely on artificial alternatives.

Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, kiwis, grapefruit, and Kakadu plums are a few fruits that contain high vitamin C content.

As an example, one lemon provides about 31mg of vitamin C, which is almost 50% of the reference daily intake.

Additionally, some fruits like the Kakadu plum, which is an Australian native superfood, contain 100 times more vitamin C than oranges. Currently the highest-known natural source of vitamin C in the world, the Kakadu plum contains up to 2,907 mg per 100 grams and can be a great natural option to add to your diet.

Finally, vegetables that you can easily incorporate into your daily meals, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, and bell peppers, are also rich in vitamin C and can contain up to 100mg of vitamin C per cup.

Supplements

Supplements are another great way to get vitamin C quickly and with ease; however, it is important to remember that if you are taking food supplements as well as eating foods that are rich in vitamin C, you may be taking too much.

Supplements are designed to make up for what we don’t naturally get through food; therefore, it’s important to follow the recommended dosage and not exceed it, as this can result in some side effects like nausea, bloating, heartburn, and diarrhea.

Additionally, supplements may be a better option if you want to try vitamin C for skin-related benefits as well as joint health, as they generally work faster than foods that usually take more time to be absorbed by the body.

Skincare Products

Finally, the outer part of your body can also benefit from the vitamin C component, which is why many skincare products contain it either as an active ingredient or a follow-up ingredient to boost the effects of the main active with extra benefits.

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, which is the form used for topical skincare formulas, is found in toners, serums, creams, and even sunscreens, thanks to its potent antioxidant properties that protect the skin from pollution and other external factors.

When it comes to acne, vitamin C can help reduce inflammation and boost antioxidant activity in the cells, especially when combined with other antioxidants such as vitamin E, niacinamide, and copper peptides.

This action will soothe inflamed pimples while nourishing the cells and strengthening the skin barrier.

A strong and healthy skin barrier will then have an easier time dealing with pathogens such as acne-causing bacteria and won’t react with redness and irritation as easily.

Moreover, vitamin C-infused skincare products can also help reduce scarring from acne by preventing overactivity of the enzyme tyrosinase, which is responsible for uneven skin tones such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and large darker areas that can occur as a result of skin trauma or hormonal conditions like melasma.

Finally, topical vitamin C can also help refine uneven skin texture, reverse the damage done by UV rays, fade sun spots, and reduce the appearance of premature lines and wrinkles thanks to its ability to promote collagen synthesis and cell renewal.

How To Tell If You Are Deficient in Vitamin C?

Vitamin C deficiency is rare but nevertheless possible and comes with a few unpleasant symptoms.

The main sign of vitamin C deficiency is red, inflamed gums which can also bleed. This can sometimes be mistaken for infection; however, it is worth looking into your diet if these symptoms persist.

Furthermore, other signs of vitamin C deficiency may include easy bruising and bleeding due to weakened capillaries, as well as weakness, fatigue, and joint pain, due to the lack of collagen production.

As the deficiency progresses, bones may become brittle, nail and hair deformities can develop, wounds may take longer to heal, and the immune system suffers, possibly due to being weakened from free radical accumulation.

Finally, scurvy is one of the rarest yet still possible side effects and is known as a condition resulting from a severe vitamin C deficiency.

Although deadly in earlier times, scurvy can nowadays be easily prevented and treated if already present by having a healthy and balanced diet.

Some symptoms of scurvy may include severe fatigue, small red or purple spots on the skin, joint pain, poor wound healing, and corkscrew hairs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you avoid vitamin c if you have acne?

No, vitamin c is anti-inflammatory and can actually help reduce redness and swelling in the skin.

Does vitamin c irritate hormonal acne?

Vitamin C in and of itself does not irritate hormonal acne. However, many products with vitamin c can irritate sensitive skin if there are inflammatory products like dyes or alcohols included.

Can you take vitamin C and niacinamide together?

Most people will not have a negative reaction when they use niacinamide and vitamin c together. However, out of an abundance of caution you should try a “patch test” on your face for several days in order to make sure you do not have a bad reaction to the combination of both compounds.

Originally Published: February 17, 2023

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi, I’m Sam Wood, the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach at GoodGlow, as well as a best-selling author for one of the top acne books on Amazon. I struggled with acne for over 10 years, and began studying the effects of diet on skin quality while pursuing a degree in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Missouri. After shifting from mainstream skincare trends to in-depth research in medical journals, I experienced significant personal success in managing my acne. This inspired me to start GoodGlow, where I simplify complex scientific findings into easy-to-understand advice. With over 10 years in the field, I’ve helped more than 2,500 people achieve clearer skin through natural, holistic methods, and I’m dedicated to personally assisting those seeking guidance on their acne journey.

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