How can Vitamin C help with anti-aging?
Vitamin C is not produced naturally by the body, but is an essential antioxidant that we absorb mostly through our diet. Antioxidants are key in the fight against visible skin aging, as they prevent cellular damage from free radicals. In the skin, Vitamin C is found in both the epidermis (the top layer) and the dermis (the lower layer), as a result of topical application, as we cannot synthesize it1.
Studies indicate that Vitamin C is the most abundant of all the body's antioxidants, and has a significant effect on photo aged skin2. It not only protects against UV damage but also stimulates the production of fibroblasts, which are essential for the generation of collagen, keeping our skin firm and elastic – thereby preventing wrinkles and sagging.
Other benefits of active Vitamin C are its anti-pigmentation and anti-inflammatory properties3, which help to reduce discolored skin patches (such as age, liver and dark spots) as well as inflammation caused by UV exposure or other environmental irritants. Vitamin C also has a regenerative effect on another powerful anti-aging ingredient, vitamin E. The two are often used together in anti-aging skincare.
What causes skin to age?
The main threat to the quality of our skin is an excess of free radicals, groups of atoms that damage our cells' DNA, resulting in oxidative stress. This stress is when our body's naturally-occurring antioxidants are not strong or numerous enough to counteract the negative effects of the free radicals4. Oxidative stress occurs as a result of an imbalance between free radical production and antioxidant defenses. It is associated with damage to a wide range of important molecules, such as lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids5, all of which are essential for the functionality of skin.
Too many free radicals in the body can be caused by several factors. Anxiety6, fatigue7, nutrition8, smoking9, UV exposure10 and other environmental aggressors such as pollution11, have all been linked to oxidative stress. Because the skin shows a decrease in its protection and repair systems, the quality of our skin begins to deplete and show visible signs of aging12.
The visible effects of oxidative stress
As our cells become weaker over time due to free radical damage, the wall of the skin begins to lose its tight, elastic structure. This explains why, when we are young, the skin bounces back into position after a facial movement (such as smiling or frowning), but increasingly less so as we age. Over time, lines begin to appear where the skin has lost its elasticity, and gradually develop to form wrinkles. The skin looks and feels less firm, and can have a tendency to sag around the eye and jaw areas13.
Cells weakened to due free radical damage may also present as age spots- caused by skin over-producing melanin and resulting in patches of discoloration (also known as hyperpigmentation). A reduction in optimal blood flow also leaves the skin looking dull and less plump14.
How to introduce Vitamin C into your skincare routine
A Vitamin C serum or cream is the most effective way to top up your skin's defensive vitamin levels and prevent or diminish signs of aging. If you have naturally oily or combination skin, a light gel or liquid serum may be the most suitable, whereas dry skin types will enjoy the sensation of a nourishing vitamin-C-infused cream.
Or you could use both in your skincare routine, applying your serum first, waiting until it is absorbed, then applying cream over the top. Apply in the morning to protect skin from free radicals such as pollution and UV rays, and double-up on the effects by also using it in your nighttime skincare routine.
1 Al-Niaimi, F. et al, 'Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications' in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 10.7 (2017) pp. 14-17 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605218/]
2 Chen, L. et al, ‘The role of antioxidants in photoprotection: A critical review’ in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 67 (2012), pp. 1013–1024 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22406231]
3 Farris, P.K. ‘Cosmetical Vitamins: Vitamin C.’ Cosmeceuticals. Procedures in Cosmetic Dermatology. 2nd ed. New York: Saunders Elsevier (2009), pp. 51–6
4 Rahman, K. et al, 'Studies on free radicals, antioxidants, and co-factors' in Clinical Interventions in Aging 2.2 (2007) pp. 219-236 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684512/]
5 McCord, J.M, ‘The evolution of free radicals and oxidative stress’ in The American Journal of Medicine 108.8 (2000), pp.652-9 [Accessible at: http://kore.dekodes.no/documents/2013/12/the-evolution-of-free-radicals-and-oxidative-stress.pdf/]
6 Bouayed, J. et al, ‘Oxidative stress and anxiety: Relationship and cellular pathways’ in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2.2 (2009) pp.63-67 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763246/]
7 Kennedy, G. et al, ‘Oxidative stress levels are raised in chronic fatigue syndrome and are associated with clinical symptoms’ in Journal of Free Radical Biology and Medicine 1.39.5 (2001) pp.584-9 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16085177]
8 Vetrani, C. et al, ‘Nutrition and oxidative stress: a systematic review of human studies’ in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 64.3 (2013) pp.312-26 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23121370]
9 Ozguner, F. et al, ‘Active smoking causes oxidative stress and decreases blood melatonin levels’ in Toxicology and Industrial Health 21.1.2 pp. 21-6 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15986573]
10 Burke, K.E. ‘Photoaging: the Role of Oxidative Stress’ in the Journal Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia 145.4 (2010), pp. 445-59 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20823789]
11 Kelly, F.J. ‘Oxidative stress: its role in air pollution and adverse health effects’ in Occupational and Environmental Medicine 60 (2003) pp. 612-616 [Accessible at: http://oem.bmj.com/content/60/8/612]
12 Binic, I. et al, 'Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies' in Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine (2013) [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569896/]
13 Ganceviciene, R. et al, "Skin anti-aging strategies" in Dermato Endocrinology 4.3 (2012) pp. 308-319 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583892/]
14 Olive, J.L. et al, 'The effects of aging and activity on muscle blood flow' in Dynamic Medicine 1 (2002) pp. 2 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC150384/]