This Is Why Your Skin Needs Vitamin C Now – And These Are The Best Types To Try

Proven to act as a protective antioxidant, boost healthy collagen and combat pigmentation, vitamin C has solidified its place in any robust beauty routine, and is especially important at this time of year when UV rays increase. Here, the experts explain everything you need to know about the tried-and-trusted skincare superhero. By NEWBY HANDS


What does vitamin C do?

It might be quicker to list what it doesn’t do. As one of the most potent antioxidants, vitamin C protects against environmental damage (including UV rays, blue light and pollution), brightens skin tone, boosts collagen and inhibits pigmentation. “I rate it top among all ingredients,” declares leading dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross. “And it’s best used topically – the amount you would have to ingest to have the same level of antioxidant benefit for the skin would be toxic. Plus, it stimulates collagen, because the fibroblasts [which create new collagen] have receptors for vitamin C, so it enhances the cell’s DNA to make more.” Vitamin C skincare is also said to have skin-brightening qualities, as Angela Adjei, head of product at 111Skin, explains: “Any resurfacing is very mild, and I certainly wouldn’t put it as an obvious benefit, but it does block the abnormal production of pigmentation, which gives a brighter-looking complexion.”

What type of vitamin C is best?

As with other potent actives (including retinol), this is where things get tricky, because different brands choose to use different types of vitamin C. Ascorbic acid, or L-ascorbic acid, is the pure, natural form of vitamin C; it is also the most researched and the most unstable. “But whichever type is used depends on the rest of the product formulation and its delivery system,” says Dr. Gross.

Tetrahexyldecyl (THD) ascorbate is a stable, oil-soluble form of vitamin C that’s back in the beauty spotlight thanks its ability to deliver the benefits of ascorbic acid without any of the skin irritation that can come with it. You can find THD ascorbate in Dr. Barbara Sturm’s The Good C serum (which combines three different forms of vitamin C) and in Westman Atelier’s new Supreme C serum (at 100%). “I tried THD ascorbate for the first time about four years ago in Japan and I loved it,” says Westman Atelier’s founder Gucci Westman. “I wanted to use the ingredient in its pure form as it has a beautiful, cushiony, oily texture that simply sinks into skin and is so gentle you can use it on any skin type – I apply it daily on my rosacea-prone complexion.” How does it work? Once THD ascorbate is on your skin, it’s broken down into pure ascorbic acid, affirms Westman. “The serum has a very sophisticated lipophilic delivery system, which means that since our skin is made of lipids, this oil-soluble vitamin C can penetrate a lot deeper into the skin than many other types, making it more effective while still being gentle.”

What to look for

Vitamin C skincare is the one product where packaging actually matters: look for sealed, airless pumps, darker tinted bottles, sealed ampoules or single or short-use ‘shots’, all of which help to ensure that the active ingredient is kept at its most potent – most particularly if the formula includes pure ascorbic acid, which is highly unstable. “Also, think how you use and keep it,” says Adjei. “Keep the lid on and don’t leave it out on a bathroom shelf, where the fluctuating heat from a shower or bath can degrade it. If it does change slightly in color, because of oxidization, you can still use it – it shows it’s a good concentration – but any more obvious changes and it’s probably best to discard it.”

Know your %

Although proven to be active from just 0.6%, the higher the percentage, the more serious the effects. But as you up the concentration, you can also increase any sensitivity – so, whatever results you are looking for, the best advice is to start low and go slow. “But irritation is the only downside,” reassures Dr. Gross. For daily use, to get a generally brighter skin tone and to provide a good antioxidant back-up to your daily SPF, anything up to or around 5% is enough. “But some people can feel that skin tingle even at 2%,” says Adjei. “If so, then use it with a face cream [to buffer]. From 10% and up, it gets more active. You can use this two or three times a week but, ultimately, it’s about being consistent and using it regularly for at least eight weeks – that’s when you really see results.” To tackle sun spots, you need to work up to around 20% – the level clinically shown to be effective. However, Westman Atelier Supreme C boasts a concentration of 100% THD ascorbate, which is specifically formulated to be extremely gentle for all skin types, including those prone to sensitivities and rosacea, like Gucci Westman.

How to use vitamin C skincare

Although usually recommended for the morning (to protect skin from pollution, in particular), with this smart multitasker there are no hard and fast rules – so you can still use it at night. “Just make sure it’s part of your regular, ongoing routine,” says Adjei. Recent research suggests ascorbic acid stays in the skin for at least 72 hours, so applying vitamin C two to three time a week will still give you results – but don’t rule out a daily double-use across both morning and night if your skin can handle it or, when using a super-gentle, oil-soluble formula like Westman Atelier’s Supreme C. The easiest way to use any form of vitamin C is probably in a serum. “For me, that’s the best delivery system,” says Dr. Gross. “It’s often paired with vitamin E, which acts to further enhance the antioxidant properties of vitamin C.” And, not that you should need reminding, don’t forget to use your SPF. “Why use a high-percentage vitamin C and not use SPF?” asks Adjei. “You are trying to treat your pigmentation, but all you would be doing by forgoing SPF is exposing your skin to more of it.”


The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown