Does Vitamin C Help Acne?

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Dr. Jennifer Hughes, MD
Medical Reviewer

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Acne is one of the most common skin problems that people face. Despite its prevalence, unfortunately, there is still no one-size-fits-all solution to treat acne.

This has led to a booming industry of products and treatments designed to prevent and treat acne as well as repair the damage that can occur as a result of acne lesions.

Though there is no one miracle solution yet, one of the best treatments on the market is vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid) serums, which have great benefits for acne-prone skin.

While vitamin C is naturally found in citrus fruits, topical serums of vitamin C are much more effective at directly promoting skin regeneration, repairing damage from acne scars and UV rays, and promoting collagen production.

In this article, we’ll cover everything from what causes acne in the first place to the skincare benefits of vitamin C and how to use (and not use) vitamin C topical serums for acne. You’ll be well on your way to glowy, beautiful skin in no time!

4 Ways Vitamin C Can Improve Skin and Fight Acne

Of all the treatments and products that exist in the skincare world, vitamin C is among the most effective for skin health and appearance since it can both heal damage that’s accumulated over the years and prevent further damage from occurring.

When taken orally, either through diet or supplementation, vitamin C helps our bodies produce collagen––the protein structure that makes up our skin––and synthesize it from the foods we eat. 

However, topical vitamin C serum is where this ingredient really shines, especially when it comes to acne and acne-prone skin.

A graphic entitled "4 Ways Vitamin C Can Improve Skin and Fight Acne," which includes reducing hyperpigmentation and acne-related inflammation, protecting the skin from UV damage, and improving skin texture, all with accompanying images.

Reduce Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH) are dark areas of skin that appear due to skin damage. When it occurs on the face, it is most commonly caused by acne lesions.

PIH can appear as dark red, brown, or purple spots and can be very difficult to get rid of and take a long time to heal.

Using vitamin C for acne scars can promote better wound healing by promoting collagen synthesis after the acne lesion has subsided and even prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Reduce Acne-Related Inflammation

One of the first things we notice when we spot a pimple is the redness and raised appearance of the acne lesion.

This is because the hair follicle is inflamed due to being blocked by dead skin cells and sebum. 

One of the greatest benefits of vitamin C––in both its topical and oral forms––is its anti-inflammatory effects.

This is because vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, meaning that it scavenges harmful free radicals that can cause inflammation in our bodies.

By getting more vitamin C in our diets and applying vitamin C serum topically, we may be able to reduce the appearance of acne-related inflammation.

The antioxidants in vitamin C can also prevent the oxidation of sebum in the skin, which can lead to acne.

Repair and Protect Skin from UV Damage

One of the greatest benefits that topical vitamin C has for our skin is its ability to reduce melanin production and prevent melasma that occurs as a result of sun damage.

Melasma is the appearance of brownish patches on the face. It most commonly appears after sun damage on the nose, forehead, and cheeks but can also occur as a result of pregnancy or in women taking oral contraceptives.

While these patches can be perceived as unsightly and annoying, you don’t have to live with them!

In fact, per a study of 35 individuals treated with vitamin C, there was a 73% mean improvement in the appearance of melasma and PIH.

This shows great promise for the effectiveness of vitamin C products and treatments, especially for those who are prone to scarring and pigmentation.

Even if you don’t have melasma, vitamin C is great for brightening and evening the skin tone and improving its overall appearance.

Improves Skin Texture

Nearly everyone experiences or will experience bad skin days in their lifetime.

One of the reasons we can be unhappy with our skin is its uneven texture or rough and bumpy appearance. 

This can be a result of many factors but typically is caused by dehydration of both your body and your skin!

Drinking more water is always a great first step towards better skin health, but there are also ways you can further improve your skin’s hydration from the outside in.

Vitamin C, particularly magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, is one of the best ways to improve skin hydration and, therefore, skin texture. 

This compound not only enhances collagen production and reduces inflammation (as mentioned previously), but it also has a hydrating effect since it prevents transepidermal water loss––water lost through evaporation through our skin’s epidermis.

What causes acne in the first place?

Acne is a skin condition (specifically an inflammatory skin disorder) in which there is a build-up of excess dead skin cells that cannot or are not naturally exfoliated or shed by the body.

This can occur due to overproduction of sebum––the oil produced by our skin––which can clog pores and cause tiny infections that appear as whiteheads, blackheads, cystic acne, closed comedones, etc.

There are many different types of acne treatments, ranging from over-the-counter topicals, washes, moisturizers, etc., to more serious treatments such as acid facials, extractions, medications, and lasers. 

These hundreds of different treatments exist since the root cause of acne can range from hormonal imbalances, fungal infections, bacterial imbalances, and even nutrient deficiencies.

Those with sensitive skin can also have a difficult time finding products that improve their skin without being overly harsh and damaging, further complicating the search to find what works for their specific issues.

This is why products like vitamin C are a great addition to any skincare routine since it is so gentle and effective for nearly every skin type.

How to Add Vitamin C To Your Skincare Routine

Vitamin C is a potent addition to any skincare regimen. 

Besides its effectiveness, it is also incredibly easy to insert into your routine.

You can use vitamin C serums in the morning or at night, but it’s best to apply them right after washing your face and before you apply any moisturizers.

The only thing you need to avoid when it comes to vitamin C is combining it with any harsh acids such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

While it is fairly gentle, layering or using vitamin C with other harsh ingredients like these can lead to excessive dryness and even irritation.

If you use any of the following in your skincare routine, move these into either your morning or evening routine, separate from your vitamin C serum: beta-hydroxy acids (BHA’s––Tropic Acid, Betaine Salicylate, Salix Acid), alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA’s––Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid), salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinol.

Regardless of if or when you use vitamin C, always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen as the last step in your routine to prevent any further sun damage and allow the vitamin C to work its magic.

Can Vitamin C Cause Acne?

Topical vitamin C does not directly cause acne and is good for most skin types. 

However, it can cause some adverse reactions for those with sensitive skin or if you use it in large amounts or concentrations.

These side effects are typically just some excess dryness and irritation.

To counteract this potential side effect, it’s a good idea to pair vitamin C and hyaluronic acid serums together.

Hyaluronic acid is a gentle but intensely hydrating serum that binds to water molecules and increases the moisture content of your skin.

This can repair and maintain your skin’s moisture barrier, preventing the dryness and irritation that can occur when using vitamin C serums.

Other Benefits of Vitamin C

Besides being great for our skin health, getting enough vitamin C in your diet is also vital for the healthy function of our immune systems.

It can also prevent scary illnesses like scurvy and iron deficiency. 

While it’s best to get most of your vitamin C from your diet, supplementing with it can also provide a host of benefits.

  • Promotes healthy skin: Topical vitamin C improves skin texture, reduces wrinkles, and reduces hyperpigmentation.
  • Boosts immune system functioning: Supplementing with vitamin C may reduce the severity and duration of illnesses such as the common cold by energizing white blood cells.
  • Improves iron absorption: Vitamin C can be used in combination with iron to treat iron deficiency anemia (which can damage red blood cells) and enhance iron absorption from non-heme (plant-based) sources of iron.
  • Powerful antioxidant properties: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that effectively scavenges harmful free radicals that damage our cells and cause oxidative stress that can lead to chronic health issues.

Vitamin C FAQs

Does vitamin C help acne heal faster?

Yes. Vitamin C can help acne heal faster by reducing inflammation, promoting better wound healing through improved collagen production, and preventing further damage by reducing the occurrence of acne lesions.

Is vitamin C good for hormonal acne?

Vitamin C will not treat the source cause of hormonal acne. However, it can reduce scarring as a result of acne lesions and may prevent acne from occurring in the first place by preventing the oxidation of sebum. Vitamin C can also prevent and treat melasma, an overproduction of melanin in the skin due to sun damage, pregnancy, and people taking hormonal contraceptives.

Which other vitamins are good for acne?

Combining vitamin C with ferulic acid and vitamin E has been shown to reduce redness in the skin further and prevent damage from the sun.



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