When you think of vitamin C, tangy and nutritious citrus fruits might come to mind. But its health perks extend beyond your diet: There are a ton of vitamin C benefits for skin too.
This popular antioxidant and holy grail ingredient has been shown to brighten dark spots, smooth fine lines, and offer (some) sun protection, Mara Weinstein Velez, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, tells SELF. And the cherry—er, lemon—on top? It’s suitable for most skin types and usually doesn’t come with annoying side effects like purging, which can happen with other strong actives, Dr. Weinstein adds.
But here’s the catch: Finding the best vitamin C serum, toner, or moisturizer for your specific concerns isn’t as simple as buying the first delightfully orange bottle you see. Instead, you want to pay attention to the formulation and your personal needs, Dr. Weinstein says.
Keep reading to find out why and how you should incorporate vitamin C into your daily routine—and what to look for on a product’s label to ensure you get the most glow for your buck.
What can vitamin C do for your skin?
It has the potential to help with a lot of different issues, especially when applied topically in serum form. That’s because “serums typically offer the highest concentrations of active vitamin C and tend to have better skin penetration compared to other products, like creams and cleansers,” Annie Chiu, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Derm Institute in Manhattan Beach, California tells SELF.
Regardless of the formula, why should you smear it all over your face in the first place, you ask? Let’s dive into the science-backed benefits we’ve been teasing.
It can minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
No, a cute little serum won’t suddenly make you look like a teen again (and comparing your current self to a former version of yourself will only hold you back anyway). That said, there’s research showing that vitamin C can have a smoothing effect.1
For one, it helps your skin produce collagen—a protein that gives your complexion a firmer, bouncier look and feel, Dr. Chiu explains.1 As you age, your body’s collagen production naturally declines, leading to sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles. Essentially, vitamin C can stimulate this process and help skin maintain its firmness and elasticity, Dr. Chiu says.2
It can brighten your skin and minimize dark spots.
With consistent use, your complexion might even out—and become downright glowy—because vitamin C inhibits the over-production of melanin, the pigment responsible for the color of hair, eyes, and skin.3
When certain areas of the skin create too much melanin, however, you can end up with hyperpigmentation—patches of discoloration that may show up after you pop a pimple, for example, or lie on the beach all afternoon without slathering on sunscreen. While vitamin C won’t miraculously erase these dark spots overnight, it can certainly assist in fading and preventing them by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for producing melanin (tyrosinase, to be specific), according to Dr. Chiu.4
It can protect against sun damage and free radicals.
This isn’t to say that a droplet or two of serum can replace your sunscreen, but there is some research showing that vitamin C helps to prevent damage caused by environmental aggressors, like sun exposure, pollution, stress, and smoke.4