Does Vitamin C Help Acne? What You Should Know

Acne is a common and frustrating skin condition that leaves its marks long after the breakout is gone. In addition to the emotional stress it causes, acne can be painful and persistent. And while acne can manifest in many ways, from blemishes to blackheads, there’s one ingredient that many people are using to manage their acne: vitamin C.

Key takeaways:
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    Acne is an incredibly common inflammatory skin disorder.
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    Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant used to treat acne topically.
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    Vitamin C reduces acne scars, reduces inflammation, promotes collagen production, and improves hyperpigmentation.
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    Serums are concentrated while oils, creams, and cleansers might be better for sensitive skin types.

Let’s take a look at why vitamin C is so important for healthy skin and how you can try it out depending on your skin type. We’ll answer questions that you have about topical applications vs. supplements, and help you understand why Vitamin C works.

Can vitamin C be used in skin care?

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and this makes it an essential ingredient for skincare. Vitamin C protects your skin against oxidative stress and promotes the production of collagen. In other words, it keeps your skin young. But Vitamin C is also anti-inflammatory, and this is essential for understanding the role it could play in your acne.

Your skin type and how your acne presents are unique to you. And there are a handful of ways that you can experiment with using vitamin skin to heal your acne and reduce scars.

What is acne?

Acne is an inflammatory skin disorder that shows up in a variety of ways, from small pimples to painful, deep whiteheads. Many people find that diet, stress, and other environmental factors influence breakouts, but the main causes of acne are:

  • Excessively oily skin.
  • Genetics.
  • Hormone fluctuations like puberty, pregnancy, or your menstrual cycle.
  • Medications that contain hormones like birth control.

Acne happens when oil-producing glands and hair follicles become clogged. In healthy skin, the glands and follicles work together to do an elegant dance of self-cleaning. But in the case of acne, they become stuck and clogged. Unfortunately, this is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. The skin, as an immune response, becomes inflamed. Pimples show up and often leave scars after they’ve healed. This is where vitamin C comes in.

Vitamin C for treating acne: does it help?

Vitamin C can be effective in treating all types of acne: fungal, hormonal, and cystic. If you have sensitive skin, you’ll want to introduce vitamin C the way you do other new treatments: start small, and work your way up to what works for you. Here are some ways that vitamin C helps treat acne.

Reduces acne scars

Perhaps the most frustrating part of acne is that when it’s over, it's not over. When the acne clears, the tissue tries to heal, and in the process, scars can form. Vitamin C has a brightening effect on acne scars over time.

Reduces inflammation

Inflammation is your skin's way of trying to heal the issue. But with acne, the skin is chronically inflamed, and the molecule responsible for the inflammation works overtime. More research is needed to understand exactly how vitamin C calms inflamed skin, but it is widely agreed that it intervenes with the molecules responsible for the inflammatory response, called cytokines.

Promotes collagen production

Collagen is a protein that your body produces to support your skin's healing process after acne has cleared. Having too much or too little can result in scarring. And as you get older, your body produces less and less of it. Vitamin C assists in the production of collagen.

Improves hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is also known as sun spots, aging spots, or liver spots. Whatever you call them, they leave patches of pink, red, grey, or black on your skin. Vitamin C can inhibit the production of melanin, which is behind these colored spots. This creates an even tone on your skin.

How to use vitamin C?

There are two main ways you can support your skin with vitamin C: topically, and internally. Let’s take a look at the different approaches.

Topically

Vitamin C serums are concentrated, water-based products that you apply to your skin (or just your spots) after cleansing and before moisturizing. They’re very potent, and for this reason, they’re popular for treating acne. However, if you have sensitive skin, you might find that serums are irritating.

In that case, try a face oil or a cream. These products are less concentrated, work with all kinds of skin types, and often contain other supportive ingredients like SPF. You can also try a cleanser, which washes dirt and dead skin off of your face and treats it with vitamin C.

Vitamin C supplements

Vitamin C is known for being an essential part of your diet with many health benefits. But do vitamin C supplements help with acne? More research is needed to study the effect of taking vitamin C internally for acne. However, some evidence does support that vitamin C intake is correlated with overall skin health benefits like smoothing wrinkles, preventing dryness, and anti-aging.

Because vitamin C offers so many other health benefits, there’s no harm in incorporating it into your diet. However, too much vitamin C can cause stomach cramps, nausea, kidney stones, and other unwanted side effects, so talk to your doctor to make sure supplements are the right choice for you.

Some of the health benefits of eating and drinking vitamin C include:

  • Supported immunity.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Iron absorption.
  • Fights free radicals.
  • Lowered risk of stroke.

Can vitamin C cause acne?

Vitamin C doesn’t cause acne, but it can irritate your skin. Certain products can be more irritating than others, especially if you have sensitive or dry skin. Some skin types have found that vitamin C causes redness and skin flushing, so do a test patch on your skin before you use it on your face, especially if you’re using a serum. And if you’re concerned about causing a breakout, use an oil or a cream, which are less concentrated than serum.

How to start using vitamin C for treating acne

Look for products that contain L-ascorbic acid, the structure found in vitamin C. For sensitive and dry skin, look for serums that contain lower concentrations at 10% or less. Remember that serums should be used sparingly and that a little goes a long way.

You can use vitamin C products with other products, including retinol. Many people find the most success by using these products at different times. For example, apply your vitamin C serum in the morning, and retinol cream at night.

How long does it take for vitamin C to clear acne?

How well vitamin C works for you will depend on your skin. For the best results, use it on your skin every day. The vitamin C works to fade dark spots on your skin over time, and most people begin seeing results in a few weeks and see significant improvement within a few months.

Other ways to deal with acne

You might find that other nutrients like omega 3s, vitamins A, D, E, and zinc also help your acne. You can also experiment with lifestyle choices to support healthy skin.

Here are some things to try:

Cut out bad food. Sugar, dairy, and other processed foods can cause a breakout.

Get a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep has been linked to acne breakouts.

Don’t wash too often. Stripping your face of all your oils can encourage acne.

Get exercise. Exercise increases blood flow to the skin and lowers inflammation in the body.

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