Vitamins C and E - How They Fight Free Radicals & Keep Your Skin Beautiful!
Ahhh . . . There's not much better than a beautiful, sunny day. I used to be a sun worshiper, but that changed when I turned 20 and developed a spot on my arm. It was peeling a LOT and made me nervous. I went to my mom's doctor who quickly removed it. I remember her saying the skin in that spot, "was changing." It didn't turn out to be skin cancer, but I think it would have in time.
That was a turning point for me. (And now that I know what I do, I wish that turning point had come a LOT sooner!) It scared me. I was never one who enjoyed sun bathing. It made me feel tired and lazy. And I was bored stiff. But I liked the look of a tan. And my friends were all sunbathing - WITH BABY OIL! - so I did too. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
But we didn't know much about sun damage then. Certainly not as much as we do now. And I don't remember hearing anything about pollution damaging your skin.
Now we know! And knowledge is power! We're learning more every day about the best ways to protect skin from these kinds of damage.
So how do sun and pollution damage your skin?
When your skin is damaged by things like sun or pollution, your body produces free radicals. Free radicals are atoms that have an uneven number of electrons. The uneven number is what makes them unstable. To become stable, the atoms steal electrons from other stable atoms. When this happens, it can cause permanent damage to your skin. You start to see premature signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines and age spots. Antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, fight aging by destroying the free radicals that destroy your collagen supply. They work by donating an electron to the unstable atom to make it stable. Learn more in our post, What are antioxidants? Why use them on skin?
Let's talk about Vitamin C first.
Vitamin C (you'll see it listed as L-ascorbic acid in skincare products) is one of the few topical ingredients that has clinical studies to back its effectiveness. It works as an antioxidant to stop the free radicals that trigger wrinkling, sagging, and other aging changes. Vitamin C also helps smooth and firm skin and it helps fade brown spots. In one study, women who treated sun-damaged skin with a C cream for six months saw significant improvement in fine lines and discoloration.
With age and sun exposure, your body's ability to make collagen decreases, leading to wrinkles. Vitamin C has been proven to stimulate new collagen formation and minimize fine lines, scars, and wrinkles.
But not just any old Vitamin C skincare product will do. Nope, not gonna happen. You see, vitamin C is unstable. That means it has to be carefully packaged because when it's exposed to air, vitamin C oxidizes and can become ineffective - and potentially harmful.
It's easy to see when Vitamin C is oxidized because it turns a dark color. And when it's oxidized, it can actually increase free radical formation in your skin (translation, please: it can damage your skin!). So all that hard earned money spent trying to improve your skin is actually doing quite the opposite! UGH!
Researchers struggled to find effective ways of stabilizing vitamin C. The best method, which was discovered and patented by SkinCeuticals, stabilizes - and actually increases the beneficial effects of Vitamin C - by combining it with vitamin E and ferulic acid.
How about Vitamin C in food? Does eating it help?
Taking vitamin C as a supplement and in the foods you eat can make your sunscreens more effective. It works by decreasing cell damage and helping the healing process. Your body needs Vitamin C to make new collagen and to heal damaged skin.
3 Ways to Get Vitamin C
1. High vitamin C foods to include in your diet are:
- bell peppers
- dark leafy greens
- citrus fruits
2. Vitamin C supplements are another option.
3. Skincare products take the vitamin C directly to your skin.
- L-Ascorbic Acid is the most effective form of vitamin C in skin care products. There are many products on the market today that have vitamin C or one of its derivatives as an ingredient (magnesium ascorbyl phosphate or ascorbyl palmitate, for example), but L-ascorbic acid is the only useful form of vitamin C in skin care.
- Vitamin C should be near the middle of the ingredients list and have a 5% or higher concentration to get the biggest benefit.
- Look for skincare products with vitamin C in opaque, airtight containers that are made to keep vitamin C stable.
Now Let's Talk About Vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found naturally in many foods. Like Vitamin C, it is an antioxidant that protects your body from free radical damage. When the body absorbs vitamin E, the antioxidants work on all your cells to prevent the damage that free radicals cause.
Eating a diet high in Vitamin E is just one way to protect yourself from free radicals. When it's applied to your skin, it works directly on your skin cells, neutralizing free radicals in skin and preventing many signs of aging.
Vitamin E protects against UV radiation and free radicals (like pollution) that come into contact with your skin. There aren't many studies of Vitamin E on humans. But studies on rodents have shown that vitamin E may reduce the risk of skin cancer caused by sun damage. Studies also show that when it is used before sun exposure, skin is less red, swollen and dry.
As an oil, vitamin E can help improve skin hydration. It may even have some anti-inflammatory effects.
Where to Get Vitamin E
1. The best way to get vitamin E is through the food you eat.
- Vegetable oils
- green leafy vegetables
- Even though unprocessed foods are usually considered the healthiest, processed foods that are made from them usually contain vitamin E.
2. Multi-vitamins and vitamin E supplements are also a good source of vitamin E.
3. Skincare Products with Vitamin E. Vitamin E creams will help to minimize your skin's roughness, wrinkles, and facial lines. It will also help your skin to retain its natural moisturizers. Like vitamin C, vitamin E's main function in skin care is to protect against sun damage.
- There are vitamin E sunscreens, after-sun products, creams, lotions and serums.
- The best anti-aging products contain at least 1%.
Skin care products that contain both vitamins C and E are more effective than those that contain only one of these vitamins.
And conversely, deficiencies in either of these vitamins increases your risk of skin damage and skin cancer.
Combine Vitamins C and E
When applied together, vitamins C and E act as a natural form of sun protection. Together they have greater effectiveness than either vitamin does alone. Therefore, even if some of the vitamin C in a product is degraded or oxidized, the remainder works better in the presence of vitamin E.
Look for products containing vitamin C listed as L-ascorbic acid (the best form of vitamin C for your skin) in combination with vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol or tocopherol acetate).
Combined, they provide 4 x more protection against free radicals. So wrinkles are reduced and your skin stays healthy and beautiful!
Add Ferulic Acid
Ferulic acid occurs naturally in the cell walls of rice, wheat and oats and the seeds of apples and oranges, just to name a few. It is a potent antioxidant and may have skin benefits even when used alone.
Research shows that ferulic acid improves Vitamin C's stability. When it is added to vitamins C and E, ferulic acid appears to increase your skin's natural defenses against sun damage. In a study by Farris and Krol, the addition of ferulic acid to a formula with vitamins C and E almost doubled the UV-protection.
While the combination of vitamins C and E with ferulic acid has clear advantages over vitamin C alone, there are still a few drawbacks:
- Even though combining vitamin C with vitamin E and ferulic acid makes it more stable, some degradation still occurs and can still be a significant factor depending on the usage and storage conditions.
- Vitamin C is acidic and may be irritating for people with sensitive skin, especially at the high concentrations required for stimulating collagen production.
How to Use Vitamins C and E:
- Use antioxidants like C E Ferulic in the morning before sunscreen to protect from the damaging rays that get past sunscreen. Sunscreen alone is not enough to protect you from sun damage. A study in 2006, by Haywood, et al found that sunscreens only block 55% of the free radicals caused by sun exposure. For skin to be well protected from sun and pollution, you should use a topical antioxidant and daily sunscreen. While there is no one product that can protect you completely from the sun's rays, studies show that antioxidants like vitamins C and E help. Apply them before and after serious sun exposure to get the best result.
- Apply enough sunscreen to your body to fill a shot glass. Most people don't use enough sunscreen. As a result, they may be getting only half the protection shown on the bottle.
- A single strong blast of UV light can destroy half the skin's natural supply of E, so apply a sunscreen supplemented with C and E before going into the sun. An after-sun salve with vitamin E can help. Some studies show that the anti-inflammatory action kicks in to reduce damage even after you've been in the sun. Use exfoliants (like glycolic acid lotions) and collagen boosters (like retinoids) at night to shed and rebuild cells.
- And remember - ALWAYS start new skin care products one at a time, about a week apart, to make sure you don't get a reaction. Not sure what an allergic reaction looks like - and what products are most likely to cause them? Read our post: 8 Ingredients in Lip Balm & Cosmetics That Cause Allergies.
Where to get Vitamins C, E and Ferulic Acid
The topical combination of vitamin C (15%), vitamin E (1%) and ferulic acid (0.5%) in C E Ferulic was patented by SkinCeuticals. Once absorbed, this serum can't be washed or rubbed off. It continues working for a minimum of 72 hours, making it an excellent step in your skincare routine.
I use SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic myself - and love it so much that I put it on my kids too! This product has set the standard for Vitamin C serums in skincare! But I don't want you to just take my word for it. Google C E Ferulic. You'll find TONS of enthusiastic reviews. It's easily the one product I sell the most.
- Check out this review from Allure.com.
- And here's another from a fan of C E Ferulic - Nicki from FutureDerm.com talks about SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic vs. SkinCeuticals Phloretin C F (Both are great vitamin C products that target different skin conditions). Nicki is a big fan of C E Ferulic too!
To learn more, read our post, C E Ferulic | Why It's Won 35 Beauty Awards. You may also enjoy these:
- Antioxidants - Why Your Skin Needs Them
- 9 Things That Cause Hair Loss
- Light Spots & Hypopigmentation - 9 Ways to Fix Them
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.
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If you liked this post, you'll LOVE these:
Haywood, R., et al, J Invest Dermatol 2006;121:862-868
Farris, P. and Krol, Y., Cosmetics 2015; 2: 355-367; doi:10.3390/cosmetics2040355 - Under Persistent Assault: Understanding the Factors that Deteriorate Human Skin and Clinical Efficacy of Topical Antioxidants in Treating Aging Skin - Download it here: http://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/2/4/355/pdf
The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!
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