Out of all the so-called “miracle” ingredients on the skin care scene, it can be hard to tell which ones are the real deal and which are little more than snake oil. One nutrient that’s proven to be worth the hype? Vitamin C—a powerful, safe, science-backed compound that doesn’t just refine your complexion, but actually protects it from future damage.
Here, we break down vitamin C’s benefits for skin, whether you should get it topically or through food, and how to find it on an ingredient list, since it usually goes incognito. (As all the biggest superstars often do.)
How Does Vitamin C Benefit Skin?
Vitamin C is an anti-aging must-have for several reasons. First, it aids in the production of collagen—the protein fibers that give skin its elasticity, making it look smooth and supple. (Starting at age 20, collagen production starts to decline by 1% per year, so just about anyone can benefit from a little boost in this department.)
Vitamin C also works as an antioxidant. Every day, your skin is bombarded by stressors like UV rays and various air pollutants, resulting in free radicals—harmful compounds that damage skin cells. The oxidative stress they create can lead to fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. But antioxidants like vitamin C treat the damage caused by free radicals while defending cells against environmental assailants.
As if that weren’t enough, this potent active also has skin-brightening benefits. Its acidic pH allows it to slough away dead skin cells, revealing a youthful glow with regular use.
The Best Forms of Vitamin C for Skin
Oranges, mangoes, bell peppers, strawberries, cantaloupes, and kiwis are all great sources of vitamin C. But applying the nutrient topically delivers its many benefits to your skin more directly.
Here’s the thing, though: While you might see vitamin C splashed across the front of a product’s label, you won’t always spot it on the actual ingredients list. That’s because gentler derivatives of pure vitamin C are often used—two of the safest being tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate and magnesium ascorbyl phosphate. Both lead to the same end result, but they’re used in different types of formulas. (Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is fat-soluble and more easily absorbed, which is why it is in our No. 1 Brightening Facial Oil. Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is water-soluble and used in our No 1. Brightening Facial Mist.)
Given how effective this simple nutrient is, it’s no surprise that we use it in tons of products, including our Cleansing Balm and our Color Pinch Cream Blusher. Clearly, it’s a safer skin care hero—and worthy of a spot (or several) in your daily beauty routine.