Vitamin C in skin health

Chances are you take vitamin C to fight off colds and empower your immune system. In fact, its immune boosting benefits are so well-known that many people increase its uptake during winters. But the fact is this powerhouse vitamin is a multi-tasker and plays an important role in your overall health. Vitamin C works wonders for your heart health and keeps your bones, muscles, eyes, gums, teeth and hair strong and healthy.

Vitamin C is an amazing nutrient for your skin health too [1]. It is an incredible anti-oxidant and plays an indispensable role in collagen synthesis – two properties responsible for most of the health benefits it offers, including its role in skincare. 

Required for collagen synthesis

Most people think of collagen as a skin component that keeps skin healthy and wrinkles at bay. The fact is that without collagen, your body will literally fall apart. It is the most abundant of fibres present in all your connective tissues – giving them strength, support and form. Your body has different types of collagen present in connective tissue of your skin, organs, bone, teeth, muscle, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

Your skin is made of 75 % collagen. This long fibrous protein provides structural integrity to the skin, making it firm and strong. Now, your body can’t make collagen without vitamin C. The water-soluble vitamin is an essential component for collagen synthesis, repair and maintenance. It is also an essential co-factor for enzymes responsible for stabilizing and cross-linking the collagen molecules.

Protects skin from photodamage as an anti-oxidant

Overexposure to UV rays will damage skin in a number of direct and indirect ways.

UV rays generate free radicals in the skin that alter and damage cellular DNA and other structures such as lipids and proteins, including collagen. When you get sunburn (pink or red skin with too much sun exposure), it is a sign that UV rays have damaged DNA in your skin cells. Repeated sunburn increases your chances of developing deadly melanoma and other skin cancers later in life. 

UV rays, in particular UVA types, penetrate deep into the skin. Over a period of continuous exposure, this leads to abnormal build-up of protein elastin and production of enzymes that cause rapid break-down of collagen and other proteins in the extracellular matrix. [2] This damage to collagen fibres is followed by imperfect repair and formation of weak, fragmented collagen – contributing to premature skin aging or photoaging. Appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, skin sagging uneven depigmentation, fragile skin and rough texture is all a part of this damage.

Our skin is naturally equipped with anti-oxidants and other protective mechanisms to deal with UV induced oxidative stress. In fact, vitamin C is one of the most abundant anti-oxidants present in our skin. But exposure to environmental stressors such as UV rays, smoking, chemicals and pollution reduces its availability.

This is how oral supplementation with vitamin C may help control sunburns, premature wrinkles, dryness and pigmentation problems caused by UV rays:

  • Donates free electrons to defuse damaging free radicals, an effect not observed with sunscreens.
  • Boosts healthy collagen production
  • Protects from both UVA and UVB rays
  • Increases the efficacy of sunscreens
Vitamin C also lowers inflammation, making it useful in the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne vulgaris and rosacea. The vitamin works by inhibiting NFkB, a signalling molecule that is known to activate pro-inflammatory cytokines. While Vitamin C is quite effective as a standalone nutrient in providing protection against photodamage, studies show it works best when used along with Vitamin E. 

Helps in wound healing

Vitamin C helps boost new collagen synthesis. During the wound healing process, for example, after a minor cut, burns or surgery, the body needs to make more collagen to form new connective tissue. This upsurge in metabolic requirement causes your body to utilize more vitamin C.

Both animal and human studies show that vitamin C deficiency leads to poor wound healing. [3] Low levels also lead to formation of new tissue that is weak and defective. Supplementing with vitamin C, especially in people who are deficient, is known to facilitate wound healing.

Additionally, vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant that destroys excess free radicals generated at the site of injury, thus lowering cell damage and inflammation. The vitamin also regulates the synthesis of keratinocytes, cells that migrate to the wound bed and close the gap created by the wound. This event is required to restore the barrier function of the skin, and is important in lowering the risk of infection. [4] [5]

Make vitamin C an important part of your skincare program if you want your skin to look and feel better. Vitamin C rich foods and high-quality vitamin C supplements are great ways to provide the additional supply of vitamin C your body needs to make healthy collagen, repair everyday wear and tear and protect against sun damage.

References:

  1. Pullar et al. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients 2017
  2. Quan et al. Matrix-degrading Metalloproteinases in Photoaging. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2010
  3. Vitamin C and Skin Health. Linus Pauling Institute
  4. Savini I et al. Characterization of keratinocyte differentiation induced by ascorbic acid: protein kinase C involvement and vitamin C homeostasis. J Invest Dermatol. 2002
  5. Boyce et al. Vitamin C regulates keratinocyte viability, epidermal barrier, and basement membrane in vitro, and reduces wound contraction after grafting of cultured skin substitutes. J Invest Dermatol. 2002