Vitamin C as an Acne Treatment and The Role of Antioxidants in Skin Health Christi Timmers-Smith Journal of the American Center for Nutrition, vol. 1, no. 1, 2022/09/21

Does Vitamin C Help Acne-Prone Skin?

Much research has been done on vitamin c, also known as ascorbic acid, as an acne treatment. Several studies have shown that both topical and oral Vitamin C use have a positive effect on acne through multiple pathways including reduction of oil production and reducing skin inflammation.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin commonly found in citrus fruits. The antioxidant ascorbic acid provides various health benefits including acting as an anti-inflammation agent. Both oral and topical vitamin C may treat acne and other skin conditions.

Acne is a common inflammatory skin condition caused by blocked hair follicles. Acne typically results in clusters of pimples that look like raised, red bumps on the skin’s surface, most commonly around the face. People suffering from acne often struggle with skin discomfort and reduced self-confidence.

Benefits of Vitamin C and Antioxidants for Skin Health

Vitamin C and other antioxidants have been shown to exhibit the following skin-related benefits:

  • Reduced wrinkles: A clinical trial on the daily use of vitamin C found that three months of continual dosages may smooth fine wrinkles and coarse lines around the face and neck [1].
  • Sun protection: Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage skin and increase skin cancer risks. A clinical study found that vitamin C combined with E and ferulic acid may protect your skin from the sun and reduce the thymine dimer mutations associated with skin cancer [2].
  • Reduced dark spots: Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that causes your body to produce extra melanin in certain areas, resulting in age spots, sun spots, and melasma (brown spots). A clinical study found that topical vitamin C can suppress melanin formation, offering a brightening effect on patients with chloasma, senile freckles, and normal skin [3].
  • Oil production and acne control: Vitamin C can reduce your skin’s oil production, which can improve acne. A clinical study on the effects of a stable form of vitamin C found that the topical application improved participants’ pimples [4].
  • Dry skin prevention: Dry skin can result in various uncomfortable symptoms and conditions. Clinical research found that vitamin C may improve your skin’s protective barrier, allowing you to lock in moisture and prevent dry skin [5].
girl with oranges

Vitamin C Anti-Inflammatory Effects on Skin

Acne and inflammation go hand-in-hand. Inflammation causes the redness, irritation, and swelling symptoms often associated with acne and pimples. Because vitamin C produces systemic anti-inflammatory effects, it can help reduce acne-related skin irritation and redness.

Vitamin C as a Treatment for Acne Scars

Vitamin C stimulates your body’s natural collagen production, which means it can aid in healing scars including those caused by acne [1]. Vitamin C’s collagen synthesis and anti-inflammatory effects can reduce scar redness, inflammation, and appearance.

Acne scars form from mild to severe acne cases. Larger pimples can leave indentations in your skin from the loss of skin tissue. Sometimes you can avoid scars by not picking at the pimples, though severe acne cases or “cystic acne” often result in scars regardless of your skin regimen.

Collagen is a structural protein in the skin and connective tissues. Collagen is integral to your body’s healing mechanisms, promoting skin elasticity and hydration [6]. Increased collagen levels can help scars heal faster, providing various bonus effects like improved nail and hair growth.

Effects of Vitamin C on Acne Related Hyperpigmentation (Dark Spots) of Skin

Excessive UV exposure, acne scarring, and other skin-related injuries can cause hyperpigmentation. The resulting dark skin spots won’t harm your physical health, though they can impact your confidence. Downregulating (reducing cell density and magnitude) melanin production in your body can reduce dark spots and prevent additional ones from forming.

Vitamin C reduces your body’s melanin production with an enzyme called tyrosinase [7]. Downregulation of tyrosinase activity can treat hyperpigmented skin pots and gingival melanin hyperpigmentation (dark spots around gum tissue). 

Clinical research also proves that vitamin C can brighten already-darkened areas. One study found that 19 of 34 participants with dark spots experienced a brightening effect when using a vitamin C topical [3]. Three of 25 participants without dark spots also experienced brighter skin. 

How Long Does It Take for Vitamin C to Clear Skin?

Vitamin C typically take about three months to show results for both topical and oral solutions. Unlike antibacterial or antifungal creams, the vitamin must build up in your system and skin for quite some time, which means you can’t expect immediate results. For optimal effects, you should follow a consistent skin regimen.

For topical vitamin C applications, most dermatologists recommend the following routine:

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. 
  2. Apply the vitamin C cream, ointment, or serum in a thin layer across your face and neck.
  3. Apply a neutral moisturizer and SPF. 

You can wash and moisturize twice daily, though most topicals only require once-per-day applications. Check your vitamin C’s specific instructions before applying. 

For oral supplements, most medical advice states that you should take the tablet in the morning, before breakfast, though taking the pill at night should offer similar effects. Vitamin C has high acidity levels, so taking the supplement with food can reduce gastric distress [8]. 

Clinical research shows that vitamin C does not cause or worsen acne, though it could increase your skin’s vulnerability and sensitivity levels, indirectly resulting in negative effects.

Can Vitamin C Cause Acne or Make It Worse?

Every person’s skin responds to various elements differently. While vitamin C helps many people heal from uncomfortable skin conditions, it may not help you. While vitamin C offers many benefits, it’s always important to consider potential side effects. It is always advisable to speak with a medical professional before starting any new skin treatment.

Viability of Vitamin C as an Acne Treatment

Vitamin C has demonstrated viability as a treatment for moderate to severe acne in both clinical studies and real-world trials. As an oral supplement, ascorbic acid plays an important role in whole-body inflammation reduction, collagen synthesis, and sebum (oil) production. As a topical solution, Vitamin C supplements have shown to reduce inflammation and oil production, but also assist with dry skin and hyperpigmentation. It should be noted that topical agents are usually in conjunction with other supplements which may work synergistically and the effects of which cannot be attributed solely to vitamin C.