Vitamin C is an essential nutrient — our bodies don't produce it on their own, so we must get it through the foods we eat, such as fruits and vegetables. While it's most known for supporting immune health, the vitamin C skin benefits are important to take note of, especially as you get older.
You can apply vitamin C topically via serums and moisturizers, but skincare isn't the only source of this nutrient. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants like vitamin C can have skin benefits, too.
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Here, Macrene Alexiades, MD, a New York-based, board-certified dermatologist and Associate Clinical Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, shares why she recommends eating more vitamin C for your skin health.
1. It May Help Protect Skin From Damage
Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that minimize or neutralize oxidative stress, which is caused by a buildup of free radicals, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that, when left unchecked, can cause DNA damage that leads to negative health effects like cancer.
"Vitamin C helps protect your skin cells against free radical damage," Alexiades explains. This is important for skin health because the skin is subjected to a decent amount of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, which increases the risk of skin cancer.
UV light is a source of free radicals, so too much sun exposure can raise the risk of skin cancer — which can present itself as itchy moles, misshapen moles or other skin abnormalities. An antioxidant-rich diet may help prevent damage caused by free radicals that lead to skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
2. It Plays a Role in Wrinkle Prevention
Free radical damage doesn't just raise your risk for skin cancer — it's also linked to aging skin, such as sun spots and wrinkles, per the Cleveland Clinic.
UV radiation contributes to the production of free radicals in the skin, and it's a key driver of photoaging, according to a January 2020 review in Current Dermatology Reports. Photoaging, also known as extrinsic aging, involves premature changes in the skin caused by chronic sun exposure. Characteristic features of photoaging usually include a loss in skin elasticity and wrinkling.
"As an antioxidant, vitamin C is one of the best vitamins for aging skin, and could be the key to maintaining a smooth and even complexion," Alexiades says, adding that it also helps promote collagen production.
She also points out that vitamin C promotes collagen production, which may also help offset the effects of aging. Over time, your skin naturally loses collagen. Free radicals can speed up collagen loss, but antioxidants help prevent it and keep your skin firm.
3. It Helps Heal Wounds
Another way vitamin C supports healthy skin is through wound healing, Alexiades says. In fact, vitamin C is involved in all phases of wound healing, according to 2013 research in the British Journal of Community Nursing.
This is mainly because it supports collagen production. Collagen is a type of structural protein found in skin tissue. Collagen formation helps stimulate new tissue growth, which is part of how wounds heal themselves, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). A vitamin C deficiency can even hinder wound healing.
Vitamin C is especially important in the prevention of scurvy symptoms like the impaired ability to heal wounds, according to a March 2020 review in Nutrients. Scurvy is caused by a severe deficiency of vitamin C in the diet. It mainly affects people who are malnourished.
4. It Supports Skin During All Seasons
Vitamin C isn't only important during cold and flu season. Alexiades says the antioxidant can support skin health throughout the year. "In the warmer seasons, it may protect your skin from sun damage and soothe sunburns," she says. "In the colder months, it can provide hydration and brighten your skin."
Getting enough vitamin C throughout the year may help keep symptoms of atopic dermatitis, aka eczema, at bay. Applying vitamin C topically may also help, per September 2018 research in Dermatologic Therapy.
How to Eat More Vitamin C
While vitamin C is available in supplement form, the best way to get vitamin C is through eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
"For more vitamin C in your diet, be sure to eat fruits like strawberries and pineapples and veggies like dark leafy greens, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli," Alexiades says.
- Red bell pepper
- Snow peas
- Cleveland Clinic: "Why You Should Care About Free Radicals"
- Skin Cancer Foundation: "Can Your Diet Help Prevent Skin Cancer?"
- Current Dermatology Reports: "Photoaging: a Review of Current Literature"
- Nutrients: “Diet and Skin Aging—From the Perspective of Food Nutrition”
- British Journal of Community Nursing: "Vitamin C: a wound healing perspective"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "How wounds heal"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Vitamin C"
- My Food Data: "Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin C"
- Dermatologic Therapy: "Topical micronutrients in atopic dermatitis-An evidence-based review"