Does Vitamin C serum work?

Does Vitamin C Serum Work?

I have long wondered does Vitamin C Serum work? It has been common knowledge for quite a while that taking vitamin C is supposed to help with colds, but more recently I have been seeing recommendations to use in on my face.



What?!?! Why?

Can a topical application of vitamin C help my skin?

I began to research this claim to find out if  Vitamin C serum works. I learned that there are many different types of vitamin C. I chose to focus specifically on Ascorbic Acid for several reasons:

  • Ascorbic Acid is identical to vitamin C found in fruits and other food. It is the natural form.
  • It is effective, ascorbic acid was used in the studies I read
  • It is easy to get a hold of, it is common.
  • It is cost effective. You will not break the bank buying a small bag of the powder form if you choose. Ascorbic acid is an inexpensive ingredient in cosmetic products if you choose to buy serum.
  • Many DIY Vitamin C serums use ascorbic acid

OK, so with that out of the way I want to mention one other form I read a study on and that is Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate.

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate:
This is an oil-soluble form of vitamin C ester that is more expensive than ascorbic acid. It is thought to absorb more readily into the skin.
This study said:

“It is our theory that water-soluble ascorbic acid is slowly released into the stratum corneum and acts primarily as an antioxidant in protecting the skin, while lipid-soluble Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate penetrates directly into the dermis and epidermis acting both as an antioxidant and a direct stimulant of new collagen.”
– Study

Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate sounds promising, but the research is limited and the above snippet is a theory, not proven a fact. Plus it is more expensive. But, studies have shown it to be effective and this safety assessment deems it safe.

A Look at Ascorbic Acid

So, with that out of the way, the remainder of the article will focus on studies that use ascorbic acid.

Let’s have a look at what research says about Topical Vitamin C, in the form of a serum made from ascorbic acid.

Here we have a long-term study. Well, 6 months. OK, that’s long term for a celebrity marriage maybe, but ok, its a decent amount of time for an official study.

This study looked at 20 women ages 51 to 59. The women were only allowed to use the Vitamin C cream on the test area, with no other skin treatments, creams etc. They applied the cream to the lower neck, upper chest area, and to the forearm.

Some women received a cream with  5% Vitamin C, other women receive a cream with NO active ingredients, so a comparison could be made between the two.

All ladies applied the cream once per day for 6 months.

The study was double-blind, meaning the test ladies nor the researchers knew who had real vitamin C cream and who had the cream with no vitamin C.

Results were evaluated using several means, including:

  • a 3 mm punch biopsy (ouch!), Basically, they took a small chunk of skin and processed it, then stained it so the collagen, elastin and so forth was visible under a microscope. This also allowed them to see the damage. eg, broken collagen fibrils.
  • Skin relief, using silicone molds. OK, if you ever used plaster of Paris to make a relief, this should give you an idea of what they did. They used silicone rubber to made replicas of the surface of the skin area that was being treated so they could measure the ridges in the skin, to see how deep the ridges were, how many, and if they were improving etc.

Quick Definition: Relief

In this context, relief refers to a physical object, mold or cast of the skin. Like a relief map will show peaks and valleys. A cast or mold can create a relief.

  • Dermatologist ratings of hydration, smoothness, fine lines etc
  • Test subject self-evaluation of their own skin condition and satisfaction.

OK, the last two evaluation methods are not as scientific as I would like, so I will focus on the first two evaluation methods.

The bottom line results from this study:

” Significant favorable modifications of skin relief were induced, leading to the reappearance of an isotropic surface pattern.”


OK, Translation, please.

The skin became more smooth and even over time.

FYI, isotropic means “Having the same value when measured from different directions” and yes, I did have to look that up.  

Basically more isotropic means it was more even.

The study goes on to say:

” Optical profilometry of a skin replica was used to quantify these changes. It is a valid and objective measure of skin topography “

OK, they used some type of optics to view the profile and analyze the skin topography, basically, looking at the topography is a way to see the peaks and valleys, and one way to look at wrinkles.

Relief of skin Comparing Vitamin C serum use

This study went on to say:

” This study showed two particular changes concerning skin relief: the reappearance of small furrows (which are typical of young people) and a decrease of deeper furrows” Yay!

The study found that vitamin C promoted the growth of healthy elastic fibers, and increased composite fibers in 2/3rds of the patients studied.

Wait….what about the other 1/3 who showed only small improvement in elastic fibers?

Thanks to the skin biopsies performed the researchers were able to see that these ladies had little if any existing damage to elastin fibers to start with.

I will also mention that the dermatologists and test subject evaluations in the results of the study were quite positive, but since these evaluations are not something we can put in a test tube and measure I will leave it at that, but you could always read the study to see what they said.

Does Topical application of Vitamin C Serum increase Collagen?

The last study showed a lot of evidence that Vitamin C helps with Elastic fibers, but does it also help build collagen as some proponents say?

This Study followed 10 women ages 50 to 60. They each applied a 5% cream to one forearm, and a placebo cream on the other forearm. They did this for 6 months. At the end of the 6 months, biopsies were taken from each arm.

This study found that

“our data demonstrate that in postmenopausal women the topical application of vitamin C is able to produce a coordinated increase in the steady-state level of the mRNA for collagen I and III as observed in six testers, and of their post-translational extracellular enzymes, as observed in at least, seven of the 10 testers. We speculated that the non-responders might already have a concentration of the vitamin in skin great enough for maximal expression of the ascorbate-responsive mRNA”

This study said that those most responsive to the vitamin C serum were those testers who had lower levels of vitamin C in their blood. The researchers also found that the level of photodamage did not correlate with the level of responsiveness to the topical vitamin C.

So, your intake of Vitamin C, or lack of, may determine how responsive your skin is to vitamin C serum.

Level of Vitamin C as we Age: The Surprising Finding you may not have Heard

According to Oregon State University’s Linus  Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center  Older adults have considerably lower plasma levels of vitamin C, which reminds me of what I read in the study.  These researchers said this:

“The results indicate that the functional activity of the dermal cells is not maximal in postmenopausal women and can be increased.”

“…reduced biosynthetic activity related to chronologic aging and/or a low tissue concentration of the vitamin are the likely targets of the topical treatment.”

The study said that the women who saw the best results DIRECTLY correlated to the level of Vitamin C in their blood. Women with lower levels of vitamin C in their blood saw better results, meaning if you are seeing good results with your serum, it could be you are actually lacking in vitamin C in your diet.

Not only could you be lacking Vitamin C in your diet, you may not realize you are lacking it because you consume the RDA recommended amount, but as we age, we need more vitamin C. Oxidize stress uses up vitamin C, and smokers need twice as much as non-smokers.

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that I may need to eat more Vitamin C. Yes, it only takes a very small amount to prevent scurvy, but as the study said, of dermal cells may not be functioning at full capacity. Researchers believe the capacity has the potential to be increased. Possibly vitamin C intake, and topical serum, can help optimize those dermal cells.

Can Vitamin C serum improve the structure of our skin?

Skin layers epidermis and dermis

First, let me start by mentioning that the skin has several layers.

The dark purple layer is the epidermis. The light  layer is the dermis.

Epidermal-Dermal Junction: Where the dermis meets the epidermis. 

Papillary Dermis: The upper part of the dermis

Basically, it is well documented that the height of the epidermal-Dermal junction decreases as we age, and decreases in photoaged skin.

These researchers say yes, topical vitamin C can help restore structure in the skin. They studied women from all age groups, age 18 to 80  for 4 months and did a follow up at 2 months post-testing. The women applied vitamin C on the forearm once a day for 4 months.

“Our data indicate that the topical application of vitamin C partially restores the anatomical structure of the epidermal-dermal junction in young skin and increases the number of nutritive capillary loops in the papillary dermis close to the epidermal tissue in the aged skin of postmenopausal women.

The researchers say an increase in density of the papillae on the vitamin C treated skin. The researchers noted that along with more dense papillae, new blood vessels grew and that these new vessels were anatomically normal and healthy. Well, it’s always good when things grow like they should, I suppose.

The Final Verdict- Vitamin C Serum work?

Based on what I learned, here is what I am doing. I take a vitamin C supplement of 400mg at night. That way I get enough vitamin C on the inside. I also use a vitamin C serum on my face, neck and arms, followed by a moisturizer and SUNSCREEN (which is another topic I plan to cover) during the day.

Thank you for reading, and goodbye till next time,


Miss Katie Lyn

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