When we consider acne and its treatments, it’s important to distinguish between the different types of acne. That’s because acne is a complex phenomenon comprised of at least ten types of inflammation, and its causes can vary wildly. Some acne types form as a result of the natural buildup of sebum and the subsequent inflammation by the notorious Propionibacterium acnes; other types of acne due to hormonal reasons, and yet another case of acne may be due to genetics, or infection by another type of bacteria (such as those of the Streptococcus and Staphylococcus strains). In short, the ailment determines the treatment, and not every cure is the proper fit for your case of acne.
It’s important to establish this before we go about explaining the role of different vitamins, and especially Vitamin C in healthy skin care, as well as in the treatment and prevention of acne.
Known by its scientific name ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has a wide variety of uses. It is an essential vitamin, which means that it is not produced by the human body and it has to be consumed through food or supplements. Vitamin C plays many several important roles in the human body, regulating a number of essential metabolic processes.
For example, the antioxidant is involved in the regeneration of a number of tissues, such as blood vessels and tendons, as well as repairing skin and scar tissue. This is because Vitamin C is a necessary link in the chain of collagen production and regulation, which in turn is the building block of cellular membranes. Collagen is also the compound that maintains skin elasticity and ensures the regeneration of damaged skin.
Furthermore, Vitamin C is an antioxidant - which means that it’s tasked with cleaning the body of the so-called free radicals. Free radicals are compounds that damage the tissues in the body at a deep cellular level, and they’re even able to damage DNA. Antioxidants, one of the most powerful among them being Vitamin C, are very effective in collecting and removing free radicals from the body. This means that Vitamin C, besides regulating the nervous system and keeping skin healthy, also boosts the immune response of the body. Since Vitamin C also possesses collagen producing properties, it’s effective in repairing the damage even if there are free radicals still roaming around the body. This means that Vitamin C is one of the best friends of healthy skin.
Perhaps the best-known use for Vitamin C is as an immunity booster - humanity has learned how much it needed this essential vitamin the hard way. As humans spread around the world in thousands of long-term sailing expeditions, they soon faced a number of diseases due to the lack of sufficient nutrients. Sailors were often struck by Vitamin C deficiency, colloquially known as scurvy, and it took time for the brave scientists of the day to get to the root of this problem. The disease was difficult to endure and gruesome - bleeding lips and gums, sore, red skin, healthy tissue breaking down and falling teeth - a terrible sight to behold.
One of the scientists who decided to grapple with this terrible condition was the Hungarian-American pioneer Albert Szent-Györgyi. During his time, it was known that Vitamin C was crucial in reversing the effects of the terrible condition, but he noticed that merely administering the vitamin wasn’t producing the desired effects. Being Hungarian, Szent-Györgyi discovered that patients who consumed Vitamin C together with the traditional Hungarian goulash (made from paprika) showed much better results. He quickly figured out that Vitamin C needed extra ingredients to become “activated.” At the time, he called this unknown factor ‘Vitamin P’ (as in paprika), but today, that secret activating ingredient is known as bioflavonoids.
Bioflavonoids are the natural compound found in most Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables that help activate the vitamin in the body. This is why natural sources of Vitamin C are much more effective than some synthetic supplements. However, science has stepped up its game since the days of brave Szent-Györgyi, and nowadays there are many Vitamin C supplements that come combined with bioflavonoids. One of the most popular variants are the Acerola Vitamin C supplements, which contain a highly concentrated Vitamin C extracted naturally from the acerola fruit.
As we mentioned in the introduction, determining the type of acne is crucial when considering treatments or trying out home remedies. This is because different types of acne react to different treatments in their own way. What may be a beneficial treatment for one type of acne may not be so good for another. This is important because Vitamin C has two different beneficial effects depending on which type of acne it is used for. As always, if you're using a topical treatment, such as a cream or a serum, it is important to perform a patch test before using it.
One of the most observable effects of taking Vitamin C when dealing with acne is its ability to reduce skin inflammation and redness. There’s a complex interplay of processes as to how and why this happens.
Namely, when the body is attacked by bacterial infection as the cause of acne, the body reacts by releasing specific chemicals to attack and destroy the bacteria. These chemicals are known as leukotrienes, but there’s a catch - bacteria aren’t stupid. They have evolved just enough to sense the release of leukotrienes, and then surround themselves in a protective barrier. This barrier tricks the body’s immune soldiers, the leukotrienes, and redirects them to attack otherwise healthy skin. This causes further inflammation and redness, and it is exactly here that Vitamin C helps. Taken in sufficient doses, Vitamin C makes the immune system less reactive and calmer, so to speak. This makes your body actually ‘fool’ the bacteria by not responding to its decoys, therefore making for clear, healthier skin.
Another mechanism by which Vitamin C reduces redness is its effect of strengthening the tiniest of blood vessels - the capillaries. Capillaries are almost microscopic but crucial. They are in charge of bringing precious nutrients and oxygen to even the deepest levels of skin, up to 25 cells. It is these basal layers of skin cells that cause most of the redness that we observe. Making the walls of the blood vessels stronger, Vitamin C reduces the instances of microbleeding, thereby making your skin look less red and inflamed. This same mechanism is what prevents the future discoloration of skin as well, reducing the chance of ending up with dark spots or light spots.
As we mentioned in passing above, one of the crucial roles of Vitamin C is the promotion of collagen and elastin production. Usually, the production of collagen and elastin - the two building blocks of skin cells depends on the amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and an essential amino acid known as L-Lysine in the body. When these are not present in the necessary amounts, collagen production can fall low, making skin more vulnerable to damage and more difficult to heal.
Scars are especially severe when they occur due to inflammation with cystic acne. Cystic acne, being one of the most severe types of acne, carves deep pockets of pus in the deep layers of the skin, damaging tissues as it goes. Since the inflammation in the case of cystic acne is deep and below the surface, doctors and dermatologists often prescribe strong medications and powerful antibiotics to reverse the process and heal the damage. This is exactly why Vitamin C is often recommended for cystic acne too. Vitamin C boosts the immune system, it reduces inflammation and redness, but also - it enhances collagen end elastin production, helping the skin repair itself as efficiently as possible.
Since Vitamin C is an essential vitamin, it can only be ingested through various foods or synthetically produced supplements. While most supplements today are of higher quality than ever before and so ensure that you will still receive your necessary dose, natural sources of Vitamin C remain the surefire way for fulfilling your needs. Some of the foods intensely rich with Vitamin C include the following:
Besides utilizing natural sources, you can also boost your diet with Vitamin C supplements. When choosing those, be sure to select a product that contains naturally-sourced, so-called ‘activated’ Vitamin C. Products made of acerola are usually the best, since they are extracted from the Vitamin C-rich, naturally activated fruit.
While you can still be healthy with as little as 100mg of Vitamin C per day (which is a single apple or orange once or twice a week) when it comes to medical treatments doctors usually recommend higher doses. In the case of treating acne, medical professionals usually recommend doses of at least 1000mg per day - up to 5000mg of Vitamin C per day in extreme cases. The extremely high dose is intended to provide an intense boost to the immune system and quickly reduce redness and inflammation. In normal circumstances, however, anything up to 100mg per day, and even less is sufficient to maintain your health.
As always, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist prior to beginning a Vitamin C regime for your acne. Doctors and other medical professionals are best equipped to determine the type of acne, its causes, and the appropriate treatment. Never determine the doses by yourself, since you don’t know if you’ll be taking too little or too much. And remember - never pop pimples, regardless of how tempting it may feel.