When we consider acne vulgaris 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 due to the natural build-up of sebum and the subsequent inflammation by the notorious Propionibacterium acnes. Other causes of acne can be due to a hormonal balance, genetics, or infection caused 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 explain the role of different vitamins in healthy skin care and in the treatment and prevention of acne.
So, can vitamin C help acne and acne scars?
Known by its scientific name, ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant with a wide variety of uses. It's an essential vitamin, which means it's not produced by the human body. Instead, it has to be consumed through food or supplements. Vitamin C plays many important roles in our bodies, regulating essential metabolic processes.
Research ties dietary vitamin C with the regeneration of tissues, such as blood vessels and tendons, and skin and scar tissue repair. This is because vitamin C is a necessary link in the chain of collagen production and regulation, which is the building block of cellular membranes.
Collagen is a compound that maintains skin elasticity and ensures the regeneration of damaged skin. However, many things can reduce the amount of collagen in your body, including age and sun damage caused by UV rays.
Furthermore, vitamin C has powerful antioxidant properties, which means that it's tasked with cleaning the body of so-called free radicals. Free radicals are compounds that damage the tissues in the body at a deep cellular level, and they can even damage DNA.
Antioxidants, one of the most powerful among them being vitamin C, are effective in collecting and removing harmful free radicals from the body. This means that, besides regulating the nervous system and keeping skin healthy, vitamin C also improves the body's immune system functioning.
Since it's essential for collagen synthesis, it's effective in repairing free radical damage even if they are still roaming around the body. This means that this vitamin is one of the best friends of healthy skin.
Humanity has learned how much it needs 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. It caused 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 this 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 and the traditional Hungarian goulash (made from paprika) showed much better results. He quickly realized 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 synthetic supplements.
However, science has stepped up its game since the days of brave Szent-Györgyi, and nowadays, many vitamin C supplements come combined with bioflavonoids. One of the most popular variants is Acerola vitamin C supplements, which contain a highly concentrated vitamin C extracted naturally from the acerola fruit.
Can this vitamin help with the appearance of acne and acne scarring?
As we mentioned in the introduction, determining the type of acne is crucial when considering treatments or trying out home remedies for this skin condition. This is because different types of acne react to different treatments. What may be a beneficial treatment for one type of acne may not be good for another. This is important because vitamin C has two beneficial effects, depending on which kind of acne it's used for.
There are always risk factors when trying any treatment for the first time. As always, if you're using a topical vitamin C treatment for acne lesions, such as a cream or a vitamin C serum, it's important to perform a patch test before using it, especially if you have sensitive skin. The last thing you want to do is irritate your skin barrier even further.
One of the most obvious effects of vitamin C on acne is its immune response. It can reduce skin inflammation and redness. There's a complex interplay of processes as to how and why this happens.
When the body is attacked by bacterial infection, it reacts by releasing specific chemicals to 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 surround themselves with 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.
But here is where vitamin C helps. Taken in sufficient doses, it makes the immune system less reactive and calmer. Your body can then actually 'fool' the bacteria by ignoring its decoys, ensuring clear, healthier skin.
This vitamin reduces redness by strengthening the tiniest of blood vessels - the capillaries. Capillaries are microscopic but crucial. They're in charge of bringing precious nutrients and oxygen to even the deepest levels of the skin - up to 25 cells. These basal layers of skin cells cause most of the redness we observe. By strengthening the walls of the blood vessels, vitamin C reduces the instances of micro bleeding, thereby reducing redness and inflammation.
This same mechanism prevents future skin discoloration, reducing the chance of ending up with dark or light spots.
As mentioned above, this vitamin is crucial for collagen and elastin production - the two building blocks of skin cells. Their production usually depends on the amounts of vitamin C, E, and 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 slowing wound healing. This is especially dangerous when you have acne vulgaris.
Scars are especially severe when they occur due to inflammation with cystic acne. Cystic acne doesn't just consist of inflamed bumps. It's one of the most severe types of acne, carving pockets of pus in the deep layers of the skin and damaging the skin tissue as it goes. It forms raised scar tissue and creates visible acne scars. Since the inflammation in the case of cystic acne is below the surface, doctors and dermatologists often prescribe strong medications and powerful antibiotics to reverse the process and heal the damage.
This is why vitamin C is often recommended for severe acne and acne-prone skin. Using vitamin C can boost the immune system, reduce your skin's inflammatory response and enhance elastin and collagen production, helping the skin repair itself as efficiently as possible and reducing acne scars.
Quick Tip - Amid an acne breakout, avoid popping those pimples! It may be tempting, but doing so can lead to dark spots and post-inflammatory scars.
Research shows that using vitamin c can help with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This skin condition results from an increase in melanin production following inflammation. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology suggests that hyperpigmentation can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies.
Studies also show that combining vitamins E and C might reduce the redness and damage caused by harmful UV rays.
This essential vitamin can only be ingested through various foods or synthetically produced supplements.
While most supplements today are of higher quality than ever before, natural sources of vitamin C remain the sure fire way to fulfill your needs. Foods rich in this vitamin include the following:
Besides utilizing natural sources, you can boost your diet with supplements. When choosing them, select a product that contains a naturally sourced, active form of vitamin C. Products made of acerola are usually the best since they are extracted from the vitamin C-rich, naturally activated fruit.
You can also try topical vitamin C. There are many vitamin c serums, creams, and oils available on the market that can soothe acne wounds and improve the appearance of dark spots. Just make sure to choose wisely if you have sensitive skin.
While you can still be healthy and reap the effects of vitamin C with as little as 100mg per day (a single apple or orange once or twice a week), doctors usually recommend higher doses for medical treatments.
In the case of treating acne, medical professionals usually recommend doses of at least 1000mg per day - or up to 5000mg per day in extreme cases. This extremely high dose is intended to provide an intense boost to the immune system and quickly reduce redness and inflammation.
However, in normal circumstances, anything up to 100mg per day and even less is sufficient to maintain your health.
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Vitamin C (otherwise known as ascorbic acid and L-ascorbic acid) is essential for our body. There are lots of skin benefits that come with it. This potent antioxidant can improve acne and the appearance of acne scars. It comes in the form of dietary vitamin C or skincare products such as vitamin C serums and creams.
As always, it's best to consult a dermatologist before using vitamin C for your acne or any other skincare conditions. Doctors and other medical professionals are best equipped to determine the type of acne, its causes, and the appropriate treatment. For example, if your acne is caused by a hormonal imbalance, other treatments might serve you better.
Never determine the doses yourself since you don't know if you'll be taking too little or too much.