Hey hey! So we are legit obsessed with this topic: Vitamin C and Acne. This post is all about the many ways vitamin C can benefit your skin, both topically and internally. As always, we will include actionable tips that can reinvigorate your skincare routine and assist you in being an ultra-savvy consumer.
What is Vitamin C?
Maybe you already know about vitamin C for its iron-absorbing properties or its fame as a cold-battling aid, or perhaps you’ve already heard about the benefits of using a vitamin C supplement for skin health. That said, there is oh-so-much more to it. Let's start from the basics, though, what is vitamin C, and why is it so important for your skin? Basically, this vitamin is a nutrient (also called ascorbic acid) that acts kinda like a Swiss army knife. That is, it has many different functions in your body.
Other than helping you absorb iron – and keep it safely stored so your body can actually use it – it also makes up things like your blood vessels, muscles, the cartilage of your joints, and the collagen of your skin and bones. It is crucial to your healing. It is also an antioxidant, which means that it helps protect you from harmful things like sun damage cigarette smoke, and tiny little toxins (called "free radicals") that your body creates when it processes food. (1)
So, where do you get this vital nutrient? Well, you gotta get it from somewhere, since your body doesn't have the ability to make it on its own. The most famous vitamin C food (don't get it confused with seafood!) are oranges, limes, lemons, and other citrus fruits. Other vegetables like tomatoes (technically a fruit, right?), broccoli, spinach, and brussels sprouts also have it, but in smaller quantities. Barring that, you're still covered by supplements!
The History of Vitamin C
When you think of vitamin C, the first thing that probably comes to mind is how we tend to use it to treat things like the common cold. While it’s definitely an amazing immune system booster and a must in any skincare routine, its history actually goes way further back than that. In fact, long before we started using vitamin C tablets for pimples, sailors used to carry citrus fruits with them on long voyages to help ward off scurvy, a condition that can occur when you’re super deficient in this vitamin. If you ever asked yourself, “Why do pimples hurt so bad?” vitamin C may be part of the solution you’re looking for. (2)
Suffice to say, scurvy isn’t exactly pretty, and it could have some pretty detrimental effects on your body if it’s allowed to go unchecked. We’re talking about bleeding gums, teeth falling out, muscle weakness, and the most horrible thing of all? Old wounds would literally open back up. Ouch. It took a few more years, though, for a Hungarian biochemist by the name of Albert Szent-Györgyito to realize that you needed to supplement the vitamin C with bioflavonoids to improve their efficacy.
These days, it’s fortunately much easier to get your vitamin C, and scurvy is pretty rare and not as common as it used to be. While it’s tempting to just pick up a bottle of multivitamins at the store, it’s always better to try to get your nutrition from whole foods. That way, you’re getting all of those necessary bioflavonoids to help make sure the vitamin is absorbed, and you get all of the goodness extracted from them.
What Are Vitamin C Supplements?
You’ve probably heard a thing or two about the benefits of taking supplements for your acne in your quest for clear healthy skin. Maybe your friends have told you all about the wonders of taking vitamin B5 for acne breakouts, or perhaps you read about the link between vitamin A and acne and are curious to learn more. No matter where you first found out about taking vitamins for your skin, you’re now ready to find out if a vitamin C acne treatment is your next step in getting radiant, smooth skin.
Well, this brings us right to our next point: what are vitamin C supplements, and should you be taking them for your skin’s health? Vitamin C supplements are exactly what they sound like. They’re a type of OTC pill or powder mix that you can simply purchase to help you meet your RDA of this important water-soluble vitamin. Because they need bioflavonoids to be more effective, many of them contain other ingredients to help make sure you can absorb them better (like antioxidants or even iron).
You can find them at any specialty health food store, and they’re actually fairly affordable, too. And because they are water-soluble, don’t be shy about taking vitamin C for pimples. It’s actually really hard to overdo it, as your body will just flush out any extra vitamin traces remaining in your system. That said, some people only tend to reach for vitamin C when they feel like they have the sniffles coming on, but you shouldn’t only take it when you want to ward off a cold. Because it’s so good for you, you should try to get enough of it in your day-to-day diet, and not just from pills or other isolated supplements.
Vitamin C internally: when we take vitamin C supplements it’s usually to build immunity during cold season, and the most common one is the Emergen-C line. While this can be effective, this option contains added sugar and doesn’t include bioflavonoids, which are critical to maximize synthesis and absorption. Plus, we really do think that vitamin C should be a year-round thing. Immunity is key to skin health so if you are supporting your immune system regularly, you will enjoy better health and your body will be able to fight off acne more easily. Acne is inflammatory and usually exists as an infection, so it’s highly related to immune function. This is partly why we break out during stress- the impact on our immune system makes it easier for acne to surface and makes it hard for us to heal it!
The fact that everyone with a pulse deals with stress is one of the reasons we like vitamin C year round. Your immune system gets called on all the time, not just during cold (or COVID) season. Giving it all the support you can is a wise move, and the benefits can be seen over time in your skin complexion.
How Does Vitamin C Affect Acne?
Simply put, if you’ve been thinking about your acne and supplements and what route is the best to take for your skin’s needs, then you really can’t go wrong with vitamin C. This vitamin effectively battles the effects of acne on the damaged skin. Be it inflammation, scar, hyperpigmentation, or even just redness, the use of vitamin C tablets for acne can help resolve these issues faster than if it was left alone. Let's break this down in more detail together, shall we, friends?
May Reduce Acne Inflammation
Once pores are more blocked than Main Street during rush hour, it can mark the beginning of inflammation, which is a type of immune response. We are not talking white and blackheads here, but severe skin irritation with redness and epic “ouch!” levels of pain. Fortunately, vitamin C can help alleviate inflammation by neutralizing free radicals, those little annoying molecules that damage your cells and cause can also lead to typos in your genetic code.(3) It can also help pimples & scars heal faster.
May Help Improve Acne Scar Appearance
You are likely not Wolverine, which means that if your skin doesn't heal properly after an acne breakout, you may end up with acne scars – unless, of course, you use a vitamin C supplement for acne scars to help offset it. But what kind of scars could you be facing? There are actually three main types of acne-related scars that could linger on your skin, which are:
- Atrophic scars. Atrophic acne scars happen when there's a lack of material to properly rebuild, so there's less skin tissue and collagen at the injured site.
- Hypertrophic scars. Hypertrophic scars happen when collagen is produced in excess and the scar tissue rises above skin level.
- Keloid scars. Finally, keloids are the final boss of skin repair (so to speak), since they expand beyond the original injury.
Topical vitamin C helps to increase the production of collagen. It's a major advantage if that happens early on in the healing process, too, since collagen is a vital protein in scar formation. But extra collagen isn’t just a positive for fighting against scars. Having more collagen due to vitamin C also helps your skin to be more elastic and fights back against those pesky fine lines and wrinkles, too. (4)
May Reduce Hyperpigmentation
Another perk of vitamin C is its usefulness against hyperpigmentation and melasma. You know what we’re talking about here: those so-called “liver spots” that can show up in our thirties or forties, during pregnancy, or following an acne breakout. Because it has skin-brightening properties (thanks to its tyrosinase-inhibiting abilities), you can say goodbye to any lingering discoloration sooner than you can say, “Sayonara, sunspot.” (5)
May Clear Skin Redness
Vitamin C has amazing anti-inflammatory properties, too. This means that if your skin is struggling with redness – regardless if it’s due to active breakouts or even rosacea – using this vitamin can help soothe it and calm any flare-ups. Whether you use a topical serum or you take oral vitamin C supplements, you’ll start to notice a significant reduction in redness and irritation after introducing it into your routine. (6)
How Much Vitamin C Should I Take?
We do get a lot of C from our fruits (and some veggies), but if taken as a high quality supplement the extra layer of protection can make a huge difference in the long run both in texture, wrinkles, and acne.. Our favorite C supplements are the Solaray brand with bioflavonoid concentrate here and the liposomal C here. If you are on a budget and plan to take this regularly, the Solaray brand is high quality and very affordable.
Taking a C supplement supports better skin aging as this nutrient plays a pivotal role in synthesizing new collagen protein.We start to produce less and less (and less quality) collagen as we age and are exposed to oxidative stress, so this wingman can mean the difference between looking decent and looking great. The relationship between collagen production and vitamin c is well documented, and thankfully, this is an easy thing to check off our wellness lists.
The amount of vitamin C that you’re wanting to take depends largely on what you’re going to use it for. If you’re just using it for maintenance, then you can take the recommended daily allowance (RDA), which is about 75 mg per day. However, if you’re trying to fight off an active breakout, then you’re going to want to step that up to “healing levels” of dosage. Studies have shown that anywhere between 500 mg to 2,000 can be effective, but it doesn’t hurt to take more if you want to take a more aggressive approach to treating your breakouts. (7 & 8)
PRO TIP: About 2,000 – 4,000 mg/day is a good level to stick with- although taking more is unlikely to harm anything!
If you live in a large city or are regularly exposed to smog or other environmental pollutants, you NEED to be taking C every day to help combat this extra layer of environmental stress.
How Long Does It Take Vitamin C to Clear Acne?
It’s understandable to want to get results overnight when dealing with acne, especially since this skin condition can be a real bummer. For the people asking how long do pimples last, you should know that it varies depending on the type of acne. You’re going to have to be patient as it does take a little bit of time for it to kick in and start working. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait long, and those amazing vitamin C supplement benefits for skin health will make their appearance before you know it. Studies have shown that healing starts working in as little as a week or less, and you can expect to notice a significant improvement by week two. By week three and beyond, those breakouts will be waving buh-bye and you’ll be well on your way to having clear skin. (9) This works especially well in conjunction with MINDBODYSKIN hormonal acne supplement.
Can Vitamin C Cause Acne?
With all of this hype around using a vitamin C supplement for acne, the last thing you want to do is find out that all of your efforts have backfired and you’ve got new breakouts to face across your skin tone because you went overboard on it. If you’re worried about whether vitamin C can cause acne, now’s your time to let out a big sigh of relief. The chances are pretty much slim to none. That said, you’ll want to introduce it slowly. If you add too much at first, it can irritate your acne-prone skin, possibly leading to blemishes. If it happens, no biggie. Dial it back a few days, baby your skin, then start over at a lower dose. Easy peasy, friends. (10)
PRO TIP: We did want to take this moment to tell you about what vitamins can cause acne. While certain supplements are going to be your new best friends, there are others you’re going to steer clear from. You already know how great vitamin B5 is for our skin, but on the other side of the coin is vitamin B6 and B12. Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 acne breakouts are much more common than you might think. The same could be said for vitamin D and acne, too. Sure, they’re necessary for your health, but if you overdo it, it’ll be Pimple City before you know it.
Does Drinking Vitamin C Help Acne?
Of course, taking vitamin C supplements and eating foods rich in it can help clear your skin. But can drinking your vitamin C do anything for your breakouts? Well, they’re just as effective as any other OTC vitamin C supplement, so it really depends upon the dosage. We want to throw out a quick warning here, though, about drinking it. Many beverages – such as fortified orange juice – aren’t that high in this vitamin, and many of them contain added sugars. And sugar, as you probably already know, tends to be very inflammatory and may lead to more breakouts. We’d recommend steering away from drinking your vitamin C if possible, as there are much better sources out there that you can use. (11)
Will Vitamin C Serum Help Acne?
Research has shown that topical vitamin C can be amazing for your skin. With all of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits crammed into it, you really can’t go wrong with using a vitamin C serum in your nightly routine. Remember to store it out of direct sunlight, though, and use only serums packed in opaque bottles to avoid oxidation. But yes, if you’re wondering if using a vitamin C serum for acne is worth it, we strongly believe that it totally is! (12)
Vitamin C externally: when we use serums that contain vitamin C we generally see a brightening effect, along with potentially better UV protection. Yay for this! Especially if you have dark spots, melasma, or acne scars, a C serum can be game changing. We prefer to use vitamin c bioflavonoids specifically, as these seem to be the real change-makers at the cellular level. The CLEARSTEM serum called “CLEARity” is designed to unclog pores AND break down dark spots and melasma. This is hard to do without creating additional sun-sensitivity, so we actually infused this serum with Vitamin C bioflavonoids for extra antioxidant activity along with better sun defense. MAJOR win for anyone who wants a clearer, brighter complexion- and it means you don’t need an additional Vitamin C serum. Win-win!
Is Vitamin C Good For Acne Oily Skin?
Vitamin C is also a major boon for those of you with oily skin, too. Because it’s so high in antioxidants, it can help prevent your skin’s oil from oxidizing. Yes, you read that right. Sebum, just like any other oil, can go rancid. Once it does, it’s just like setting out a welcome mat for C. acnes bacteria. But by preventing this from happening by taking that vitamin C supplement for acne, you can help prevent those breakouts before they start. (13)
Can Vitamin C Serums Cause Pimples?
For the most part, there is very little risk of your vitamin C serum triggering a breakout. However, if there is anything questionable in it – such as super heavy, comedogenic oils or any other pore-clogging ingredients – then yes, it may cause pimples. Another thing to keep in mind is that you really want to make sure that you don’t let it go rancid. If it does, this can raise the risk of blemishes forming after using your vitamin C serum.
PRO TIP: If your vitamin C serum comes in a dropper bottle as many do, you will want to make certain you use it within 3 months of opening. It will oxidate and can become rancid if left in your cabinet too long after opening, so if you bought it, use it fast!
BONUS PRO TIP: You do not need anything higher than a 10% C serum if you plan to use it daily. Even this can be a bit excessive for sensitive skin. Using too much C will not yield better results, it can actually irritate your acne-prone skin and backfire on you. Go for quality, like a serum with bioflavonoids.
Final Thoughts on Vitamin C and Acne
Trying to get clear skin can definitely sometimes feel like an uphill battle. And with so many different skincare products out there – and so much more misinformation lurking in the shadows – it can be tricky to try to figure out not only which ones are good for your skin, but what’s the real deal about them, too. The good news is that taking a vitamin C supplement for acne is completely legit and one of the best things you can incorporate into your beauty regimen. And by adding it into your routine, you can start reaping the amazing benefits of it today!
CLEARSTEM always aims to provide real-world actionable advice so we hope this has helped you get your C game tighter and help make sense of how you can incorporate this power nutrient in your life. Cheers to clear skin, collagen, and immunity!
Love, Danielle & Kayleigh
Source 1: Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Consumers https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer
Source 2: Vitamin C in dermatology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
Source 3: Vitamin C and Immune Function https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
Source 4: A Clinical Evaluation of Efficacy and Safety of Hyaluronan Sponge with Vitamin C Versus Placebo for Scar Reduction https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4977120/
Source 5: The effect of Vitamin C on melanin pigmentation – A systematic review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7802860/
Source 6: Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3783921/
Source 7: Vitamin C - Health Professional Fact Sheet https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
Source 8: Nutrition and Wound Healing: An Overview Focusing on the Beneficial Effects of Curcumin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429075/
Source 9: Vitamin C promotes wound healing through novel pleiotropic mechanisms https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7949787/
Source 10: Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605218/
Source 11: Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7847434/
Source 12: Vitamin C in dermatology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/
Source 13: Clinical implications of lipid peroxidation in acne vulgaris: old wine in new bottles https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3012032/