does Vitamin C cause acne

Does Vitamin C cause acne? You’ve heard this powerful antioxidant brightens skin and keeps wrinkles at bay and you’re dying to add it to your skincare routine ASAP. But you’re worried your oily, acne-prone skin won’t be able to take it. Anything breaks you out. Will this be any different? Here’s what the science says – and how I recommend my clients with oily, acne-prone skin incorporate Vitamin C into their skincare routine to help (rather than aggravate) acne:

Vitamin C Benefits For Skin: What Does It Do?

Did you know Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in your skin? Here’s everything it does for you:

  • Boosts collagen: Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm). Collagen production naturally decreases with age, but you inadvertently speed up the process when you get a lot of unprotected sun exposure. Adding Vitamin C back into your skin can help you boost collagen levels up a notch or two.
  • Brightens skin: Vitamin C inhibits the enzyme involved in the production of melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour). When your skin stops producing excess melanin, dark spots slowly fade away. Studies show that 25% vitamin C significantly decrease melasma after 16 weeks. But, it’s NOT as effective as topical treatments with hydroquinone.
  • Fights free radicals: Free radicals are nasty molecules that destroy collagen, elastin, cellular DNA (and everything else they find in their wake), causing wrinkles, dark spots, and cancer. Vitamin C finds and destroys them before they can wreak their havoc. This alone helps you slow down premature aging.
  • Enhances sun protection: When UV rays hit your skin, they generate a cascade of free radicals. No sunscreen can stop all of them. Even SPF 100 lets 1% of UV rays through. Enter Vitamin C. Layer it underneath your sunscreen and it’ll neutralise the damage those few UV rays could cause.

Awesome, right? Here’s where things get complicated. Vitamin C isn’t just one ingredient. You have the pure form, L-Ascorbic Acid, and a dozen other derivatives. Here are a few:

  • Ascorbic acid polypeptide
  • Ascorbyl glucosamine
  • Ascorbyl glucoside
  • Ascorbyl palmitate
  • Ester-C
  • Ethyl ascorbic acid
  • L-ascorbic acid (pure form)
  • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Sodium ascorbyl palmitate
  • Sodium ascorbyl phosphate
  • Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate

PRO TIP: if It has “ascorb” somewhere in the name, it’s a form of vitamin C.

Here’s what you need to know: L-Ascorbic Acid is the most effective form of Vitamin C. It’s also the most irritating, unstable (goes bad within weeks) and most likely to cause problems.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Vitamin C In Skincare

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Can Vitamin C Help Treat Acne?

I know, this post is all about whether Vitamin C can give you acne. And yet, did you know it can be helpful for acne too? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. In theory, Vitamin C is an alley in the fight against acne. Just not in the way you think.

Vitamin is NOT an acne treatment. It can’t kill P.Acnes or regulate oil production. So how does it help treat acne?

Related: 9 Soothing Ingredients That Can Reduce Inflammation

Can Vitamin C Serum Make You Breakout?

So far, so good. But does Vitamin C cause acne? Because, no matter how good it’s for anti-aging, you don’t want to replace wrinkles with pimples… Here’s what we know.

Skincare (like everything else in life) is NOT black and white. It’s not as easy as “Antioxidants = good” and “Free Radicals = bad”. I’ve got clients who break out when they use a Vitamin C serums. If that’s happening to you, here’s what may be the cause:

  • Fights too many free radicals: Your skin cells need an optimal balance of antioxidants and free radicals to function at their best. This balance is especially important for acne. One of the main causes of acne is the over-proliferation of the bacteria P.Acnes. Some research suggests that free radicals have anti-microbial activity that could inhibit the growth of P.Acnes. This research is just at the beginning. BUT, if it turns out to be true, using a Vitamin C serum may help P.Acnes proliferate and make your acne worse.
  • Irritation: L-Ascorbic Acid, the pure form of Vitamin C, can be irritating in high concentrations (15%+). If you have sensitive, acne-prone skin that’s already upset, the irritation from high L-Ascorbic Acid doses could aggravate acne.
  • Oil-base: A lot of Vitamin C serums come in an oily base. It’s this oily base, not Vitamin C itself, that’s causing the breakout.

Related: Adult Acne: What It Is And How To Treat It

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum

How To Use A Vitamin C Serum For Oily, Acne-Prone Skin

There’s no proof that Vitamin C causes acne. In fact, it may even help treat it faster! And yet, many of my clients with oily, acne-prone skin complain their acne got worse after introducing a Vitamin C serum into their skincare routine.

Science can’t explain why. But I don’t believe in waiting around doing nothing while science catches up with real skin problems. Instead, let’s find a way to make Vitamin C safe for you, too. Enter Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP).

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate is a derivative of Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid). When it sinks into your skin, enzymes come along to convert it into L-Ascorbic Acid. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science shows that Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate can treat acne vulgaris. How?

Acne is caused by two major factors:

  • Bacteria: Proprionibacterium Acnes, or P.Acnes for short
  • Lipid oxidation: when your sebum oxidises, your skin becomes inflamed

Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate deals with both. 1% of SAP reduces the amount of P.Acnes on your skin, while 5% prevents lipid oxidation in the first place.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate In Skincare

What Are The Best Vitamin C Serums For Oily, Acne-Prone Skin?

  • Artnaturals Vitamin C Serum ($12.99): A hydrating Vitamin C serum for oily skin, it fights free radicals, brightens your complexion, and reduces sebum oxidation to keep acne at bay. Available at Target.
  • CocoKind Vitamin C Serum ($19.99): A super hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid and aloe vera to deeply hydrate skin and fight wrinkles at the same time. It has a touch of citrus essential oil to make it smell good, but it can irritate sensitive skin. If it doesn’t bother you, no reason not to use it. Available at Cocokind and Ulta.
  • Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum ($33.99): My fave serum with Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, it features its fair share of antioxidants and soothing ingredients, like ferulic acid and chamomile, to prevent wrinkles and soothe irritations. Available at iHerb and Ulta.

The Bottom Line

There’s no proof that Vitamin C causes acne – yet. But if you have oily, acne-prone skin, switch to Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, a form of Vitamin C proven to reduce acne without aggravating breakouts.