Vitamin-enriched skincare products are capable of treating fine lines and wrinkles, lessening hyperpigmentation, and protecting against free-radical damage. But knowing which one provides which benefits can feel a bit daunting, so I’m breaking down the most effective ones.
How you use it matters
First, an important distinction: Taking vitamins orally isn’t going to do much, if anything, for your skin. That’s because when you ingest a vitamin, it’s distributed everywhere in your body and on your skin. And unless you’re deficient in a specific nutrient, you’re just going to urinate out the excess. Applying a vitamin topically is a much more targeted way of getting glowing, healthy skin.
Vitamin A is arguably the most versatile and effective skincare ingredient around. It comes in lots of forms, though the most recognizable derivative is the over-the-counter retinol. It’s also worth noting that vitamin A was the first vitamin approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a topical ingredient that changes the appearance of the skin’s surface.
It works by binding to receptors in skin cells, which strengthens the epidermis’s protective ability, protects collagen from degrading, and stimulates skin cell turnover. That’s also what makes it so effective at combatting acne.
For all its upside, vitamin A does require an adjustment period that can put off some people. If you’re new to using vitamin A products like retinol, start with a very low concentration and use it every other day.
Vitamin C, which is also referred to as L-ascorbic acid, is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, protecting skin cells from damage caused by things like UV rays and pollution. Damaged skin cells = accelerated signs of aging, like fine lines, wrinkles, and discoloration.
It’s also adept at treating hyperpigmentation. It does that by inhibiting the main enzyme responsible for the conversion of tyrosine into melanin. Applying some vitamin C formulations topically has been shown to effectively decrease discoloration caused by melasma, which is one of the hardest pigment issues to treat.
Even more, topical vitamin C boosts collagen production. So, it’s quite the powerhouse. But it needs to be handled with care because it breaks down when it’s exposed to oxygen or sunlight. That’s why it’s typically packaged in an airtight container. It’s also often combined with vitamin E or ferulic acid. Those combinations improve the stability of the vitamins and doubles the sun protection for the skin.
Vitamin E, which is listed on skincare product ingredient lists as alpha-tocopherol, is a moisturizing antioxidant that guards the skin barrier and improves skin hydration. It also guards skin-cell membranes from oxidation by free radicals, specifically when the skin is exposed to UV rays.
Because of its antioxidant properties, topical vitamin E has become a popular treatment for various skin disorders. It’s also frequently used in the treatment of surgical scars, wounds, and burns. However, the research is mixed as to whether it actually has any benefit in those instances.