My Real Life Experience Trying Vitamin C: Before And After

Without sounding completely cliché and, well, basic…my experience with skincare has been a JOURNEY. For as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with skin issues (read: acne) and I’ve really been around the block when it comes to so-called miracle products (I’m looking at you, Proactiv.) It wasn’t until my late 20s that I decided it was time to get familiar with the actual ingredients in the products I put on my face.

This has now led me to my latest endeavour – vitamin C. Vitamin C and I have had a love hate relationship for a while (love because it tastes delicious in chewable tablet form, and hate because once in my early 20s it gave me a bad reaction) but I figured I’d give it another go since it has earned its spot on the coveted list of holy grail ingredients thanks to its ability to improve uneven skin tones and brighten complexions. 

The product I decided to try was the C15 Super Booster by Paula’s Choice. Paula’s Choice products have never failed me in the past so I figured this would be a safe call. Plus, this serum uses L-Ascorbic acid; which the skincare nerd in me knew to be the purest form of vitamin C.

So what exactly is vitamin C or L-Ascorbic Acid?

Vitamin C is a vitamin and powerful antioxidant found naturally in our skin that also contributes to collagen production. Antioxidants fight and protect against free radicals such as UV, pollution and all those nasties. And I know we hear a lot about collagen but for the people in the back: collagen is a protein found in our body and when it comes to skin, it’s the glue that makes it firm and strong or in other words ~young and fresh~. 

The bad news? The amount of vitamin C and collagen found in our bodies depletes over time which means environmental stressors can make our skin become dull, pigmented and with fine lines or wrinkles. 

Enter: topical vitamin C solutions. 

Me, before vitamin C

How will adding vitamin C to my regime help?

Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this but…our skin isn’t going to just start producing vitamin C or collagen on it’s own anymore so we have no choice but to intervene.

To better understand the importance of incorporating vitamin C into my regime, I chatted with Paula’s Choice Senior Research & Education Manager, Desiree Stordahl. “As we age, the level of vitamin C in skin starts to decline from the outermost layers down, with UV damage and pollution being the primary culprits accelerating that depletion. The result? Skin looks dull and uneven and feels less firm,” says Stordahl. Research shows vitamin C’s antioxidant properties can offset the impact of environmental stressors and help mitigate issues that we associate with ageing, like wrinkles.”

Antioxidant power aside, vitamin C is highly acidic so using it forces the skin to sort of ‘heal’ itself which requires an increased production of collagen (because again…it’s the glue). 

Acidic? That sounds scary…

A lot of people (including me circa 2011) are freaked out by vitamin C because it’s known to be a natural irritant since it’s ‘unstable’ and rather acidic. While that may be true, it’s not all doom and gloom. Turns out, formulators these days know a thing or two and commercial-grade formulations are almost always made to ensure the product is stable.

Stordahl explains that Paula’s Choice C15 Super Booster in particular uses 15% stabilised l-ascorbic acid and is combined with vitamin E and ferulic acid which are known to increase the stability of vitamin C and support it’s antioxidant abilities. “It’s one of the fan [favourites] of our line for its ability to clear up pigmentation issues, even out skin tone, smooth lines, and deliver a brighter, ‘glowy’ complexion,” she says of the serum. “The formula also contains other key peptides that help boost its wrinkle-fighting power, so skin looks younger in general.”

My experience with vitamin C:

Like I said, when I tried vitamin C years ago I broke out, so this time I made sure to start reallllll slow to avoid any drama. For the first week and a half I only used it every three days, then I went up to two times a week and finally in my fifth week I’ve been using it every day.

Now that I’m at week five I can confidently say: I stan. I was drawn to Paula’s C15 Super Booster from the get-go because of its water-like consistency. I am a naturally oily gal so anything too heavy or oily is a big no for me. This one absorbs into my skin easily and layers really well with my other products and makeup with no pilling or stickiness.

In terms of effectiveness – My skin’s overall tone has improved and become more even. In winter my skin tends to be a bit dull and right now I’m looking glowy and fresh (not to brag) despite it being dry and cold outside. I also may or may not be guilty of spending too much time in the sun when I was younger, and I see a genuine improvement with my pigmentation since using the serum.

Me, after vitamin C

Ok so, when should I incorporate vitamin C into my routine? 

That depends on the product you choose. Stordahl’s general advice is to layer your products (after cleansing) from thinnest to thickest in texture. So, if you choose a light-weight serum layer it after toning but before moisturiser. 

You can use it in the morning or at night but I went with morning to get the most out of this antioxidant’s ability to fight free radicals. There’s a common misconception that vitamin C makes your skin more susceptible to sun damage but in reality, it helps protect your skin from harmful UV rays. So, vitamin C alongside a good SPF = *chefs kiss* during the day.

What do I need to know before I buy & try?

My advice for trying out any new product is one at a time. That way if you react poorly, connecting the dots is easy. If you try out a whole gamut of new products at once how will you know which to cull or keep if and when your skin reacts?

In terms of mixing ingredients, don’t believe everything you hear. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there that vitamin C and niacinamide can’t be used together, based on old research where non-stabilized forms of both ingredients were used,” Stordahl tells me. “Long story short, modern day formulas overcome these issues, and in fact, using them together can produce beautiful results to complement each other’s effects.” She also emphasises that vitamin C can, in fact, be used in combination with retinol [products] and other potent active ingredients without deactivating each other.

If you’re nervous, there are also derivatives instead of L-Ascorbic acid which are great options to try first. Look for ingredients like sodium ascorbyl phosphate or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (sorry for the big words…Google’s your friend). These tend to be more stable and less potent but with similar benefits.

One thing to be aware of is that L-Ascorbic acid is light-sensitive and oxidises, so the bottle should never be clear or left open. “If you want to reap the benefits of peak potency, most vitamin C products need to be used up more quickly than your other types of skin care products,” says Stordahl. “Generally speaking, water-based, concentrated vitamin C serums [and] treatments should be used within three months after opening.” If you happen to notice a clear serum turning brownish or yellow, it’s time to get rid of it as it’s likely no longer stable. 

Finally, 3 letters: S.P.F. Don’t get too excited about all this talk of protecting you from free radicals, you still NEED SPF to fully protect yourself from the sun. At the end of the day – what’s the point of investing in skincare if you’re just going to let the sun damage it anyway?

Try the product I used here.

  • – Amanda Lavecchia
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