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In the world of skincare, there’s a lot of discussion around the best products and ingredients for achieving healthy, glowing skin. For longtime esthetician Joee Nelson, one ingredient stands above the rest: vitamin C.

“Vitamin C is the one skincare ingredient that I recommend to all my clients,” says Nelson, a master esthetician at LifeSpa in Eden Prairie, Minn. “This powerhouse ingredient is one of my favorites because it’s both preventive and corrective — and corrective, especially, when it comes to sun damage for aging skin.”

The effects of sunburns and suntans in our younger years often show up later in life in the form of sunspots, or darker brown marks known as hyperpigmentation, which can give the appearance of dull skin. “Using a product with vitamin C can help prevent past sun damage from coming up to the surface by slowing down skin’s melanin production,” Nelson explains. As reported in Experience Life, vitamin C can also stimulate the production of collagen and elastin which “give the skin structure, stretch, and strength.”

Additionally, the antioxidant is preventative as it has been shown to reduce cell damage from exposure to environmental factors like pollution, help skin retain moisture, and even support healing minor cuts and scratches.

How to Choose the Right Vitamin C for Your Skin

For most people, vitamin C is best delivered in the form of a skincare serum. Typically thinner than a moisturizer, serums are applied just after you cleanse your face and before you moisturize. “I prefer vitamin C serums because they absorb faster into the skin,” says Nelson.

“If you don’t want to add a serum into your skincare regimen, a lotion-based moisturizer with added vitamin C benefits can also be effective,” she adds. “When purchasing a lotion-based vitamin C, look for ‘THD’ or ‘Tetrahexyldecyl’ on the ingredient list as this is the form of vitamin C that is most effective in a lotion-based product.”

However, Nelson stresses the power of a serum and notes that if you do use a serum, then you’ll want to make sure the serum contains the correct type of vitamin C for this type of formulation. “Look for ‘L-ascorbic acid’ on the ingredient list,” she says. “This is the type of vitamin C that’s most effective in a serum-based product. L-ascorbic acid is also well-researched and highly effective at brightening the skin, reducing hyperpigmentation, and stimulating collagen production.”

The amount of vitamin C in a skincare serum often depends on the brand and formulation. “If you’re purchasing a medical grade vitamin C product, it likely has enough vitamin C to be effective,” Nelson notes. “When buying over-the-counter, an effective serum will have between 15 to 30 percent L-ascorbic acid.

“If you want to ensure you’re receiving the most effective product, go for a medical-grade or pharmaceutical-grade product, or one from a brand recommended by a trusted esthetician,” Nelson suggests. “Over-the-counter products often promote vitamin C as an ingredient, but the amount included is not enough to be effective. An esthetician can guide you in the right direction and share exactly what to look for.”

Nelson also stresses the importance of product stability. “Certain products with vitamin C are prone to degradation when exposed to light, air, or certain pH levels,” she explains. “Vitamin C needs to be stabilized for it to work effectively over time, and it is best when stored in a dark amber-colored bottle. Many vitamin C serums oxidize quickly if not formulated correctly, meaning they go bad.”

Oxidation happens when the antioxidants in the product become over-exposed to air. Once the product oxidizes it can also cause irritation to the skin, resulting in redness or a burning feeling.

Once you have your vitamin C product at home, store it in a cool, dry area to help prevent the ingredients from oxidation. “When stored correctly, a good vitamin C product should last around four to five months,” says Nelson. “Once a vitamin C serum starts to look orange or brown, it’s most likely no longer effective.”

Nelson’s go-to vitamin C serums made with L-ascorbic acid are IS Clinical Super Serum and IS Clinical Pro Heal, which are both pharmaceutical-grade products.

Best Practices for Applying Vitamin C Serum

Nelson recommends applying vitamin C serum daily during your morning skincare routine. Applying in the morning can help protect your skin from environmental aggressors you encounter during the day, including pollution.

“I always apply my vitamin C serum directly after cleansing my face,” says Nelson. “If you use other serums, you can layer them on top of the vitamin C serum, then apply moisturizer and SPF.”

When applying vitamin C serum, Nelson recommends following the directions on the product packaging. “As a general rule, I like to use four drops for my face and another four to six drops for my neck and chest,” she adds.

For lotion-based products, use an amount of the product that’s about the size of a bean.

And while vitamin C serum is one of her favorite skincare products for sun-damaged skin, Nelson stresses that it’s never a replacement for SPF.

SPF prevents sun damage in the first place and can help you avoid the sun’s harmful rays,” she says. “Both products play their own necessary role in a healthy skincare routine.”

Jolene Turner
Jolene Turner

Jolene Turner is a beauty writer and social media strategist focusing on the salon, spa, and professional hair care industries. She currently works with the Life Time LifeSpa team on social media marketing and content development. Turner’s background includes working as the senior editor for American Salon, as a head writer for beauty blogs, and as a communications and consumer engagement professional for a global beauty brand. She’s worked with leading beauty brands including Aveda, Hotheads Hair Extensions, HiBar, Wella, and more.

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