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Science Reveals That Vitamin C and Sunscreen is The Gold-Standard for Sun Protection

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UV rays produce free radicals, which are responsible for actively breaking down collagen and elastin fibers and inducing hyperpigmentation. So shielding skin against them is vital to prevent photoaging. That’s why every skincare expert stresses the importance of sunscreen for the pinnacle of protection against UV damage.

But what if sunscreen is not able the defend the skin on its own? According to research, sunscreens block only 55% of the free radicals produced by UV exposure.[1] This means you need extra help to reach that 100% protection, which is why vitamin C with sunscreen is one of the best duos in skincare.

It turns out pairing vitamin C and SPF offers much better photoprotection than when used on their own — and science proves it.[1] Keep reading to learn how vitamin C boosts sunscreen and the most effective way to use the two for the holy grail of UV protection.

What is vitamin C?

Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants and free radical scavengers. Moreover, vitamin C has brightening and firming abilities, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and helps calm skin. In other words, vitamin C is king for repairing sun-induced damage.[2]

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is the sunblock skin needs every day, at all ages, and acts by absorbing (chemical sunscreen) or deflecting (physical sunscreen) sunbeams. Sunscreen is required for photoprotection, which may otherwise lead to premature wrinkles, dark spots, sagginess, and skin cancer.[3]

How vitamin C boosts sunscreen

According to the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, vitamin C works synergistically with sunscreen to increase photoprotection and keep sun damage at bay.[4] The reason is that sunscreen can only block a part of the free radicals generated by UV, and vitamin C works to eliminate the ones that have entered the skin.[1]

So teaming up vitamin C and sunscreen helps increase the capacity of your skin to defend itself against oxidative stress and hinder other free radicals from weakening collagen, inducing hyperpigmentation, and causing DNA damage. For the record, vitamin C needs to be used in concentrations of at least 10% to fulfill its photoprotective and repairing benefits.[2] Also, vitamin C is more effective when it’s used with vitamin E and ferulic acid, so using the three with sunscreen is the best protection you can ever get.[1] We’re looking at you, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic.

Vitamin C before or after sunscreen?

Vitamin C always goes before sunscreen. The most potent and highly concentrated vitamin C products are serums. As such, when you pair vitamin C and sunscreen, do it in this order:

  • Cleanse: remove debris, oil, and residues
  • Tone: add extra benefits and regulate pH
  • Layer vitamin C serum
  • Use moisturizer: lock hydration and benefits 
  • Apply sunscreen

Can vitamin C replace sunscreen?

By no means you should quit using sunscreen in favor of a vitamin C product. Vitamin C provides some sun protection but doesn’t defend the skin as sunscreen does. 

To end

Vitamin C and sunscreen represent a dynamic duo that works synergistically to guard your skin against UV and other free radicals, so using them daily is a top priority. Doing so hinders the apparition of dark spots and protects the protein fibers from degrading, maintaining firm, elastic, and even skin. 

P.S.: A vitamin C sunscreen may come in handy to those who fancy minimalist skincare routines and want to cut an extra step.

References

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

  1. Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013 Apr;4(2):143-6. doi: 10.4103/2229-5178.110593. PMID: 23741676; PMCID: PMC3673383.
  2. Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Jul;10(7):14-17. Epub 2017 Jul 1. PMID: 29104718; PMCID: PMC5605218.
  3. The Food and Drug Administration, Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun
  4. Eberlein-König B, Ring J. Relevance of vitamins C and E in cutaneous photoprotection. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2005 Jan;4(1):4-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2005.00151.x. PMID: 17134414.
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