Vitamin C for acne: Why this serum is helpful for breakout-prone skin

This antioxidant can be a helping hand for your skin.

Written by
Julia Hammond
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Nothing says good morning like a fresh glass of OJ — and it might be a helping hand for your skin too. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that occurs naturally in many foods; like citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and strawberries [2].

Getting a healthy dose in your diet is all well and good, but did you know that applying vitamin C to your skin has benefits too?

We’re getting to the bottom of vitamin C in skincare and how using a vitamin C serum can help breakout-prone skin.

What does vitamin C do for your skin?

Vitamin C is a science-backed ingredient that is known to help improve skin texture and appearance [1]. Here are some of its superpowers when it comes to your skin.

Combats harmful UV rays and free radical damage

Did you know that vitamin C is actually the most plentiful antioxidant found in human skin? It works as a team with other skin-friendly antioxidants to neutralise free radicals and protect against oxidative stress [2].

Free radical damage can be caused by external sources, like air pollution and UV rays, or internal sources, like our metabolism [1][4].

One of the coolest ways that vitamin C helps fight free radicals is that it can limit sun damage. It’s not the same as sunscreen, which blocks UVA and UVB rays but it works on your skin health by limiting inflammation, supporting collagen synthesis and diminishing redness [1][2][4].

You should still use sunscreen every single day, but a vitamin C serum is another top piece of armour for your skin.

Fights signs of ageing

Vitamin C is often found in anti-ageing formulas — for a few good reasons. Studies have shown that vitamin C can minimise wrinkles, improve skin texture and overall appearance [1].

This process works because vitamin C supports collagen production, in both older and younger skin [2][4]. It's important to note that it won’t work straight away and you'll need to use topical vitamin C daily for up to 3 months to see such results [1]. 

Helps with wound healing

Studies have shown that a vitamin C deficiency makes it harder for your body to heal wounds. Taking daily vitamin C supplements was an effective treatment option in this research [4].

Does vitamin C help acne? 

Vitamin C is a strong anti-inflammatory agent, which means it can be beneficial for acne-prone skin. It can help control oil production and reduce acne lesions [1][2].

It has also been thought to prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This is when your skin develops dark spots after a trauma, such as seriously painful acne [2][3].

But there are many different types of acne to be aware of. So, can vitamin C help with them all?

Is vitamin C good for fungal acne? 

Even though we call it acne, fungal acne is a separate condition from the acne vulgaris most people are dealing with. It’s caused by an infection of hair follicles which experience an overgrowth of yeast [6].

This yeast is always present on our skin, but sometimes our bodies are unable to keep it in check. One thing that sets fungal acne apart is that it’s usually found on the shoulders, back and neck — it's less common on your face [6].

Unfortunately, using a regular acne treatment — including topical vitamin C — on fungal acne won’t work because they aren’t designed to treat a yeast infection. Your healthcare provider is the best person to diagnose fungal acne and they can provide you with treatment options. Most often, this includes an anti-fungal treatment [6].

Does vitamin C help with cystic acne?

Cystic acne is one of the most severe and painful forms. It develops deep beneath your skin when a blocked pore becomes infected. It’s a type of inflammatory acne and is often associated with hormonal acne [13].

The main treatment option for this kind of acne is oral antibiotics [13]. These should be accessed through a healthcare practitioner or dermatologist.

Since vitamin C is known for its strong anti-inflammatory properties, it can be a useful addition to your treatment routine. But, you should always check with your practitioner before mixing medications and other ingredients. They’ll be able to tell you if vitamin C is a safe option alongside any medical treatments.

Does vitamin C help with acne scarring?

Acne scars form when your body uses the wrong amount of collagen to heal your skin. Using too much means a raised bump might develop, but using too little can result in pitted acne scars [12].

Prevention is the best way to manage acne scars. You should treat acne early and make sure to avoid picking, popping or squeezing pimples which can damage your skin [12].

Since vitamin C helps with wound healing and collagen production, it might be helpful in preventing acne scarring too.

What is vitamin C serum?

Skin serums are light and easily absorbed oils or water-based liquids that are popular in skincare routines. Most come with a dropper to help you get the right dose. Just a few drops are needed to cover your face and neck [5].

Serums are different to moisturisers and creams because they are highly-concentrated formulas. They are made to sink into the skin quickly and address specific skin concerns [5].

A vitamin C serum is a product that features 10-20% chemical vitamin C. The most common active form is L-ascorbic acid [1][2].

Even though vitamin C serums are powerful on their own, they work best in a combined formula. Adding a small amount of vitamin E and ferulic acid to a serum can make the vitamin C up to 8 times more effective [2][4]. 

Software’s Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid Serum contains all 3 of these ingredients in one of the most potent serums on the market. It can help brighten skin, stimulate collagen and reduce fine lines. It is suitable for all skin types and can even be used while pregnant or breastfeeding.

How to use a vitamin C serum

Most skin experts recommend using vitamin C serums as part of your morning skincare. You need to apply it every day for best results, and it can take up to 3 months of use for a noticeable improvement [1][2]. 

So, in the morning after cleansing your face, gently rub in a few drops of vitamin C serum. Follow up with your regular moisturiser and finish with sunscreen.

Are vitamin C serums safe for acne-prone skin?

Most vitamin C serums are considered safe for all skin types, including both acne-prone and oily skin. You can use them daily on a long-term basis [2].

You might also want to consider adding other acne-fighting products into your routine, like Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash, to reduce oil production [1].

If you have very sensitive skin, you might want to introduce vitamin C serum slowly. Some people experience stinging, redness or dryness with a powerful new product like this. Start with a test patch — just in case — before using the serum daily on your face, neck and chest [1][2].

People with sensitive skin could also try using a vitamin C serum every other day to start with. This can help build up your tolerance so that eventually, you’ll be able to use it daily [1].

Why am I getting pimples after using vitamin C serum? 

There’s nothing worse than starting a new skincare treatment and finding it breaks you out! As hard as it is, we recommend not giving up on your vitamin C serum right away. You might be experiencing purging.

Purging is most common when using retinol for the first time, but has also been linked to vitamin C and some acids too [8]. Common symptoms are rapid breakouts, flaky and dry skin, or oily skin [8].

Believe it or not, it’s actually a sign your products are working. They are accelerating your skin’s renewal which is bringing up any underlying breakouts. We know it’s hard to wait but in 4-6 weeks, your skin will refresh itself. That’s when you’ll see the full effect of your new product [8]. 

If you’re ever concerned about how your skin is reacting to a new product, it helps to check in with your practitioner or dermatologist.

What vitamin helps hormonal acne? 

Before we dive into vitamins, let’s chat a bit about hormonal acne. Hormonal acne is usually caused by an increase in androgens, like testosterone [7]. 

These hormones increase oil production, which then leads to more breakouts. It’s common in teenagers but can be experienced throughout your life. For example, when you’re on a hormone treatment, if you have PCOS, if you are pregnant or on the flip side, going through menopause [7].

A few vitamins can help with acne as they decrease oil production. These include B vitamins, vitamin D and zinc. Vitamin C is another option that is anti-inflammatory and takes down oily skin [1][9].

If you think your skin is struggling from a vitamin deficiency, then Software’s Acne Kit could be your solution. With 4 products in the kit, it’s designed to fight acne at all stages and balance your skin to prevent new breakouts. The kit includes Software's Acne Supplement, which helps to treat your skin from the inside, out.

Other ways to treat acne 

Vitamin C is an awesome way to improve your skin health and it has a few great effects on acne-prone skin too. But, it’s far from the only treatment option. Here are some more medical and lifestyle options for treating acne.

Gentle skincare

Since acne produces oil, it’s tempting to scrub your face clean every day and night. But in reality, harsh skincare or rubbing is only making things worse. 

A gentle skincare routine with ingredients like salicylic acid is more than enough to promote clean and healthy skin [10].

Medical treatments

When you have seriously stubborn acne that a face wash won’t fix, medical treatments are the next best bet. These include ingredients like retinoids, antibiotics or azelaic acid [10].

Getting the right treatment takes time, but with Software it couldn’t be easier — the whole process is managed online to help you make healthy skin a priority. Complete our online consult and our Australian practitioners will create a personalised acne treatment plan for you. Your skincare is then delivered to your door and results are just weeks away.

Diet and trigger foods 

It’s common knowledge that a healthy diet is good for us. But are certain foods better for our skin? Some research says yes.

Multiple studies have shown that a low GI diet is better for acne-prone skin. This means swapping sugary foods and beverages for low-sugar options like fresh veggies, fruits and steel-cut oats. The going theory is that blood sugar spikes cause inflammation, which means a high GI diet can increase acne breakouts [11].

Cow’s milk is another one that experts suggest limiting for acne-prone skin. They’re not sure why it happens, but studies have found that drinking lots of milk makes you more likely to develop acne. The good news is, there’s no evidence that cheese or yoghurt has the same effect [11]. 

It can help to keep a food journal to suss out if anything you’re eating is contributing to your acne. But, be careful of limiting lots of foods — it’s best to work with a doctor or dietitian when you’re considering diet changes.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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