Everything you need to know about incorporating vitamin C into your skincare routine

If you’ve been part of the MECCA community for a while, you’ll know that when it comes to serving up skincare truths, we leave no stone unturned. The last time we answered your biggest beauty questions, the demand for straightforward, simplified information about vitamin C—one of our all-time favourite glow-inducing actives—was real, so we reached out to our Instagram community once again, in search of the most common questions surrounding the hyped-up antioxidant. Our DMs blew up—big time—and now, we’re giving answers.

READ MORE: Your most asked beauty questions, answered.

What does vitamin C in skincare actually do?

We praise the stuff all the time, but unless you’ve used it and have the glow to prove it, knowing what to expect from this super-ingredient can be a little confusing. In simple terms, vitamin C—commonly found in skincare as L-ascorbic acid—is an antioxidant, so it works to protect your skin cells from air pollution, sun damage, and other premature agers. In beauty—and science—this process of protection is typically referred to as the neutralisation of free radicals. In the right concentration (we recommend between ten and 20 percent dependant on your skin type) vitamin C is a safe and highly effective acid that will reduce dullness, uneven skin tone, texture and acne scarring, all while offsetting environmental aggressors. With continued use, you’ll notice brighter, more even, and—dare we say it—glowier skin.

How often should I use vitamin C? Can I use it every day?

We all have different skin needs and routines, but as a general rule, we recommend incorporating vitamin C into your skincare regime every—or every other—morning. We specify morning, because the antioxidant helps to protect from things like pollution and UV light, which you’re typically exposed to throughout the day. This also means you can use your heavier acids and exfoliants at night, without interference—but more on this later.

If you’re using vitamin C in serum form (this would be the first step of your morning routine, after cleansing), make sure your skin is completely clean. We repeat: completely clean. Any residue left from cleansing oils and creams will create a barrier that prevents your serum from being effectively absorbed, so make sure to really wash away any traces of cleanser for the best results.

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How can I tell if my vitamin C serum is still active? I’ve heard it can oxidise and lose effectiveness – is there a way I can stop it from doing this?

Antioxidants are the bomb-dot-com, but their best property is also their worst—they oxidize. Antioxidants like vitamin C work by binding to free radicals—an oxygenic form—so that your skin cells don’t. So, the problem here is that vitamin C will immediately bind to any oxygen or light that enters its tube or bottle, causing it to diminish in effectiveness pretty quickly.

Our best tip to gage the lifespan and efficacy of your vitamin C serum is to check the PAO (period after opening) symbol on the packaging (more on that here), and keep an eye out for any darkening or discolouration, a tell-tale sign of oxidisation. Serums or creams in opaque, dark, amber, and/or airtight bottles, tubes or pumps are your best friend, their packaging ensuring the best possible chance of stability, longevity and effectiveness for this delicate ingredient. Like a good Netflix binge, once the oxidation process has started, there is no way to stop it.

READ MORE: Expiration, contamination and curation: the ultimate guide to spring cleaning your beauty stash.

What’s the deal with vitamin C and retinol? Can I use them together?

This was one of our most-asked questions, so here’s the tea: vitamin C and retinol won’t lose their effectiveness when paired together, but, it could cause issues like irritation and sensitivity, which is not the goal, and definitely something we do not recommend. Retinol is also known to make skin more sensitive to the sun, so we prefer to use it at night anyway, whereas we’re all about C in the day. To reap the benefits from both actives, we recommend alternating them in your routine (C every morning, retinol every second night), as long as an SPF 50+ is applied every day as the final step of your morning skincare regime.

If you’re thinking about incorporating vitamin C and retinol into your routine, we definitely recommend recommend heading into your nearest MECCA for a skin consultation, so that we can set you up for success with the best products and advice for your skin type.

READ MORE: Retinol: a user’s guide to the powerhouse ingredient recommended by every dermatologist.

What’s the difference between having vitamin C in your diet (like orange juice) and putting it on your skin?

While incorporating vitamin C into your diet is—and will always be—great, consuming it orally just won’t have the same effect as smoothing it straight onto your skin. That’s because when we eat or drink something containing vitamin C, our skin gets a very, very small portion of the benefits—not enough to impart a noticeable difference.

The best way to get the most from vitamin C is to apply it directly onto your skin, however if you’re trying to do this with slices of citrus—other than it becoming extremely sticky—you have absolutely no control over its quality or concentration (the latter being very low and essentially ineffective). Only once the antioxidant has been extracted from our favourite fruits—and is then pressed into a serum—is our skin is able to absorb it efficiently. Lucky for you, we have a plethora of products that will do the trick, and well at that.

Ready to bring on bright with a dose of vitamin C in your skincare routine? Discover and shop some of our favourites below, or find them here.

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