Spend more than three minutes talking to any dermatologist ever, and they’ll inevitably start raving about three things: 1. Wearing sunscreen every single day until the moment you die, 2. How Accutane is an actual miracle drug, and 3. Why everyone should be slathering vitamin C on their face every single morning, like it’s the antidote to sadness. (And if your skin is an issue, then yeah—it kind of is the cure).
And yet despite all this, I can almost guarantee that none of you, as you sit here reading this, are currently wearing vitamin C. “I just don’t get it,” you say. “What does it even do?! Why is everything so haaaaard.” Yeah, okay, chill. I’m gonna help you here. Because unlike retinol (the other derm-obsessed skincare product), which can cause irritation and flakiness in the majority of people for the first month, vitamin C is a skin-perfecting ingredient that’s tolerable by almost all skin types immediately.
“I’m obsessed with vitamin C,” says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale who, I can personally attest, really is in love with the stuff. “It’s cosmetically elegant, it rarely irritates the skin, it doesn’t interact with other topicals, and it makes everyone look really, really good,” she says. But lest you think this is just some dumb, one-off, ineffectual trend, rest assured that vitamin C kicks ass on pretty much every (skin) level possible.
“Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants available to treat the skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital, adding that it “acts like a fire extinguisher to put out the inflammation and damage caused by free radicals.” Basically, vitamin C—which is most commonly and easily applied in serum form, like the cult-favorite SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Acid, or the cheaper, yet still excellently effective Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum—sinks into your skin to shield it from damage, smooths bumps and rough patches, reduces fine lines by stimulating collagen production, and even fades acne scars and dark marks. Yeah, that’s what we in the industry call ~*magic*~.
“Vitamin C does a great job of lightening the discoloration, especially on my skin of color patients who want to lighten their dark spots without ‘bleaching’ their skin, which can happen with products like hydroquinone,” says Tobechi Ebede, MD, clinical assistant professor in dermatology at Cornell. “I prefer pure L-ascorbic acid in strengths of 15-to-20-percent strengths, and I recommend using a serum instead of a cream, since my skin of color patients find the creams leave behind a white film, whereas the serums absorb quickly and can be used under your moisturizer,” she adds.
Either way, though, unless you’ve got ultra-sensitive, ultra-reactive skin (lookin’ at you, rosacea peeps), you should be adding some vitamin C to your skincare routine, stat. Just massage a few drops of the serum over clean, dry skin in the morning, wait a minute for it to sink in, then apply your moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup, like usual. It’s not an overnight miracle worker, but derms agree that you’ll start to notice a difference in your skin’s appearance within a few weeks of consistent use. Which is almost the same as instant gratification, right? Right.