Last Updated on January 6th, 2020
If there is any vitamin we have all heard about, it is vitamin C. Most people take vitamin C to boost immunity. For acne, however, vitamin C when it is used to keep immune responses in check.
Vitamin C is the nutrient most people get from orange juice or by taking 1000-mg capsules. It turns out that neither orange juice nor 1000-mg capsules of synthetic ascorbic acid is the best way to get vitamin C for fighting acne.
When the famous Hungarian-American scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi was researching treatments for scurvy nearly 90 years ago, he noticed that vitamin C wasn’t enough to treat the red and sore gums, red and sore skin, loose teeth, and connective tissue degeneration caused by this vitamin C deficiency disease. Vitamin C needed some kind of co-factor to regenerate it and to keep it active. Dr. Szent-Györgyi found that if people got their vitamin C from goulash made with paprika (he was Hungarian, after all), then they got better. If they didn’t get this factor he called “vitamin P,” the vitamin C didn’t work.
The term “vitamin P” was used in the medical literature not printed in English until just a few years ago. In the English-speaking world, what Dr. Szent-Györgyi called vitamin P we call citrus bioflavonoids.
What this means is that natural sources of vitamin C are far more effective than synthetic sources of vitamin C. There is even a standardized product known as Acerola with Vitamin C USP that uses the Caribbean fruit acerola as the source of an intensely concentrated natural vitamin C that has the cofactors that stabilize the collagen in blood vessels. But what does that have to do with acne?
Probably the most dramatic effect of taking a vitamin C supplement if you have acne is clearing up the redness in your skin. Redness is partially the result of inflammation. The immune system releases inflammatory chemicals known as leukotrienes to destroy acne bacteria, but the bacteria have a “decoy” system that redirect those chemicals toward the skin itself. Vitamin C in large doses doesn’t stimulate the immune system. It “tones it down.” That’s a good thing, however, when the immune system is misfiring and destroying healthy skin rather than the acne bacteria in pores.
The other way vitamin C can help take the red out of acne is by strengthening the linings of capillaries. These are microscopic blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients to the basal layer of the skin, about the thickness of 25 cells deep. The basal layer generates new skin cells that keep pushing outward to the stratum corneum, where they die and rupture to form a solid protective layer of protein and ceramides over the skin. The redness we see in pimples is mostly generated at this lower layer, but it is minimized when vitamin C with its cofactors helps stop leaks of bright red blood.
It used to be standard procedure for nutrition experts to recommend very large doses of vitamin C. Daily doses of 1000, 5000, and even 25,000 mg of vitamin C were supposed to be thing to activate the immune system. Some people (who made their living by selling vitamin C) even tried to persuade their customers that the diarrhea and dehydration that come with taking huge doses of vitamin C was a good thing, a signal that the vitamin C was working. But the old advertising pitch for vitamin C was based on at best a faulty understanding of how the nutrient actually works in the human body.
Getting enough vitamin C to avoid scurvy really only requires an orange or an apple once or twice a week. (In the UK, however, many people don’t get that much.) Getting enough vitamin C for optimum health of your skin really isn’t especially hard, either. You can just fine on as little as 100 mg per day if you are sure to get it from natural sources.
Some of these food choices provide more vitamin C than that in a single serving. All serving sizes in this list are 3-1/2 oz, which is roughly 100 grams.
Just one to four (five if you only eat potatoes) servings of the foods on this list provides all the vitamin C you need for the health of your skin. There are other conditions that require more vitamin C, but 100 mg per day is enough for acne.
Of course, some people just aren’t going to get their vitamin C from fruits and vegetables. If that’s you, then there are two ways you need to get your vitamin C.
Take vitamin C with bioflavonoids or Acerola with Vitamin C USP. One capsule or tablet per day is enough.
Use skin care products that provide the form of vitamin C known as palmitoyl ascorbate. But be sure to buy it in tube form and to close the tube tightly to prevent the oxidation of the palmitoyl ascorbate by exposure to the air.