Vitamin C is not a substitute for sunscreen. It doesn’t replace an SPF, but it is a great complement to mitigating the damage that can occur even with a strong sunscreen. While there are some Vitamin C sunscreens on the market, the most effective protocol for using Vitamin C sun damage mitigation may be a combination of topical and ingestible supplementation. That’s because the sun damages the skin on multiple levels. And a proper Vitamin C sun protocol can help to mitigate that damage in the layers of the skin that the sun penetrates.
Layers of the Skin and Vitamin C
Vitamin C is found both the epidermis, the outer layer, and the dermis, the middle layer, of the skin. It’s more prevalent in the epidermis.
The epidermis has a high Vitamin C content
This is the outer, superficial layer of the skin. It’s made up of four layers with the top three composed 95% of cells called keratinocytes. These cells manufacture and store the protein keratin that makes hair, skin, and nails hard, strong, and water-resistant. The outer layer, the stratum corneum, is made up of dead keratinocytes that slough off after a time to be replaced by new cells from the lower layers, about every 4 weeks or so. It’s a dry, dead layer that prevents microbes from penetrating.
The stratum basal is the deepest layer that sits right on top of the dermis. This is where you find the melanocytes that produce melanin that gives our hair and skin color. Melanin also protects the DNA in epidermal cells from UV radiation damage by darkening as a response to sun exposure, i.e., tanning.
The epidermis doesn’t have any blood vessels, so it relies on the dermis to supply its oxygen and nutrients.
The dermis requires Vitamin C
Right below the epidermis, the dermis is a thicker though less dense layer of the skin that is responsible for supplying the nutrients to the outer layer. About 75% of its weight is a collagen matrix that provides structural support and elasticity to the skin. Yes, wrinkles and sagging start deeper than what you see. Vitamin C is required as part of the collagen production process.
Different Types of UV Rays Damage the Skin in Different Ways
When the light energy from UV radiation is absorbed in cells, they produce free radicals. When free radicals overwhelm the equal antioxidant defense system, oxidative stress occurs. When this condition is severe, it can cause cascading damage and cell death. As you get older, you are more vulnerable as our natural antioxidant defense systems and repair processes don’t work as well as they did in our youth.
According to the FDA, “Certain oral and topical medicines, such as antibiotics, birth control pills, and benzoyl peroxide products, as well as some cosmetics, may increase skin and eye sensitivity to UV in all skin types.” Increased sensitivity means the potential for increased damage from UV rays.
UVB and UVA rays are types of radiation that can cause a lot of damage when accumulated in a lifetime of sun exposure.
These shorter waves hit the epidermis and are responsible for pigment changes in the skin — the sunburn that indicates short-term UV overexposure and the tanning that is your cells attempt to protect your skin from more damage.
The majority of the UVB rays hit the US between 10am and 4pm from April to October, but it’s even a risk in the winter months. UVB rays can zap you in the winter, ricocheting off reflective surfaces like snow and ice. And being at a high altitude puts you at risk. So, the message here is sunscreen when skiing and swimming.
These rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches us on Earth and is about equal intensity at all times of day throughout the year. UVA is less intense than UVB, but it can penetrate clouds and the lower layers of your skin. It’s UVA rays that are responsible for the sagging and wrinkles known as photoaging by damaging collagen. They also wreak havoc on the outer layer of the skin by damaging keratinocytes.
UVA rays are the primary ray emitted by tanning booths, and also cause tanning.
The Vitamin C Sun Relationship
Even if applied topically, Vitamin C does not absorb the rays and radiation of sunlight so it cannot protect the damage from occurring. Yes, it’s found in numerous sunscreens, but that is to help fortify the antioxidant defense system to mitigate the damage when that radiation does permeate the skin.
So, why a Vitamin C sun protection regimen?
Vitamin C is found at high levels in both the dermis and the epidermis, though the content declines with age. Excessive exposure to UV light and pollutants may lower Vitamin C content in the epidermis, indicating a need for more Vitamin C after sun exposure.
But, the body naturally responds to this by increasing vitamin c transport proteins in keratinocytes when exposed to UV light. This is important because vitamin c transport proteins are in short supply. That scarcity is why large doses of Vitamin C are so hard to absorb; there are simply not enough proteins to carry all these nutrients to the cells before they dissolve in our water-based bodies and are excreted. The increase in transport proteins indicates a need for Vitamin C in the epidermis after exposure to sunlight.
Numerous scientists have examined Vitamin C’s ability to mitigate photodamage and photoprotection via oral or topical application. The latter is a biochemical process that helps us cope with the damage caused by sunlight. Photodamage is the change in the skin from prolonged exposure to UV radiation. Photoaging, the premature wrinkling of skin, is a result of photodamage.
Vitamin C and photoprotection
While it doesn’t protect against sunlight as it doesn’t absorb sunlight, Vitamin C protects from the free radical proliferation that is caused by sun exposure. Researchers have found that the topical combination of Vitamin C and Vitamin E is an effective means of preventing photodamage, and more effective than each vitamin alone.
Vitamin C and photodamage
The most obvious symptom of photodamage is early wrinkling. UV radiation kills fibroblasts, the cells that make the collagen that keeps your skin firm. Vitamin C is required for collagen production and helps to increase fibroblast proliferation so you have more cells to produce the collagen to repair damaged skin.
How to Implement a Vitamin C Sun Regimen
Vitamin C sun protection starts from the inside and outside for maximum benefits. But there is a caveat: Excess Vitamin C doesn’t give you extra sun protection.
Oral vitamin C has been shown to raise Vitamin C levels in the skin, but no higher than plasma saturation. Plasma saturation is the general measurement of when you’ve reached the maximum amount of Vitamin C that you can absorb. This can be variable as when you’re under significant stress or are exposed to a circumstance that generates more free radicals, your body can use more Vitamin C. Reaching plasma saturation and continuing to take Vitamin C or apply Vitamin C sun serums before the saturation subsides is not useful.
Oral and topical Vitamin C sun protection
Observational studies link diets high in Vitamin C to fewer wrinkles and better skin appearance.
Studies on topical Vitamin C show that it helps mitigate some of the symptoms of photodamage. What’s interesting to note is that some studies show that topical serums demonstrated little effect on individuals with high dietary Vitamin C intake. This may go back to the plasma saturation.
It also could be that some of the skin changes occur in the dermis, which is difficult to penetrate topically. They have to get into the epidermis and dermis by first penetrating the stratum corneum. Remember, the skin is the barrier to everything else. It protects you, and part of that protection is not letting foreign substances in. So, it will be hard to reach the dermis as that’s the skin’s design. Some researchers state that the only reliable way to reach the dermis is through the bloodstream, hence oral supplementation or IV infusions.
Our Lypo-Spheric® Vitamin C has been scientifically proven to raise plasma levels more than two times higher than previously thought possible. That’s because we use Liposomal Encapsulation, a patented process similar to the one that the pharmaceutical industry has been using for decades to increase drug absorption in cancer patients. The process encapsulates difficult-to-absorb nutrients like Vitamin C in fatty spheres that transport the Vitamin C to the bloodstream and the cells where it can be easily absorbed. Another clinical study found that subjects who supplemented with Lypo-Spheric® Vitamin C reduced the appearance of wrinkles in just four weeks.
For those who do not consume saturation levels of Vitamin C, topical application has been found to be beneficial. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, “The use of vitamin C (3-10%) in topical applications for at least 12 weeks has been shown to decrease wrinkling, reduce protein fiber damage, decrease apparent roughness of skin, and increase production of collagen. Topical vitamin C has also been shown to reverse some of the age-related structural changes in the interface between the dermis and the epidermis.”
The Vitamin C sun relationship is about mitigating the damage of UV radiation during and after exposure coupled with a strong SPF to reduce the amount of Vitamin C support you need. A proper Vitamin C sun regimen can offer protective effects by facilitating collagen production and neutralizing sun-induced free radicals in multiple layers of the skin. For a better way to absorb Vitamin C for maximum sun protection benefits, check out our Lypo-Spheric® Vitamin C.