Can Vitamin C Protect Skin from UV Light?

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With skin cancer on the rise, interest in products that effectively protect skin from damage caused by UVA and UVB rays is on the rise. Surprisingly, one source of protection that is often overlooked is Vitamin C. Topical Vitamin C creams and serums that contain at least 10% stable l-ascorbic acid can quench free radicals that are formed as a result of exposure to UV light. Though not a replacement for broad spectrum sunscreens, topical vitamin C can protect skin from damage caused by free radicals at the cellular level.

Vitamin C (also known as L-ascorbic acid) has been touted to do everything under the sun - even cure the common cold. Much has been made of Linus Pauling's research into the magical healing properties of vitamin C but lost in the shuffle has been the protective properties of topical Vitamin C.

Stable L-ascorbic acid when used in concentrations of at least 10% has been proven to protect skin from sun damage by acting as a free radical scavenger. When skin is exposed to UV light, and with an ever-shrinking ozone layer, there's more exposure today than ever before, an oxidation process occurs that forms free radical molecules. These free radicals attach themselves to skin's collagen layer. The result is a thin, brittle collagen layer and ugly, weathered looking skin. Eventually, given enough regular unprotected exposure to UV light, this oxidation process can lead to skin cancer.

Topical Vitamin C products that are stabilized in solutions that prevent breakdown of the sensitive l-ascorbic acid can help to protect skin exposed to UV light from the resulting sun damage. Research has shown that one application can last for up to 72 hours - though the free radical scavenging power is much reduced by the third day.

Although broad spectrum sunscreens and physical sunblocks such as broad-brimmed hats and long-sleeved clothing are the first line of defense against the sun's damaging UV rays, topical Vitamin C serums and creams can also help to protect skin from those same damaging rays at the cellular level.

Products available to add to any sunscreen regimen include Cellular Skin Rx's C+ Firming Serum ($38), Skinceuticals' C+E Primacy ($95), Cellex-C's Advanced C ($75) and Obagi's Cffectives ($65).

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Grace Courtney
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