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How to Use Vitamin C Like a Dermatologist | Dr. Davin Lim

By Dr Davin Lim
June 24, 2023
6 minutes

If you want to know more about vitamin C and how to use it well in your skincare routine, this article will summarize everything for you. Vitamin C is every dermatologist’s favorite skincare ingredient and its benefits are science-backed.

To use vitamin C like a dermatologist, first, cleanse your skin and apply toner. Next, apply vitamin C serum, and if you plan to spend some time out in the summer, cover it with sunscreen. Using a facial cleansing brush will allow the active ingredients to penetrate the skin and have better results.

The reason you want to use vitamin C, its percentage in the formulation, and how you use it does determine its overall results on the skin. Vitamin C is available in three forms. Do you always read the ingredient combination and the percentages to know which vitamin you’re using?

L-ascorbic acid is the most recommended form of vitamin C. Other forms include Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and Ascorbyl-6-palmitate. L-ascorbic acid in its active form if used in the right formulation will brighten your skin, protect, repair skin damage caused by Ultraviolet rays, and improve skin elasticity and firmness.

What is Vitamin C & Why is it Great as Part of Your Skincare Routine?

According to Dr. Davin Lim a board-certified dermatologist, different skin conditions call for different vitamin recommendations for the skin as well as skincare. Vitamin C ranks among the top main ingredients Dr. Davin Lim recommends when you are dealing with skin problems.

Other ingredients you can use are retinol and Alpha Hydroxyl acids which include glycolic acid and lactic acid.

What is Vitamin C?

Image courtesy of Everyday Health

In SkinCeuticals products, vitamin C is commonly termed as ascorbic acid. It’s water-soluble and sensitive to light. Skincare products packed with vitamin C are called vitamin C serum and are sold in liquid or gel form.

To use vitamin C serum, apply topically to your skin during the day to neutralize free radicals or at night to stimulate collagen production.

Why is Vitamin C so Important in Your Skincare Routine?

If you want to get the best results after using ascorbic acid, ask yourself these fundamental questions:

a) What is it that ascorbic acid can treat, and

b) Why you’re choosing to use ascorbic acid in your skincare.

If you answer these questions correctly, you’ll have a clear goal and ultimately choose the right ingredients and skincare vitamins that will make you achieve your goal.

Incorporating vitamin C in your skincare routine will help prevent and improve many skin issues. Vitamin C will protect your face from photoaging, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, even out skin tone, and reduce inflammation.

To get it correctly, let’s classify Vitamin C benefits into two:

1. Preventive

2. Corrective

As a preventive ingredient, studies have shown topical vitamin C protects the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. In this case, it doesn’t act as a sunscreen but rather as an antioxidant. If you want to use vitamin C to prevent your skin from acute UVB research recommends combining vitamin C with Vitamin E.

Largely, Vitamin C is used as a corrective ingredient. Using Vitamin C formulation consistently for three months has been shown to reduce the appearance of coarse wrinkles and fine lines on the face and neck, thus says one study . As you reduce the appearance of wrinkles, your skin’s overall appearance and texture will improve.

Due to Vitamin C’s anti-inflammation properties, Dr. Davin Lim recommends using it to reduce inflammation and redness, and also to help with acne issues as it controls the production of sebum by regulating the sebaceous gland’s activities.

You can use vitamin C to brighten your skin, reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, aging spots, and other discolorations, and evening out skin tone.

How to Use Vitamin C as an Antioxidant and How to Apply

The best form of vitamin C is L-ascorbic acid. L-ascorbic acid ranges in concentration between 5%, 10%, 15%, and 20%. Normally, most companies will have a 10% formulation, a 15% formulation, and a 20% formulation.

If you’ve got super sensitive skin that suffers from dermatitis eczema, skin allergies, rosacea on the face, and acne Dr. Davin Lim recommends you start at a lower formulation. It doesn’t matter the price of the serum but greatly its formulation. So, start with a 10% formulation.

To use vitamin C as an antioxidant, you’ll need to use it in the morning. As an antioxidant, vitamin C reduces UV damage. Acting as a free radical scavenger, vitamins C absorbs UV radiation as well as environmental pollutants thus sacrificing the molecule itself and hence protects the underlying collagen and cellular structure.

The best vitamin C formulation is often contained with other active ingredients like Tocopherol (Vitamin E), and Ferulic acid. Among the best formulations, dermatologists would recommend containing CE Ferulic acid with the L-ascorbic acid at around 15%. Use this vitamin C formulation for your morning routine.

Using Vitamin C for Night Time Routine

If you’re using vitamin C for a nighttime routine for skin pigmentation apply it at night. The most effective formulation for treating pigmentation ranges between 10% and 20%.

Using vitamin C serum in your skincare night routine inhibits an enzyme called tyrosinase. Hydroquinone is another good tyrosinase inhibitor but its long-term use has side effects unlike vitamin C. Tyrosinase produces melanin through a process of pigment production. In this situation, vitamin C inhibits pigmentation.

As an antioxidant, start using vitamin C with a low concentration of 10% and build up to 15% then up to 20%.

Some skin care lines have vitamin C incorporated with other pigment inhibitors which include arbutin, kojic acid, and exfoliants like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and botanicals such as bearberry, and licorice root extract.

Using Vitamin C for Collagen Stimulation

Image courtesy of Researchgate

For collagen synthesis to happen, vitamin C has to be present to stabilize collagen molecules and provide structural strength. Collagen does synthesis itself. Collagen neocollagenesis (making of new collagen) is mediated partly by retinol and also vitamin C does act to increase dermal collagen.

To achieve better collagen synthesis results, incorporate vitamin C into your nighttime routine.

How to Use Vitamin C in Potential Interactions

Vitamin C is a powerful molecule and to increase the power of the molecule SkinCeuticals formulates vitamin C at a low PH level. When the PH level is somewhere in the low twos, the formulation is more acidic than your already acidic skin.

That’s why some of the skin formulations can be skin irritants. In other words, it can irritate and flare up certain dermatoses (skin defects or lesions) including skin issues like eczema, rosacea, and excoriated acne. This is a form of acne that is aroused by rubbing, scratching, and picking.

Ingredients You Shouldn’t Use with Vitamin C

There are skincare ingredients you shouldn’t mix with vitamin C. If you would like to combine, vitamin C combines safely with vitamin E and niacinamide.

Take precaution when combining with retinol, and skincare acids including alpha hydroxyl acids, beta hydroxy acid, and salicylic acid.


Vitamin C is essential to the skin if used in the right formulation, or combination, and applied correctly. What you intend to achieve when using Vitamin C should determine the choice of vitamin C serum you buy. Whether using it at night or during the day, ensure you cleanse and tone your face before applying vitamin C.

Dr Davin Lim
I am Davin Lim a Board Certified Dermatologist practicing in Brisbane, Australia. My intentions? Simple! To cut out the hype & mystery of the skin care industry. I cover everything from products, DIY, & skin procedures including lasers, peel, injectables & surgery.
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