The daily vitamin boost

Topical Vitamin C plays a key role in the recovery of the skin following resurfacing treatments and is essential to maintaining a healthy and glowing skin, writes Karen Ellithorne.


The skin is the largest organ of the body and it is more than a mere protective barrier. Skin serves to excrete metabolic waste products, regulate body temperature and also contains nerve endings enabling us to feel sensation and protect us from pain.


Like all organs of the body, the health and appearance of our skin will reflect the kind of lifestyle and dietary habits we follow. Unfortunately, unlike the other organs of the body which also age, our skin is visible and clearly exhibits the consequence of ageing.


While the body and skin will age naturally at a genetically predetermined rate, there are many factors in the exterior environment that will enhance this process and cause premature ageing. The type of lifestyle we follow and our body’s general health will pay a large role in how quickly we age.


When our bodies are exposed to adverse energies such as sunlight or inflammation caused by toxins, harmful free radicals are formed. A large percentage of premature ageing, especially in South Africa, is caused by exposure to UV light. Other culprits are environmental pollution, poor diet, smoking, alcohol, excessive exercise and stress. In overweight people, blood sugar levels have been raised thus resulting in an imbalance in the normal biochemical reactions of the skin. This will start to disrupt the collagen and elastin structure of the dermis, causing premature ageing.


What is a free radical?


A free radical is a charged atom looking to take over and change the molecular structures of other atoms, so causing damage and disease. Oxygen free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are largely responsible for tissue damage on the skin. The formation of ROS occurs when the body is exposed to extreme energy sources such as sunlight or heat. The atom loses an electron from its outer orbit and becomes electrically charged. This charged atom will then go in search of another atom or molecule from which to steal an electron and in doing so begins a cascade of damage which leads to cellular damage and possible DNA mutations within the cell nucleus.


This will lead to deterioration of the body’s tissues and, in the case of the skin, will lead to a breakdown of collagen and elastin in the dermis and damage to the epidermis. The result will be irregular reproduction of keratinocytes and melanocytes leading to irregular pigmentation. Photo ageing is the result of free radical attack and will lead to hyperpigmentation, loss of dermal integrity, the formation of fine lines and wrinkles and possible cancerous mutations.


What are antioxidants?


An antioxidant is an atom that can neutralise free radicals by donating the lost electron and therefore rendering the free radical harmless.

The body can normally protect itself from free radical attack from its own immunity reserves but if the attack becomes excessive, or if the person is unhealthy or more mature, these attacks can cause severe tissue damage. In order to prevent ageing it is important that we try and follow a healthy diet filled with fruit and vegetables and to apply an anti-oxidant to our skins on a daily basis to prevent photoageing occurring on the skin.


Role of Vitamin C in the epidermis


Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants for the body. This is due to the fact that ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is water soluble and our bodies are composed of 70% water.


It’s important to note that Vitamin C plays a vital role in reducing sunburn from exposure to sunlight. This is due to the fact that it can be absorbed into the cells and does not sit superficially on the top, making it very effective in reducing the effects of UV radiation many days after absorption.


Vitamin C is also a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it will slow down the production of melanin. This is why you will often find it as an ingredient in skin lightening products.


Besides all of the above benefits, Vitamin C plays an important role in the formation of healthy collagen, which is essential for healthy, firm, hydrated skin.


Penetration of Vitamin C


It is very difficult to get ascorbic acid to penetrate through the skin’s horny layer due to the fact that ascorbic acis is a water based molecule and this layer of the skin is lipid based. Whatever ascorbic acid does manage to get through the horny layer of the skin and penetrate the deeper layers is still not easily penetrated into the cells themselves.


This is why you will find more lipid soluble versions of Vitamin C used in product formulations, namely ascorbyl tetra-isopalmitate, which are more easily absorbed and penetrated into the epidermal cells. Once the ingredient has penetrated, it converts back to active ascorbic acid in the cytoplasm of the cell.


Different versions of Vitamin C


Ascorbic acid: This can be found as an active ingredient in cosmetics but is used more as an antioxidant for the product itself rather than for the skin. It is not a very stable form of Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid cannot be used in high enough doses to get the best results on the skin. It is a water based ingredient.


Magnesium (sodium) ascorbyl phosphate: this version of Vitamin C is found in products developed for sensitive and pigmented skins. The sodium salt in this ingredient is also a good conductor of an electric current, so you will often find it in treatment gels that you use with electric currents.


Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate: this is a very stable form of Vitamin C. It ensures the highest level of penetration of Vitamin C into the cells as it is a lipid based ingregredient. Ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate is very safe to use on the most delicate, sensitive skins. It is a great ingredient for treating uneven tone, as well as ageing, lined and problematic skin.


A qualified aesthetician, Karen Ellithorne has been actively involved in the skincare industry since 1992, working as a lecturer and therapist, as well as successfully importing and distributing various products throughout South Africa.

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