Until recently, the new-kid-on-the-block beauty product ingredients were alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), a group of acids naturally occurring in fruits, milk, and sugar cane, which have proved to be a good defense against damage to keep skin younger-looking, firmer, and smoother. Now comes another cell-guarding anti-aging vitamin – that is anything but “new” – available in improved topical forms.

Topical vitamin-C creams: beauty from the outside in

Health and beauty aids manufacturers have added vitamins to skin creams for years. However, the low-concentration formulations, ingredient instability, and rapid deterioration of vitamin-C compounds, along with its blending with other elements, rendered the vitamin inert. Consequently, the creams did not achieve the benefits promised.

Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant – a type of nutrient which reverses or prevents free-radical damage – found in supplements or certain foods, cannot travel to the skin level, as it is distributed deeper inside the body. Except for its own natural defenses, the skin remained without added protection from free radical assaults. These limitations are changing.

Now, researchers at Duke University have uncovered ways to stabilize vitamin C in a topical solution that seeps through to the dermal mantle layer of the skin, and becomes an inherent part of our skin. How is this now possible? The vitamin-C formulations are amalgated in delivery systems called liposomes or nanosphers that stabilize the vitamin within the preparation, and shield it from factors that could affect it.

These new vitamin-C skin formulations allow the antioxidant properties of the vitamin to counteract skin-aging free radicals, literally by scavenging them out of existence.

How do free radicals affect our skin?

Volatile free radicals consist of molecules that speed aging by destroying collagen, the gluelike substances that, along with firming strands called elastin, make skin resilient, firm, and less prone to wrinkles. As the free radicals become neutralized with antioxidants, like those in topical vitamin-C products, skin remains more plump and elastic.

Some claim vitamin-C preparations not only prevent damage, but also repair skin. Louise Bianca, Los Angeles-based facialist, says, “Vitamin-C creams are very effective antioxidants that not only protect the skin from environmental damage, but also stimulate the production of collagen.” The more we exercise, travel on airplanes, and get exposed to pollution, for example, the greater the risk of premature aging from free radicals, and the higher the demand for antioxidants.

Getting to the ‘heart’ of our skin

Unlike creams formulated with Retin A and AHAs, which work by exfoliating the older, outer skin layers, vitamin-C formulations work within the skin layers, inhibiting the production of free radicals and spurring the synthesis of collagen. Working at this cellular level, vitamin C helps “reweave” the skin fibers. As cells bind together, skin looks more smooth and youthful.

Topical beauty aids dampen sun damage

The powerful new vitamin-C products can also reduce the aging effects of the sun. Preliminary studies show that vitamin C protects skin from sun exposure by stifling the photoaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays before they harm skin. Because these formulations absorb into your skin, instead of coating it, bathing or perspiration cannot wash off the product.

Although vitamin-C preparations simulate a sunscreen effect, it is believed that the cream is not strong enough by itself to protect fully against the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Nevertheless, these formulations, as they chemically react to UV light, produce anti-inflammatory effects and help reduce painful sunburn. (Note: Always check with your health-care practitioner or dermatologist for serious skin conditions, including sunburn.)

Although not everyone shows the same dramatic anti-aging effects after using vitamin-C skin products, many researchers claim the lower concentrations protect skin and reduce some photoaging. Still others maintain the powerful concentrations of the new antioxidant vitamin-C preparations protect the skin long enough to promote healing and repair.