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Oral vs. Topical Vitamin C: Which Is Better For Skin Health?*

Morgan Chamberlain
Author: Expert reviewer:
April 2, 2022
Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor
By Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition.
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN
Expert review by
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN
mbg Vice President of Scientific Affairs
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN is Vice President of Scientific Affairs at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's degree in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania and Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Georgia.
Image by Eddie Pearson / Stocksy
April 2, 2022
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If you're a fan of skin care, you know how important antioxidants are for promoting bright, clear, and healthy skin.* So we know vitamin C is already on your radar—and why shouldn't it be? This potent antioxidant is vital to the production of collagen (one of the main building blocks for your skin, joints, muscles, gut, and more) and is credited for helping squelch free radicals to maintain oxidant-antioxidant balance.* 

Thoughts of vitamin C in the context of skin care might conjure up images of serums in tiny glass dropper bottles, whereas you probably feel more comfortable reaching for tablets, powders, and capsules when you're trying to support your immune system.* 

As it turns out, oral vitamin C supplements aren't just for when you're feeling less than awesome; they hold some serious merit in bolstering skin health as well.* But when it comes to optimizing skin health with vitamin C, which is better—topical or oral?

Vitamin C: A two-pronged approach to skin care.

Both oral and topical forms of vitamin C have their perks. The form matters far less than the vitamin C product's quality and, thus, effectiveness at optimizing your skin health.*

"Along with being required for the antioxidant protection and cellular energy of every cell in our body (including skin cells like fibroblasts), vitamin C also directly supports our skin barrier because it's required for the production of collagen1, the most widespread protein in our body (skin, gut, blood vessels, joints, and more),"* explains board-certified doctor of Chinese medicine and licensed acupuncturist Debbie Kung, DAOM, LAc.

Sufficient levels of vitamin C are associated with firm, youthful, hydrated skin, while failing to get enough vitamin C (something nearly 50% of the U.S. adult population2 struggles with) can contribute to dry and dull skin.*

How topical vitamin C helps.

Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, previously told mbg that vitamin C serums are typically used to brighten skin, even skin tone, and fight oxidative stress. As a topically applied antioxidant, he notes that vitamin C "protects the skin against free radicals, blocks the production of abnormal pigmentation, and acts as a cofactor for the production of new collagen." 

The only catch? When exposed to air, heat, or light, ascorbic acid (the most effective form of topical vitamin C) can become less effective at delivering vitamin C's skin benefits. However, research shows that pairing vitamin C with other antioxidants can help stabilize vitamin C and enhance its bioefficacy in topical products. 

A 2017 review article3 from the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that pairing vitamin C with the plant-based antioxidant ferulic acid aids in stabilizing vitamin C molecules. Additionally, ferulic acid helps reduce ascorbic acid's pH below 3.5, which proves to be an effective method in improving vitamin C's permeability (i.e., ability to absorb) when applied to skin. 

mindbodygreen's very own beauty director, Alexandra Engler, swears by the Marie Veronique C+E+Ferulic Acid Serum to help bolster C's collagen-producing abilities. "It's a genius formula that seriously delivers," she says. For Engler's additional recommendations, check out her list of the best vitamin C serums available today.

How oral vitamin C supplements help.

With a reliable vitamin C serum by your side, do you really need an oral vitamin C supplement to help your skin? According to Gary Goldenberg, M.D., of New York's Goldenberg Dermatology, leveraging the skin health benefits of vitamin C both internally and externally is the best-case scenario.*

Goldenberg previously told mbg that he recommends oral vitamin C to clients for overall health and topical vitamin C for the antioxidant benefits it offers skin health acutely.* He added that when used together, the two "improve skin appearance and function."* 

Considering approximately 42% of American adults4 are insufficient in vitamin C based on blood test results, harnessing the power of vitamin C products both topically and orally to maximize skin health just makes sense.* To find an oral vitamin C supplement to support your skin health and lifestyle, check out our comprehensive guide to the best vitamin C supplements on the market.*

The bottom line.

Sufficient vitamin C levels are vital to bolstering both the appearance and function of healthy skin (hello, graceful aging).* Health and beauty experts alike recommend using oral and topical vitamin C to optimize the skin health benefits—from the inside out and the outside in.*

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Morgan Chamberlain author page.
Morgan Chamberlain
mbg Supplement Editor

Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.