To Prevent Photoaging, You Need a Vitamin C Serum

by Kristina Holey

    still life with citrus fruit

    Did you know that much of what we typically think of as aging — wrinkles, “broken”-appearing blood vessels, hyperpigmentation, age spots, laxity of the skin, etc. — is actually the result of too much sun, not the passing of time? In the world of dermatology, this is known as photoaging, and the only way to prevent it is by limiting your exposure. 

    In recent years, we’ve learned so much more about how the effects of the light spectrum impact our skin — and not just the sun’s rays, but other kinds of light as well, including infrared light and blue light, which is emitted by both the sun and from devices such as your phone or computer. Which is good news: the more we know about the various ways light impacts our skin, the better informed we can be about taking steps to protect it. 

    If you take one thing away from this post, please make it this: using a well-formulated sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide (only) is imperative for protecting your skin, as are wearing things like hats and sunglasses when you can. However, if you are only wearing sunscreen, you are missing a key opportunity to optimize your sun protection — and to prevent your skin from looking old before its time. You need to also use Vitamin C topically!

    When you use one of our Vitamin C serums in combination with sunscreen, you not only prevent sun damage but actually enhance your skin’s ability to neutralize the effects of continuous exposure. You also help damaged skin return to a healthier state, reducing age spots and hyperpigmentation. Think of using Vitamin C underneath sunscreen sort of like using primer when painting a room — if you use primer before you paint, it’ll turn out much better.

    How Light Impacts the Skin

    Light is everywhere — it comes from the sun, obviously, but we also get exposed to it via computers, red light, and other types of ambient light in our environment. 

    Sunlight consists of a spectrum of rays: visible light, ultraviolet (commonly known as UV), and infrared light. You are likely familiar with UVA and UVB rays from the sun. They are not visible to the eye, but they are all around us and can cause tissue and cellular damage (photoaging) from overexposure. As we explain in our blog post about why healthy skin matters, absorbing UV rays from sunlight activates the process of synthesizing Vitamin D, which our bodies require to maintain strong and healthy bones. However, we want to avoid getting too much. 

    UVB rays target the more superficial layers of the skin and can cause immediate damage from the stimulation of melanin (think tanned/burned skin and hyperpigmentation). They are also thought to play the greatest role in causing skin cancers, including malignant melanoma.

    UVA rays, on the other hand, penetrate the deeper layers of the dermis, and are thought to be most responsible for the signs of aging in the skin. The reason for this is that they stimulate the production of free radicals in the skin. The free radicals are ultimately what do the damage — they cause oxidative stress and can lead to indirect DNA damage, including premature skin aging and hyperpigmentation. UVA rays are not blocked by clouds, windows, etc. 

    It’s important to note that other types of visible light such as blue light from computers also penetrate the deeper layers of skin and generate free radicals as well. 

    Sunscreen + Vitamin C = A Winning Equation for Preventing Photoaging 

    Sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide, not chemical filters, is essential for daily use. However, as we mentioned above, sunscreen’s ability to protect us from symptoms associated with photoaging is limited. Since many of these symptoms (wrinkles, sun spots, skin laxity) are caused by the production of free radicals and not from direct exposure to light exposure itself, we have to take strategic steps to get more comprehensive protection. 

    This is why applying Vitamin C, an antioxidant, topically is essential to use in combination with sunscreen. Sunscreen can only go so far to block the rays themselves — we have to go a step further by using antioxidants to prevent formation of free radicals, which in turn prevent a further cascade of damage. 

    Why Formulation Matters

    Vitamin C can only be effective if the formulation fulfills its job of being able to deliver l-ascorbic acid — the only active form of Vitamin C — to the skin sites where it is needed. 

    Not all Vitamin C serums are created equal. And the quality of thinking behind the formula as a whole really, really matters when it comes to Vitamin C. Without proper formulation, Vitamin C can oxidize, creating a high-acidic environment that may result in short term damage like redness and irritation, and long term damage like barrier dysfunction, sensitive skin, and, eventually, skin that is sensitized to ingredients it could previously tolerate.

    The good news: sensitized skin can be desensitized over time, simply by avoiding the substance that brought about the condition, and then gradually reintroducing it via non-irritating vehicles.

    Marie Veronique’s Vitamin C Serums

    Vitamins C+E+Ferulic Serum is formulated with a potent combination of nutrients that deliver a sun protection boost to daily sunscreen. It prevents and corrects hyperpigmentation and neutralizes free radicals during the day, while maximizing repair processes at night. 

    Key ingredients:

    • 5% Vitamin C in the form of l-ascorbic acid and roughly 2% c-derivatives. We use the maximum amount of Vitamin C and C-derivatives that can be used by the body without risking sensitization.
    • Ferulic Acid: A potent plant antioxidant that increases the overall level of sun protection when layered underneath a broad spectrum sunscreen.
    • Coenzyme Q (CoQ10): A powerful antioxidant that aids in skin repair and regeneration.
    • Astaxanthin: A powerful antioxidant from the carotenoid family that protects against long-wave radiation damage.

    Our C-Therapy Serum is formulated with four C derivatives that convert to l-ascorbic acid and perform a variety of different tasks for the skin. This serum is totally unique in the world of skincare because it uses Vitamin C therapeutically to address symptoms including rosacea, adult acne, and dermatitis. Because the derivatives used in this serum improve barrier function, it is excellent for sensitized skin that needs a gradual reintroduction to Vitamin C. 

    Key ingredients:

    • Sodium ascorbyl phosphate: prevents oxidation of debris in congested pores to clear and prevent breakouts.
    • Glyceryl ascorbate: moisturizes to improve barrier function, provides sun protection, brightens skin.
    • Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate: provide anti-aging effects like collagen production enhancement and impede hyperpigmentation processes.
    • Alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione: powerful antioxidants to help prevent damage to mitochondrial DNA.

    We’d ideally like everyone to use our Vitamins C+E+Ferulic Serum as it's best for delivering l-ascorbic acid effectively. But if your skin is sensitized or exhibits any signs of barrier dysfunction, you will want to choose C-Therapy Serum to start, as it is therapeutic for skin that needs a gradual introduction to Vitamin C. Both of these serums are essential oil-free. 

    Click here for more guidance on selecting the right Vitamin C serum for you. 

    Other Ways We Can Protect Ourselves

    We can also take other steps to protect our body from photoaging. Here are some suggestions:

    • Incorporate Protective Day Oil into your daytime skincare routine. It contains krill oil, a carotenoid-rich oil that contains astaxanthin, and red raspberry oil, which has many important phytochemicals and may have UV protective capacities.
    • Take baths in epsom salts. Magnesium sulfate has mild anti-inflammatory properties and can be absorbed through the skin. 
    • Make foods that are rich in Vitamin C and turmeric dietary staples. 
    • Incorporate resveratrol and astaxanthin into your supplement routine. 
    • Limit light exposure when you can. 
    • Wear sunscreen even on days you stay inside (you have windows!).

    Summing Up

    As a general rule, a proper skincare regimen should be centered around addressing and preventing photoaging. Using a combination of topicals that protect you from ongoing damage as well as repair and renew the skin is the best formula for ensuring your skin stays healthy and looks the best it can. 

    For our part, we are continuing to study the ways light exposure affects the skin, and factoring that into our product development accordingly. While there’s a lot we know already, there’s so much more to learn about repair and reversal of damage from previous exposure. As ever, keep an eye on our blog as we share details and upcoming product launches that make use of the latest research. 


    Have a question or need more information about how this applies to your specific skin concerns? Click here to get personalized advice from our estheticians, or browse our Product Recommendations.