22 Jun 2022 Article

If I could only choose one important vitamin for skin health, I would undoubtedly go for vitamin C. In this article I tell you how vitamin C contributes to the optimal condition of our skin. I also tell you how much of this vitamin we need every day, where to find it and whether taking vitamin C supplements makes sense.

Vitamin C is needed for collagen production

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), among other functions, is necessary for the synthesis of collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. Connective tissue, for example, is made of collagen. As the name implies, this type of tissue connects other tissues. It is an important part of bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. It helps make tissues strong and resilient.

As we age, our body gradually produces less collagen. But collagen production declines most rapidly from overexposure to the sun, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of sleep and exercise. With age, collagen in the deep layers of the skin changes from a tightly organized network of fibers into a disorganized maze. This leads to wrinkles on your skin and delayed wound healing.

What about applying vitamin C on your skin?

Our skin contains some vitamin C. Hence the idea that applying vitamin C onto the skin can help make the skin healthier. Many beauty products contain vitamin C.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Vitamin C is known to limit the oxidative damage of ultraviolet rays when applied onto the skin. The effect is stronger if you use vitamin C together with vitamin E.

It is likely that the topical application of vitamin C can also delay the appearance of wrinkles, reduce inflammation of the skin, and remedy dry skin. An interesting fact: vitamin C is better absorbed by the skin of people who ingest less vitamin C with food than by people who consume more vitamin C with food. So, the more vitamin C in your diet, the less effective the vitamin C in your face cream. And vice versa: if you eat little vitamin C, the cream will work better. But the net result is more or less the same. Well, this is some food for thought! I’d say: eat more vitamin C-rich foods.

How much vitamin C do we need?

In the Netherlands, the recommended daily amount of vitamin C for men and women above the age of 14 is 75 milligrams.

Do vitamin C supplements make sense?

Now we come to the question of whether vitamin C supplements are useful? Vitamin C supplements are often highly dosed (500-1000 mg). But! The concentration of vitamin C in our body (tissues and plasma) is controlled by our body itself. At a moderate intake of 30-180 mg/day, approximately 70%-90% of vitamin C is absorbed. This intake is in line with what most people already get from their diets anyway. However, at doses above 1 g/day (impossible to reach through diet), absorption drops to less than 50%. The rest is excreted in the urine. That means, that if you take a supplement containing 1000 mg of vitamin C, not more than 500 mg will be absorbed.

Although you excrete the excess vitamin C, you can get complaints if you ingest too much. More than 2 grams of vitamin C per day can lead to intestinal complaints, the most common complaint is diarrhoea.

So, it seems that the best strategy is to consume enough vitamin with the food rather than relying on the supplements.

Vitamin C deficiency?

Scurvy is the most radical example of vitamin C deficiency. Fortunately, vitamin C deficiency is rare in developed countries. If you don’t get any vitamin C at all for whatever reasons, scurvy will develop within 4 to 12 weeks. With structural insufficient intake of vitamin C, scurvy develops somewhat later: after 4-6 months. The first symptoms of vitamin C deficiency are delayed wound healing and bleeding gums.

What are the best sources of vitamin C?

The vitamin C content of food can be reduced through long-term storage and cooking. This is because ascorbic acid is soluble in water and is destroyed by heat. Fortunately, many of the best food sources of vitamin C, such as fruits and vegetables, are usually eaten raw. Consuming five varied servings (400 g) of fruits and vegetables per day provides an average of 200 mg of vitamin C. So, the best way to get enough vitamin C is to make sure you eat four ounces of fruit and vegetables (combined) daily. Four ounces of fruit and vegetables a day is also the recommendation of the World Health Organization.

Contrary to popular belief, oranges are a good but not the best source of vitamin C. There are some superior foods out there for that matter:

  • 100 g of blackcurrant contain 150 mg of vitamin C.
  • Bell peppers contain about as much vitamin C as blackcurrants: 150 mg vitamin C per 100 g.
  • 100 g of broccoli contains 115 mg of vitamin C.
  • 100 g of Brussels sprouts provides 85 mg of vitamin C.
  • 100 g of kiwi provide 75 mg of vitamin C.
  • Citrus fruits provide an average of 50 mg of vitamin C per 100 g.