Written by Lisa Allen | Edited by Dr Mark Kapnoudhis
While acne can certainly be a pain in the you-know-what to deal with, at least with the right treatment pimples and blemishes go away and the red marks (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation) eventually fade.
Acne scars are permanent… or are they? There are a lot of alleged scar treatments out there including creams, laser treatments, and microdermabrasion, but some of the more popular types of over-the-counter acne scar solutions are vitamin C serums.
So let’s take a look at what a vitamin C serum is, how (and if) they work, and even some ways for you to save money by making your own right at home.
Cream, gel, lotion, mask, serum… what’s with all these types of skin care products? Is there actually a difference, and does it make a difference of terms of how they affect your skin? In short, yes it does make a difference! A serum is a liquid formulation which is designed to be applied topically to the skin. Usually with a higher concentration of the active components which are meant to affect the skin, a serum will often be the most potent variation found in any particular product line.
Vitamin C serums are simply cosmetic serums which contain a relatively high concentration (typically between 5% and 15%) of vitamin C, also known as l-ascorbic acid.
Serums can be either oil-based or water-based, and vitamin C serums can be found in either variety. The type of serum that you should choose largely depends on your skin type.
Vitamin C itself doesn’t do a lot directly for acne scars, but the reason it is used it serums is that the body uses vitamin C to synthesize collagen, a naturally occurring protein which does help with scars.
It is surprising to a lot of people to learn that scars are actually mostly made of collagen, so how can more collagen improve their appearance? Would that just made the problem worse? No, not at all! Collagen is normally within the skin in a “basketweave” pattern, but scars occur when the proteins align in a different way, mostly facing the same direction. Once you know this, it’s easier to understand how adding extra collagen to fill in the pattern can improve the appearance of acne scars.
One major drawback of vitamin C serums is that they can often be very expensive, and many people can’t be spending so much money on a skin care product. Fortunately, it is actually possible to make vitamin C serums at home that can be just as effective as the ones you can get from skin care companies.
There are 2 ingredients that are absolutely essential, and some others that are optional but can improve the quality of your homemade serum.
The first essential ingredient is obviously the l-ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It can be found in both powder and crystal form, but powder is generally preferable as it dissolve faster. You can add as much or as little vitamin C as you want, but too much may be irritating to your skin. Going over 20% is definitely not recommended; try to stay between 5% and 15%.
The other essential ingredient is distilled water, for the l-ascorbic acid to dissolve into. When you’re making something to put on your skin, it’s important to use distilled water that has had its impurities removed.
While you can use a simple solution of l-ascorbic acid and water, you may want to consider adding either propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin. This will give the serum some added thickness and will make it easier to work with and apply to the skin.
It is also important to consider what you will be storing your serum in, because vitamin C oxidizes when exposed to sunlight, decreasing its effectiveness. This is why a darker-colored glass bottle is preferred over clear glass.
If you want to take your homemade vitamin C serum to the next level, you can even add some extra skin care ingredients such as cucumber, aloe vera gel, or lavender oil.
Simple Vitamin C Serum Ingredients List
- ½ teaspoon l-ascorbic acid powder3½ teaspoon room temperature distilled water1
- ½ teaspoon propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin1 dark-colored glass bottle (amber or dark blue)
Although there isn’t much to it, one mistake people sometimes make when applying vitamin C serum is using a cotton ball or something similar to apply the product. This is not necessary, and the cotton ball is just absorbing and wasting some of your expensive product.
The serum can be applied to the face with just your fingertips, but make sure you are washing your hands before you touch your skin. You should wash your face first, to remove any makeup or natural skin oils that have built up during the day, and then you can use your fingertips to apply a thin layer of the vitamin C serum to your face and gently massage it into the skin.
After waiting approximately 3-5 minutes for the serum to fully dry, it is recommended that you follow it with a non-comedogenic moisturizer to improve the overall quality and health of your skin.