Help or Hype? Can Putting Vitamins on Your Skin Turn Back the Clock?
Serums, lotions, and creams now come filled with more vitamins than your daily multi has, and often at a gazillion times the price. Can putting these nutrients on your skin rather than in it really turn back time, repair sun damage, and defend against the sun, or are those claims just empty promises? We checked the latest research on what vitamins really help, what claims are mostly hype, and what the bottom line is. Here's a rundown of the big 3: vitamins A, C, and E.
HELP: There's evidence that prescription-strength retinoids, a form of vitamin A, work more wonders on your skin than Johnny Depp has fans. Topical vitamin A is the closest science has come to a miracle in a jar. Retinoids can double production of skin-firming collagen, reduce fine wrinkles, smooth rough areas, and lighten pigmented spots and blotches.
HYPE: There's far less proof that nonprescription forms of topical vitamin A are equally effective. Retinyl palmitate (get out your peepers and read the ingredients list) has been disappointing, say a team of dermatologists who recently led a major research review. Look for retinol. It's the form these derms preferred. Many products contain a combo of retinol, retinlyl palmitate, and often other forms of A.
BOTTOM LINE: You'll get the biggest and the surest benefits for your buck from prescription-strength vitamin A (generics run about $35 a tube). But all that wrinkle-reducing power can also produce redness, peeling, and serious irritation. These side effects usually subside in a couple of weeks, but you must forever treat your skin gently and moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. You'll also need to be rigorous about using sunscreen . . . always. Over-the-counter forms of A can be irritating to sensitive skin, too, though less so.
HELP: Ascorbic acid -- vitamin C -- is one of the most efficient skin antioxidants, meaning it scarfs up sun-triggered free radicals that accelerate aging. It also prods collagen production and then works to keep those strong collagen fibers neatly lined up, which helps keep your skin springy and resilient. Several studies show that after a few months of daily use of a C-enriched product, wrinkles, texture, and tone improve.
HYPE: Not all vitamin-C serums or creams are created equal. Some products contain very low concentrations of C or types that aren't well absorbed by the skin. Plus, because C breaks down fast, many products quickly lose their zip.
BOTTOM LINE: The many different vitamin C formulations haven't been compared in large face-to-face studies. If you want to try one, get out your magnifying glasses and check labels for either ascorbyl palmitate, a modified form of C that appears to penetrate the skin, or a form called tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate that has shown evidence of reversing sun aging.
Related: Here's why your skin craves oranges.
HELP: Tocopherol -- a type of vitamin E -- boosts skin's ability to stand up to the sun and helps prevent skin-damaging free radicals from forming. Think of it as a preventive step, not a rejuvenator.
HYPE: Prevention is excellent, but there's no solid research to support improvements in wrinkles, color, or texture once the damage is done.
BOTTOM LINE: Look for it when you're buying sunscreens, because vitamin E works best to protect skin-cell walls when it's applied before going out into the sun. Whether or not E prevents most photoaging isn't known, but when combined with vitamin C and UV protectors, it helps minimize sun damage.
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