Topical Antioxidants and Skin Health – L-Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E, Chitosan, Glutathione, and More

Overview

If you do quick online research, you will find thousands of articles that promote different substances with skin-promoting properties. Many of these substances have little scientific research to back up the spread claims.

As a result, people find it very challenging and overwhelming to choose the right ingredients for their skin. Of course, every skin reacts differently to substances; however, you still need to look at the scientific side of any hyped-up product.

Unfortunately, online sources are selling people fake hope in order to make a profit. They will cite products with “magical” effects on the skin that will heal all your problems within a few applications. In reality, most of these fads are baseless, and in some cases, harmful.

In this article, we will briefly cover the effects of various topical antioxidants on the skin, using reputable scientific sources.

L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)

Vitamin C is a vital compound that ensures several metabolic pathways essential for our survival. This vitamin is also incorporated to produce tissue building blocks (e.g., collagen), which makes it crucial for the human body.

Unfortunately, vitamin C cannot be synthesized intrinsically, meaning that dietary intake (e.g., fruits, vegetables, supplements) is the only source of this compound.

When it comes to skincare, taking oral vitamin C supplements or applying topical serum offers numerous benefits due to three major processes:

Neutralization of oxidative stress

As you may know, vitamin C is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals, which damage skin cells and increase the risk of tumors.

Vitamin C also dampens inflammation, which prevents rashes and other dermatological conditions.

Acceleration of skin healing

Since vitamin C is an acid, it has a low pH. Fortunately, acidity is a powerful booster of skin regeneration. The process involves the deposition of collagen and elastin fibers.

Applying vitamin C serum is the best way to benefit from this property.

Prevention of hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, is a common sign that occurs all over your body, ruining the conformity of your skin. Ascorbic acid is a powerful antidote for this issue as it halts the excess production of melanin.

Ethyl ascorbic acid

Ethyl Ascorbic Acid is a water-soluble, stable vitamin C derivative that has very powerful antioxidative properties. Ethyl ascorbic acid protects skin cells from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light (UV-light).

Additionally, this substance mediates the process of collagen synthesis, which reduces wrinkles and slows down aging.

Here are some benefits of ethyl ascorbic acid and collagen:

Slows down the process of aging 

Applying ethyl ascorbic acid can significantly decrease the visible signs of aging by augmenting the presence of collagen and elastin in the extracellular matrix of the skin.

Moreover, collagen neutralizes reactive oxygen species (i.e., free radicals). As a result, you are less likely to develop skin conditions triggered by inflammation and oxidative stress.

We should note that oxidative stress is the hallmark of most age-related skin diseases.

Optimizes the health of your hair

The hair follicle physiology is complex and requires a harmonious process to ensure normal growth.

Here’s how ethyl ascorbic acid helps with hair growth:

Keratin is a vital protein for the process of hair growth.

To produce this protein (and others), the body needs essential and non-essential amino acids. Unfortunately, essential amino acids cannot get produced by the body, leaving dietary intake as the exclusive source.

The good news is that ethyl ascorbic acid promotes the production of collagen, which contains several non-essential amino acids that interfere with the process of keratin production and hair growth.

Since ethyl ascorbic acid is indispensable for the production of collagen, it should come as no surprise that it is great at improving acne scars.

According to one study, ascorbic acid prevents apoptosis (i.e., programmed cell death), reduces oxidative stress, and aids in collagen production.

These effects can prevent teen acne from worsening.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. This substance optimizes the function of the immune system, metabolism, and skin cells. 

Obviously, the most important effect of vitamin E is its ability to eradicate free radicals. In fact, it is one of the most potent naturally occurring antioxidants that promotes wound healing and helps in the process of scarring.

By preventing the accumulation of free radicals and cytokines at the site of injury, vitamin E is the perfect element to include in your skincare routine.

Some foods that contain vitamin E include:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Avocados
  • Egg yolks

Another benefit of vitamin E resides within its effects on UV light. For this reason, you will find this substance as a primary ingredient in many sunscreens.

It may also be effective in improving the symptoms of eczema (i.e., atopic dermatitis).

Chitosan

Chitosan has a cationic property that allows it to interact with negatively charged surfaces of the skin. As a result, it hydrates the skin and protects it from harmful pathogens. 

Cosmetic products mainly use chitosan in lotions since it has a relatively high molecular weight and a film-forming property. Together, these two features allow it to adhere and remain on the skin for a longer period of time.

Additionally, the high molecular weight of chitosan reduces the loss of trans-epidermic water, which increases the humidity of the skin, preserving its softness and flexibility.

Chitosan also protects keratinocytes and melanocytes (i.e., skin cells) from the damaging rays of the sun. According to reports, vitamin E creams that contain different molecular weights of water-soluble chitosan dramatically improves skin hydration and lowers the risk of pH instability.

Glutathione

Glutathione, also known as GSH, is a naturally occurring molecule in the human body. Liver cells and neurons are responsible for the production of this molecule that consists of three amino acids:

  • L-cysteine
  • Glycine
  • L-glutamate

GSH acts as an antioxidant that protects skin cells from UV damage. However, many personal care products include this substance due to its skin-whitening effects.

The synergetic effect of these antioxidants

Including one topical antioxidant in your skincare routine is an excellent choice. However, adding more to the mix is always a good idea.

You see, antioxidants tend to have a synergetic effect on one another. In other words, if you mix two antioxidants together, the final result will be greater than the added effect of the two antioxidants separately.

For simplicity’s sake, let us take a quick example to explain this concept:

  • Antioxidant number 1 has a power of 10
  • Antioxidant number 2 has a power of 15

If you apply each substance separately (at different times), your skin will benefit from an antioxidative effect of 25.

However, applying them both at the same time with appropriate concentrations can produce an antioxidative effect higher than 30. For this reason, skincare companies study the interactions and concentrations of the ingredients for years before coming up with a new product.

Of course, the numbers used in this example are purely for explanation purposes.

Takeaway message

Incorporating topical antioxidants in your skin can lead to dramatic effects. The substances we included in this article have solid scientific evidence that supports their effectiveness in improving the health of skin cells.

We hope that this article managed to shed some light on some of the best topical antioxidants out there and the science that backs up their claims.

If you have any questions, concerns, or something that you want to add to this discussion, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comment section below or reach out to us by clicking on this link (insert link of contact us page).





References

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[2]: Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593

[3]: De Dormael R, Bastien P, Sextius P, et al. Vitamin C Prevents Ultraviolet-induced Pigmentation in Healthy Volunteers: Bayesian Meta-analysis Results from 31 Randomized Controlled versus Vehicle Clinical Studies. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2019;12(2):E53-E59.

[4]: Song H, Zhang S, Zhang L, Li B. Effect of Orally Administered Collagen Peptides from Bovine Bone on Skin Aging in Chronologically Aged Mice. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1209. doi: 10.3390/nu9111209. PMID: 29099747; PMCID: PMC5707681.

[5]: Yang FC, Zhang Y, Rheinstädter MC. The structure of people's hair. PeerJ. 2014;2:e619. Published 2014 Oct 14. doi:10.7717/peerj.619

[6]: Vitamin C: a wound healing perspective Jane Moores British Journal of Community Nursing 2013 18:Sup12, S6-S11

[7]: Tanaydin V, Conings J, Malyar M, van der Hulst R, van der Lei B. The Role of Topical Vitamin E in Scar Management: A Systematic Review. Aesthet Surg J. 2016 Sep;36(8):959-65. doi: 10.1093/asj/sjw046. Epub 2016 Mar 14. PMID: 26977069.

[8]: Valachová K, Šoltés L. Versatile Use of Chitosan and Hyaluronan in Medicine. Molecules. 2021;26(4):1195. Published 2021 Feb 23. doi:10.3390/molecules26041195